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Eating disorders are more likely to affect dancers because of the sometimes-overwhelming pressure to be thin. Some dancers feel they need to go to extreme measures to stay thin and resort to eating disorders such as binge eating, anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. But, going to the extremes of eating disorders will cause damage to your body, effect your dance performance and your self-esteem (Minden, 2005). Dancers need to avoid becoming vulnerable to such extreme measures to be thin and rely on healthy behaviors (Dunning, 1997; Heaner, 2009b; Heaner, 2009d; Minden, 2005; Smith, 2006; Stöppler, 2007).

Dancers are more susceptible to develop eating disorders because of the environment they are in, particularly if they are a professional dancer. Ballet’s ideal body type is strong, yet thin. Because of this ideal, dancers are under pressure from the ballet companies, other competition and with themselves (Minden, 2005). Dancers are under constant pressure to be thin from other classmates because of competition. A dancer does not want to be heavier than other classmates and wants to be picked as a partner. Dancers also constantly evaluate themselves in the mirror, watching every movement and every flaw. It is in the nature of ballet to evaluate and perfect body movements, but with that comes an additional personal scrutiny for bodily imperfections. Along with these pressures, dancers are more susceptible to developing an eating disorder, particularly if they have emotional problems such as depression, loneliness or feeling of lack of control. If a dancer is also scrutinizing their body in class and have a low self-esteem, this will also affect the possibility of an eating disorder (Dunning, 1997; Heaner, 2009b; Heaner, 2009d; Minden, 2005; Smith, 2006; Stöppler, 2007).

 

Below are the most common eating disorders that affect not only dancers, but others who are vulnerable to developing an eating disorder. The most common groups of people include dancers, young women and anyone under scrutiny about their weight or appearance (i.e. involvement in acting or publicity).

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is the most commonly known eating disorders because of its most extreme measure of self-starvation. Signs of anorexia include weight loss, feeling cold, avoidance of food or avoidance of settings where food is present, odd eating rituals, fatigue, use of laxatives, binge eating, withdrawal, perfectionism, mood swings and low self-esteem among many others (Minden, 2005). When someone has anorexia, the body goes into starvation mode and tries to preserve itself as long as possible before succumbing to death. When the body is in starvation mode, blood pressure drops, bones become weak and brittle, organs begin to fail, menstrual periods stop and the muscles lose their mass. Outwardly, one will also experience hair loss, dry hair and dry nails (Anorexia Nervosa: Topic Overview, 2007; Dunning, 1997; Smith, 2006; Stöppler, 2007).

 

Unhealthy and overly thin waist
Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder that involves purposeful purging or vomiting of food, as well as overuse of laxatives in order to get rid of food. Signs of bulimia include tooth decay, binge eating, frequent sore throat, fatigue, mood swings, preoccupation with food, frequent trips to the bathroom after eating, sores on the knuckles or hands, dehydration, irregular heartbeat and eating food in secret. Other signs include extreme exercise routines and self-criticism (Minden, 2005). Bulimia is a serious eating disorder that can permanently damage the digestive system and increase the risk of esophageal cancer (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2009, Feb. 22; Stöppler, 2008).

Binge Eating Disorder (BED)

Binge eating disorder (BED) is overeating compulsively. The overeating can be sporadic and feels uncontrolled. Someone who binge eats will feel guilty or overly criticize him or herself after the overeating has occurred, lowering self-esteem. Signs of binge eating include eating rapidly and in large amounts, anxiety, depression, eating alone, dieting without any weight loss and hoarding food. Some of the health problems with binge eating include depression, Type II diabetes, high blood cholesterol, heart disease, stroke, panic attacks as well as digestive problems (Binge Eating Disorder, 2006; Binge-Eating Disorder, 2009; Mayo Clinic Staff, 2008, Feb.; Minden, 2005; What is Binge Eating Disorder?, 2009).

Disordered Eating

Lesser known, but also more common eating disorders are disordered eating. This is usually an eating disorder that is not as severe as anorexia, bulimia or binge eating, but signs are similar and can have similar health altering effects (Minden, 2005). Signs of having disordered eating include, “… altering eating habits in response to stress, repeatedly going on extreme diets, exercising too much, using supplements to reduce weight or boost metabolism, and experiencing significant weight fluctuations” (Minden, 2005, p. 216). Other signs include obsession with thoughts of food or weight, feeling withdrawn or guilty after eating, fear of gaining weight and a feeling of being judged of value based on weight or looks. Although disordered eating is less commonly recognized or diagnosed as a disorder, the effects it can have on an average person or dancer are both mentally and physically damaging (Karras, 2008; Minden, 2005; What’s Going on With Me? Evaluating Eating and Exercise Habits, 2006).

 

Dancers need to be especially concerned of developing an eating disorder because of the environment they are in and the pressures they face to be thin (Minden, 2005). A dancer’s focus needs to rely on being healthy and avoiding influences that encourage self-loathing or criticism. Dancers are more vulnerable to develop eating disorders (Minden, 2005). However, with a healthy diet and healthy attitude, this may assist dancers in avoiding unnecessary influences that could lead to self-damage (Dunning, 1997; Heaner, 2009b; Heaner, 2009d; Mayo Clinic Staff, 2008, Feb.; Minden, 2005; Smith, 2006).

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