A Professional Dancer Shares her ED Story & A Giveaway

 This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, and in celebration of that, The Healthy Dancer has asked its readers to share their stories, and to encourage our readers to promote awareness this week and share these posts, The Healthy Dancer is hosting a giveaway. To be entered to win the new edition of Jenni Schaefer's book, Life Without ED, you must leave a comment on this post. To gain additional entries we invite you to share links to our posts this week on Facebook and Twitter.

This courageous post comes from a professional dancer currently struggling with an eating disorder...  


A recent “medical leave” from dance satisfied the suggestions of professionals that separation from the dance environment would help me to recover from my disordered eating. I’d like to say that my doctors told me to take some time away from dancing because I became too thin. This was not the case. As a dancer that struggles with eating from the binge-eating/bulimic side of things, I often feel ashamed of not being “sick enough”. For not being good enough to really have an eating disorder…

Two and a half months and 15 extra pounds later, no solution to the eating disorder has emerged.  Instead, I have found myself giving in, allowing myself permission to binge, purge, and restrict; falling into destructive, late-night behaviors with wild friends that I can’t keep up with; and wondering why I feel lethargic, hopeless and bloated with disgust for myself.

The exact beginning of the eating disorder behaviors is unclear. Perhaps personality made me vulnerable: as a perfectionist and highly sensitive individual, I always will experience life with overwhelming intensity.  I remember feeling large as a kid, even before ballet and I were in a serious, exclusive relationship. Once that relationship blossomed, weight and food became an obsession. Instead of nourishing the unique set of talents that my compact, muscular body allowed me, I gorged myself with hate for my shortcomings until I was sick with cruelty toward myself.

College - a blizzard of bingeing, over-exercising, restricting, laxatives, and calorie counts. On the outside I blossomed, but inside I burned with anxious hopelessness, stuck in the eating disorder cycle. My serious relationship shifted from being with dance to being with the eating disorder. Somehow I  finished with nearly a perfect GPA, a job dancing professionally, and a legacy of unforgettable performances. Yet, I was so numb to all such beauty in my life.

After college, this addictively abusive relationship with food and my body dragged me through a turbulent first year dancing with a mid-West ballet company. Despite my success, I remained unsatisfied. I fled that environment, re-locating to my hometown to dance for a contemporary ballet company. In all honesty, I returned home to search for a solution to the eating disorder. Early into the season, I found myself bowing out of the studio and stepping completely into the eating disorder’s arms.

Yesterday was my first class back to dancing in months. I made this decision on my own, without the approval of my support team. I have never been more proud. Time away from dancing has allowed me the unexpected realization that dance itself can and must be part of the recovery process for those of us who are dancers at heart. I had no idea that the solution to my problem eating might lie in the movement itself.

I had no idea that it’s not the dance world that caused the eating disorder, but rather my own unrealistic demands for myself within the context of this world. Once the core belief of my lack of worth was established, it became very easy to view it as truth. It’s easy to focus on the demanding parts of dance. However, it took a complete removal of dance from my life for me to notice the power it instills in me: motivation, life, strength, energy. I live as a dancer, and I can now recognize that in order to be content, I must nourish this part of me. I feel music in my muscles. I experience relationships as a dance of spirits. To recover, I must move, because the dancer in me contains some of the best, most thoughtful parts of my soul. When I dance, I’m wild, free, and compassionate. My time away from dance has reminded me that I can be this person in all parts of my life. Through dance, my soul sings, and it is time to allow myself to enjoy the song.
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