Dancing in a Fog of Gluten

Colleen McCarthy, RD,LD

Dancing at a professional level requires being present in class and rehearsals as much as possible and constantly striving to be at a competitive level. My first professional job dancing with a company was a dream for me and I was going to do whatever it took to be successful.  Turns out, this was a health nightmare that just kept getting worse. No matter how well I thought I was fueling my body by eating whole grain foods, protein, fruits and vegetables, I was experiencing severe stomach pain, bloating, and headaches. I found myself not wanting to be in class, trying to dance through the stomach pain, bloating, and confusion which were completely impossible. My weight was dropping without trying to lose any, my dancing was getting sloppy, I couldn’t remember choreography and I was always tired no matter what. I was at the end of my rope; I had no idea why this was happening all of a sudden. I found that if I stopped eating the stomach pain would go away and I was able to take class without pain and make it through rehearsals, but my weight was dropping fast and so were the parts that I was getting to perform. As my weight dropped dramatically over a period of time, my energy, drive and the love I had for dance began diminish over 3 years.  My solution to the pain by not eating landed me a hip injury and I was out of dance for a year. After seeing many doctors about what I was experiencing, I wasn’t getting results.  I was devastated. Not knowing what to do, I left the dance world in North Carolina and moved to Atlanta to find “something else” to fill that void of dance. I went to see a nutritionist and finally got the answer that I had been seeking for years. I was gluten intolerant. I was a little skeptical because how could this one ingredient in so many foods cause this much pain to where my dancing suffered so greatly?

Removing gluten completely from my diet made me feel “normal” again. The stomach pain, bloating, constipation, confusion, headaches that I had been experiencing were all of a sudden gone. I gained some weight back when I started eating again, which was a good healthy weight, and I felt great but it was more than I wanted to carry as I was trying to reach that competitive level of dancing that I was at in the past. I went back to the nutritionist to get some help on how to eat gluten free, drop the extra weight that I had gained back. I was back in ballet class everyday and I got a job dancing again. Everything seemed to fit back into place. After I figured out how to fuel my body correctly with nutrients my body needed to dance at the professional level my energy was through the roof. I was amazed. My body completely changed. Seeing results from just changing the way I ate, and finding out about my gluten intolerance had a huge impact on my dancing. I felt stronger, my muscles were more defined, I was not bloated, I had more energy than I ever had before, and I was quickly picking up choreography again.  It was a complete life change.

Eating right and balancing the right fuel for your body makes a huge difference. If I had not gone to the nutritionist when I did, I am sure I would not still be dancing today, even though it’s just taking class here and there now. This inspired me to go back to school to get my degree in Dietetics, felt like I had been given my life back and I wanted to help others like I was helped. Not everyone needs to avoid gluten, but I was one of the few people that have gluten intolerance and avoiding gluten is a lifelong commitment.  Eliminating this food allergy changed my life and my dancing.
** Note that a gluten free diet is NOT for everyone, if you do not have issues with gluten, you do not need to eliminate it from your diet, it will not help you lose weight if you do**

This is why I chose to go to school to become a dietitian, I wanted to help people the way I was helped. At the end of my rope, I finally figured out that I could control my symptoms and the way I felt through diet…. and You can too!! Let me help you!

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