Balancing Food Freedom with Food Intolerances

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I recently authored an article for Dance Magazine about the risks dancers face when self-diagnosing food allergies and/or food intolerances. Since dancers are at a unique risk for falling into restrictive eating styles due to the unequivocal pressures of body aesthetics, it can be tempting to use such a diagnosis as a socially acceptable means to control body weight.

But it’s important to realize that many dancers do not fall under this category. In fact, the prevalence of food allergies and food intolerances continues to rise. As a result, many dancers struggle with balancing a lifestyle of food freedom whilst requiring the avoidance of any one type (or several types) of food.

If you have been diagnosed with a food intolerance, food sensitivity, or food allergy, then you’ll want to prevent your restrictions from crossing paths with disordered eating. To do so, here are 3 steps to consider while navigating your diet:

#1: Set Practical Intentions

Re-frame your reasons for avoidance. When one struggles with food intolerances, for example, the choice to avoid a food is based upon a previous experience of not feeling well. Shift your thinking from a rule like “I am never allowed to eat ____” to a choice: “I choose not to eat ____ because, in the past, I’ve experienced major stomach discomfort.” Food avoidance should not be for the purpose of “dieting,” but rather for the purpose of keeping you feeling physically well.

#2: Think about Abundance; Not Scarcity

The purpose of building a lifestyle without food rules is, among other reasons, to lessen if not eradicate the stress around eating. But unlike the general population, those with food sensitivities are forced to always consider how their food choices impact their physical functioning. Food allergies and intolerances can make some feel left out of certain celebrations and holiday traditions.

It can be easy to focus on the foods one is not allowed to eat. Instead, think about the abundance of foods one can eat and how these foods can be made more accessible. For example, choosing restaurants that are allergy-friendly and suggesting allergy-friendly dishes for parties and social gatherings. Luckily, our food supply is becoming increasingly accommodating to common allergens. Food substitutes like dairy-free ice cream and gluten-free bagels are widely available and make for great options. If you feel that your intolerance or allergy prevents you from avoiding “fun foods” like bread, bagels, baked goods, ice cream, nutty desserts, etc– remember: you’re only avoiding the allergen commonly incorporated into these foods. Allergen-free “fun foods” are now widely available within our current food supply.

#3: Stay Confident

Your increased awareness of food is to keep you safe. It is not annoying nor unreasonable for you to question and double-check that food options are allergen-free. Those around you should respect this. You are becoming the expert of your own body and therefore must be your own advocate around your food choices. For more assistance with navigating your allergy or intolerance, educational resources are available.

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