How often do we come across headlines like ’Everyone needs to minimize their salt intake to avoid high blood pressure’, or ’Dancers need to avoid simple carbohydrates’, or ’Fruit juice will cause blood sugar and insulin spikes, ultimately causing inflammation’, or ’Too much protein will bulk the dancers up’? Probably every single day. 

How much of it is true in the context of dancing? Not a single statement. But, wait, what? Isn’t that what the media and fitness industry writes about on a daily basis? Absolutely – but the media writes about the general population, and the popular fitness industry addresses the general population too, as well as those, compared to an athlete or dancer, who are only little or moderately active. But they are vastly different from performing athletes. And here is why:

  1. The general population – the population for which lots of dietary guidelines and recommendations have been published – these days, is usually middle-aged, overweight or obese, with a sedentary lifestyle, and frequently suffering from diseases like diabetes type 2, or associated cardiovascular/metabolic complications. Let’s just think about this for a moment …. What do they have in common with dancers? Exactly, nothing. So why is it then so popular to apply research results or guidelines and recommendations made for the general population to dancers? Because it makes life so easy. The life of those applying these guidelines, that goes without saying. Not the life of the dancers though. Such unreflected behavior doesn’t require specific skills, and it doesn’t require any further training in a given profession – be that medicine, physiotherapy, nutrition, or psychology. Everyone can do that these days. Tell someone ’there was a study …’ and you sound like you know what you’re talking about. Some don’t even bother to look up if there’s an actual study supporting their claims, they prefer talking to a medium.
  2. The life of many dancers, on the other hand, is made a lot harder through this kind of irresponsible information, sometimes forcing them to quit their career early. So many still do not learn how to properly take care of a performing athlete’s body during their official training, they do not learn how to fuel right to not only perform well, but also be well. Many feel they need to turn to media and social media to learn about their bodies. And now we’re getting close to the most uncomfortable of questions: How can anyone claim an approach that regularly includes misinformation is ethically, or socially acceptable? And why do so many people keep posting/writing exactly this nonsense? It is far more than infuriating, and likely a strong sign of a) money still makes the world go round, and b) every man for himself. 

Here’s a compact guide what to watch out for the next time a dancer is being told ’to drink white wine in order to lose weight’, or any other quintessential nonsense:

  • The study quoted by the person giving this kind of advice: Was it a study on athletes? If so, in which group of athletes? Are their workouts and lifestyle similar to that of a dancer? And if so, were the athletes actually required to lose weight due to being overweight? How much wine were they given, how often, and when? Was the number of participants large enough to gather reliable results? Did the study have a control group? And was it based on the best evidence available – or just on any evidence available? Before guidelines and recommendations are published – for the general population or for athletic populations alike, the best available evidence is subject to a thorough and strict selection process, for a single study in itself, this doesn’t mean much. Research results need to be reproduced, as a single study result doesn’t really have a meaning in the context of human health. Spoiler alert: It’s more than likely that you will not find a study with the intention to investigate ’Which type of wine should dancers or athletes drink to lose weight?’. Alcohol on the other hand, in a sports context, is well-investigated, reliably and repeatedly shown to impair recovery after a training session, hence hindering adaptation to training. Furthermore, the need to lose weight in athletes is usually extremely rare, hence there are next to no studies with samples large enough to produce reliable results regarding weight loss. Losing weight is usually a most personal issue, being dealt with in a 1:1 setting. Conclusion: If someone cannot answer these questions, you’re dealing with unqualified advice, bringing more harm than good to any dancer listening to it. On another note, there are plenty of studies investigating the effect of white and red wine in obese, middle-aged, sedentary people and their effect on weight loss. But how…..? Ok, you got this, you’re smarter than that, don’t let yourself be fooled! Advice like the one mentioned should have never been used to ’inform’ dancers or athletes.
  • With only a small number of studies in dancers (compared to other specialized athletes), we all need to be extremely careful which results are applicable – and which not. We need to be very aware that many dancers trying to gather information about their health are still very young and impressionable. They easily fall victim to persuasive language, void of context. And research for this age group is even harder to gather than in adult athletes and dancers. We cannot be careful enough with our information for them. 
  • Interestingly, many influencers and celebrities use the ’we are all in it together, be kind’ argument once they’re caught, and possibly called out, for their harmful misleading and misinformation of their (often huge) followings. If called out by a healthcare professional, do not forget that part of the healthcare professional’s onus is to protect and to educate according to the standards of the respective regulating body (they all are very similar worldwide). It is not their onus to keep quiet and silently approve of the absolute nonsense being promoted (not to mention the financial profit of those promoting the misinformation). And last but not least, any sort of advice in media/on social media can only ever be generic – not tailored medical/nutritional/psychological advice. The advice can only be for educational purposes. 

We, together with many healthcare professionals, have only one wish for 2020: Please let us do our job properly because every single dancer deserves to be treated with the utmost respect and profound knowledge. In a dance world that still lags behind the integration of healthcare in too many places worldwide, they still go to class, rehearsal and performances every single day, often no matter what their physical or mental wellbeing tells them. They deserve much better than being misinformed.