Sharing the struggles and celebrating the triumphs of being African American in the ballet world and beyond.

Friday, May 27, 2011

That Four Letter Word

D  .  I  .  E  .  T


Like many other dancers, I will never forget the first time I was told to lose weight. My mother pulling me to the side after an audition only to whisper that horrible phrase,"you need to lose weight." I was mortified. After all, I was one of those kids who could eat everything in sight and never gain an ounce. I guess that only lasted so long. Not coming from a family of dancers, or a culture in which a super thin silhouette is admired, the concept of diet was not in my vocabulary. I had no idea where to begin.

Since that dreadful day, I read every book on diet and nutrition I could get my hands on and experimented with every diet known to man. I remember my parents’ frustration during meal times. The foods I once loved I now rejected. The pancakes in the morning smothered in syrup or eggs and bacon atop a homemade buttermilk biscuit that use to have me jolting out of bed on a normal day, were no longer calling me to the morning table.  My father seemed the most clueless of all when it came to diet, and as a skinny  6'3" southern boy who ate everything in sight, this came as no surprise. Oh the sweet naivete of my father who at one time offered me a cup of water and double checked the nutrition facts to reassure me there were no calories.  I recall even trying to survive a whole day on a single apple, only to scarf down a days worth of Chinese delivery by evening. Not a healthy practice by anyone’s standards I assure you! Throughout my career, there continued to be a series of ups and downs and changes with every new fad. Food soon became my nightmare and my silhouette’s worst enemy.

As an adult with  a more mature pallet, I have learned a lot about nutrition since my days of dancing in NY. The diet I have adopted now is not only healthy but  effortless. No more counting calories and changing fads. What I have learned from my dear European friends is that food is meant to be enjoyed. It is not a science project nor solely a source of fuel.  Every moment is a sensory indulging experience, from the preparation to the plate. Yes, food in my home was always enjoyed and the preparation a pleasurable bonding experience between my mother and I, but there is a totally different level of enjoyment when you know where your food comes from, the history behind the dishes and the cultural traditions in the preparation. It is almost a religious experience. I have learned, when you take the time to enjoy  really good food, there is no need to over indulge. One morsel of some of the finest chocolates in Switzerland would leave heavenly flavors swirling around my palate an entire 20 minute bus ride home. Ahhh...the memories.

 I have since tried to bring my new found love of good food home with me and share this knowledge with those I love. As many may know, getting good quality food in this country certainly comes at a price. You will not find many organic supermarkets  near most inner cities in the US, and even if they did exist many households couldn't afford the price. Thankfully, there are organizations popping up around the country that have recognized this issue and are making efforts to address it. People such as Will Allen of Growing Power, Inc whose organization develops community food systems, "that help people grow, process, market and distribute food in a sustainable manner," as stated on the website  Please take a moment and  learn more about what this wonderful organization is doing.

Dieting has never been an enjoyable experience, but developing healthy habits is certainly rewarding and satisfying. Eating healthy doesn't mean partaking in lifeless, tasteless meals, it’s simply a matter of investing the time to find what you like and making healthier meal choices. However, it should also be about creating access to healthier options for everyone to enjoy. I look forward to the day when good, healthy and sustainable food is made available to each and every family, irrespective of location or income.

So as I throw away the scale and  bid adieu to my flavorless days of rice cakes and cottage cheese, I embrace with open arms my new colorful and flavor filled world of delicious and healthy food.
Buon Appetito!

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