My Daughter's Battle with Anorexia

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.

        Today's post is from the mother of a dancer who is in recovery from anorexia.

My daughter is Margaret Claire.  She was a lovely, determined child. She danced from the age of 4 and made a choice to pursue ballet. She was talented, and when the time came to apply to colleges, she chose to major in dance.

Classically trained dancers are familiar with disappointment. While they may take class with other dancers, dance is not a “team sport”. Dancers are critical of themselves and constantly competing against other dancers for roles.  They develop thick skin – on the outside.

Midway through her sophomore year in college, Margie called and told me she had a problem:  she couldn’t eat. I didn’t understand what she meant until she came home for Christmas. My lovely, confident, driven daughter was so thin, and I wanted to hug away the pain I saw in her eyes. I was terrified, but certain that if I made her favorite foods, she would eat. When she didn’t eat, I assured myself she wouldn’t be purging because she would not be self-destructive…but she was.  She was starving herself, she was purging, and eventually began cutting.

My daughter reached out for help, and I now know how important that step was. She withdrew from college, came home, and began the odyssey of her recovery. I enlisted the help of everyone I knew – our family doctor, my daughter’s mentor, people in the dance community, family, and friends.

It was most helpful when a therapist told me that I needed to treat this diagnosis as if I’d been told my daughter had cancer or diabetes or MS – a disease she had little to no control over.

Watching my daughter fight this disease was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to face in my life. I remember feeling so low at times, praying I could take away her pain for just a short while. I couldn’t find any joy in living, knowing my daughter was hurting emotionally and was close to her body physically giving up.

Over time she began feeling good, she was dancing again, she enrolled in a college closer to home, therapy had worked, and she was in recovery – until she relapsed.

This time her option for help was a 4-month long day program.  She once again dropped out of school, her life was placed on hold, and I wondered if she would ever be okay.

I watched her fight hard – sometimes against the process, sometimes against me, & sometimes against others who held her accountable during her recovery.  She fought the disease!

Today, 6 years later, my daughter is in recovery. She graduated from college with honors and has recently been accepted to a prestigious graduate program.

Six years ago….
            I had no idea what anorexia was.
            I had no idea if my daughter would live or die.
            I had no idea how strong my daughter is.
            I had no idea if I would ever find joy in life again.
            I had no idea that I would be able to laugh with my daughter again.

My daughter is Margaret Claire, and she is a lovely, determined, focused young woman.

Diana Achee
a Rafflecopter giveaway

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.
National Eating Disorders Awareness
a Rafflecopter giveaway

More Reasons Why Dance is Good for Our Bodies

           "Stifling an urge to dance is bad for your health - it rusts your spirit and your hips." - Terri Guillemets

         We begin dancing, our heart rate increases, the number of blood vessels increases, increased blood flow delivers more oxygen and nutrients to our muscles, and our circulatory system becomes more efficient as was discussed in last week's post.

           Additionally, our nervous, skeletal, and muscular systems are called upon to work at their peak levels, and our bodies reap the benefits.

            As we dance, our nervous system responds in a variety of ways.  The nervous system is continually growing and adapting to accommodate the body’s needs. Each time we engage in a new movement, a new neural pathway is formed. This pathway is the route that a message travels on to go from the brain to the muscle and back to the brain again and is made up of specialized cells called neurons. Messages are passed along the neurons with the help of substances called neurotransmitters. As we begin to move, the brain, which is the control center of the nervous system, signals the body to release extra proteins and neurotransmitters. The proteins promote new neuron growth, and the neurotransmitters help to improve the speed at which messages travel the pathways. These new, efficient neural pathways increase muscle responses and coordination.

            Additionally, when we dance, the brain releases endorphins, which are hormones that promote feelings of happiness and euphoria. These feelings help improve moods, and studies have shown that physically active people recover more quickly from mild depression and have a healthier mental state.

            Dance can also create a healthier skeletal system.  Since dance is a weight bearing activity, it can positively affect bone density.  The cells in our skeletal system respond to increased weight loads, or stressors, by increasing bone tissue to protect the body.  The constant impact with the floor that occurs when dancers execute dance steps, jump, and practice choreographed falls increases the load, or amount of weight, the body must support. The bones respond by adding more layers of protein cells called collagen to support the load.  These layers increase bone density and help protect against broken bones and stress fractures. Dancing can also decrease the risk of developing osteoporosis, which is a bone disease that manifests itself in brittle bones that break because they are not dense enough to support the body and the loads placed upon it.

            Lastly, the muscular system’s response to dance is also a healthy one. As we dance and call upon our muscles to move our bodies in various ways, several things happen. As physical activity increases, the number of mitochondria found in muscle cells increases. The mitochondria are the organelles found in individual cells, which produce the ATP, or energy, that the body needs to move. The more mitochondria in our muscles cells, the greater the energy production capabilities. As muscles are exercised continually, individual muscle fiber size increases by 40-50%. As fiber size increases, muscles grow stronger, the nervous system must create more neural pathways, and muscles generate more power.  Additionally, connective tissue like tendons and ligaments also grow stronger, and the body develops greater protection against injuries.

            Clearly, dance provides the body with a multitude of benefits and can create happy, healthy people when they take the time to learn to dance in ways that are anatomically correct for their individual bodies.

How Dance Benefits the Circulatory System

"You gotta have heart, all you really need is heart…"                 - Richard Adler

            Anyone who dances can tell you that he or she feels great after dancing, and it is not surprising when one considers all of the physiological benefits that dance provides.  Dance, in any form or style, is healthy for the body in a variety of ways.  This week’s post addresses the benefits to the circulatory system.

            The circulatory system is comprised of the heart and the many blood vessels that run throughout the body.

            As we begin to dance, our hearts start to beat faster, which increases the blood flow to our muscles. As the blood is pumped through our body at a quicker pace, more oxygen is delivered to our muscles. When we do any type of physical activity, it is imperative that our muscle cells have oxygen to efficiently create energy, as was discussed in my post about breathing.  Additionally, rapid blood flow helps remove any metabolic waste from our cells. Metabolic waste is what is left over after our cells create energy. Substances like excess water, and carbon dioxide need to be carried away from the cells and eliminated from the body.

            As muscle use increases, the number of muscle cells increase, and there is a greater need for blood flow. To accommodate this need, the body increases the amount of capillaries found in the muscle fibers. Capillaries are the small blood vessels that branch out from the arteries and veins to ensure that blood can reach every part of the body.

            Since the heart is the organ that actually pumps the blood through the body, it must work harder to increase the blood flow. The heart is a muscle, and like all muscles, the more it is used, the stronger it becomes. The heart is divided into four chambers. The top two chambers are the right atrium and the left atrium, and they receive blood from the body and from the lungs. The bottom two chambers are the right and left ventricles, which pump the blood out. The oxygen-filled blood is sent from the lungs to the left atrium, flows into the left ventricle, and is pumped out by the walls of the left ventricle toward the waiting muscles. In response to physical activity, the left ventricle grows stronger, and the walls of this chamber thicken and contract with greater force to send as much blood to the muscles as possible.

            While these changes occur to enable all the physical activity that dance requires, they also benefit the body when it is at rest, and the physical activity has stopped. Dancers have a resting heart rate that is slower than an average non-exercising person because the heart has grown so efficient. A slower heart rate means the heart does not have to work as hard. It also means there is more time for the blood to fill the chambers. Additional blood enters the heart, and when this larger volume of blood is combined with the strength of the left ventricle, the heart is able to pump more blood throughout the body in less time, using less energy.

            Next week’s post will address the health benefits of dance to the muscular and nervous systems.

            In the meantime, I am still looking for people to share their stories about eating disorders for National Eating Disorders Awareness Week.  Click on this link for more information if you, or someone you know, is struggling or has struggled with an eating disorder.