Lisa the Ballerina – An Inspiring Story about Discipline and Good Food
How do you stay fit and healthy in your fifties? How do you continue to look great, and keep these precious muscles you built over the years?
Well, my dear and beautiful friend Lisa, a trained ballerina, learned this through her rigorous dancing discipline. And we all know how being “thin” – not discussing this in this story – is important to that profession. But Lisa says you can be in control while not feeling deprived. She always took good care of her body, which was her bread winning instrument for so long.
Today Lisa still looks like a ballerina. She is healthy, muscular, and disciplined with food. She is beautiful, and her secret weapon is discipline. Which does not mean she does not enjoy a good meal and a glass of wine!
It is key to eat well as a dancer, to feed your muscle mass, to deliver the energy necessary for a very physically demanding lifestyle and to avoid injuries that could destroy your career.
A professional dancer trains 6 to 8 hours a day and is on stage sometimes for two hours nonstop. Constant dieting, with unhealthy habits can take a toll on your body, with potential long term consequences.
Unlike most dancers, Lisa was practically injury free during her career which she attributes to her nutritional lifestyle and cross training. Like a dancer, Lisa has fallen multiple times and hurt an ankle or a wrist. Muscles were sore, toenails fell off, blisters were taped but for a ballerina “the show must go on”. There is no respite, and no self-pity.
Lisa’s Love Story with Dancing
Lisa fell in love with dancing while attending the Nutcracker ballet at the age of five. She was enthralled by the magic of the performance. She started to train at the age of 6 with a private teacher, Mrs. Deak, in her home’s basement. This was the beginning of a long love story with ballet.
Lisa comes from a Hungarian and Scottish heritage. She told me there was always real food at home and her mother took a very healthy approach with her three kids: no sodas, no M&Ms, little sugar, and mostly home cooked healthy balanced meals. Her mother had taken upon herself, before nutrition became so popular, to get educated about food and its impact on health. Lisa learned as well, and at a young age, got influenced by the power of whole and healthy foods. This shows how powerful your parents’ lifestyle influences your future behaviors and choices.
As a gifted dancer, Lisa auditioned and was accepted at the age of 12 for the School of American Ballet Summer Intensive and invited to join their full year program but her mother felt she was too young to leave home. At 13, it was a no again. Finally, her mother let her “flee the coop” when she was accepted at the age of 14 to the North Carolina School of the Arts (NCSA). Lisa’s passion, talent and commitment were too big to stop!
Lisa the Performer: Fuel Your Body
She left home to attend the NCSA boarding school in 10th grade. Her life dream was taking shape. She never resorted to the all too common and unfortunate tricks some dancers use to stay thin such as laxatives, and bouts of bulimia which can turn into lifelong health issues including anorexia. She had from the get go a healthy relationship with foods. She saw food as an ally rather than an enemy.
The ballet school cafeteria was bad, but she learned to eat well on a budget. She also started to eat 6 meals a day. She fueled her body with small quantities of peanut butter and long acting carbohydrates and fruits to sustain her grueling training regimen. This way she was never too tired or famished.
She landed her first professional contract at 18 and joined the Connecticut Ballet in New Haven, CT. She managed to continue to eat well in spite of a demanding performance and travel schedule all over the US. She became a performer and a very gifted one at that.
She then joined the American Repertory Ballet in New Brunswick, NJ and retired at 29, like an athlete, to raise her two daughters. She became a ballet teacher at The Princeton Ballet School and led 22 classes a week for 18 years.
You can imagine that teaching ballet keeps you on your toes, pun intended. You move a lot over the day and show the students what perfect form looks like. You also must inspire them, cajole them and be an entertainer as you train them.
The Ballerina Deals With Her Left Hip
In 2007, after so many years of dancing, Lisa’s left hip got “broken” due to overuse and had to be replaced.
And here comes her continued inspirational story. She was immobilized, and not teaching anymore, for two months. She gained 20 pounds, which if you know Lisa is a huge weight gain for her rather petite and muscular frame.
She became depressed, not only because of the immobility but also because she mourned her lifelong dancing career. The hip situation required a new vision for herself. Even teaching classes was really over. She started a new more sedentary role as Dean of Students, which she loved.
A New Lifestyle, With Continued Discipline
What do you do after so many years when you have to re-invent yourself while taking care of your body and weight? Lisa, the ever disciplined lady, took some drastic measures.
1. She slept a lot because she knew her body needed sleep to heal.
2. On top of physical therapy (which burns calories), she started to walk three times a week, three miles each time.
3. She always took the stairs anywhere she went.
4. She changed the way she was eating, not only to lose weight, but also because she had a genetic predisposition for elevated cholesterol. She removed skin from her chicken and chose lean proteins such as poultry, fish and low fat beef or pork. She started to swap animal based protein for plant based protein such as beans and lentils for instance. She was never a sweet tooth or a “snacker” (except for fuel), but she drastically increased her fiber intake with vegetables, fruits and flax seeds.
5. She brought her food from home and followed The CogniDiet plate rule: 1/2 plate filled with vegetables, ¼ starch carbohydrates or bread, ¼ protein.
6. She tried to buy local and organic foods, as much as she could, to give the best to her body.
And Lisa Lost the 20 Pounds
With this new regimen Lisa had a substantial drop in cholesterol levels by 79 points. But over the next 10 years, the levels kept gradually rising again and needed to be controlled with a low dose statin, besides healthy eating and exercise. As osteoporosis also runs in the family, Lisa has cut caffeine by half and increased her calcium intake.
She has lost the 20 extra pounds, and still walks regularly, goes to the gym even if she does not like it. She has a new responsibility as Coordinator of Donor Relations and Special Projects for the ballet and must attend many fundraising events. She drinks a lot of water and eats everything at the parties she must attend, but with strict portion control.
I know Lisa well, we eat and cook a lot together. Our families are very close, including our combined four girls (by the way all healthy eaters and cooks and regular exercisers). There is also a French influence via her husband Lionel. We have good dinners, with cheese, and wine, and French baguette. But again, the next day, Lisa is ALWAYS back in the saddle!
I can say that what makes Lisa an inspirational story is that she is a natural eater. She is very well attuned with her body needs. She respects it and treats it like an investment. She is planning to still dance at 99 years old with grace and flexibility.
She is a great cook and always takes great care at setting a beautiful and inviting table. Lisa has never had any need to follow our weight loss program but she truly embodies all The CogniDiet principles of mindful and healthy eating, respecting your body and losing weight naturally.
With all my love to Lisa.Leave a reply →