After working with young performers for four decades, in a variety of capacities, I’ve become convinced that there ought to be a consistent, readily available source of good information for these kids in regard to the decisions they make about their lives and careers.
In general, there are three things I happen to know something about:
- How, by and large, today’s young performers feel about themselves.
- How most of them take care of themselves.
- What qualities, in general, people in the industry are looking for.
Even though I am NOT a casting director, a doctor, or a nutritionist, I’ve worked closely with many, as well as with thousands of Broadway, television and film performers. I know from my own experience that no professional aspiration will ever reach fruition without addressing the above three issues.
To start this site, I’d like to mostly talk about eating, and let readers pick and choose whatever they feel is interesting or might be helpful.
So. Here we go. Let's give it a title. How about:
Nutritional Observations and Recommendations for the Famous, Not-so-Famous, and Not-at-All Famous Young Performers I have Known and Loved
To begin with, it has been my observation that many, if not most, young performers are not in good shape physically.
I’m NOT referring to muscle tone.
I’m referring to some basic and crucial things like the levels of iron and sugar in the blood, overall Ph level of the body, (acid versus alkaline), the strength of your immune system, and a number of other key health markers having largely to do with what these kids are eating or not eating.
How do I, as a non practitioner, know the above is true, apart from the tons of research I've read supporting the above statement? Simple. Many years of observation. These kids are too often chronically tired, underweight, (that’s right- underweight- I’ll discuss this more in the future), lacking energy, sick with colds and coughs, suffering from acne, multiple allergies, mood swings and a variety of other symptoms of imbalance.
I assume most kids do not enjoy such conditions, and would like to overcome them. Performers especially! (You perform much better when you feel good. No?) While I do NOT espouse any particular diet or dietary regimen whatsoever, I do recommend, strictly as a caring, well-read lay person, a few basic routines.
I hope you find these useful:
- More green vegetables. I’m not referring to the iceberg lettuce in your daily salad. You need steamed broccoli, steamed string beans, steamed asparagus, steamed peas, steamed anything that’s green, (except “salad” vegetables), two or three times EVERY DAY. Why steamed? Steaming preserves the heat-sensitive vitamins and other nutrients inside the plant, while providing enough heat to break down some of the cellulose in the hard outer husk of the vegetable, so that your digestive enzymes and stomach acids can access and help digest and absorb the nutrients better. (Whew! I can see my 10th Grade English teacher frowning at that run-on sentence.) Salads? Make sure they contain Romaine, red leaf, and other dark green leafy vegetables, as well as the usual- cucumbers, celery, green peppers- or any color peppers, onions, and try some parsley. For extra protein, add any sort of nuts or seeds. Want to go cutting edge? Eat organic- but wash organic stuff even MORE than non-organic. Why? It’s dirtier. Since it’s not treated with pesticides or other repellants, insects and animals come and do bad things to it, if you catch my drift.
- Less sugar and caffeine. The damage caused to your body and mind by an excess of one or both of these two things would fill a hundred Internet sites, and indeed, probably does. Many kids and parents know the usual downside factors: hyperactivity, mood swings, insomnia, anxiety attacks, nervous system dysfunction, dental caries, heart complications, blood sugar issues/diabetes, adrenal exhaustion, interference with digestion, oxidative stress affecting virtually all living tissue, yeast infections, and more. What most people don’t know is that for many serious diseases to advance in the body, most notably cancer and a variety of serious infections, the blood must be in something called an acidic PH state. Research shows that when the blood is kept in a balanced PH state, many disease processes are often arrested, either partially or entirely. I don’t pretend to understand the reasons for this, but I do know that few things in the world acidify the blood more thoroughly, and for longer periods of time after consumption, than sugar and caffeine. Equally acidifying are alcohol, meat, dairy, cigarette smoke, and stress… the last of which I’ll discuss in a future piece.
- Don’t drink water when your stomach has food in it- like stop drinking about a half hour before you eat, and don’t resume for at least an hour after you finish. (A couple of swallows during a meal won’t hurt you.) This simple practice can prevent all sorts of digestive disturbances, and even things like arthritis, skin disorders such as acne, and worse. Why? Because your stomach contains a very complex and balanced system of digestive enzymes and acids during digestion, and water simply dilutes it. When this happens, the entire digestion process is compromised and even halted. Aside from the immediate disturbances, you then have partially digested, partially oxidized (decayed) food molecules being released into your system. This has been identified as contributing to many degenerative disease processes, from acne to even colon cancer. Remember this: If you feel thirsty while you’re eating, you either haven’t been drinking enough water during the day, or you’re eating something unhealthy! When there’s no food in your stomach, you should, of course, be consuming eight (8) swallows of water EVERY HOUR, from the moment you get out of bed. Don’t forget to allow enough time for the water to leave your stomach before breakfast. Regarding water quality: Ideally, you should get some mineral drops at a health food store, (I like “Concentrace”), buy gallons of distilled (not spring) water, shake and squirt a tiny bit of the mineral drops, (about a teaspoon full), into each gallon of water, shake it up, and use that as your refilling source for your hand-held bottles. Remember to rinse your small bottles out thoroughly at the end of each day to minimize the accumulation of bacteria.
- Food combining. Essentially, this means that your digestive system, for the most part, produces just one category of digestive enzyme at a time, and can therefore usually successfully digest only one food category at a time. There are three such categories: protein, fat and carbohydrates. Your body will usually go to work on the food that takes the longest, which is protein. During the several hours or longer that it takes to digest the protein in your stomach, any fats or carbohydrates will probably just sit there and wait their turn. The question is: What happens to chewed up food, sitting in a dark, moist environment at a temperature of 98.6 degrees for several hours? That’s exactly what you will eventually absorb into your body. Now, it is true that nature itself produces several foods that contain more than one category. An example is nuts, which contain both protein and fat. Fortunately, your body is equipped to handle this in limited amounts. It is also true that it would be impractical to follow food combining in its purest sense. Therefore, I recommend simply keeping food combining in mind, practicing it whenever possible, particularly in regard to fruits, which seem to be the most sensitive to the food combining principle. Eat fruits on an empty stomach, before a meal. They pass quickly through the stomach, so they can be eaten 30-45 minutes before a meal with minimal consequences, or at least an hour after a meal. My personal opinion is that you should avoid fruit juice- it’s Vitamin C content notwithstanding, it’s simply a lot of sugar to unload into your blood stream, and a bit harsh for your pancreas, all at once. Eat the WHOLE FRUIT instead, so the pulp and fiber can help moderate the fructose (fruit sugar) intake. One big exception to the whole food combining thing is our old friend green vegetables and salads. They seem to go well with, and in fact enhance the digestion of, virtually everything.
- Something else you should avoid is hydrogenated vegetable oils. You’ve all heard of that, and here’s basically what it means and why it’s bad. Hydrogenated oils are oils that are literally bombarded with hydrogen molecules for the economic purpose of increasing their shelf life. The problem is that the process of hydrogenation is in effect a de-naturing of the oils, which means that they become much harder for your digestive enzymes, and all of the rest of your body’s cells, to recognize them as food. The result is that they then have “longer shelf life” in your tissues, resulting in all sorts of complications and eventually disease.
- Dairy and meat products. Do your own research here. There’s plenty to suggest you should limit your intake of both. I will tell you that the calcium in milk is greatly over-rated in terms of its bioavailability, (cellular absorption). First off, in order for your cell receptors to recognize and absorb calcium, the calcium molecule must be accompanied by a variety of other minerals, or mineral co-factors. Such co-factors include magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, silica, boron and others- none of which are present in significant amounts in dairy products. This probably explains the epidemiology of why the highest dairy consuming areas of the world- U.S.A., Canada, and Western Europe have a much higher incidence rate of calcium deficiency and osteoporosis than, say, virtually all of the Asian countries which consume little or no dairy. Best source of absorbable calcium? And iron? And a bunch of other good things? GREEN VEGGIES! ESSENTIAL NOTE: It is absolutely crucial that young people who practice any form of vegetarianism substitute ample alternative sources of PROTEIN in their diet, such as beans, nuts and soy products such as tofu. It is also my personal opinion that ALL teenage girls today should take good-quality iron, calcium and magnesium supplements, (the standard serving amount recommended on the bottle of virtually all major manufacturers is usually sufficient), unless your physician indicates this is contraindicated for a bona fide health reason.
- Wash your hands! Wash them again. Do it before you touch anything in your kitchen, or any food items, or any serving utensils, or plates, or whatever. And as much as possible, keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth. When you use a public bathroom, use a paper towel to turn off the faucets, and to turn off the light and/or open the door, after you’ve washed your hands. This clean hands thing alone will keep you healthier than you’ve ever been! Why? Because when your immune system is relieved from having to constantly fight off foreign invaders like bacteria, it’s enabled to “clean house”, i.e. detoxify your body. Those white blood cells that would normally be “cleaning up” after your dirty hands, can now “clean out” things like viruses, budding cancer cells, toxic metals and other debris inside your cells which, left unchecked, would become problematic- even deadly.
So… that’s it for now. Do as many of these things as you can, and you’ll see and feel the difference almost immediately. You’ll look better, you’ll have more energy, and you’ll perform better. In fact, it is my firm conviction that your career will take a surprising leap, (dancers: pun intended), forward! Let me know how it works for you.
One last point: Again, I am not a doctor or nutritionist. I am simply reporting what thousands of doctors and researchers have stated repeatedly. Accordingly, please listen to the following sentence carefully. My comments are based strictly and entirely on research that was either conducted or accessed by hundreds of licensed, experienced physicians and/or clinical nutritionists, appearing in at least several studies, double-blind where appropriate, conducted at major universities or medical centers, and published in major peer-reviewed journals.
I am happy to provide specific bibliographic references for anything I say. ANYTHING. Just ask.
I welcome moreover any physician or nutritionist to come forward and either support what I am saying, or refute it with a brief, non-subjective, non-personal, completely technical explanation as to exactly what I’ve said that they feel is inaccurate. I will share any such opinions with the licensed physicians and clinical nutritionists I know, or whose work I am familiar with, and report any corrections that may arise.
So… that’s it for now. Let me know if you’ve found any of this helpful. In future articles, I’d like to give my views on some things I’ve been forced to have a great deal of experience with over the past thirty years, especially working with young dancers:
- The emotions surrounding your eating habits.
- The subject of eating disorders.
- The role of self-esteem as it pertains to your marketability as a performer.
- The professional necessity of understanding the true definition of acting, voice and dance.
- How to have a career as a performer- where does the fantasy end and the real stuff begin?
Sounds “deep”, right? Don’t worry. I’ll try to make it simple.
Let me hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org. No instant messages, please, unless you know me! (And no silly, negative emails- I can delete pointless things faster than you can say “pirouette”.)
Take care of yourself, and if you like these comments, I’ll try to share more soon.
Any help or constructive feedback is welcome.