When I was in my teens, ballet was my everything. I left school at 14 to pursue my dream of being a professional dancer. When I was on stage, it all just felt right.
But when the curtain fell, or the rehearsal ended, the pressures of looking the part took over. I didn’t eat very much—mostly just quick snacks (granola and other sugary foods) before rehearsals or performances, so I could make it through without crashing. I thought low-fat foods would get me a slim “ballet body” that would help me land roles.
During one rehearsal at a dance program in San Francisco, the exhaustion and lack of nutrients finally caught up to me. I rolled over my ankle, tearing my ligaments.
My injury forced me to take time off of dancing, which took a toll on my mental and physical health. I was getting steroid shots in my ankle to help it heal faster and pushing through pain trying keep up with the other dancers during my hiatus. All the while, I wasn’t eating nearly enough. I was spiraling into depression, and no matter what I did, my ankle wasn’t fully healing.
‘My sister gave me a major wake-up call.’
She told me what I didn’t know I desperately needed to hear: “You are not looking out for yourself.” She said that I needed to start eating real, nutrient-dense foods—and the right amount of them—if I wanted to stop getting injured and feel like myself again.
I took her advice, and with the free time I had while my ankle healed, I started researching more and more about nutrition. I found that fueling with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins was the best place to start.
For about a year, starting when I was 15, I went vegan, which really helped me remember how it felt to eat foods that made me feel good, instead of just quick, sugary foods that would get me through practice and nothing more. I cut out refined sugar and instead focused on fresh produce, grains, and other whole foods.
After a year of eating vegan, I added fish and eggs back into my diet. They gave me more of the protein I needed to dance at my best and feel more energized throughout the day. Now, I’m 21, and I’ve been a pescatarian for about five years. I’ve also cut out dairy, and I’ve focused mainly on filling my diet with real foods.
‘I’m stronger and more toned than ever before.’
Going pescatarian and dairy-free has given me more energy than ever. After the post-injury wake-up call that prompted me to eat more whole foods, I noticed a difference in how I felt almost right away. I’m happier, more fun to be around, and I feel so much stronger in the studio.
Along with the diet change, rest and working with physical therapists played a key role in helping me recover from my ankle injury. I’ve focused on strengthening my body, and I’m much less prone to injury.
Here’s what an average day of eating looks like for me:
I still stay away from refined sugar. But when I’m craving something sweet, I don’t restrict myself. Rather than grabbing a chocolate bar, I’ll go to the store and buy ingredients to bake something myself. I choose more nutritious ingredients like almond flour, coconut oil, and fresh fruit.
‘I’m no longer a pro ballerina, but I still dance. And I love it.’
There’s no workout like ballet—it helps me feel longer, stronger, and more connected to my body.
So instead of focusing on performance, I used what I learned during my dance career to create the Naturally Sassy Online Studio. I teach strength, conditioning, interval training, and of course, ballet principles. I’ve also written a cookbook, Naturally Sassy: My Recipes For An Energized, Healthy, and Happy You, to share with people what I’ve learned about truly healthy eating.
The greatest thing about the changes I’ve made in my diet: I’m no longer fueled by the pressure of having a “ballerina body.” Instead, I’m motivated by how great I feel when I take care of my body.
Sassy Gregson-Williams is the creator of Naturally Sassy, where she shares recipes, ballet-based workouts, and more. She currently lives in Los Angeles.
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