Ballet to Barbells - 1200 Calories and The Shrinking Woman

My “Ballet to Barbells” series will follow my transition from a dancer to a nationally recognized strong(wo)man competitor. These posts will touch on movement correlations between disciplines and on my own exploration on society’s interpretation of femininity and nutrition and how it butts up against my own experiences of exploring my full humanity.


While making my lunches for the week, I was thinking about this article from HuffPo about the 1,200 calorie myth. I was thinking that I, too, know this number as THE NUMBER of calories a woman is “supposed” to eat to lose weight. I don’t know when I learned it. I don’t know the reasoning behind that number.

This was in high school. I was a dancer. I was 5’8 and 145lbs. I had big thighs and defined arms even then. I was naturally strong, and as such, I was the base for many complicated lifts that other girls on my dance team couldn’t pull off. I was also able to get lots of air under my leaps and jumps.

But at the time, in my mind none of my unique abilities connected to the fact that my arms and legs were thicker than other girls’.

In dance, on stage, it’s about being longer, leaner. Smaller.

Somewhere in there 1,200 calories was embedded in my mind. In fact, the summer after high school graduation, I was so terrified of gaining weight (I was no longer dancing three hours a day) that I tried to cut myself down to 800 calories a day. After all, if 1,200 calories is right for a woman, I’d better go under that to lose fat, right?

I had a bowl of cereal for breakfast. A sandwich with several pickle spears for lunch. And ate whatever my parents presented for dinner.

No snacks. No excuses.

I’ll be damned if I was going to get fat!

The thing is, I didn’t lose weight. Instead, I lost energy. I was constantly tired and irritable. My experiment lasted for two months. But the pressures of moving off to university overtook my obsession and I started eating normal again.

I was a pretty solid and reasonable teenager, as teenagers go. I wasn’t particularly prone to trends and peer pressure. And I still fell victim to these damaging falsehoods. I can’t help but worry about how these messages are taken by people who might not have had the amazing support structures that I did.

And the message is still out there: how to make yourself smaller.

Now where do these magazines, that accost me at
Safeway at Target checkout lines, tell me what I want to hear:
how to build more muscle.

You’d think that a better understanding of biology would have changed that message, but I recently heard a Slim Fast commercial on the radio a couple months back espousing the “truth” of a 1,200 calorie diet to lose weight and how “Slim Fast can help you get there.”

From the SlimFast site:
Considering I only have 33lbs of fat on my frame right now,
this is physically impossible without being unhealthy.

It makes me angry.

It makes me worried about how many women, who are already over worked and under rested, who don’t have time to do the research for themselves, will fall into this mindset.

I can’t get enough of this video: