The Healthy Performance Artist Part 1 - Nutrition

As performers we deal with busy lifestyles and high stress situations on a daily basis. Maintaining health and happiness can be hard. Sometimes we aren’t even aware of where to start in terms of staying energized and maintaining healthy weight.

To assist performers and other high stress occupations with these issues I sat down with Dietician Cathryn Whiteley for some advice.

Sarah – Hiya, thank you for being here. Today we are here to receive some advise on how to keep a performer’s body healthy in terms of what we put in our mouths. Firstly could you give us a quick low down on your experience and credentials?

Cathryn – Hi Sarah, sure. I hold a Bachelor degree in Heath Science and a Masters in Dietetics. As a dietician my experience is broad, ranging from private practice, public health, research and currently in program development for diabetes SA specializing in chronic disease.

Sarah – Finding professional help for a healthy lifestyle in terms of food and exercise can be difficult because there are so many different health professionals working in this area. For Example: What is the difference between a dietician and a nutritionist?

Cathryn – A Dietician is a health professional with a 4 year university degree. Dieticians study biochemistry and human disease, food science and health psychology. Dietetic practice is based on current scientific evidence and research converting scientific language into practical health advice for people with health conditions and disease, as well as the general public. A nutritionist is a very broad term covering professionals who have studied at tertiary institutions but also covers those who have simply undertaken a weekend health course. The role of a nutritionist is to instruct in general healthy eating, improving lifestyle and providing practical food advice to the otherwise healthy public.

Sarah –So both roles are vastly different in what they do. Could this be some of the reason that there is so much confusion surrounding the healthy food movement? I have heard many opinions about what may be better for me and they are sometimes very apposing in nature. Could you shed some light?

Cathyrn – The healthy food movement is important to embrace in an age of highly processed and energy dense foods. But there is confusion. The first reason for confusion is that sometimes people selling the ‘so called’ healthy foods so not have any health education and are just trying to sell you something. The second reason for confusion is that foods for those with illnesses such as gluten free foods, designed for those with celiac disease are being marketed for everyone. The third reason for confusion is that high profile and media personalities often comment on food but are not educated to give advise on human health and the complex mechanisms of the human body.

Sarah – So where do you recommend someone who may have been confused by these things take their first steps to a healthier lifestyle?

Cathryn – If you do not suffer from any heath conditions and are not taking any medications I would recommend you start by consulting the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating at

Sarah – For performers in particular it is important to maintain a healthy weight for multiple reasons. It makes it easier for us to do our jobs, as we often physically tire on stage and rehearse for long hours at a time. Could you provide some info to help us with maintaining healthy weight?

Cathyrn – Weight gain and loss is actually a complex area because it involves psychology as well as understanding energy balance. The best advice is to see a dietician personally as everyone requires a different intake of energy from food. However a general place to start is by adopting a 'simple balanced eating plan' using portion control. One quarter of your plate or palm size should be protein e.g. meat, fish or beans. One-quarter carbohydrates e.g. 1 slice of bread, ½ cup of pasta/rice or 1 potato. Half a plate of vegetables, excluding potatoes and corn. Limit cheese or healthy fats to 1-2 teaspoons per day. If a snack is required choose between fruit, a small whole grain snack or a small amount of protein. Save the calorie filled fluids for special outings and try to drink water in general. E.g. Fruit juice, fizzy drinks.

Sarah – After shows performers are often starving, not having wanted to eat a huge amount before appearing onstage. They are also commonly knocked back at auditions as often as they are cast. For those who tend to be emotional eaters or leave eating for long periods of time due to stage time, what advice could you give them if they are craving greasy or high kilojoule food?

Cathryn – For hungry performers or emotional eaters the best place to start is with recognising in advance when this hunger or emotion is likely to occur. Then the first step is to be prepared. Never go out without taking some healthy snacks with you and never go shopping on an empty stomach. Food always comes down to personal taste, but I have a few ideas to help people get started. The types of things you may consider taking with you are; favourite dip with veggie sticks, whole fruit or fruit salad, a wholegrain sandwich, a boiled egg, slice of veggie frittata, slice of meatloaf or some savoury wholegrain biscuits.

Sarah – The importance of water. Now this is still a big one that is not widely understood. I have heard people say that each of us requires 8 glasses of water per day but I have also heard people say that they should only drink when they are thirsty? Can you shed some light?

Cathryn – The body often confuses thirst and hunger so always start with a glass of water to determine your hunger level. Our bodies are approximately 60% water and contain approximately 5 litres of blood. We should all be drinking between 1.5 – 2.5 litres of water per day to replace bodily fluids and promote health. Watch out for signs such as dry lips, skin and headaches. These can be indications that a person is not drinking enough water.

Sarah – Thank you so much for sharing your expertise.

Cathryn – You’re welcome.

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