Have you ever wondered what the typical ballerina diet really looks like? Vogue’s Calgary Avansino asks Flik Swan, Co-founder of Sleek Technique ballet fitness, to share her diet tips on what it really takes to stay strong and healthy. Make sure to read Calgary’s interview with Victoria Marr, the other half of Sleek Technique, in How to Eat Like a Ballerina Part 2.
Calgary: How would you define your relationship with food? Do you find there is a link between what you eat and how you’re feeling, or do you tend to be quite detached from it?
Flik: I had no real care or concern for food in my twenties and I wince at the rubbish I put into my body when my rigorous training, rehearsals and performing schedule would have benefitted from fuelling my muscles more positively with health-boosting foods. Thankfully with age comes knowledge and now, in my thirties, I actively enjoy finding and trying out foods and recipes that give my body and mind real satisfaction and still keep me in great shape.
Calgary: What do you believe are the cornerstones of a healthy, balanced diet?
Flik: Food-wise, anything green (spinach, kale, watercress), and anything from the pulse, seed and grain families (lentils, chickpeas, quinoa, spelt) More importantly, are the mental cornerstones – understanding it’s not a two-week diet you’re trying to achieve but a simple and enjoyable way to live, eat and fuel your well-being always.
Calgary: Do you follow any specific way of eating? For example, are you vegetarian, a raw foodist, or do you follow a Paleo diet etc.? Can you explain a bit about why?
Flik: I made the decision to become a vegetarian when I was 12 while at ballet school. I hated the smell and look of the veal cutlets in the canteen. Having witnessed the food industry health scares over the years, from salmonella to BSE to the horsemeat scandal, I can honestly say I’ve never missed meat in 20 years, nor will I ever.
Calgary: What foods or groups of foods (if any) do you avoid? And why?
Flik: White carbs might as well read white cardboard to me! I don’t even include white potatoes in my diet, favouring sweet potatoes every time. I avoid eating a lot of wheat and gluten but have no intolerance to either; I just find both can slow my energy levels.
Calgary: What is your food routine? Do you eat three conventional meals per day or do you have smaller portions throughout the day?
Flik: I’m a grazer. I eat when I’m hungry throughout the day and that depends on how many Sleek Technique classes I am teaching and how much energy I’ve expended. Dinner is a time when I get to sit down with my husband or friends and enjoy the social side of eating.
Calgary: What are your favourite snacks?
Flik: I make Calgary’s dark cacao macaroons in batches! And a Rebel Kitchen Dairy Free Chocolate Mylk drink goes down very well – you can tell I have a sweet tooth.
Calgary: How do you treat yourself in terms of food?
Flik: A glass of champagne followed by spelt bread pizza with mozzarella, capers, sun-dried tomatoes and black olives, then a slice of dairy- and sugar-free cheesecake to finish.
Calgary: How do you stay on track when you travel?
Flik: I’ll pack rye breads in my case so I know I’m not left with the dreaded ‘basket of white bread’ when I get to the other side. Aside from that I make as many of the same choices as possible as I would when I’m home – it’s doesn’t feel too difficult to find good nourishing foods when away.
Calgary: What is your go-to meal when you’ve had a busy day but still want to prepare something wholesome quickly?
Flik: Spelt pasta with tomatoes, red onion, a ton of chili thrown in and rocket leaves on top. Ten minutes from pan to plate.
Calgary: How did you learn to cook? Did someone teach you? Were you self-taught? Did you find a particular TV show or YouTube channel really inspiring?
Flik: I’m definitely not self-taught! Having spent many years as a professional dancer and now running Sleek Technique I’m only in the kitchen if everything is there in front of me, ready to go. I absolutely rely on all the wonderful recipes and advice readily available from inspirational women like Calgary and Ella Woodward and blogs like Naturally Sassy and ‘I am Into This’ to avoid culinary disasters.
Calgary: What are your pantry essentials?
Flik: Chickpeas for hummus, rye bread, lentils, sweet potatoes, almond butter, cacao powder, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil and rapeseed oil. And spinach and kale in the fridge.
Calgary: Are there any cookbooks you couldn’t live without?
Flik: Victoria (my Sleek co-founder) gave me Yotom Ottelenghi’s Plenty as a gift. It’s become my go-to cookbook.
Calgary: Which ingredient was your greatest discovery and how did it transform your cooking?
Flik: I cook with and drizzle on a lot of extra virgin olive oil every day but discovering rapeseed oil and coconut oil has been a revelation because they maintain their goodness when used at high temperatures. I switch between this trio of oils all the time for maximum nutritional impact, whether used cold or heated.
Calgary: What’s your exercise routine/schedule?
Flik: Victoria and I definitely practice what we preach and keep our bodies fit, supple and healthy with our Sleek Technique ballet-based workouts. We’re in the studio six days a week but often for as little as 30 minutes – you don’t need a grueling exercise regime to get into and stay in great shape, just one that you love doing.
Calgary: Do you power up for exercise with specific foods – if so, what are they?
Flik: I love Vita Coco coconut water for hydration, which is extra important with a daily routine like mine. I don’t eat a big meal before a class as that slows me down rather than fuelling me, but I’ll snack on beetroot hummus or avocado on Biona pumpkin seed rye bread.
Calgary: Describe your work out wardrobe…
Flik: I am a leotard and legwarmers girl all the way (I wear a lot from the Balletto Body and Bloch dancewear ranges) mixed up with shorts, leggings and crop tops from Striders Edge, Pepper & Mayne, Sweaty Betty and Athleta. A girl can never have too many workout outfits in my eyes.
Calgary: Have you noticed changes to your body and health as a result of exercise and, if so, what have they been?
Flik: I was a professional dancer for 17 years, with all the hours of training and performing that requires. I thought I would lose some of my muscle strength and stamina when winding down from performing but I can honestly say that since creating Sleek Technique, Victoria and I both feel in better shape than ever. Having a realistic balance between working out and a passion for what we have created, I look and feel great, and the women who enjoy Sleek with us do too.
Calgary: What is your greatest motivation to work out when you are feeling sluggish?
Flik: The feeling I know I’ll have five minutes into my workout is enough to make me get off the sofa and into the Sleek studio. It’s always worth it.