In our first part of How to Eat Like a Ballerina Vogue’s Calgary Avansino interviewed Sleek co-founder, Flik Swan, about her diet and health tips. In this post we will be talking with the other half of Sleek Technique, Victoria Marr, who was a former First Soloist with the Birmigham Royal Ballet. Read on to learn how Victoria stays trim and healthy.
Calgary: What makes you feel fit and healthy?
Victoria: Simple things like being active, getting outdoors, eating well and sleeping well. A good routine is key for me to consistently feel fit and healthy and at the top of my game.
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?
Victoria: I am quite relaxed about food. I work hard so can eat as much as I like but I rely a lot on my body to let me know what it needs. I don’t deny myself much but I also don’t often crave rubbish. I absolutely think there is a link between what I am eating and how I am feeling. I can maybe get away with a few days of lazy, on-the-go eating, and then the tell-tail signs start to appear. I feel sluggish, my concentration suffers and, although I think I am saving time by grabbing something in a packet as I rush around, it actually takes me longer to get what I need to do done. Water is a big factor for me, too. I drink a lot of water – a good habit I got into from years of ballet training and performing under hot stage lights. Your muscles don’t work as well when they are dehydrated and if I neglect this, the signs are even more immediate.
Flik and Victoria enjoying a cup of tea between workouts.
Calgary: What do you believe are the cornerstones of a healthy, balanced diet?
Victoria: I keep it pretty simple. Lots of colourful fruit and vegetables, lean protein and unrefined carbohydrates. I eat fats, butter and oils but not in excess.
Calgary: Do you follow any specific way of eating? E.g. are you vegetarian? Or a raw foodist? Do you follow a Paleo diet, etc? Can you explain a bit about why?
Victoria: I don’t – just a balanced one. As I said, I rely a lot on my body to let me know what it needs. If I have ever needed to get trimmer or super lean to dance a specific role on stage, I cut down on my carbohydrates and eat lots of protein and veg. For me, this really does shift any unwanted pounds, any excess water retention disappears and I get better muscle definition almost immediately.
Calgary: What foods or groups of foods (if any) do you avoid, and why?
Victoria: Refined carbs – cakes, pastries, white bread, pasta and biscuits. For me they are just empty calories with little nutritional value. They make me feel lethargic during the day and retain excess water.
Calgary: Does your diet change throughout the year? Do you find yourself eating different types of meals or food depending on the season or weather? Or are you consistent?
Victoria: We would all love to be consistently good about our food choices but it is easier said than done. Despite knowing the pitfalls, on a cold wintry day it feels far more comforting to tuck into a slice of cake with a cuppa than it does a piece of fruit. I am prone to it, too, but the less I do it, the less I crave those food types. What you snack on and at what time of day becomes habitual for most people. If you are keen to change your choices, try changing something in your routine. Making healthy choices is always easier if we are satisfied with the taste. Eating seasonally has become increasingly important to me over the past few years not just because of the impact on the environment and wanting to support local farmers – produce that has not been shipped and stored for lengths of time or artificially ripened just tastes better. What you snack on and at what time of day becomes habitual for most people. If you are keen to change your choices, try changing something in your routine.
Calgary: What do you think are the most nutritious foods and how do you fit them in to your diet and life?
Victoria: Fruit and vegetables all the way for me. I incorporate them into almost every meal and snack, whether it is in a smoothie at breakfast, dried fruit and nuts to snack on, a side salad with lunch or at least two different vegetables with an evening meal. I can’t get enough of them and there is so much variety. I never get bored.
Fruits and vegetables are the cornerstone of the ballerina diet.
Calgary: What is your food routine? Do you eat three conventional meals per day or do you have smaller portions throughout the day?
Victoria: When I was performing with Birmingham Royal Ballet I needed energy but not to feel overly full, so smaller portions more often throughout the day works better for me. Now I have a bit more time between classes and my day is mixed up, with exercise and emailing, I usually make time for three meals a day.
Calgary: What are your favourite snacks?
Victoria: I will drink coconut water until the cows come home and I buy frozen edamame beans from the Chinese supermarket. Steamed for a few minutes with some added salt or chilli, they are a delicious, low-fat, high-protein, high-fibre snack.
Calgary: Are you a breakfast “lover”? If so, what is your ideal way to start the day?
Victoria: I love my smoothies and if I keep a selection of frozen fruit in the freezer to mix in with the fresh pieces I have, then I can have a different combination every day. I love mixing in some yoghurt and muesli to finish it off.
Smoothies and smoothie bowls are a great way to start the day.
Calgary: How do you treat yourself in terms of food?
Victoria: My favourite food is Japanese/pan Asian. I lack patience and most definitely the skill to prepare it, but I will treat myself to my favourite Japanese restaurant, Roka, on Charlotte Street in London. I love everything about their food, from the unusual taste combinations to the beautiful fresh ingredients and clean, fresh feeling you get after eating it.
Calgary: Do you believe in diets or detox programmes? Has anything ever worked for you?
Victoria: No, I have never been a fan of diets and detox but I can see that they can be the mental as much as the physical kick-start some people need to begin a new regime. I believe a more sustainable approach to healthy eating that you have a much greater chance of sticking to will benefit you long-term.
Calgary: What would be your biggest piece of advice for people looking to kick-start a healthier diet?
Victoria: Make small, manageable changes over time and set yourself realistic and sustainable goals so you don’t get disheartened and quit early on.
Calgary: Are there any changes that you would like to make to your diet that you haven’t already done yet?
Victoria: To eat less sugar – namely in the form of chocolate!
What is the hardest part of the day for you to avoid temptation? After dinner, while sitting at my computer or watching a bit of TV. Far less so if I have had a proper evening meal, but my sweet tooth still likes to rear its head about this time. I can usually curb it with some dried apricots or dates, but every now and then, nothing but chocolate will do.
Small indulgences like chocolate are fine in moderation.
Calgary: Is there anyone you look up to as a healthy role model – someone who does it right in your opinion?
Victoria: Not a role model as such. I do get a little envious of my friends who live abroad and enjoy a warmer climate than ours. Their lifestyles seem far more effortlessly healthy. I am naturally more active in warmer weather, spend more time outdoors, and all the fruits I love to eat grow bigger, tastier and in more abundance in the sunshine.
Calgary: My beauty regime is equally simple.
Victoria: I use a range of gentle but effective products by NU Skin that I order online.
Calgary: How do you stay on track when you travel?
Victoria: It is hard when you are travelling to keep up a healthy eating routine. Fortunately with Sleek Technique, I can exercise and keep up classes wherever I am, as long as I have an Internet connection and a small space.
Calgary: When you go out to dinner, how do you navigate the menu? What are your tips for healthy eating in restaurants?
Victoria: I order what I fancy but avoid rich sauces or ask for them on the side. I don’t overdo it on the carbohydrates and if I fancy something sweet, I will perhaps order a hot chocolate at the end of a meal rather than a full-blown dessert. Eating out is a hugely social and enjoyable thing for me, though. If you are being sensible 90 per cent of the time, I am happy to let my hair down a bit.
Calgary: Does your interest in leading a healthier lifestyle cross over into any other parts of your life apart from what you eat? I.e. how you clean your house? What beauty products you use, etc?
Victoria: I don’t use a lot of harsh products around the house any more. Aside from the chemicals, they all use so much plastic in the packaging, which has a huge environmental impact. I have a steam cleaner that I use on everything from floors to kitchen surfaces, mattresses and carpets.
Calgary: What’s your exercise routine/schedule?
Victoria: Flik Swan, co-founder of Sleek Technique, and I practise what we preach. Both of us are in the Sleek studio taking classes every day, but with so many other parts of the business to run, often this is for no more than 30 to 45 minutes a day. If it is focused exercise performed with good technique, that’s enough.
Calgary: Do you power up for exercise with specific foods – if so, what are they?
Victoria: No I don’t. Eating a mixture of faster and slower energy-release food at mealtimes sees me through the day.
Calgary: Do you like trying new exercise classes/trainers/trends? If so, what and why?
Victoria: I do, especially when travelling abroad. Each country has its scene, and different fitness trends reach different places first. I like to keep learning, to distil what I like and don’t like about a method, and see how my body reacts to it. I like to take classes with different instructors as so much depends on delivery and nothing inspires me more than to see other people doing it well.
Calgary: Describe your work out wardrobe…
Victoria: Vast would be the first word that springs to mind. I have a broad mix of dance and fitness gear. I often pair my ballet leotards with sports leggings or my sports bra top and shorts with ballet leg warmers. Ballet is the basis for all our Sleek workouts, but with its blend of fitness training, it is accessible to every woman. We encourage women to wear what they feel comfortable moving around in but nothing too baggy so the lines of the body are hidden. I have to be comfortable I love the soft feeling of all my Sweaty Betty wear but if I can’t see the shapes my body is making, my technique is never as good.
Calgary: Have you noticed changes to your body and health as a result of exercise and, if so, what have they been?
Victoria: Sleek Technique has kept my body in the same shape as when I was dancing professionally. I find it astounding that I have gone from training six hours a day to 30 to 45 minutes a day and have still kept my shape. If anything, I have lengthened the look of my muscles further still. Flik and I worked very hard to put together our method, taking all the parts of tried-and-tested ballet technique that dancers have used to shape their distinctive physiques for many years and layering it with all our current fitness knowledge. It was designed purely with a woman’s body in mind, to refine and develop length and strength in muscles, rather than bulk them out.
Calgary: What is your greatest motivation to work out when you are feeling sluggish?
Victoria: How good I know I will feel afterwards… Even when it is the last thing I feel like doing, I envisage how I will feel an hour from now if I do and an hour from now if I don’t. Nothing lifts my mood or wakes up both my mind and body more than getting active.