Flailing to Flying: Kat’s Journey with DWL

Being a professional dancer is hard. Having a physiological disorder that dictates what your body looks and feels like is hard. Being a perfectionist is hard. Sometimes just being a human is hard.

But for some reason, we are taught that we must have all of these hard concepts under control and figured out at all times.

This is the story of a young woman who, maybe like you, has had a hard time as a professional dancer. From illness to injury. Disordered eating to endocrine disorders. Giving everything while on pursuit of a career that gives nothing back.

This is Kat’s story.

And it’s beautiful. And I’m so honored and blessed to have been a part of her journey for the past 18 months.

I am just going to preface this by saying this will not look like the average fitness transformation.

As you can imagine, most transformations are pictures of people who went from their pre-training body, to some incredibly fit, model-esqe body.

But my story is different. It’s not so much about 6-pack abs and losing body fat, although that happened, and more about my transformation as a person.

Although, I hesitate to say this on such a public platform, I have had a long and difficult history when it comes to my body.

I was also born with a body that has an endocrine disorder that makes me very prone to gaining weight.

In fact, fifty percent of women born with this particular problem are considered obese. So, needless to say, I grew up fighting an uphill battle trying to get my body to align with my passion for dance and specifically ballet.

Regardless of this, I spent the early part of my career in the classical and concert dance world. 

Throughout high school and college and into the early years of my career, I basically did every possible thing to force myself to meet those standards; this included disordered behaviors like extreme cardio sessions and intense, restrictive dieting.

All of these things I believed were helping me move forward, and I had little concern for the well-being of my body, as long as it looked the part.

Honestly, this perfectionist mindset got me really far as a dancer, but eventually had a law of diminishing returns. I had years of many both minor and moderate injuries that, for some reason, I never equated to my eating and training habits.

It took a very good and aware physical therapist, as well as a concerned mentor, gently prodding at me to get me to start re-assessing how I was treating my body.

Which is why I came to Amber during an odd time in my life.

My career was flailing a little; I had gone from being in dance programs and then companies with company classes and full schedules, to being entirely freelance.

On my own.

Unstructured.

Struggling.

I was struggling a lot. I suffered though a recurring stress injury. I was overwhelmed with disappointment in my body, and a general inability to sustain my fitness level. I fell short when it came to sustaining enough energy for the insanity of a freelancing schedule.

Life was messy, and it after month’s of frustration I came to the conclusion I needed something taken off my plate.

So, I joined Dancers Who Lift because I knew there were the tools that could help me figure out a better balance.

Amber, through guiding my workouts and my nutrition, helped me rebuild a very broken metabolism and equally broken relationships with dance, food, and myself.

Here’s what I’ve learned in the past 18 months:

One of the first, and most valuable lessons, Amber gave me as a coach was changing my definition of “fitness.”

For years, I would have a show with a company or a gig somewhere, eat as little as possible leading up to the show, and on closing night I would go out and binge on food and alcohol, and then wake up and have no structure to maintain where I was without that rigorous rehearsals and performance schedule.

And, undoubtedly, back slide to a dark place of restriction or unwanted rebound weight.

I quickly became enlightened to the fact that I was doing it all wrong.

*Face-palm*

My current “plan” for a performance ready body meant I didn’t fuel my body when it needed it most, preventing me from building strength and stamina, and over-filled the tank after the fact.

Soon after joining DWL I started to think differently about food.

“What if it was fuel for workouts, fuel for my dancing, and not a reward and punishment system, in which my meals were based off how intensive my rehearsals were that day?”

This helped me shape a way of eating where I both nourished and treated myself every week, and slowly I was able to start seeing the value in treating my body with kindness and science, rather than distrust and fear.

However, right in the middle of this journey life happened. 

In a huge way.

In multiple ways.

In catastrophic ways.

In beautiful ways.

But it happened.

Loved ones developed cancer. I lost jobs. I was signed for new jobs. Touring jobs. New life goals. New relationships. More cancers. Deaths, wins, losses, oh and yes, another person in my life with a devastating disease, all happened in a mere 9 months of my life.

The last year has been packed with more challenges than almost any other time I can remember. Any one of these things could have easily derailed my progress or given me the opportunity to make excuses for myself.

But, in the middle of all of these things, came my second lesson.

When I would get upset about not hitting every workout, falling back on my macros, and not being a super human who does not require sleep, my coach, Amber, was there in the best way.

She would remind me when things were at their worst, that some weeks being “on” twenty percent of the time is enough, and that the next week I could aim for twenty-five.

Essentially, yes, give everyday your all. But don’t expect to be at 100% everyday.

This outlook is something I carry in my life in every way now.

And, let me tell you, it is so much easier to just do the best you can today with what you have, than setting unreasonable expectations for yourself, and constantly feeling like a failure.

We can still strive for excellence in everything we do without expecting that every moment is going to be executed perfectly.

This girl, my coach, would remind me that it was ok to take a day off when everything felt like it was falling apart. Reassure me that there is no ‘final destination’ in fitness, and that the perfect “dancer” body I had been chasing all my life was not a thing anyone was ever going to achieve.

These may seem odd characteristics in a “fitness coach,” but, like I said at the beginning, this isn’t your typical transformation.

Dancers Who Lift isn’t people who lack motivation.

Dancers are some of the most motivated and hard-working people anyone will ever meet. Amber, as a coach, is as much an advocate for my health, as she is for how I look in a leotard.

What can I say? She just gets it.

Here’s me. Eating ~900 calories per day. Fast forward a few month to me, smaller and stronger, eating ~2200 calories per day.

I know I said this wasn’t your “average” transformation. But in addition to my mindset and lifestyle transformation, here are some fun numbers, that show joining Dancers Who Lift has helped me in more tangible, physical ways.

  • I am eating almost three times the calories than I was a year ago. Yes, I’m eating MORE food and yet, shockingly, am several inches smaller.
  • I have gained almost a pound of bone density based on being measured on the same body composition machine one year apart.
  • I have lost 4% body fat.
  • I drink less than half the coffee and have twice the energy as compared to a year ago.
  • I have been out of the physical therapist’s office for a year.
  • I have a deep understanding of how different foods affect my specific body and metabolism.
  • I am empowered now. Gone is my food anxiety. I have the ability to make choices based in science as well as personal experience; to fuel myself for grueling rehearsals, intense shows, or long days of Netflix.

If you are looking for coaching, guidance, even just a friend who will tell you like it is, Amber gets five golden stars from me.

I am so grateful to have the opportunity to know and work with her; I have truly gone from flailing in my career to flying.

-Kat Donachie


Every dancer’s experience with DWL is different, but every journey is life changing.

As it happens I’m now accepting applications for coaching and would LOVE to be a part of your success.

Simply click the link below to get started. What do you have to lose?

xox

>>Coaching Application<<

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