Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Arthur Aviles, Professional Dancer, Shares His Story: Part One: Diet, Age, and Genetics

Arthur Aviles is a world-renowned dancer and choreographer, whose most notable accomplishments include being a soloist and featured dancer in the Bill T Jones/Arnie Zane company, founding his own company Arthur Aviles Typical Theater, and creating a performance space in Hunts Point called the Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance--BAAD! This is just a small sampling of his extensive career. Arthur and I recently began a dialogue about his new diet and weight loss, and he agreed to be interviewed for my blog! This is part one of a two part post.

Arthur is 48 years old, and realized over the past 6 years that his body was no longer what he wanted it to be. Arthur is 5'3" and extremely muscular and dense. When he began his new weight loss plan, he weighed 179 lbs, up from between 145-151 in his late 30s. Arthur said he had essentially eaten the same foods his entire life, but around age 36 the weight started to pile on. He attributes some of it to a reduction in the amount of dancing he was doing, but feels that it mostly was because of a change in metabolism. We discussed how many young people who are naturally slender and physically active tend to think they are infallible when it comes to diet, and that the junk food they consume has no effect on their well-being.

Arthur mentioned "I'm glad...young people are getting the discussion, cause I never really had the discussion, with anyone, when I was younger about, like, what I was eating, and how lucky I am... to have my metabolism so strong and that I'm a dancer... That's important, and I think when we're young we don't really know how amazing that is for us to have such strong, able bodies, and then they way in which we abuse them, at that moment is ok for us because our bodies keep tellling us it's ok...and our bodies aren't telling us, you don't know, but in the future it's not going to do that anymore. And you can start to train yourself on a different path now. And that's what I'm doing now at 48. I'm trying, I'm doing my best." Arthur said he wished he had made certain dietary changes earlier, as changing one's habits at 48 was certainly a challenge.

Arthur described his "before" diet as a typical breakfast of eggs and bacon or ham with potatoes or pancakes, lunch of a pork chop or fried chicken and vegetables, and usually no dinner. Generally his meals came from fast food or takeout restaurants. He had grown up eating similar foods as a child. He also snacked throughout the day on candy, and in the past 3 years started drinking loads of soda-- sometimes up to 2 liters a day. It is important to point out that this is not a really gluttonous amount of food. It was clearly Arthur's high consumption of meat and refined sugar which caused the weight gain.

In order to lose weight, Arthur chose to go to an extreme. He set his limitations as "no meat, no sugar, no liquor, only drink water, no eating after 6pm," all of which seem somewhat reasonable. However, his interpretation of these requirements translated into an ascetic diet of oatmeal for breakfast, a variety of vegetables for lunch, and essentially nothing else. He subsided on these foods alone from December to February and started aerobics and yoga classes at Crunch gym. These combined factors brought him down to 151 lbs at the date of the interview.

I shared with Arthur that as a female dancer who had always struggled to meet the stringent weight requirements of the dance world, I found veganism to be the most liberating diet because I was able to maintain a low weight while not having to obsess over calories. If I stayed within the "confines" of the vegan diet I could eat freely and remain slender. He responded, "What we seem to have in common is, there's a structure. And the structure actually dictates the direction that you can go into in a way that really makes it easier for you to actually go in that direction. You see, my extreme diet only had four elements to follow, and if I follow those, I just have to see where it takes me. And so, every time I came upon something, I was like oh, there's sugar in that! There's meat in that!... Any anything, it's all sugar! You can't go into any store and find a drink product which doesn't have sugar!"

I asked Arthur what his long-term plan was, since clearly a diet of solely oatmeal and veggies was not sustainable forever, mainly because it has such a low protein content (although I think it should be noted by protein fanatics that he neither wasted away nor keeled over during this 3 month period of a very low protein intake.) He admitted he was unsure, and spoke of trying to find a balance between eating things he liked and eating things which were maintaining his optimum weight. He mentioned that he doesn't cook, which certainly limits his options, but seemed open to the idea of expanding his choices, stating "If I can make oatmeal, I could learn to make other things".

Arthur said he feels "great" after his weight loss. "Overall, I feel way better. I feel good about my body. I feel light. And light in spirit... When I walk, I can tell the difference between how fat feels and how a solid body feels. And you don't have to be a 'fat' person or a 'skinny' person to understand that... It's not about 'skinny'." His one complaint was that his energy level was lower, but noted, quite profoundly, that "it sounds weird, but I don't think you necessarily need to feel energetic in order to do things and be alive in the world." I pointed out that his reduced energy was probably due in part to not eating any protein, and suggested he add some brown rice and beans to his diet, an idea he seemed enthused by.

Arthur's final thought was regarding genetics. He said he came from a "Botero family" of stocky people who tended to be overweight, but asserted "I think, and I know, that we could counteract what our genes tell us we're supposed to be doing. And that's important because I think a lot of people use genes as an excuse, and I think that no more is it an excuse, because (while) you can't change your genes, you can change the direction that your genes want to send you into. And I say that because I know my family are robust people...and I know I have the affinity to go in that direction. My genes... are telling me to get bigger. And I'm saying... I don't have to be unhealthy in that reality. I'm no longer going to take genes as an excuse. I'm not going to accept that anymore."

1 comment:

  1. A very interesting perspective. Most of us don't move around as much as a dancer, but it's enlightening to know that even dancers can gain weight when they slow down. Very encouraging for the rest of us!