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Nutrition for Actors: Knowing your Primary and Secondary “Foods”

Lianna Nielsen teaches nutrition classes for actors at the Maggie Flanigan Studio in New York. In this video blog post Lianna talks about the importance in understanding the connection between primary foods and secondary foods.

One of the biggest lessons I took from my time at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition is the concept of Primary Foods. It’s so simple yet so profoundly important and continues to keep me healthy and sane despite the uncertainty of a life in the arts. It starts with the understanding that there are two types of food, Primary and Secondary. Primary Foods are made up of your relationships, career, exercise and spirituality (whatever that may mean to you) and Secondary Foods are literally the food you eat, the medicines you take, and the alcohol you drink — anything you physically consume.

The theory is that if one of your Primary Foods is out of balance it will be manifested as a Secondary Food craving. For example if you are feeling sad, lonely, or heartbroken, people will often tend to crave sweets in order to numb the emotional pain. Another great example is stress — it causes some people to crave junk food or even feel hungrier, while others may completely lose their appetite. On the other hand, when we are happy and everything is in balance it can be much easier to make healthier choices, and even when we don’t, they seem to have less of an affect on us.


“I encourage you to start paying closer attention to your body, becoming aware of your cravings, because they are actually important messages.”

Lianna NielsenStudio Nutritionist

I remember noticing a pattern in my early 20’s that whenever I would start dating someone new, someone I really liked, I could effortlessly lose a few pounds — no matter what I was eating or how much I was exercising. I loved the way my body looked and felt but knew that the “new boyfriend diet,” though enticing, probably wasn’t the answer. Only later did I realize that it was the excitement and happiness that led me to feel and look the way I did.

For me it was a major shift to think about nourishment more broadly than just my relationship to food. Understanding that the quality of our lives — how happy, how fulfilled, and how connected to others we are, is as important to our physical health as food and exercise.

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So I encourage you to start paying closer attention to your body, becoming aware of your cravings, because they are actually important messages. Think of cravings not as weaknesses, but as a guide to help you to create and maintain balance. When you start to feel sick, overweight, exhausted or even just hungry especially when you shouldn’t be, check in with yourself. Are you sleeping enough? How stressed are you and what are you doing to combat this stress? How are your relationships? Look for areas that are out of balance and correct them. Simple things like exercise, adequate sleep, or spending more time with loved ones (in addition to eating good food, of course) can make a huge difference.

When given the opportunity, our bodies will naturally choose to be healthy and happy. By learning to listen to what our bodies are telling us, we get a better sense of what we need to feel our best and therefore perform and create at our highest levels. Any serious actor must not only master their instrument, but also care for and protect it, the same way a concert violinist polishes, tunes, and attends her violin. The beauty of learning to listen to and trust our acting instrument is that the more we pay attention to that inner voice (intuition, true self — whatever you choose to call it), the more we are connected to our creativity …because it’s the same voice.

For more information about nutrition classes for actors, as wells other acting classes at the studio, visit the studio website or call (917) 794-3878.

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