Misty Copeland on the Misconceptions About Ballerinas' Diets: 'We Eat!'

The dancer is shedding light on what food it takes to fuel her demanding schedule.

Misty Copeland is shedding light on what food it takes to fuel the demanding schedule of a professional ballerina.

“We eat! We eat!” Copeland told PEOPLE. “That’s one of the hardest things when I meet people—and I think it’s just about educating people—is that if they don’t really understand what our days look like, and that we’re athletes, then of course they’re going to be like, ‘Oh, they’re just these pretty, thin people. But we are working 8 to 10 hours of the day, hardcore physical activity, so if you weren’t eating there’s no way we could last.”

Copeland—who partnered up with Naked to launch Naked Fruit, Nut & Veggie Bars, the company’s first product beyond smoothies and juices—follows a pescetarian diet, but aside from cutting out red meat and poultry, the dancer says she hardly limits herself in the kitchen.

Misty Copeland

“If you want to have a cookie, have a cookie, but maybe don’t have ten,” she says. “It’s all about moderation. I don’t have cheat days. If one day I’m like, ‘I’m going to have a Domino’s pizza,’ I’ll do it.”

“It’s really just about finding a good balance of not eating everything but also not depriving yourself of things you may enjoy because if not, you’re just going to lose your mind and binge eat at night,” she added.

Copeland’s philosophy on food has “evolved so much,” she says. Growing up poor in a single parent home in San Pedro, California, the author of Ballerina Body says she “never looked at food as nutrition” until she discovered ballet at age 13. She’s also been open about her struggles with binge eating after being told to lose weight when she was 21 years old working for the American Ballet Theatre.

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“It’s just been like this trial and error of figuring out what works for my body and it’s something that I’m constantly sharing with other women but it’s about the journey,” she told PEOPLE. “No one’s perfect. You should find what eating habits work for your body. Not everyone is the same. I don’t believe in diets, I believe in just changing the way you approach a healthy lifestyle.”

Copeland credits both learning to cook and her husband Olu Evans’ influence for helping her get to such a positive place with her diet.

“[Olu] has been such a force behind me,” she says. “He was raised vegetarian so he’s been a big part of my understanding of food.”

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