Posted on 22nd Mar 2017
Like many little girls, Alexandra Pullen dreamed of being a ballerina. Since her mother had been a dancer in the American Ballet Theatre (ABT), the Chicago-bred wellness coach and blogger of alexilizpullen.com was even more intent on following that dream.
And she succeeded! After training at Joffrey Academy of Dance, she moved to NYC at just 16, moving up quickly in ABT’s ranks, from the school to the second company and finally joining ABT itself. When she wanted to try a smaller company, she switched to the Colorado Ballet in Denver, but a fractured metatarsal took her out of commission for two long months. Her identity was one and the same with the word ‘dancer’, and she worried she would never get better.
To combat her nerves, she started focusing on clean and healthy eating to fuel her body efficiently. Following other health influencers’ Instagram accounts inspired her, and she started filling her own page with fun recipes.
Once back in action, she noticed dancing wasn’t as fun, fulfilling, or healthy for her. While on hiatus from the company, she visited LA, nabbed a magazine internship, and realized she was ready for a new adventure in this sunny city—one that included a more holistic approach to wellness and sharing it. Want to know more about her unique journey? Read on.
SBS: Why did you eventually leave the ballet world?
Alexandra Pullen: Ballet was making me really unhappy. I felt I needed to be unhealthy to progress in my career. I didn’t like the politics. It’s not ballet I walked away from. It’s the ballet world and culture.
So now, I’m working on accepting and loving myself… and helping others do the same. Learning to love yourself is a huge part of wellness. For me, that was impossible when I was standing in front of a mirror all day. It wasn’t worth it to me. It’s hard, especially since my identity is tied up in being a dancer, but I know I made the right decision.
I’m in LA, the health and wellness capital, meeting inspiring people every day. I’m ready to move forward. You only have one life so you should be happy every single day.
SBS: What’s your approach for clients now?
AP: I offer health consultations, and I’ve worked a lot with adolescent girls who are working on finding a way of eating that works for them. There’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to health in my mind. Personally, my body thrives on a plant-based diet. But, there are some people who need a lot of meat to work at their best. So I try to help each client find her individual best.
For some clients, one problem is a lot of health influencers on Instagram call certain foods ‘bad.’ That shames a way of eating. It’s triggering to other girls who are in eating disorder recovery. That is very challenging to deal with. It makes my skin crawl, and I try to help clients find other ways to discover what works for them personally.
Then, the process depends on the client. Sometimes, we go grocery shopping, and I show them staples to have on hand. I teach them how to make easy meals. Or, it can be anything from talking on the phone or having them journal how they felt after eating.
The thing with finding what foods are good to eat is finding out how you felt. Did you have a lot of energy after? Sounds straightforward, but sometimes because of the diet industry or influencers telling them what’s good or bad, it gets confusing.
SBS: What are your tips for enjoying—but not becoming a slave to—social media?
AP: Take what everyone says with grain of salt, including myself. I preach the most balanced, real version of a healthy lifestyle. You can’t compare to other people. You’re seeing a small percentage of someone’s life. Even a food blogger isn’t posting everything they eat. Keeping that perspective is key for not letting Instagram get too crazy. I think and worry about younger girls like my sister. They’re Insta obsessed! You have to realize, you don’t know what’s face-tuned. It’s like saying ‘Don’t compare yourself to the magazine. The girl in the magazine doesn’t even look like that.’
SBS: Now that you’re on to your next adventure, are there aspects of being a dancer that you carry with you? What about those you are shedding?
AP: I recently wrote a blog post about why ballet has made me smarter, and I will always be a ballerina. It’s relatable because so many women dream of being a ballerina as a little girl. It represents grace, poise and strength, which anyone can admire. That’s not an exclusive title. Being a professional ballerina, the training requires alone is like an Olympic athlete. It creates an insane work ethic. I didn’t have a normal childhood, didn’t have my first kiss when other girls did and didn’t go to prom. My whole life was different. I had to have a really intense drive and focus. But, I get to carry that over. Dancers are able to multi-task, are dedicated and focused.
But, the perfectionism can be a negative thing at times. In other ways, though, that also drives makes me, and I have a better quality of work because of it. I always want to do my best.
SBS: Now that you’re not dancing full-time, what’s your approach to fitness?
AP: When I was dancing, I suffered from extremism with cross training. I was obsessive about working out. I would always try to get cardio in, even after eight hours of rehearsing. It wasn’t about burning calories. I wanted to be stronger and better, and I thought it was what I should do to help with endurance for dancing. But, over-stressing your body is counter-productive. Your body gets too overworked and too stressed out.
So now I try to mix it up. I live in LA, so I can go hiking, run outside, find a bench and do jump squats and tricep dips. Hiking. I also love Pilates for maintaining my muscle tone, hot yoga and spinning at SoulCycle.
I’m also about to start my yoga teacher training. I love Vinyasa flow. I want to get my certification and find a way to teach yoga for dancers class with a focus on mindfulness aspect.
SBS: You mentioned working on self-love. How are you getting there?
AP: I work on it every single day. I have good days and have bad days. When I have bad days, I ground myself and reassess. I consider, why am I feeling down on myself? It’s really common in our society to be self-deprecating. That’s considered endearing or heroic. But it’s not at all. Even if you’re proud, you have to pretend you’re not so you’re not thought of as cocky. But there’s nothing wrong with loving yourself fully. Embracing that is ok!
Practically, I always try to think of three things I did every day that I’m proud of. Throughout the day, I’ll notice something I like about myself and say it. I’ll do something nice for someone else and I’ll note I feel proud. It’s an everyday practice.
I think loving your body and respecting your body means treating your body with respect. For me, eating well and moving my body in a way that feels good is my number one way to expect self-love.
I also try to meditate every day. Sometimes it doesn’t happen, but I try to carve out space every day. I’ll even have moments where I just appreciate qualities about myself. If you’re meditating and journaling often, you get to know yourself better. Then, it’s easier to see qualities you admire. Also don’t worry what other people think. Don’t compare yourself. That’s number one. Most of the time, people aren’t thinking of you anyway!
SBS: What are foods that you personally love right now?
AP: I’m glad you said it that way, because I always say, ‘This is me. You might be different!’ It varies a lot, and I’ll go through phrases where I need more protein, for example. So, I listen to my body at all times. If you have a craving, it’s for a reason. So, if I crave salty French fries, I’ll try to do baked sweet potato wedges or something like that. I love overnight oats, kombucha, which settles my stomach, and since I’ve been trying to cut back on coffee I’m discovering teas and macha. I’m in love with turmeric too!
SBS: What are the fitness trends you’re loving right now? Hating?
AP: I recently just discovered spin class myself! I had taken some before, but I wasn’t impressed. But once you find the right teacher with the right music, it’s a really good workout. It’s fun.
Then, I don’t know if it’s a trend, but over-exercising and working out every single day is bad, in my opinion. I was guilty of having that workout anxiety at one point, but it’s not beneficial. For example, in my last season, the constant stress on my body was insane. I dislocated my shoulder, broke a rib and sprained an ankle. And then I broke my toe and was in a boot. Your body is the most intelligent thing. It tells you things. My body told me, ‘I’m done.’
Alexandra’s LA Favorites:
Healthy Restaurants: Cafe Gratitude, Erewhon Market and Sweetgreen
Splurge Restaurant: The hot bar at Erewhon Market
Nightlife Activity: Dancing anywhere with a big dance floor and my favorite rap songs
Fitness Studios: Hot 8 Yoga, Pilates Platinum, Love Yoga
Athletic-wear: Teeki and Alo Yoga
Fitness Shoes: Skechers
Calming Activity: Restorative yoga in my room after burning sage, lighting candles and putting on my essential oil diffuser
Fun Activity: Hiking
Alexandra’s SBS Mantra: ‘Be Amazing’ is my favorite because ‘amazing’ is my number one most used adjective. People call me out all the time for saying that everything is ‘amazing’ all the time, so naturally I was drawn to this mantra. I also try to be amazing in everything I do and everything that I am. I strive to be amazing at every new endeavor, but I also try to be an amazing person in how I treat myself and how I treat others.
The best, zaniest part of being Alexandra: The best part about being me is that there's never a dull moment! I'm always chasing my dreams, taking risks, and following my gut, which makes for a crazy and exciting life.
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