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Words from Professional Ballerina Lara Flannery

Words from Professional Ballerina Lara Flannery

Please give us a rundown of who you are and what you do?

My name is Lara and I’m 21. I live in the beautiful city of Wellington. I am a professional ballerina at the Royal New Zealand Ballet by day and at night I run a wholefood baking Instagram called @feedinglara! After discovering paleo baking, which suited many of my food intolerances at the time, I wanted to create my own recipes and record all of my bakes for my friends and family. This gained a bit of a following and now I create recipes for my little online community whenever I’m not dancing in the studio or performing on tour!


What does a typical day look like for you?

I tend to wake up early mainly so I can have a leisurely morning without too much stress! I cook eggs every day which makes for a nice mindful routine, then I like to read the news to stay up-to-date! I get to work around 8:30 am to warm up before morning class which starts at 9:30. Following class, we then move onto different rehearsals which are made up in two, three hour chunks. After refuelling ourselves with lunch, we get back to it and finish the day at 6pm. I like to do all my meal prep for the week on Sunday, so once I get back from a day in the studio, I can simply mix and match my food to create a delicious and nutritious dinner. Some baking is usually devoured for dessert, and then I like to put on a movie or tv show while relaxing - and perhaps sew some pointe shoes for the next day of dancing!


What role does nutrition play in your day-to-day and dancing life?

To me, nutrition is my top priority. Food is a huge factor in your health, injury recovery and energy levels - so in my mind, why would you miss the opportunity to feel the best you can! I focus on eating whole foods, with a big emphasis on vegetables, protein and healthy fats! I also feel that my body responds well when I eat foods which help balance my blood sugar, so by optimising fibre, fat and protein my body is able to have less glucose spikes in the day - causing less energy crashes. While I also stress balance is key, I find that this way of eating keeps me satiated and feeling fuelled for my day ahead. There are lots of amazing chefs and bakers out there which I have drawn my inspiration from, and can assure you that eating quality whole food meals doesn’t need to taste bland!


You are a professional ballerina here in NZ, has dance always been a big part of your life? When did it become a career path for you?

I started dancing at the age of three, simply because my sister had been doing it! I played lots of sports at school but as a teenager realised that what I enjoyed most was ballet. I think being an introvert also meant that I enjoyed dancing to music in my own little world. I was accepted into a few junior programmes, then the full time programme at the New Zealand School of Dance, which is where I realised I could pursue ballet as a full time career and do something I love everyday. While it can be very demanding and exhausting, I have found that dancing grounds me and makes me a happy person - so it’s worth all the highs and lows!

Photographed by Ross Brown, Courtesy of the Royal New Zealand Ballet.


What is your proudest moment in your work and/or life so far and what are you striving for at the moment?

Ballet can reward you in many wonderful ways, and there are many moments even in the beginning of my professional career that I am proud of myself for facing my fears and nerves to overcome any challenges. I also remind myself to be proud of my other achievements outside ballet including my baking - or things like previously overcoming my food fears, self doubt or anxiety which is really important to me at this stage. I know I’m lucky to have a wonderful supportive family and friends. I am trying not to let the little things in life bother me, and being content with who I am as of right now.


What about challenges and how you have overcome them?

There are always challenges which can be difficult to face, but it’s really just important to realise what you can and can’t change - what is a relatively small issue and what might actually affect your life in the long run. It’s vital to put a perspective on certain issues, for me being a dancer, self confidence as well as body image has always been on my mind as we spend so long looking at the mirrors judging our technique and appearance. But over time I’m realising there is much better things to be putting that energy towards, and working with, not against, your body is more crucial than it seems.


@feedinglara was born out of a love for learning and creating in the kitchen, combined with your own health challenges. Care to share more?

Ever since I can remember I have always had a sore stomach and would take many days off school because I felt so ill. Combined with off-the-chart grass reactions resulting in hayfever, my health has never been great. When I was in my second year of full time school at ballet, I developed a form of disordered eating, which combined with the antibiotics I was on, my gut took a toll and I developed food intolerances. Even after healing my relationship with food, the intolerances didn’t go away, so as well as seeing a naturopath, I leaned toward eating a paleo based diet which removed all my inflammatory foods (gluten, soy, casein, grains and minimal refined sugar). But of course being a fan of baked goods I had to recreate things that I could eat - foods that would make me feel good and energised while being a dancer. This also coincided with recovering from disordered eating as previously my diet revolved around numbers, so baking gave me a way of focusing on quality ingredients that tasted delicious but weren’t from a packet with the nutrition label front and centre.

Months into eating this way, I was still struggling with multiple gut issues, which turned out to be Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), so with the help of my amazing Naturopath I followed a protocol to reduce my symptoms. This diagnostic made me recognise that my body in particular does best with limited sugar, and being aware of carbohydrates consumption so it wouldn’t feed my bad bacteria. It was at this time that I was trying to find a protein powder which wasn’t hard to digest (and didn’t have any gums or sweeteners such as stevia which are a personal struggle for me to stomach) and my naturopath recommended I try Mitchells Bone Broth protein powder - I haven’t looked back since!


What’s the best piece of advice you have received that has helped shape who you are today?

As cheesy as it sounds, a quote I have heard too often - and now I repeat also too often - is that everything happens for a reason. I truly believe that if something is not meant for you at a particular time, it’s not meant to be and everything will work out in the long run. Trust the process and even though life can throw you curveballs, it’s important to look on the bright side and remain optimistic.


How would you spend the day to yourself with no demands? In other words, what do you love doing and what brings you joy?

Personally I love starting the day where I get up early but have nothing to do! I spend this time by having a large warm lemon water and then I cook up a savoury breakfast. Although I always have some type of eggs, I think the veggie sides can be the real star of the show - so don’t just think leftovers are for dinner! I am a huge fan of walking around Mt Vic with my favourite podcast by Bewellbykelly - she provides really interesting episodes regarding health and nutrition featuring top of the field doctor’s. I love to bake on my days off, so having fun in the kitchen always makes me a happy person (with lots of Whitney Houston in the background!) - but I also really enjoy photographing the food, so then a fun little photoshoot takes place.

I like to call myself a ‘component cook’ so each meal is made up of plenty of different things (think two types of salad, a roast vege mix, a homemade dip and usually a serving of chicken - don’t forget the pickled onions!). This type of cooking works really well for me as I can meal prep it all on a Sunday and mix and match throughout the week. So my dinners are always enjoyable to eat to say the least. Desserts are a must - in fact I never keep any baking in the fridge, the freezer is best so everything stays fresh! I actually just end up eating frozen cookies (although I prefer them that way!). I also eat some 100% cacao buttons, a day without chocolate is not a good day. Ideally I put on a comforting movie (which is usually a chick flick - or a Jane Austen adaptation if I’m being honest). After having highs and lows with my relationship with food I’m proud to say that I truly know what makes me happy, and having a lifestyle that supports that is crucial to enjoying life.


What’s your favourite way to have any of the Mitchell’s Nutrition Products?

I am personally a huge cacao lover, so I love making a warming hot cacao using the Bone Broth Vanilla Protein! I do this by blending a serve of the protein, some 100% cacao buttons (or some chocolate of choice), 1 1/2 C of either water or milk of choice, a Tbsp of nut butter (optional but adds creaminess) and an optional serving of powdered gelatin (which makes it extra frothy). I blend this up for 30-40 seconds on high and pour into a large mug. A delicious protein drink that is perfect for winter and  keeps your blood sugar balanced with the protein and fat.


Is there any up and coming shows or performances for your ballet?

I am currently on tour until the 3rd of September with the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s new production, The Ryman Healthcare Season of Cinderella. Then in October – November i'll be back out on the road with Tutus on Tour, touring Aotearoa from Auckland to Invercargill.


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