Healthy or Unhealthy??
As promised, I am focusing this entry on how foods that we eat and lifestyle habits that we have created for ourselves have an effect on our singing.
I am not going to go into a huge novel about nutrition, but rather to give my insights into how what I eat affects my singing. For a little history... my face used to look like the "before" picture on the marketing brochure for the acne fighting product Acutane. In fact, I was probably their biggest user! After the third treatment over the course of 5 years, I decided that my liver and body had had enough of its extremely destructive contents - beside the fact that it was not working! My massage therapist at the time, who also has a degree in nutrition, suggested that I try the holistic approach to getting rid of the acne. She explained that next to the colon, our skin is the largest excreting organ in our bodies and so whatever our body does not process, it comes out from our skin.
She then introduced me to a juice fast which I decided to do. Again, I will forgo the gruelling details, but over the course of 40 days, I drank only fruit and vegetable juices, tea and water. I lost 25 pounds, and ALL of the acne. After going back on solid foods, I determined that I was allergic to dairy (since within hours of eating it, I started to break out, and just hours of not eating it, the acne went away), so I completely removed it from my diet - eating soy products and drinking soy milk. (Incidentally, later I found out that the process for which soy milk is made, causes the end product to coat the intestines such that other nutrients are prevented from entering the blood stream.) So, I immediately switched to drinking rice milk (which I LOVE).
I gained 10 pounds back, and have stayed at that weight since that fast. My body achieved more energy, my brain and eyesight, more clarity and my overall health and what I eat was changed forever. How did this affect my singing?... well, I didn't get as sick as often, because I wasn't eating dairy (which causes extra mucus to develop, which is a bacteria magnet!), and so I spent more time in my music and less time in bed. It wasn't until more recently that I discovered how my breathing and onset directly affects the sound that is produced. (see my post called "The Breath of Life.") But to continue, I want to talk about other foods that can adversely affect us.
Any amount of sugar in our bodies will affect us, for good or bad. So, I try to eat foods that have less sugar - that are more alkaline and less acidic. Acidity causes yeast and sugar to develop and grow - not a good combination. This also produces more mucus - again, bacteria's favorite camping spot. I'm not a huge fruit eater, although, I LOVE grapefruit (very alkaline) as opposed to oranges (very acidic), and tend to eat more melons - high in water and less acidic. I don't eat very much red meat (the occasional burger or steak here or there), and I prefer fish over chicken. Some would argue that meat is bad altogether, but my motto is "moderation in all things." Our bodies need animal protein to heal. If you are a vegetarian and don't get much animal protein in your diet, you may find that a cut will not heal as quickly as with us "meat eaters." Red meat and chicken, however, are acidic meats - not when on your plate, but as your body processes them, they produce more acid and therefore turn into sugar - the bad sugar. Fish, on the other hand, is much more alkaline, and is very high in omega 3's - great for your heart. Then, of course, in the warmer month's, I consume as many greens as I can, and in the raw, ORGANIC form. That juice fast got me hooked onto organic foods. I have a hard time eating especially fruits and veggies that are not organic. The taste is AWFUL! Sometimes I feel like I can't get enough greens. These foods open up our pores and allow our bodies to breathe more - giving us more energy. During the cold months, I eat more veggies that come out of the ground (potatoes, rutabagas, etc.) and then increase the legumes. These foods do the opposite of greens - create an insulation for our body, requiring less energy to keep us warm, giving us more energy to fight off unwanted viruses or bacteria.
So, what does all this have to do with singing? Well, I'm hoping that you're getting the idea by now. If we keep ourselves healthy, our singing will be healthy. We will not have extra phlegm on our vocal chords, preventing bacteria and other viruses from spreading, we will have more of that desperately needed energy and our minds and bodies will have more clarity - something I need when pouring my heart and soul into a character.
Now, onto lifestyle. I'm not going to shake my finger at my readers and tell them what they can and can't do because that is their decision. But, I would recommend, again, moderation in all things. If you're a smoker, however, everyone knows that is NOT good for anyone, so I hope that you make every effort to quit. If you drink alcohol, be careful about this too. I don't know all the consequences for drinking or not drinking and some would argue that a glass of wine with dinner is good for you. I don't know that, so I'm coming to you from my personal perspective. Because of my religious beliefs, I chose, at a very young age, to not drink alcohol or to use any addictive substances (I'm still struggling with mint chocolate chip ice cream - yes, we all have our vices), and so I have never tasted alcohol and don't plan to. And everyone has the choice...
So why am I bringing this up? Because just like my ice cream craving, you might crave something that you know is not good for you, but you consume it anyway. Since my allergy discovery, I have done a fairly good job of staying away from dairy, but every once in a while, I have to have a huge bowl of ice cream. Do I know how I will feel the next day, and for the next week while my body is trying to rid itself of the garbage I just fed it? Of course! I go through that mental fight every time, and usually, my better judgment wins. But the times that it doesn't, I am regretting eating it for the next five days and every time I sing during that "recovery" phase. So, do your body a favor, and don't consume those things that are not good for you, or that your body will react to adversely.
On the other side of the coin is performance habits. How do our everyday habits directly affect our practice and performance habits? Notice I am calling them habits, because we are creatures of habit, AND "practice makes habit" NOT perfection. I mention this concept in my post "The Decision" but will elaborate here for this post's purpose. I had been struggling with a particular passage in an aria and this time, my all-knowing voice teacher, Carmen, helped me discover that it was not that I didn't know the music, but how I was practicing it. She had spent many lessons teaching me about how to correctly adjust vowels in the higher tessituras and how to study my music so that I am learning it correctly, etc. And all the time I was struggling, I had her voice in my head telling me what to do in order to fix something. Yet, I wouldn't do it. I was letting myself be the victim.
We then discovered that there were other things in my life that were not "in order." I live alone, so it gets easy to get lazy and let the laundry go unfolded, or the bed unmade, or the dishes undried - no one else is around to criticize it. I am not a dirty person, so my house isn't dirty, but, I had allowed myself to get out of the habit of being consistent with the upkeep of my house - the day-to-day things. Or I would put off folding the laundry for a couple of days while it sat on my living room chair. I realized that this was showing in my singing habits as well. I was getting lazy with my technique. I had all the tools, but I wasn't using them. And I was hurting myself as a result! Ugh!
Fortunately, I made the decision that I was going to change that. Since then, my house and singing have been much cleaner. Granted, I'll let the house slip a little, but it is very rare that I will let the singing slip. THAT is something I vowed to "upkeep." So, take a few minutes and think about the things in your life that might be a little "out of sorts" and then decide to fix them. Maybe you need to eat healthier foods, start an exercise regimen, plan better so that you are not procrastinating, spend 15 minutes each day picking up the clutter around your house, etc. See if that doesn't help change how you sing! It did for me and I am enjoying every minute of it!
Reference: The information about the pH levels in food can be found in the book, "The pH Miracle: Balance Your Diet, Reclaim Your Health" by Robert O. Young and Shelley Redford Young. I highly recommend it!