The Singer Who Doesn’t Eat – Vocalists Losing Weight

Empty plate
The “starving artist” issue takes on new meaning for singers who feel they must diet to “fit into” a role – says Kristie Knickerbocker

Casting Crisis

Forums for professional singers will often feature weight related discussions:

“I am trying to lose weight for a performance because the casting director wants me to fit into this certain costume.”

“I am trying to limit my intake and exercise often because I want to be chosen for a role for which a certain weight range is requested.”

These comments worry me because as singers, our instruments are the whole body. Optimum athletic prowess is key for success.

What If I Don’t Eat at All?

We know from a study by Sivasankar & Leydon in 2010, that systemic and topical vocal fold hydration may improve overall health and efficiency of the vocal mechanism.

Hamdan et al 2007 and 2011 looked at the idea of not eating at all and how it affects the voice. Participants in their studies did not eat food or drink water for 14-18 hours.

Vocal fatigue was commonly a complaint in those who did not eat or drink. Those who fasted also reported feeling like it was harder to use their voices.

Voice issues they had included inability to hold their notes as long as they could prior to the experiment.

This research speaks to me because it backs up what we already feel when diet in an extreme way. Your best sound will be muted if you don’t nourish yourself.

Gimme Fuel

Powerful singer

Copyright: Free-photos, unsplash
The takeaway from their studies? Fuel your body for your performance. The studies suggest that the voice changes may be caused by not only dehydration, but muscle fatigue.

You’re a vocal athlete whether you are singing 3 church services in a day or you are playing 2 gigs a weekend for 2-3 hours each in a bar.

If you’re playing for millions of fans, or 10, you need to include a balanced diet in your pre-show rituals. And if you do feel the need for weight loss of some kind, as well as exercise, consult your physician for specific recommendations for you.

Every body is different, and you want to talk to a professional who knows about your specific case.

A Balancing Act

Maybe it’s also time to consider our seemingly weight-obsessed culture, as well as how we perceive ourselves.

A recurring theme in my clinic is that singers can be their own harshest critics. Have you seen all the good Suzanne Vinnik and Sara Duchovnay are doing with Shoperatic and their community embracing singers of every size?

There has been a surge of support for singers who often get harassed into losing weight for specific roles.

Models may diet for pictures, but it is different because as singers, we are expected to have ability to sustain long performances with incredible technique.

It is important to be balanced in what we eat, drink and how we exercise. But, singers should opt for a better balance to achieve goals regarding physical appearance.

  • Hamdan AL, Sibai A, Ramen C. Effect of fasting on voice in women. J Voice 2007, Jul; 21(4): 495-501.
  • Hamdan AL, Ashkar J, Sibai A, Oubari D, Husseini ST. Effect of fasting on voice in males. J Otolaryngology 2011, Mar-Apr; 32(2): 124-9.
  • Sivasankar M, Leydon C. The role of hydration in vocal fold physiology. Curr Open Otolaryngol Head Neck Surgery. 2010. Jun; 19(3): 171-5.
Kristie Knickerbocker, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist and singing voice specialist in Fort Worth, Texas. She rehabilitates voice and swallowing at her private practice, a tempo Voice Center, and lectures on vocal health to area choirs and students. She also owns and runs a mobile videostroboscopy and FEES company, Voice Diagnostix. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 3, Voice and Voice Disorders, and a member of the National Association of Teachers of Singing and the Pan-American Vocology Association. Knickerbocker blogs on her website at www.atempovoicecenter.com. She has developed a line of kid and adult-friendly therapy materials specifically for voice on TPT or her website. Follow her on Pinterest, on Twitter and Instagram or like her on Facebook.