Going from an art student to a ‘beauty queen’ was a huge transition for me and in many ways the two lifestyles seemed worlds apart. One big change I noticed was my value for food and my diet. When I was in college I ate what I wanted when I was hungry, it was simple. No one noticed or commented on what each other ate and if they did it was usually to ask if they could have some. I took care of my body but didn’t obsess over it.
However when I started modelling I noticed how food, diets and ‘calorie comparing’ were such hot conversation topics. I’d either hear one model talking about how little they ate or another over compensating by exaggerating how much they ate. I’d have to listen to girls say ‘All I’ve had today is two cans of Diet Coke, half an apple and 5 fags.’ And then the super skinny ones would pipe up with something ridiculous like ‘Oh God I’ve had two big Macs and a battered Mars Bar so far!’ and of course you know she’s only eaten half a tic-tac and a tissue. It was almost like everyone was lying and competing about food. Although I found it all so bizarre in the beginning, I learnt how easy it is to get sucked in.
I was crowned Miss Ireland at nineteen and I gradually started to feel more and more pressure to look ‘perfect’. Although my family and friends kept me grounded, I found myself comparing my body to other girls. I’d stress over fat in areas of my body I had never previously paid any attention to. I went through a phase where I would constantly analyse what I ate, then deprive myself of any food for a bit and then of course I’d eventually binge eat. After that I’d be so hard on myself for pigging out and the whole process was just exhausting. The yoyo dieting left me with low energy levels, bad skin and didn’t even improve my figure. I was fighting a losing battle and only injuring myself.
I think that when girls are on crazy diets it makes them crazy. I’d be out for dinner with my boyfriend and tell him ‘Whatever you do, do not let me eat any of your chips!’ and then a few minutes later I’d go to take a chip and when he’d slap my hand away I would be shocked and appalled and say things like ‘Oh so you think just because I’m on a diet I can’t have one chip? Are you trying to tell me I need to lose weight?’ The poor thing couldn’t win. Not only was my food paranoia completely ridiculous, I’m sure it wasn’t the most attractive behaviour. If I was on a hot date and all that the guy talked about was his diet, appearance and insecurities I would run a mile. Even if his body was chiselled by the Gods, I couldn’t deal with the vanity of him talking about himself for that long. But then I wonder ‘Can I be that bad sometimes?’
I know that when I don’t eat enough it’s as if food is put on a pedestal. There’s been countless times I’ve had ‘food porn’ conversations with my friends, discussing how amazing it would feel to even just lick one sweet dripping spoonful of Ben and Jerry’s ice-cream. And we’d all gush and go weak at the knees! But realistically, if you eat healthy and exercise you can allow yourself these succulent treats on occasion and guilt free. When I’m eating well and I suddenly get a craving for a big dirty pizza I think about it this way – The pizza would be like a one night stand with a gorgeous guy. You might really want it at the time and think it’s thrilling and will satisfy your needs but afterwards you’re left feeling dirty and full of shame (and in the pizza’s case – fatter!)
After some time of being exposed to this new world, I began to feel so disheartened looking at these stunning girls with bodies most girls would kill for, beating themselves up over their distorted body images. However recently I’ve noticed a big change for the better in Irish women’s view to dieting. Girls have realised that Strong is the new skinny. The Olympics have had a big influence on the change in what body types girls now strive for. It makes sense that girls now want to look athletic, healthy and toned rather than Gaunt, bony and fragile. Men across the nation are rejoicing! Back stage at fashion shows a bottle of water and bag of mixed nuts has replaced the pack of crisps and fizzy drink. Even Vogue magazine has changed their view on what a sexy attractive figure is. In a “health pact” published in their June issues, the editors jointly say they will not use modelsunder the age of 16, or those they believe have an eating disorder, in an attempt to encourage a healthier attitude to body image within the fashionindustry and among their readers.
I recently started training in No.17 personal training in Merrion square and I have learnt so much about maintaining a healthy lifestyle. I now eat three balanced meals a day; have healthy snacks in between and workout about five days a week. I learnt that by eating more regularly it speeds up your metabolism and you’re less prone to weight gain. I’ve chosen to go on the paleo diet which is also known as the caveman diet. Basically you eat what cavemen ate; so no bread or processed food and lots of eggs, meat, greens and fish. It’s more of a lifestyle choice than a diet and I’m really enjoying it. My body is looking so much better than when I was yoyo dieting and I’m feeling so much better mentally and physically. It’s also great having a trainer because they keep you motivated and positive. If I was training on my own I would do about a quarter of what I can do with my trainer Sophie as I don’t have the option of quitting and I get pushed the extra mile. Without someone kicking me in the ass I would also probably sleep in and just not workout as much. I look back and cringe at how I used to go to the gym on an empty stomach and then come out after and light a smoke straight away in my gym gear looking like Vicky Pollard! I used to smoke instead of snacking which I now know is idiotic. Since I quit over a month ago (by quit I mean going from ten a day to a few on a night out, but I’ll get there!) I feel so much better and I can taste the flavours of food so much better too.
Aside from knowing how to workout I now have so much information on what foods I put into my body. The more people educate themselves on what’s in the food they’re eating the better. Some of the facts I’ve learnt about food have been heart breaking. I’m sure most people would be surprised to find out that the sugar content in most ‘low fat’ cereals is extremely high which of course leads to weight gain. There’s 8.6g of sugar in a jam doughnut and in comparison there is 6.8g sugar in a well known brand of cereal that’s marketed as ‘healthy’. That’s less than 2g in the difference which is shocking as ‘said cereal’ is advertised as a healthy option breakfast cereal aimed at women who want to lose weight. These days you can’t just trust the advertising of food. Just because there’s a woman looking great on the box in a bikini doesn’t mean you’re going to look like that by eating it. It’s our own responsibility to be able to read the nutrition content at the back and know when something is too high in sugar or salt.
I love and hate how much knowledge I now have on the truths about food. Although I eat strictly paleo, I allow myself one day a week where I pretty much eat whatever I want. I don’t completely gorge all day because I learnt the hard way that I end up feeling so sick and become immobile. After a week of eating well and working out I treat myself to a cheat day. I’m a girl who loves my food so I thoroughly enjoy these days. Even though I’m well aware that there’s 255 calories in a mojito (2 less than a snickers bar) sometimes I don’t care and if I want a mojito I’ll have a mojito or six. Life is all about balance. If I had 7 cheat days a week the only crown I would have had a chance with would be the cardboard ones they give you in Burger King!
It’s different for me and some of my friends because as a model I’m paid to look good. My friends all take pride in their appearances as young women but they don’t have the pressure to stay the same size and always be ready for a shoot as I do. I’ve got to look like my pictures on the modelling website so clients aren’t disappointed when I arrive. I personally look up to super fit models like Adriana Lima for ‘gymspiration’. She trains two hours a day, six days a week and cuts out all carbs the six weeks before a Victoria Secret fashion show. These models put in as much work as some athletes and it’s comforting to know how much work, pain and dedication it takes to look that good. I’m sure there are some women reading this who have no interest in wanting to look like a lingerie model and that’s perfectly fine. Then there are the women who eat as much bad food as they like and don’t gain a pound. However as a nation with growing obesity rates leading to health problems, people need realise that working out and eating well isn’t just for people who are concerned about their appearance. I admit when I opted for this healthy lifestyle change it was 90% for vanity reasons. However when I notice how much stronger I am now and how much healthier I feel, I realised that working out and eating well isn’t just and investment in your looks, it’s a huge investment in your health. It’s simple – you can have a bad diet, do no exercise and be a heifer with heart problems or eat well, exercise, feel good and look good! Seems like a no brainer to me.
All clothes American Apparel.
All shoes from Kurt Geiger, Brown Thomas
Photography by Kip Carroll http://www.kipcarroll.com/
Styling by Liadan Hynes
Make-up by Vivien Pomeroy, hair by Roy Leigh – both Brown Sugar
Shot at The Morgan Hotel, 10 Fleet St, Dublin 2