Model, mum & multitasker, celebrity parenting specialist, presenter, columnist, health coach, brand ambassador, photography studio partner (SpireVision), lecturer, motivational speaker, mental health advocate, humanitarian, nutritional therapy student…
Am I leaving any out?
You have so many strings to your bow. How would you best describe what you do?
As a model, things like travel, food, health and wellbeing are all part of your job so they all come under the one umbrella. All of my experiences in life so far have led me to become involved in the areas I work in today.
I think it’s fair to say that you take multitasking to the extreme. How do you juggle it all?
The three main areas I am juggling are work, study and time with my son. I have always been anti-routine, which helps when you’re multitasking. When it comes to spending time with my son, James, I make every second count. When we’re together I turn off the phone, the computer and other distractions and make sure that I am “present” and just focused on him. Luckily I have a great support network, which helps.
When it comes to work, it helps when you enjoy what you do. I study at night when James is in bed. You do have to work very hard and make sacrifices in some areas, like socialising and dating, but when it’s something you love, that makes it all worthwhile.
Starting out as a model at 15, food and fitness must always have been high on the agenda. How has your attitude to nutrition and health changed over the years?
I fell into modeling at the age of 15 and had a ready-made career in Ireland and internationally. There were advantages and disadvantages to that. I was always on the go and with the parties and the lifestyle it was easy to self medicate and run away from my problems. I was always searching for something and trying to find myself. Plenty of teachers told me to “look within” but didn’t teach me how to do that.
I always strove for perfection and did everything to extremes; whether it was partying or exercising or meditation, I did everything to the max. I now realise that it is not possible, sustainable or even necessary to go to extremes. You don’t need to exercise every day or meditate for hours; these days I meditate for 15 minutes a day, work out with a personal trainer once a week and exercise when I can and that’s much easier to sustain.
You have just completed a BTEC Diploma in Nutrition and Health Coaching from the IINH and are now studying to become a Nutritional Therapist. With such a successful career, what made you choose to change direction to focus on health? How did you even find the time?
As a model, there has always been a focus on health and wellbeing. I have always been interested in health and nutrition and have always been studying and researching myself so doing the courses was a natural progression for me. If I’m speaking on these areas I want to be able to answer any questions I’m asked honestly and with authority so I want to have the full knowledge and information to back that up.
What advice would you give to people embarking on a career in the area of health and nutrition?
I would say go for it! Right now is a really exciting and important time to get into the area of health and nutrition. We are in the middle of a health crisis. The world is crying out for people who can help to turn things around and I just hope that the health movement progresses faster than the obesity epidemic does.
What area of nutrition interests you most?
I am particularly interested in the effect of the right food and nutrition on mental health issues. It’s amazing just how much can be achieved by making changes to your diet and lifestyle. It has certainly helped me and I know firsthand just how beneficial it can be.
What would be your top health and nutrition tip?
KEEP IT SIMPLE.
It’s amazing how simple changes to your diet and lifestyle can make a big difference. Small things, like drinking lemon water in the morning, eating a variety of different coloured foods, taking 15 minutes to meditate each day and doing exercise you enjoy, can all add up to a big change in how you feel. These changes then become a habit and you can incorporate them into your life.
The reason most New Year’s resolutions fail is that we associate them with pain and sacrifice. Healthy living shouldn’t be painful or boring. When we feel healthy we have more energy, are better able to enjoy life and have better relationships and once we see the results, we want to feel that way all the time.
When did you become a parenting specialist? Since having a child of your own, or have you always been interested in this area?
I have always loved children and have done a lot of charity work with kids over the years. If I hadn’t got into modeling at such a young age, working with kids might have been a good career path for me.
How did having a child change your life?
Having my son, James, saved my life – literally. Having him helped me to figure out what is important in life. He’s the most powerful motivation there is.
When I was pregnant I did everything I could to keep myself fit and healthy for the baby as I felt that all of my energy was passed on to him. When I had James I suffered from postnatal depression and I couldn’t run away from it. I had to stay and deal with it. It took hard work – counselling, therapy, and diet changes, like cutting out sugar. When I finally stopped running I felt a sense of relief and contentment and I realised that the answer to life’s problems came from “looking within” and that I finally had what I had been searching for my whole life. Since then I have focused on hanging on to that feeling.
I think that the quest for happiness is a bit unrealistic. It’s better to aim to be content rather than happy. You don’t have to be happy all the time. Moods fluctuate but there are happy moments in every day.
What would be your top parenting tip?
Trust your instincts as a mother. Mind mum first because to be able to look after your kids, you need to make sure that you are OK first. Stay fit and healthy because you need to make sure that you will be around for as long as they need you. Most importantly, have fun! Enjoy every second with them. Children live in the present and we can learn a lot from that. Live in the here and now and you will enjoy life more.
You are a huge advocate of mental health issues. You are an ambassador for “Walk In My Shoes” and you have been very open and honest about your own struggle with anxiety and depression. Has your own experience made you want to help others?
Yes, definitely. When I suffered from postnatal depression I got a lot of support from other mothers and that really helped. I believe that there is strength in numbers. When we support each other, everybody benefits.
What role do you think health and nutrition plays in helping with mental health issues?
Health and nutrition are hugely important factors in coping with mental illness. Finding the right balance is particularly important. Everyone is different – we all need different things at different times and we need to continuously reassess it. Once you’ve found what works for you, you need to keep on top of your formula. It’s much easier to focus on keeping yourself well than it is to deal with getting sick again.
You also talk a lot about expressing gratitude. How do you think being grateful helps us to cope with life?
I think that expressing gratitude is hugely important for our wellbeing. I keep a “gratitude diary” and each day I write down 5 things I am grateful for. Even on a bad day, it reminds you what is good in your life. It helps you to catch a negative thought more easily and switch it to a positive thought.
You are very sought after as a speaker on a range of different issues. What do you think makes you connect with people so well?
I tell the truth and tell my story honestly and I think that people can relate to that. With an international modelling career, starting in Paris at 16, modeling with supermodels and travelling the world, I have led an exciting and different life and have a lot of life experiences to draw on. My journey has been quite fast-paced and I have learned a lot from it. I think we need to learn from people. I have met a lot of inspirational people along the way and I am happy to share my experiences with others.
So, what does the future hold for Alison Canavan?
I have a lot of exciting projects coming up. Unfortunately I’m not allowed to talk about them just yet but I’m really looking forward to the future. I will continue to study Nutritional Therapy and this will also give me a lot more options so I’m very excited about where that might lead.