Moms Doing It For Themselves: Alison Canavan
Since then she has transformed her life by embracing health and wellness, and through her own journey of discovery will help you with yours.
Tell me a little bit about your business.
I’m a health and wellness coach now. I was a model for 23 years. I still do bits and pieces of modelling. I am passionate about health and wellness. My whole approach to it goes beyond just food and exercise; it’s looking at the full 360° approach. I like to focus on the full person - stress, what's going on in your life, how happy you are in your job, your relationships and how well you sleep. It’s about trying to get people to join the dots for themselves and be their own detectives. We all need to stop outsourcing our power, as we’re the only one who really knows what works for us. I also do a lot of writing, a lot of talks; corporate talks and launches. I recently launched Wellfest.
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My new book is called: ‘Minding Mum - It’s time to take care of you!'. The whole detail behind it is that you’re important too. Just because you have a baby doesn’t mean that your life is over. We tend to fall into the trap of: “I’m a mum, I can’t do that now”. I just don’t think that’s true, in fact, since I gave birth to my son I have achieved more both personally and professionally than I ever did before. He really taught me what living and life is about. I’ve learnt to look through a child’s eyes, the beauty of having children is that it also forces you to be present.
By that I mean, as adults we’re always running and we’re always busy; always thinking about what’s in the future. When you have a child - all they’re actually concerned about is what’s going on right now. It’s an incredible reminder that life is for living. I don’t think that you should give up on yourself when you’re a mum. All mums are working mums - whether you stay at home or you choose to go out and work. (A) It’s a very personal decision and, (B), no one should be judged for that.
What motivated you to start your business?
I’ve suffered from depression and anxiety for most of my life. After I had my son, I suffered from post-natal depression and I found real and honest information really hard to come by. I was sick of people treating different aspects of me separately. I set myself on the road to recovery. I just figured that there had to be another way than just being on prescriptions the whole time. I became sick and tired of being sick and tired!
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I went back to college. I’ve been in college for the last few years doing every kind of health course. I’m studying to be a nutritional therapist at the moment. I am just about to finish my raw foods mastery programme Level 3. I am always researching and studying and I’m fascinated by the connectivity that we have with each other. I’m deeply passionate about health and well being and I am deeply passionate about people realising that they can feel great, that they can feel amazing. That it’s not: “Well, you’re a certain age now…” or “That’s just the way it is for you.” I think that all that kind of ‘advice’ is complete and utter nonsense.
I’m a big believer in practising gratitude and daily happiness habits and I am a huge fan of daily meditation. It’s so beneficial for everyone. All the buzzwords at the moment: ‘mindfulness’, ‘meditation’ - they’re buzzwords, yes. But there is some real clout behind them, because before, we used to have mindfulness moments when we were sitting at the bus stop or driving, etc. All of our mindful moments are now taken over by devices. We need to get out and be with ourselves, for example: a nice walk alone in nature, all of these things help. We need to focus on the spiritual aspect as well as our inner monologues, our sleep patterns and how we nourish ourselves. It’s all about a sequence of minding ourselves.
What do recommend for mums who need an energy boost, would like to lose weight or just need a ‘pick-me-up’?
It’s an adjustment period. Usually, we completely forget about ourselves. So our main daily problem is dehydration. Hydration is one of the most important things we can do for our energy levels. It keeps our digestive systems working at an optimum level. It’s one of the main causes of digestive issues and all of those types of things. So, stay well hydrated if you’re a new mum, especially if you're breastfeeding. It’s really important.
Eat little and often, in my book I have a ‘mummy chart’ - it’s also available on my website. When you leave hospital you get a feeding chart, so print out your chart from my website and put it on the fridge beside the baby’s feeding chart. And you simply tick the box when you eat and drink - make sure you follow through. My son, James, never slept. I know mums get really upset when their baby doesn’t sleep. But it is important that you get rest, if that means asking for help then you have to do that. I’m speaking from experience because I ended up very ill when I didn’t do that.
It does become boring when people say: “Sleep when the baby sleeps”. But I have a couple of friends with new babies who haven’t slept for nine or ten months and it is literally ripping the family apart. It is so important that you either take turns if you’re married or in a couple or if you can afford it that you occasionally get a night nurse to come in and take over. So that you can get a full night's sleep. Your health is just as important as your baby’s health. If you’re not in your best capacity you’re not able to give your best.
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Food is also really important. I encourage people to not be obsessive about what they can eat and can’t eat. Keep it simple, keep it real - that’s my philosophy on food. If it looks like food, eat it. If it looks like something that’s been completely adulterated, probably best to stay away. As a new mum, it’s also best to stay away from processed, high-fat / high sugar foods. They don’t do you any favours. Make sure you take your omegas. Also, Matcha Tea is a fantastic alternative to dehydrating tea and coffee. It’s a powdered form of green tea and can help ward off depression and anxiety. Stay away from fizzy drinks or sugary cereals; they have no nutritional value.
What’s your background?
I started modelling at 15 and I lived all over the world: London, Paris, New York, South Africa and Australia. I did massive campaigns and during that time I was studying PR and advertising. I was big into philanthropy, I travelled to Calcutta with Goal when I was in my early twenties. I did a lot of work with them and various other charities during my time there.
So, I’ve had an incredible career and incredible life before I came back to Ireland nearly seven years ago. But I suppose there was always that question of what I would do next? I hadn’t left school knowing what I wanted to do. In fact, I’m just very lucky that modelling was there. Modelling was never something I really wanted to do either, but it was an incredible opportunity and I had no idea what I wanted to go on to do. Up until a few years ago I didn’t really have any ideas either. I always felt that I wanted to do something fulfilling.
When I started to get into wellness the big “Aha!” moment was when I started to feel great mentally and physically. For years and years, I struggled and then I started to discover that there was more to it than just good food and exercise. I realised it was about self-esteem issues and that I hadn’t been kind to myself my whole life. I hadn’t always spoken to myself very well and I started to put time and effort into researching psychology. That’s why I am such a big fan of gratitude. My son and I keep a gratitude journal every day.
The reality is that our brains are programmed for survival - not happiness. Happiness is something that’s never taught. I just think that fact is fascinating to know.
We can rewire our brains at any time. It’s incredibly exciting for anyone who’s suffering with mental health difficulties. We can set ourselves on the path to change that.
What have been the highs and lows of setting up your business?
It’s been a really slow process. It’s making the transition from crazy party girl Ali, who’s been a model all over the world into health and wellness. It has been tough as I am single mum; I’ve been studying every weekend for the last couple of years.
Ultimately, it is what I really want to do so it’s worth it all. Writing the book was also an amazing experience and opportunity. The lesson over the last few years is life is hard enough and you need to work hard at something to do well in it. If you’re out there and wondering what your purpose is, you just need to keep looking and trying new things.
What advice would you give other mums wanting to start up their own business?
If possible, try to get a really good mentor. It’s not easy starting your own business, it’s not easy changing careers. So join a local enterprise board or women’s group. Reach out and find your local tribe, as I would say. People who are in a similar place as you. Never be afraid to ask for help. If it terrifies you, do it anyway. What’s the worst thing that can happen? It fails? But you know what? It might not fail!
When I was on the Late Late Show talking about post-natal depression I was inundated by emails from mums. I got a beautiful one in this morning. Emails like that have really helped me on down days. Don’t ever underestimate the power that others can have on our lives.
Do you have any tips for work / life balance?
There is a chapter in my book on practical work / life balance. I think you need to look at your own situation and what works for you. I think that the fact that your schedule will change, so you need to be adaptable. You have to leave a bit of leeway. I think nothing beats being organised. Having things ready the night before. I was very anti-routine and structure, but now it works so much better for me to be organised. Have the uniforms ready, the work clothes, etc.
Also, unhappiness can lead to an unbalanced household. For example, if you’re a working mum who hates her job, you can change things for yourself. Look at your options, don’t stay in something because you feel you have to.
Don’t go through the motions, living for those two weeks you get off in the summer. Life's for living. No one gets through life without hardship. Even the people you think have it all. I think it’s important to dig a little bit deeper. The time that you put into yourself will repay you dividends.
What are your plans for 2016 / 2017?
My new website is just launched - so that’s pretty exciting. I’ll also be doing lots of talks, running events and courses. So there’s going to be a busy time ahead. I would love to do another book, so I am going to start working on that too. I just want to keep sharing the message to help people join the dots and get the best for their health and wellness.
If you had three wishes granted for your business what would they be?
- To reach more people on a global scale - to get my message out about health and wellness.
- To become more successful and more knowledgeable in the area I’m in. My whole goal is to help people to be the best that can be and the happiest they can be.
- I would love to write another book!
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