Saturday 25 February 2017

Former model and snake charmer Emma Quinlan: How I finally learned to love my body at 30

Freya Drohan

Freya Drohan

Emma Quinlan
Emma Jane Quinlan

Irish model Emma Quinlan admits that she spent years punishing her body with restrictive diets and gruelling bootcamps, before finally understanding that she needed to drown out the negativity and really listen to her body.

Emma was one of the most well known photocall models of the Noughties, and also worked as a nightclub performer with her pet snakes.

Writing in The Irish Daily Mail, the former Celebrity Apprentice star has spoken at length about her struggle with weight, body image and pushing herself to the limit.

"I have worked so hard and struggled to keep my weight down and my size small," Emma stated.

Constantly striving to have the "perfect body", she would punish herself with strenuous exercises and restrictive diets.

As a result, she was left with a bad back and knees and suffered from amenorrhea - which is where your period stops due to the energy imbalance caused by excessive exercising and fluctuating weight.

"It made me feel constantly miserable," Emma said. "I felt guilty about anything that wasn't on the straight and narrow and punished and restricted myself from life as a whole - yet I still didn't see much progress."

Keen to regain control,  the bubbly brunette headed to Guatemala to live in a yoga ashram for a month.

To re-engage with her body, she spent the four weeks without a phone, Internet or any connection to the outside world. Every day, she would rise at 5am and spend five hours practising yoga.

After four weeks, she had a revelation.

"I was learning without trying. I was sleeping better. My knees and back were not hurting. My Eureka moment consisted of, 'We have forgotten how to move, how to listen to our bodies and ignore the outside noise.'"

When she returned home, she was advised to meet with a strength and conditioning coached,  Dara O'Boyle of Fitness Performance Systems Ireland.

Together, they worked out a training regime that would benefit Emma both physically and mentally.

"In this day and age of instant gratification, there is an unwillingness to accept that our bodies need time to adjust. You can't force changes if they are to be realistic or sustainable for life," she writes.

"To achieve true happiness, vitality and fitness, you must find the balance between going hard, going easy - and most importantly just resisting."

"The body can't sustain weekly beat-downs for long before injury, sickness and in my case, hormonal dysfunction sets in."

Now that she is 30, Emma believes she has finally discovered what fitness is all about.

"[Fitness] is a combination of mindfulness and internal acceptance, expressed by external capabilities, whether that's running, yoga or weightlifting. That's not what the gym trainer up to road will tell you though.

"Balance is a must. This allows you to go out for dinner, have the occasional drink and eat that Mars bar. As humans we are born with the capacity to reach our physical potential - our joints are healthy, our hormones are balanced and we are carefree. But as life and society takes over, we develop dysfunctions...We are the only ones who can be responsible for looking after our own bodies, especially if we are looking to realise our potential and our right to be happy in ourselves."

With the influx of information available when it comes to health, nutrition, lifestyle and exercise - Emma insists that simplicity is often key.

"If we want to change our physical shape, then we must begin in an honest way by addressing any dysfunction.

"Simply stretching and moving your body through basic movements - lunges, kettle bell swings, air squats, bear crawls and yoga poses have a profound effect on the energy within the body - and on the mind."

After years of trial and error, the former RTE's ICA Bootcamp participant has now found harmony in her life.

"I train four days a week, as opposed to exercising as often as twice a day. I take three minutes in the morning to focus my breath. I am mindful of what I eat and I savour it. I don't have 'cheat meals' as they would only further my control issues. I eat a Mars bar if I want it.

"I can do a handstand. My ankles are getting better. I'm losing body fat and maintaining muscle and my posture is great. I have the odd drink and I smile a lot more. I am starting to love my body and myself again - and it shows."

Follow Emma on Instagram here.

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