Helena Oun is an international model, holistic nutritionist and yogi. After struggling with her own body image issues – that ensued from being part of the industry that creates such pressure on women both inside and outside of it – she launched Healthyandnourished.com to support and encourage other women to have a healthy body image.
Helena talks to us about being underweight, extreme diets and finally finding balance.
On extreme diet and exercise regimes…
I have never said that I suffered from an eating disorder, but I have to be honest and say that I wasn’t far from it. I have always been very aware of myself, let myself make mistakes and have tried different things on myself, to find my own truth. You can read and learn, but the greatest lessons are the ones that you go through with your own body.
Between the ages of 17 and 20 I tried all kinds of different diet trends. I really tried it all from natural herbal laxative teas, an apple a day, drinking only smoothies, etc. I played so much with my body and health. After every diet I suffered a lot and there were times when I was physically in pain from the harm I did to myself. I also added a lot of extra workouts. I cut down my calorie intake and ran on treadmills to burn off all the calories I did eat. It was probably the most stupid thing I ever did. But when I look back, I’m really glad I went through this extremely unhealthy phase, because all of that is what got me here today and taught me to respect my body.
I believe that everything happens for a reason and we need to pay attention to the small things. I grew up in a very healthy family and I was always a very sporty and active child. When I got into modeling I stopped doing all the physical activities I used to do. Before my career I played tennis for about 8 years and I had to choose if I wanted to play tennis professionally or become a model and travel the world. I chose the latter.
I started modeling in 2005 and at the time modeling and a healthy lifestyle had no connection like they do today. Back then it was cool to live a la Kate Moss – rebellious and with a pretty unhealthy lifestyle. There was a point when I completely lost myself and my soul in all the madness around me. I realized enough is enough and I didn’t felt like myself anymore. I needed to change my lifestyle and the way I treat myself. I started to research everything on my own, I didn’t talk to anyone about it. That was when my true self-discovery started. I was all alone in that and I was trying to find my way back to the sporty, active girl I used to be.
When I first started my journey towards a ‘healthy’ lifestyle, I got very obsessive with everything I did. I had no balance and took all my new ‘healthy’ habits too far. It was also part of the pressure of getting older, working in the fashion industry and feeling like I needed to look like I was still in my teen years.
My diet plans and workouts were too extreme and I overdid everything. I lost about 8 kgs and was extremely underweight. It was definitely lack of knowledge, but also my body went through such an extreme detox phase. Because for so many years I was treating my body so badly I really needed a serious cleanse. After a year of being underweight (while having a picture perfect model body) I was again finding myself in a very strange mental state. I was so happy to be that ‘ideal body look’ that all clients were looking for, but I honestly have never felt more unattractive as a woman. I was a 20 year old young woman with the body of a 14 year old teen.
On the modeling industry…
I realized that I cannot satisfy everybody and that I need to find balance, but most of all I needed to find peace with myself and my body. I couldn’t go on thinking about what clients want me to be, when I don’t feel good in my own skin. I educated myself on how to go forward from there, on how I could reach a healthy weight, still have the body type that clients are looking for, but also feel comfortable in my body.
During the time when I went through that orthorexia phase it was interesting to see how people I was close to were worried if I was okay, while at the same time everyone in the industry was cheering and clapping hands at my ‘great weight loss’. I was old enough to realize what was right and what was wrong and what really matters for me. But many young teens and new models today are in the same place as I was and they are lost.
At the end of the day it really doesn’t matter what shape or size your body is in the fashion industry, because there is always somebody you aren’t good enough for. After 9 years of being in the business you get used to hearing that you need to lose weight or gain weight on a daily basis. No matter how skinny, tall, curvy, dark or light you are, there will always be a client who thinks you are not suitable for them. And there will always be an agent who blames your lack of jobs on your body type. Probably some of the funniest comments are when they ask you to gain or lose weight from only a specific body part. It makes you realize how little these people know and also it is often impossible to satisfy their wishes to gain or lose some crazy amount of weight in just in a week or two.
Now looking back I find it so hideous, because there are girls in all shapes and sizes, and there are thousands of clients who are all looking for different types of models. So there is no reason to let yourself down by some criticism. It’s all about finding the right market for you. From my personal experience I can say that after a while you become numb to this and the older I got the more confident I became of who I really am and I refuse to let somebody else define my body or my spirit.
On finding balance…
I took a break from modeling a little less than year ago, to focus on my studies and work full time as a holistic nutritionist. It was so liberating, because I was finally able to be completely myself without thinking about whether I’m suitable for the next job or not and how I will fit into the clothes. I was also finally able to focus more on weight training without worrying about become bigger. In the last two years of modeling I was always joking that when I quit modeling I will start doing squats. And it was literally the first thing I did. As a model you really needed to fit into certain standard measurements. But my hips were always a little wider, so I really needed to avoid certain workouts such as squats as a bigger, more lifted butt wasn’t an option during my modeling days.
On what workouts I do today…
Now I do many different workouts. At least 3-4 times a week I do yoga, then 2-3 times a week I do bodyweight training and1-2 times a week I do different cardio workouts like running or swimming. And when I can I never say no to a good Muay Thai training session. I really love to walk and I try to include it to my daily schedule as much as I can. Sometimes I can walk about 10km per day without realizing it. Mostly I just refuse to use any kind of transportation, just so I can walk.
On what I eat today…
For the past 4 years I have followed a plant based diet plan. But from time to time, I still like to eat fish. When it comes to my food philosophy, then I don’t believe in labeling your eating habits as Vegetarian, Vegan, Paleo or whatever else is out there. Also I don’t believe in calorie counting in the long term. I think it is important to learn to listen your body and start to understand what it really needs. Your body is much smarter than you think and knows exactly what you need. There is a huge difference between what you think you need and what you really need.
My day starts with a big glass of lemon water. Mostly I eat oats for breakfast and my number one favorite is a good old porridge with banana and some extra superfoods like acai, chia seeds, bee Pollen or some berries. Sometimes I also like to make my own granola and eat it with almond milk. When I’m traveling then overnight oats are definitely my go-to breakfast. 20 minutes after my breakfast I always drink a big cup of Chinese green tea.
For lunch I like something lighter like a big bowl of greens (kale and spinach) with quinoa and avocado.
I really like to cook and dinner is an opportunity to experiment with new recipes and get creative in the kitchen. I’m really good with Indian curries, but I also like some veggie patties or oven baked root vegetables. As I travel a lot I always try to learn about the local food culture, get to know local spices and add them to my meals.
Between my meals I like to snack on some fresh fruit, fruits, veggie juice or almonds.
On body image…
For past 10 years I’ve worked in the industry where your look is the only thing that matters. I started modeling at a very young age, I was just a 15 year old girl excited about this glamourous world of beauty. All I knew was that, if I wanted to get work, I needed to look a certain kind of way to satisfy my clients. As a young girl in the fashion industry, you definitely lose yourself and lose your idea of what really matters in life. You put your body through so much to get these jobs. The more I educated myself with these problems, the more I started to pay attention to models and young women in general around me. I realized that there is such a huge black hole of issues, and nobody is talking about it.
The media does a “great” job of showing women and young girls what they should look like. Showing them these ideal and “perfect” versions of women. This media manipulation affects women psychologically and can lead to many health problems. But we have to look at the bigger picture here and agree, that we are the ones who let it happen. We help media to do so, because we are also trying to sell that “perfect” image of ourselves. But why do we keep doing it? Why can’t we let ourselves be confident the way we are naturally? It’s all about acceptance. We need to learn to accept ourselves and our bodies the way they are. We need to understand that taking care of yourself, eating well and living an active lifestyle is all you need to do, to be the best version of yourself. There is no need to go overboard with an obsession to look like these images around us in media, tv, magazines, social media etc.
We all have heard it being said that “The girl in the magazine doesn’t even look like the girl in the magazine”. This is so true and I really admire seeing many brands and magazines moving forward to change it. Because all we need is to see real women, to whom everyone can relate (like the last Calvin Klein campaign with Myla). We don’t need to see illusions of something to sell products. It’s still is confusing to me why so many brands are still scared to use curvier girls in their campaigns. There are women in so many different body types and all these women are potential clients.
On insecurity and low self-esteem…
As I said before that media really affects all women. Women who are following it and women who are in it. During my modeling days I realized that models are probably the most insecure women I have ever met. They are never sure about their body and they always need to be ready to be judged by their looks. As the problem have grown, it’s time to start talking about it, to make a change.
I want to see women praise their curves, their strength, their natural beauty. But most of all I want to see women stop looking each other and thinking “I want to look like that”. You will never look like that, because it is not you. You have your own body and it is your job to own it and be confident in it. It is time to start looking at women around you and help each other through our struggles.
It is okay to have insecurities, because we all do. Even the most “perfect” girl in the magazine might hate her legs. But life is so much more than feeling bad about something you don’t like. Learn to love yourself and your body completely. Take away the stress to look a certain kind of way and be proud of your body. Every muscle in your body is yours and it is all up to you how you want to use it. We are not meant to look all the same, but we are all meant to take care of ourselves.
On what we can do to change things…
I really want to talk about how we can fight against low self-esteem issues and helping women around you build their confidence. Because we need moms who are good role models, we need friends who can be your inspiration, we need daughters you can be proud of. It’s all about understanding how powerful women can be when they can be completely themselves without having a need to hide themselves. This is also why I started an open conversation about insecurities, so women can realize that they are not alone. We all go through the same things, we all struggle with finding that confidence and it is okay. It is all about being respectful to our bodies and to each other. I think starting to talk about these things openly with each other and sharing our stories will help ourselves realize, that there is nothing to be ashamed of. Because at the end of the day our body is the only thing we really have and we have to live in it our whole lives. I want to see women find peace with themselves and their bodies.
There should be no pressure to be thin, to be flat, to be curvy, to be sexy, to be something we are not meant to be. Every woman is so unique and we all have such a different body types. Stop comparing yourself with the world! Don’t try to change yourself to look certain type of way. Use your strengths and weaknesses to be your own kind of person and be proud of what you’ve got. There’s nobody else like you, so you better work it! Beauty is not about looking like some made up “ideal”, but bravery to be in this world, exactly as you are and not in the image of others. Most of all we need to be inspired by actions, not by looks. We need to inspire each other by our positive habits, active lifestyle and inner strength. Because these are the things what really matter. Stop trying to achieve something visual, but try to achieve something that has a positive affect on your whole lifestyle. Life is really not about how you look, but how you make yourself feel. There is no need to harm yourself and make yourself feel uncomfortable for something visual. It is all about the work and love we put into our actions to make our bodies feel good.
As told to Fitness Dorks.
Read more on Helena’s website: Healthyandnourished.com