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Rosanna Davison: "I don’t want people to take my advice as medical advice"

The model and nutritionist has a new cookbook out, but says she’s not trying to turn people vegan.

Image: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

SHE’S BEST KNOWN for her modelling work – her Miss World win, that Playboy cover, being a brand ambassador – but while not facing the glare of the camera flash in her day job, beauty queen Rosanna Davison was quietly working on her real passion: nutrition.

Now she is poised to launch the book Eat Yourself Beautiful, which comes hot on the heels of her own nutrition-focused website.

During one of the rounds of promotion for the book, Davison (31), daughter of musician Chris de Burgh, faced criticism over an article in last weekend’s Irish Independent.

She was quoted as saying that going gluten-free helped her husband Wes Quirke with the back pain and rheumatoid arthritis he was getting.

Davison told TheJournal.ie weeks earlier that she didn’t intend her advice in the book to be taken as medical advice. This evening, she also released a statement saying:

I was by no means stating that gluten causes arthritis or any other diseases, or that they can be cured by removing it from the diet. But I felt that it was acceptable to share the experience that my husband had with making dietary changes to control his pain.
Arthritis in all of its forms is a serious and debilitating disease, and sharing my personal story was the intention, not to create any sense of false hope for sufferers or state that a change in diet is all that is needed to cure a disease.

Though the recipes promise “true beauty, from the inside out” Davison tells TheJournal.ie when we meet that her work is heavily based on her nutrition training.

She studied Nutritional Therapy for three years at the UK-based College of Naturopathic Medicine (she took her classes at Griffith College), but indicates she’s not trying to be anyone’s doctor. She says she works with people “in conjunction with their GP if they are on medication, have a disease or need to get tests done”.

“I don’t want people to take my advice as medical advice,” she says, “but to show there are ways to help themselves through diet.”

A long-time vegetarian turned vegan, motivated by ethical reasons but now firmly motivated too by health reasons, she also eschews refined sugar and gluten. Giving up the latter isn’t part of being vegetarian or vegan, but appears central to Davison’s diet. As such, all of her recipes are vegan and gluten-free.

She says that the premise of the book is helping people make small tweaks in their diet to remedy issues like “excess weight, puffiness around the eyes, spots, dry skin and hair, brittle nails, poor sleep, low energy, even wrinkles and fine lines”.

Leaning on nutrition

.  Former Miss World Rosanna Source: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

The first chapter of her book is all about her journey from child veggie – it was realising that a fluffy lamb on her grandmother’s farm was going to end up on the dinner table that inspired a young Rosanna to give up meat – to going vegan (it was cheese that initially held her back from this step), and then becoming a nutritionist.

As part of her nutrition course, she worked with real-life clients in a student clinic, where she got to design food plans. She still works with clients on their nutritional needs on a private basis, mainly friends, relatives and family friends.

“I’m trained in every disease, ailment you can think of, so clients would come to me with heart disease – I had one person who had HIV – people who wanted to lose weight, acne, psoriasis,” she says.

Her private clients told her that it was well and good designing a food plan, but they didn’t know how to cook or shop for the ingredients or supplements, so Davison did this for them.

Functional nutrition

After being approached the write a book last year, she spent four months writing an 111,000-word tome.

“I was just married and Wes [Quirke] was like ‘I never see my wife any more’,” she says. “He’d have to drag me away at midnight from my computer.”

It was deemed too academic, and she pared back on the footnotes and delved more into the cookery end of things.

She has noted some major studies in Eat Yourself Beautiful, but says “it’s a recipe book, not an academic textbook”.

She says there’s nothing she hasn’t tried in the book herself. But is she trying to turn people vegan?

“I’m not at all. Even in the book I say if you are trying to include fish or meat in your diet I suggest you try organic meat or wild fish.

It’s making small changes to improve your skin or overcome acne, or lose weight, or improve your hair growth. It’s about making little changes, maybe include more veg in our diet and less meat and carbs or junk food, include healthy fats.

What about the taste? “Obviously things have to taste delicious first and foremost but I’m really interested in how different foods affect you and affect your mood and how you sleep.”

“I think people are only coming around to realising there is such a big relationship between what you eat and how you feel every day,” she adds.

It used to be difficult for her to pick up some specialist ingredients like B12-rich nutritional yeast (vegans need to supplement with B12) in shops, but now Ireland has improved on that front, says Davison.

She calls her type of nutrition “functional nutrition, in that most of the things I make are to serve a purpose, whether it’s to balance your hormones, or clear up your skin, or give you a smoother complexion”.

It’s all very much based on science from Harvard, all the major facilities in the States, across the world. It’s all research-based.

Facing criticism

In April of this year, the Irish Farmers’ Association criticised Davison’s claims about dairy products being linked to acne, eczema and some cancers. That’s not the first time that Davison has drawn the ire of farming groups.

In September 2014, the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association said they were unhappy with Davison talking about dairy being bad for people’s health.

rosanna vegan 1 Source: DailyEdge.ie

That was their second time butting horns over the topic.

“Ireland has such a big farming and meat culture [but] I’m not in any way trying to change that,” says Davison of the farmers’ anger.

I think that will remain part of Ireland’s culture for a long time. But there is a community that is growing and growing in Ireland with vegetarians and vegans and just people interested in the environment and that kind of thing as well.

She says the criticism “comes with the territory”.

“I’m not here to attack anybody’s livelihood or anything like that, but I’m in a position where I feel a responsibility to pass on research to people who are interested,” she adds, saying that it is “a personal choice whatever you decide to eat”.

I just want to pass on my experience with eating dairy and how I felt with giving it up. It suits some people, it doesn’t suit other people, but it’s about raising awareness about the alternatives out there, and the fact you can get calcium from a multiple of sources.
Harvard has come out and said dairy isn’t the best source of calcium, it’s linked it to potential prostate cancer and ovarian cancer cases. For somewhere as prestigious as Harvard to come out and say that, you know it’s a good idea to take note as well.

Harvard School of Public Health’s ’healthy eating plate’ differs recommends limiting milk and dairy to one or two servings a day “since high intakes are associated with increased risk of prostate cancer and possibly ovarian cancer”.

Davison says it’s not about “forcing people to eat a certain way, because it doesn’t work”.

I know with Wes or with my family if I say ‘don’t eat that’ they will eat it. So it’s about leading by positive example and informing people and letting them make up their own mind.

“I don’t know it all by any means, I’m still learning – but I’ve learned enough to know what works and what doesn’t.”

Blogging ‘wars’

Davison isn’t the only Irish model to spread the word about healthy eating – Rozanna Purcell is also due to bring out a book, based on her Natural Born Feeder food blog.

roz purcell

Is there any rivalry between them? Davison says no.

“I love that somebody else in the industry is doing it,” she says.

“It just strengthens the whole healthy eating thing. Roz is coming at it from the angle of her love of cooking – it is different and different things for different people. It’s nice to be doing something similar.”

The PETA days

4/6/2012 Charity Races Source: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

Besides her lamb story, Davison doesn’t delve into the issue of animal welfare very much in the book.

“I find sometimes it’s not the priority for some people so that’s why I find it more effective to go at it from the nutrition and health side,” she says.

“You want people to see healthy eating as cool and trendy and I suppose it’s becoming like that rather than… I think maybe for men it’s not cool to say no to bacon.

It would be great if things changed. At the moment I think there’s more power in telling people that they’ll look better and feel better if they make certain changes.

ros2-3-384x500 Source: Marc O'Sullivan/PETA

She used to make herself watch PETA and slaughterhouse videos, but says she doesn’t do that any more.

She has also posed for PETA for some of their ad campaigns, wearing little other than lettuce leaves. PETA’s approach to these ads – light on clothing, heavy on the guilt – have been criticised.

“I’ve enjoyed what I’ve done for them. They are all issues I feel strongly about,” says Davison.

“I just felt – look, they obviously have a system that seems to work. Maybe it’s a bit more shocking or eye-catching. So I just said I’ll go along with it if it’s tastefully enough done and if it raises awareness.”

PETA told her that people ordered its vegan starter pack after each one of her ads.

A new focus

31/8/2014. Electric Picnic Music Festivals Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

Getting into nutrition wasn’t just a way of studying a topic Davison was passionate about, but of setting up a new career for when her modelling days are over.

“I am selective even about what I do now, you know [modelling] has fairly short shelf life and I feel lucky to be this age and still doing jobs,” she says. “You want to prepare for the next part of your career as well, which is what I did when I started studying at 26.”

She was partly driven to finish her degree after Miss World by comments of “she’s just a blonde bimbo”.

Once, she cared about such comments. Now, she doesn’t. “It’s lovely getting to an age where you don’t really care what people think… or you do your best not to attract too much criticism,” she says.

File Pics ROSANNA Davison bares all for a sizzling Playboy shoot after getting the go ahead from crooner dad Chris de Burgh. Rosanna Davison after winning Miss Ireland 2003 Source: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland

I just feel now that I’m very secure in myself and happy. I’m loving my 30s, I think it makes a big difference. Just being married and being settled, having someone who has your back as well. Wes isn’t into the whole public eye or public thing at all.

Miss World was the catalyst for Rosanna Davison’s swift rise into the echelons of the modelling world. But it wasn’t something she had dreamed of as a child.

“It wasn’t something I ever planned on doing but it happened,” she says. “Sometimes life takes you on different paths that you don’t expect and you just go along with it.”

She says she is “really lucky and very fortunate” and appreciates her success.

Her 2012 Playboy cover “got a very positive reaction”, but she’s not running to shed her clothes for the publication again soon.

“It was a box that I ticked off of things I had done,” she says now.

I don’t imagine I’ll ever do it again. So I am happy I did it and for me, once I was in control of all the shots and everything, that made a big difference, so there were no surprises on the day.

During the Celtic Tiger days she saw her fair share of bizarre shoots, including one where she was dressed up like an Arabian princess and made to pose with a baby camel, only to have to face a protesting animal welfare group outside the venue.

“When I look back it was a constant stream of parties,” she says. “Which was great when you are in your early 20s. I am not a big partier these days.”

But now, in her early 30s and married, she sees a different phase in her life beginning. “I want to do different things – obviously have a family at some stage; I’d love to live in the country with horses eventually. You want less of the glamorous side of life.”

Read: Leo Varadkar on Rosanna’s topless shoot: ‘I wouldn’t do it myself’>

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