At 53, Davina McCall is a fitness powerhouse. The TV presenter and mother-of-three has transformed her physique in recent years, launching fitness platform Own Your Goals Davina, as well as sugar-free cookbooks and workout DVDs.
But wellness wasn’t always top of her agenda and, early on in her career, McCall admits a poor diet and lack of exercise put her health at risk.
She said: “In my 20s, exercise wasn’t as much of a focus for me. I was quite slim but my body wasn’t toned, which was probably because when I did go to the gym, I’d never really break a sweat. You would find me on the stepping machine reading a magazine.
“But after I had my second daughter, Tilly, I got in touch with this amazing personal trainer couple, Jackie and Mark, and they turned my life around.
“I went from walking down the red carpet and no one taking any notice of me, to walking down the red carpet and everyone screaming my name and wanting photos – because I had really toned up.
“At the time, I was quite content with my fitness, but if I was to have done a fitness test at 28, I’m sure I wouldn’t have scored as well as I would now, despite being in my 50s.”
During this time, before she became a household name on Big Brother in the Noughties, McCall was shocked to discover she had high cholesterol while undergoing a routine health test, putting her at risk of developing heart disease.
“After I met my husband (McCall married Matthew Robertson in 2000; the pair have since divorced) we decided to try for a baby. One of my fears was whether I would come across any barriers in getting pregnant, so I booked a general health check with my GP.
“Tests flagged two things: the first was that my thyroid was struggling and the second showed I had high cholesterol.
“At the time, I considered myself to be a healthy 28-year-old and it never crossed my mind that I would be at risk of something like that.”
High cholesterol is believed to affect around six in 10 UK adults, but awareness about it is generally low. Looking back, McCall says she believes her high-fat diet was the main culprit, although genetics likely had a part to play too,
“Back then, I would refer to myself as a ‘butter fiend’, as butter and sugar would be my guilty pleasures,” she says. “And, being half-French, processed meats were also something I devoured on a regular basis.
“I now understand the fat content in salami is horrific, and so that is something I’ve really dialled back on. White pasta and white bread were also things I always had in my cupboard. I never thought to make the switch to wholemeal, as at the time, I didn’t think it would make much difference.”
Now, her diet is much more balanced. McCall says she’s been learning about fibre from gut health guru Dr Megan Rossi (@theguthealthdoctor). She also tries to incorporate 30 different types of plant-based foods into her diet each week.
“I went from full-fat milk to semi-skimmed, which was a big sacrifice – I would often drink pints of milk, as I thought it was good for me. But with it being full-fat, it wasn’t great for my cholesterol levels.”
One great sacrifice McCall made, which she “continues to grieve for”, is cheese. “My half-sister and I remember our favourite dinner would be a ‘picky plate’ of assorted meats, cheeses, French bread and tons of butter.
“Now I very rarely eat cheese, other than a sprinkling of Parmesan on my pasta.”
Luckily, she really enjoys eating healthily, and her diet is just one way she’s looking after her wellbeing in her 50s.
“As I’ve gotten older, fitness has taken on greater importance, so has become more of an interest. I now have 30 minutes of exercise a day, five days a week, just to keep on top of my fitness, and that may be split between one or two runs and then the other days I’ll do an at-home workout.
“I look at my body as an engine and it constantly needs fine-tuning to be working at top capacity,” she adds. “And so I now think about various aspects of my body, such as my bones, my heart, muscle tone, staying strong, and my overall mental health – all things I never really thought too much about when in my 20s.”
Over the years, McCall has spoken openly about her battle and triumph over drug addiction, including a dependency on heroin when she was in her 20s.
“I’m really open with my kids – they know about my history with addiction and we talk about that, but with my parents’ and grandparents’ generations, it was quite the opposite.”
McCall says part of the reason she was caught short by her cholesterol diagnosis was because she was in the dark about her family history. “Since then, things have changed, and we can now identify health issues through hereditary causes and the stigma of talking about health issues has definitely faded, which is great.
“After I overcame my addiction issues in my early-20s and quit smoking at 25, I naturally became much more health-conscious – but of course in hindsight, you always think you could have done more to live a healthier life.”
So, if she could give her younger self some health advice, what would it be? “I think I would tell my younger self, ‘Do what you’re doing, just bear in mind that you will pay a price for the decisions and lifestyle choices you make now in the long run’. I think that’s generally sound advice for people in their 20s.”
Davina supports Raisio Nutrition Ltd’s Cholesterol Uncovered campaign, to encourage people to reconsider their diet and lifestyle choices. Visit raisio.com/en/cholesterol-uncovered
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