Published On: Fri, Jul 29th, 2016

Davina McCall: The sugar-free sweetheart

The nation’s darling, Davina McCall, overcomes another hurdle in her life – the sugar addiction…

davina mccall

After her sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and advised to give up refined sugar, Davina McCall has made it her mission to cut the white stuff out of her life, and to help others do the same. Months later, she’s in better health than ever with better skin, moods and outlook – and has a new fitness DVD and a sugar-free cookbook to boot!

Health and fitness fans know, better than most, about the benefits of a balanced diet, and the importance of sticking to moderation in the face of temptation. For every recipe enticingly extolling the virtues of lashings of butter and mountains of molasses, there is Davina McCall waiting to help with her attempts to lead a healthy, balanced life without the need to stick to rigid diets or enforced repetitive meals.

“I would never diet,” says the 48-year-old, who shot to fame as the presenter of Big Brother. “If I’m at my top end of where I feel comfortable weight wise, I just try to be sensible – less carbs in the evenings, not so much bread and butter – and that always makes a huge difference.”

McCall is a different breed of health guru, one whose feet are firmly grounded in reality; she’s passionate about all kinds of food – “Yeah, God, I eat carbs!” – and her charm comes from this normal approach to nutrition and nourishment.

“The cabbage diet must be a nightmare – it’s just a repetition of the same thing again and again,” she laughs, “I’ve heard great things about the 5:2 diet as far as cleansing and cleaning out your system, but I think I’d literally kill someone if I had to eat just 500 calories in one day – I’d get so angry! They say to do it on a day when you’re not doing much, but when is that? Imagine cooking meals for your kids!”

For Davina the mother, a healthy outlook for her daughters in terms of their own bodies is just as important as a healthy diet.

“Having daughters makes me realise how important it is to not obsess about looking young. It’s their turn to look great and feel gorgeous. I’ve got to love them being young and let them get on with it, rather than try and chase some unachievable goal. I say look after yourself, stay fit, stay healthy, and stay toned.”

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McCall herself will be 50 in just two years time, and as the big half-centenary approaches it’s almost inevitable that, as a woman whose career is spent under the bright lights of a television studio, certain questions may well be raised in the less-than-kind tabloids about her appearance. She is, quite typically, totally nonplussed.

“I feel fine about it. I mean my whole aim in life is to probably just look really good for my age,” she says. “I don’t want to look thirty, I just want to look quite good for my age – if I can do that I’d be really happy. I’m much more accepting of my body now than I ever was in my thirties and my twenties.”

Now with a discography of 12 fitness DVDs already to her name, Davina is fast establishing herself as a major player when it comes to crafting balanced, healthy dishes in a way that doesn’t preach. Her latest recipe book represents this normal attitude to nutrition: entitled Davina’s Smart Carbs, it went about showing how you can lose weight while still eating the things you love.

McCall has also broken the habit of a lifetime. Whereas before she was proud to declare that she “doesn’t not eat anything”, McCall has worked hard to cut one thing from her diet: refined sugar, found in products such as white flours, rice and bread.

The decision to address her addiction to sugar came partly through her sister’s diagnosis of cancer – “the nutritionist told me that she should give up sugar and I found that quite telling,” says Davina – “and partly through the influx of negative information surrounding the impact of sugar on our lives.”

“Every time I pick up a magazine, I read another horrifying fact about it. I think it has always been a part of so many of our lives, and it’s so complicated to cut out.”

“I would say that sugar is the worst evil; worse than any fat, worse than salami, sausages, because it is in everything. And not only that, but it is so terribly addictive. I have a sweet tooth, and when I’ve got to go through the three-week weaning off sugar, I get this thing where after a meal I have to have sweetness. I don’t – it’s just my mind telling me. It is an evil, it’s terrible for your health, and it’s terribly addictive with no health benefits whatever.”

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Such was the idea behind her best-selling book, Davina’s 5 Weeks to Sugar-Free. Now independent of refined sugar for quite a long time, McCall is focussed on replacing the meaningless sweet treat with natural alternatives such as honey, maple syrup or stevia.

“I was using agave, but stopped using the substitute when somebody said it was full of sugar.” How then does McCall avoid the refined sugar levels lurking in a large proportion of all modern products?

Processed snacks are replaced with fruit and nuts to sate a sweet tooth without the risks; wholemeal spelt flour is a healthier alternative to white, or spelt and barley instead of risotto rice. Cutting out refined sugar can also improve mood swings, bad skin and weight gain as your body weans itself off its subtle addiction to the white stuff. It’s often unrealistic, and unhelpful, to attempt to stop your sugar intake cold turkey – using Davina’s way, she says herself, will massively benefit your health, while also being able to (literally and metaphorically) have your cake and eat it.

“All the ingredients are easy to find on the high street. I’m a busy working parent, so this has to fit with my lifestyle; and I totally adore puddings. You can give up sugar and still eat ridiculously amazing things!”

Now she’s cut the cord between her body and sugar, however, Davina’s espousal of the apparent benefits is endless.

“Sugar is an addiction, not just for me, but for an awful lot of people. I was a sucker for chocolate and I would eat vast amounts of Reese’s Pieces, or gorge on three slices of banoffee pie at 10pm before bedtime, desperate for the sugar, but hating myself afterwards. Now I don’t feel in the tiniest bit tempted.”

“It definitely had an impact on my energy levels and my skin looks loads better. I also felt a sense of freedom and I wasn’t expecting that. I stopped feeling that I had to go to the fridge and scan for something sweet every evening. It took a while to get to that point, but it was worth the wait – as time goes by those cravings don’t happen anymore and it feels like being freed from the shackles of addiction.”

Davina McCall

She is still typically Davina-esque in her understanding that not everyone is perfect. While she maintains that anyone trying to give up sugar should “put strategies in place so when you’re desperate and you would do anything for chocolate you have something on hand,” it’s not the end of the world if you slip up on your sugarless life of an occasional evening. The trick, says McCall, is “not to beat yourself up if you slip – just pick it up the next day.”

Her treatment of her children when considering her new nutritional mission is typically relaxed as well. “I’m not a complete militant. The children aren’t entirely sugar-free, otherwise I know they would sneak off to friends’ houses and go crazy – but all home-made puddings are only sweetened with honey and now they prefer the taste.”

Giving up sugar shouldn’t be thought of as a huge loss according to Davina’s system, you just have to “reframe the idea” instead. “Affirm the fact you’ll be giving yourself something rather than taking it away,” she says. “You’re not giving up sugar, you’re going to eat for better health.”

Once the hard bit is out of the way and your reliance on sugar is gone, a healthy diet can be paired with exercise – and as this is Davina, you know it won’t incorporate hours on end at the gym.

“I’ve found that short bursts of exercise work really well,” she explains, “for the last few months I’ve been working on hundreds of new workouts, designed to help you tone and get fit in seven-minute sessions. You can try different workout combos alongside the simple, healthy, sugar-free lifestyle.”

Incredibly, for someone whose distinctive brand of boundless enthusiasm rocketed the brash style of Channel 4’s Big Brother into the national consciousness, Davina believes her fitness tips are as appreciated as her nutritional know-how for the same reasons – every time you sit down to work out with Davina, you know that she’s going through the exact same process.

“I spend the entire DVD struggling just like everybody is struggling because it’s really bloody hard!” McCall says proudly, although the benefits of her sugar-free, workout-filled life are becoming more evident. “The other day I was stretching my legs out and my husband said, “Your bum’s like a ball bearing,” and I started yelling “Yes! Yes! That’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me!”

Davina has overcome many hurdles in her life – an alcoholic mother, a drug addiction of her own – but her latest battle to wean herself off of sugar and help others do the same has revitalised her; she’s almost a new woman.

“I have so much energy, my skin has improved and with a great exercise routine in your life too, you really do start to feel healthy…and I’m going to say it, younger,” she beams. “I used to get stuck making the same ten meals – there’d be a little variation, but I’d generally really struggle for inspiration. Now I make all sort of things, I’ve discovered new ingredients. I think everyone can do it, and it’s a smart lifestyle choice.”

Despite her buns of steel and quasi-philanthropic mission to “help people feel great,” the Davina we know and love is hardly likely to change entirely. She’s not likely to move to LA and start eating only kale and wheatgrass, put it that way.

“My granny says a little bit of what you fancy does you good,” she nods sagely – and what does Davina fancy? “Bangers, mash and beans and onion gravy,” she squeals excitedly “and banoffee pie!” Spoken like a true British gal, of course, and with her glowing complexion and enviable lifestyle, Davina’s fast becoming somewhat of a national treasure – a sugar-free sweetheart for the whole of the country.

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