Health

Strictly judge Shirley Ballas on faddy diets and her 40-year battle with gut health

Strictly’s Shirley Ballas talks food, fasting and staying fit in her 60s (Laura Lewis Photography/PA)
Strictly’s Shirley Ballas talks food, fasting and staying fit in her 60s (Laura Lewis Photography/PA) Strictly’s Shirley Ballas talks food, fasting and staying fit in her 60s (Laura Lewis Photography/PA)

While viewers see Strictly head judge Shirley Ballas looking fit and glamorous, the ballroom queen has fought a battle with poor gut health for much of her life.

The world-beating Latin American dancer, teacher and charity ambassador has suffered with constipation, haemorrhoids and bloating intermittently since she was a teenager.

“It’s always been a struggle since I was a young girl. Constipation? I thought going once a week was the norm. It wasn’t till I got much older that I realised it wasn’t.”

“When you don’t go to the bathroom you get headaches, you feel nauseous, you just feel under the weather. When your body is functioning like a well-oiled machine, which is what you want it to do, you feel much better and lighter, and your day is easier,” she continues.

Ballas, 63, who lives in London with her 86-year-old mother, Audrey, says she just learned to live with poor gut health.

She has a hectic schedule – teaching, judging on Strictly and has recently written her first novel, Murder On The Dance Floor. She is also hugely excited about the imminent arrival of her first grandchild later this month, as her only son, Dancing With The Stars professional Mark, is expecting his first baby with his singer songwriter wife BC Jean.

“I’m very excited. I’ve just enrolled in pottery classes because I want to make his first cup and saucer, and Mum and I have just enrolled in crocheting because we’re going to make him a blanket.”

She wants to remain super-fit for her grandchild, she agrees.

“I’ve got more energy than anybody put together really. I’m a goer, not a sitter. I want to be able to up and go.”

She’s tried various remedies for her gut problems, she says.

How do you alleviate the symptoms?

“I discovered Symprove (a water-based live and active bacteria for the gut) through a social media platform. I ordered it, tried it and rather liked the results. I take it first thing in the morning and it stops the bloating. And no haemorrhoids.

“It goes hand in hand with other things I’m trying to do, like drinking more water, doing yoga and having a good diet. I try to make sure I get the fruits and vegetables I need.”

You were 18 when the symptoms started. How did you cope?

“I didn’t. It was a struggle. I didn’t have any advice or the internet to help me. Nobody knew much about it. For many years I struggled. I didn’t know what to do.”

Did it stop you dancing?

“You’d have to chop my leg off for me to not dance. I just had to grin and bear it – just get on with it, which is my mother’s motto.”

What foods do you eat now to alleviate the symptoms?

“I met Jason Vale (a lifestyle coach also known as The Juice Master), who has a juicing farm in Portugal. I have been out there several times and he has shown me how to do the juicing. It’s good for me, when I have time, even if it’s just two or three times a week.

“I use two packets of celery, six apples, a bag of organic carrots, ginger, a spoon of protein powder, spirulina and some other vitamins, and anything that I think could be on the turn, like a pepper or broccoli. I put it in the mixer with an avocado and banana.”

“I hardly eat any white bread,” she continues. “One thing I’ve learned is that if I have to read the label, that means it’s processed. I’m not vegetarian. I eat fish and chicken. I just have smaller portions and try to eat things that are fresh. My mum has never been a ‘processed’ cook. No crisps, no biscuits. I wouldn’t say I never have a piece of cake but it’s not an everyday part of my life anymore.”

What exercise do you do?

“I do yoga when I’m travelling, I do an hour and a half in the gym every day, religiously. I was given certain exercises at the juice bar that also helped with the bloating. I’m in a better place now than I ever have been, even when I was competing.”

Does your hectic work schedule interfere with your routine

“I don’t think I’ve ever really had a routine. I do intermittent fasting. Today, I’ve only had a banana since yesterday at 6pm, so I eat if I’m hungry. If I’m not hungry, I don’t eat.

“The tummy is very small and I’ve had a tendency over the years to eat too much of the wrong foods.

“What I have learned is, everything in moderation and each person is different. You have to do for your body what you feel is healthy.

“If I’m stodged down with packets of biscuits or crisps, which I have had in the past, and cake, or toast and sandwiches late at night, or mayonnaise, my body can’t filter or function quick enough.”

Have you tried faddy diets in the past?

“I’ve done them all. My husband (now ex) used to make this grapefruit drink and we’d live on a grapefruit for three days. He’d give himself all the pulp, so at least he had something to fill his tummy, I just used to get the juice.

“I’ve done just vegetable diets, I’ve done soup diets, cabbage soup. They are not sustainable. You lose a few pounds and you think you’re doing well. But everything is about sensible eating.”

You’re now 63 – how old do you feel?

“I don’t feel 63 because I still get up and dance and do different things and challenge myself. I’m trying to rest more if I can and am starting to realise that perhaps I push myself too much, seven days a week.

What are your goals?

“I want to be a good grandma. I want to be a part of the grandbabies’ life if they need me.”

Symprove is a water-based formula packed with live, active bacteria to help maintain a healthy gut.