Health

Davina McCall says intermittent fasting is her secret – what is it?

Intermittent fasting encourages people to think about eating timeframes (John Stillwell/PA)
Intermittent fasting encourages people to think about eating timeframes (John Stillwell/PA) Intermittent fasting encourages people to think about eating timeframes (John Stillwell/PA)

TV presenter Davina McCall has spoken out about why she started doing intermittent fasting.

In an interview with Women’s Health UK, the 56-year-old, who recently hosted ITV1 and ITVX dating show My Mum, Your Dad, said she doesn’t eat any food between 8pm and 10:30am.

“I used to snack all evening and didn’t see anything wrong with it as I was reaching for healthy foods, such as carrots and hummus… Since putting a cut-off point on my eating, I crave (snacks) so much less and wake up feeling better,” McCall told the magazine.

So, what exactly is intermittent fasting and what do people need to know about it?

(Ian West/PA)

What is intermittent fasting?

Instead of just focusing on what you eat, intermittent fasting encourages people to think about when you eat. The idea is, you only eat during a specific time period, the theory being that this gives your body a break from digesting food – without depriving yourself.

It’s often said that intermittent fasting mimics the traditional eating patterns of our ancestors, who would have to fast because of lack of food availability until they had hunted or foraged for it.

What are the different types of intermittent fasting?

People are advised to speak to their doctor before trying intermittent fasting, because some fasts could be more taxing on the body than others.

There is an 16/8 plan, where people only eat during an eight-hour window but fast for remaining 16 hours (which includes night-time). For example, eating between 10am to 6pm, and then drink water, milk, tea or coffee for the remaining time.

Some people, like McCall, opt for a longer eating window of 10 or 10.5 hours.

Another method is known as the 5:2 diet – only consuming 500 to 600 calories for two days each week, and then eating a normal, balanced diet on the other days. Some people say they find fasting for alternate days useful, but this is more extreme and may not be safe for many people.

What are the pros and cons?

A recent study by the University of Illinois Chicago found intermittent fasting is ‘as effective as counting calories’ – when limiting food to a eight hour window. The study found that weight loss wasn’t dramatic but that people were more able to stick to the plan consistently – compared to calorie counting.

Research published by the University of Glasgow, Teeside University and the Independent Public Health Consultant in 2018 suggested intermittent ‘energy restriction’ may be an effective strategy for the treatment of overweight and obese adults – and more effective than not doing anything.

Fans of intermittent fasting claim they feel various benefits, from a boost in memory and cognitive function, to improve blood pressure and weight management. But negative side effects have been reported too, including insomnia, irritability, headaches and nausea.

It’s also important to note that intermittent fasting isn’t recommended for everyone, including if you are pregnant, have type 1 diabetes or have a history of disordered eating. Anyone with pre-existing medical conditions should consult their GP before making any major changes to their diet.