Davina McCall on intermittent fasting: What is it and can it help gut health?

Stock image of Davina McCall who has spoken about intermittent fasting. (Getty Images)
Davina McCall has spoken about the practice of intermittent fasting. (Getty Images)

Davina McCall has discussed how she believes intermittent fasting has helped her "feel better" after she quit snacking and eating of an evening.

Speaking to Women's Health UK, the My Mum, Your Dad presenter, 56, opened up about the fasting method, which involves not eating for certain periods of time.

Explaining that she does not eat anything between 8pm and 10.30am, she said: "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."

The mum of three also discussed what she now does instead of eating between those hours, adding: "It’s much harder to keep quality muscle during and after the menopause, so eating enough protein is important.

"If I’ve done a morning workout and need a snack, I mix my Foodspring Protein + Focus powder with water and my muscles love me for it. If I’ve been on a shoot and only eaten bread and crisps, I end the day with the Protein + Relax mixed with warm milk."

Jane Seymour attends the grand opening of Sphere on September 29, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Celebs like Jane Seymour (pictured), Jennifer Aniston, Chris Pratt and Benedict Cumberbatch have spoken about trying variations of intermittent fasting. (Getty Images)

McCall isn't the only celebrity to share their thoughts on intermittent fasting, Jane Seymour has also recently discussed the eating regime.

The actor told Hello! Magazine she sticks to eating a Mediterranean diet and fasting in order to maintain her body. Seymour, 72, said: "I do intermittent fasting unless I have to work very early in the morning on a film and I feel I need the extra energy. I generally give my body 16 hours minimum to recoup.

"I think it works brilliantly," she added - however, Seymour said she isn’t rigid about keeping on top of the diet all the time. "I’ve seen it work for me, but I’m not religious about it. If I’m going out for a glorious dinner, everything gets thrown out the window."

What is intermittent fasting?

Intermittent fasting involves designating a window of time during which you eat normally, and not eating for the rest of the day. The most common version of the diet usually has participants eating within an eight-hour period and fasting for the rest of the 16 hours of the day (known as the 16:8 diet).

Does intermittent fasting actually work?

Nutritionist and health coach Lara Buckle, of the Wellness Detective says that the diet can be effective for many people. "The science behind it revolves around changes in insulin levels, metabolic processes, and calorie consumption," she explains.

Close up of a salad bowl in a woman's hand
Intermittent fasting doesn't involve restricting particular food groups. (Getty Images)

"During fasting, insulin levels drop, and the body starts using stored fat for energy. This can lead to weight loss and improvements in various health markers. Research has also suggested that intermittent fasting may have potential benefits for longevity and brain health, although more studies are needed."

A study published in June found that intermittent fasting can not just help people lose weight, but keep it off over the course of a year. The results, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, show the diet is more effective at helping people maintain their weight loss, unlike many fad diets that often see people losing weight but being unable to maintain this.

However, it may not be appropriate or effective for everyone. Buckle recommends speaking to a healthcare professional before considering trying intermittent fasting, particularly if you have underlying medical conditions or are taking certain medications.

Impact of intermittent fasting on gut health

While more research is needed, evidence suggests intermittent fasting may benefit gut health and boost gut microbiome, the trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms that live in your gut.

"Evidence suggests moderate intermittent fasting may help to increase certain types of bacteria known as akkermanisa which may help to support immune health and metabolic health," explains nutritionist Jenna Hope, author of How to Stay Healthy: The nutritionist's guide to optimising your immunity. "Although too high levels can be problematic."

While there are some gut health benefits to the regime, Hope says when intermittent fasting is pushed too far it can cause a disruption to the gut lining, which in turn can increase the risk of bacteria passing from the gut into the blood stream.

"Moreover, consuming a healthy, plant rich diet during the eating windows is vital in order to promote a healthy gut," she adds. "With intermittent fasting it's common to focus more on the eating timings rather than the diet itself although the quality of diet is still vital!

"Additionally, it's not uncommon to fuel up on black coffee during the fasting window. This may contribute to overly stimulated bowel movements due to the caffeine and therefore you may be best to focus on herb teas during this time instead."

Pros of intermittent fasting

1. Weight loss

Intermittent fasting can help with weight loss by reducing calorie intake and increasing fat metabolism.

2. Simplicity

It’s relatively simple to follow; no specific foods are restricted and it doesn’t require elaborate meal planning.

3. Potential health benefits

Some studies suggest it may improve insulin sensitivity, reduce inflammation, support heart health, and improve hunger, mood and sleep.

Cons of intermittent fasting

1. Hunger and irritability

Fasting periods can lead to hunger and irritability, making it challenging for some people to stick with.

2. Social challenges

Fasting can disrupt social interactions, making it difficult to participate in regular mealtime gatherings.

3. Not suitable for everyone

It may not be safe for individuals for certain medical conditions or those who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or have a history of eating disorders.

What should you consider before trying intermittent fasting?

If you’re curious about intermittent fasting, Buckle recommends thinking about the following:

1. Nutritional needs

Ensure you can meet your daily nutritional requirements during eating windows. Focus on nutrient-dense foods to avoid deficiencies.

2. Sustainability

Consider if this eating pattern is sustainable for your lifestyle. Some people may find it more challenging to adhere to in the long term.

3. Social implications

Be aware of the potential social challenges and how fasting may affect your daily routine and relationships.

4. Start gradually

If you decide to try intermittent fasting, it’s often advisable to start gradually and find a fasting schedule that works for you, such as the 16:8 method.

Speak to your doctor but altering your diet or trying something new with your nutrition.

Watch: Looking to try intermittent fasting? There's an optimal way to do it, researchers say. Here's how: