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Celebrity Health – Davinia Taylor

Image of Davinia Taylor © Alan Strutt

Actress Davinia Taylor talks to Liz Parry about how “biohacking” has helped to transform her physical and mental health

Actress Davinia Taylor is perhaps best known for her role in the Channel 4 show Hollyoaks, playing the character of Jude Cunningham. The 44-year-old mum-of-four has just written a Sunday Times top 10 bestselling book, It’s Not a Diet, in which she details her extraordinary health transformation over the past 13 years. Having beaten an addiction to alcohol and lost three stone in weight, she is now training to become a personal trainer and regularly shares her health and fitness knowledge on her Instagram channel.

Q In the book you speak candidly about how you were a former alcoholic and struggled with weight gain and chronic inflammation. What was life like before you decided to make changes to your health and lifestyle?

Davinia: When I was overweight and inflamed my joints hurt, my knees were swollen, my feet were swollen and the tops of my hands were swollen and puffy. I remember once walking through central London and a bus was coming around the corner at quite a speed. It occurred to me that if it veered towards me I didn’t think I could jump out of its way. I didn’t have the agility or the movement capability whereas, now, I know that I can sprint if I need to, even if I’ve just been for a run. I know I’ve got power in my joints and muscles and I’m just more confident with my physical self. It’s had a massive knock-on effect on my confidence and my mental health.

Q Your mum died of breast cancer when you were 35. Was this the impetus for you to make changes to your own health?

Davinia: There’s a well-known saying that ‘your genes load the gun, but it’s your lifestyle that pulls the trigger’. Both my mum and I were naive to the impact of lifestyle on things like cancer and disease, so when my mum died of breast cancer I immediately thought that would be my fate too. I think there’s no greater motivator than death, or impending death, for the human body and brain to switch up a gear and accelerate learning. That’s exactly what happened to me. That was when I sat up and realised that I had to take responsibility for myself and my health. Being a mother-of-four, I just want to live a vital life and not put the burden of ill health on my children.

Q You talk a lot about inflammation in the book. Do you think this is a cause of a lot of today’s illness and disease?

Davinia: I think it’s the precursor for virtually every disease, to be honest. We’re constantly bombarded by stressors and endless stimulation, meaning that we never switch off. Our bodies are in a regular state of fight or flight and this raises our cortisol levels, which our bodies can’t process. This endless stress leads to inflammation, hormonal imbalance and subsequent obesity.

Q You’ve attributed your personal transformation to a process known as ‘biohacking’. Tell us about this.

Davinia: It’s understanding your own biology and what works for you to live your life optimally. Hacks are another word for shortcuts, so biohacking is about gaining an insight into what your individual body needs as opposed to the one-size-fits-all approach to health. It’s a holistic approach to health but based on cutting edge research.

Q Can you give us some examples of your own biohacks?

Davinia: I now understand that if I want to think clearly I need dopamine, and the best way for me to get that is to go for a run or do some sort of physical exercise. Before, I would never have linked the brain with the body. There was never that correlation. Also, I now know that what I eat directly affects my mood. Previously, if I felt peckish, I’d have a sugary snack which would lead to an insulin spike followed by a drop, and my mood would become very low. But now I will add healthy fats to a coffee or a green tea to fuel my brain and arm myself against the urge to snack. I like taking a proactive approach to my health as it’s empowering.

Q One of your biohacks is that you follow a combination of the paleo diet and intermittent fasting. What do you tend to eat during a typical day?

Davinia: When I’m fasting I won’t eat until around 2pm. So, first thing in the morning, I’ll have a glass of water with a pinch of salt and some lemon to rehydrate myself. Then I’ll have a large black coffee with some good fats such as MCTs (medium chain triglycerides). Later on I might have a green smoothie. I find that this is a great way to get my intake of green vegetables because I struggle to eat things like salads and roasted veg. My main meal of the day will often involve red meat and will probably be something like a steak. If I want to finish the day with something sweet, I’ll have a protein shake with some banana and raw milk. Or I might have some toasted sourdough bread with butter and honey which really helps me to sleep well. Most personal trainers and doctors would say that you should never eat just before bed, but I find that if I don’t have some carbohydrates then I don’t sleep as well. I know that this is what works for me.

Q What kind of exercise do you do?

Davinia: I generally try to run for about 40 minutes, three times a week. I go at my own pace rather than pushing myself too much. If I run for too long it can mess with my mental health and my mood takes a bit of a drop. So again I stick to what I know works for me. I’m going to start working out more with weights because it’s good for my confidence to build up muscle and it makes me feel strong.

Q What supplements do you take?

Davinia: I take a liver and heart supplement which is a great natural source of CoQ10 and vitamin B12. I also take a lot of nootropics for brain health and I take 5-HTP, which is a precursor for serotonin. I’m a natural depressive, which I think is probably to do with the fact that I don’t get enough sunlight, and I spend a lot more time indoors than maybe my ancestors would have done. So, I take 5-HTP which helps me to make more serotonin and really helps with my mood. We recently relocated from London to Lancashire so we don’t get as much sunshine as I’d like. But I’ll be forever grateful that my children get to enjoy fresh air in the countryside every day and I think my health has improved a lot too.

It’s Not a Diet by Davinia Taylor is out now. Priced at £12.99 and published by Orion Spring. Follow Davinia on Instagram @daviniataylor

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