Tess Daly: I don’t want to encourage my daughters to count calories
Tess Daly says she’ll never pay attention to calories – because of the negative impact it could have on her teenagers.
“What’s the point? Are you going to maintain that forever? I don’t count calories, I don’t want to encourage my daughters to do it,” she says. “Really, we can all tell when we feel full, or if we overeat.”
The Strictly Come Dancing host (Daly has presented the BBC show for 19 years) has two daughters with husband Vernon Kay – Phoebe, 18, and Amber, 13.
Instead, the 53-year-old wants to teach them not to “judge themselves too harshly”.
She knows first-hand how problematic weight pressures on young women can be. Before her primetime TV career, Daly was a model traveling the globe from age 18.
“I was an awkward and gangly teenager, I’d run down to the beach holding the lilo in front of me, because I felt embarrassed in a swimsuit,” she says. “Then I entered a world where people were not eating food because they were being told their weight might be an issue.
“I’d be around people who were battling whether or not to eat certain things. I was told by agents, ‘You should put weight on’, ‘You should lose weight’ – something different from week to week. And as far as I was concerned, nothing had changed.
“So I just realised quite early that people tend to have different opinions, and you couldn’t keep everybody happy all the time. So I might as well just keep myself happy.”
After 11 years posing for the camera, she realised it was time to pursue something else: “You get to a stage where you don’t want it to just be about your appearance, you want it to be about the content of your character – that’s when I thought it’s time to move on.”
That healthy relationship with food (“one of life’s great pleasures”) stuck – and now Daly has released her first health and cookery book, 4 Steps To A Happier, Healthier You. In it, she shares the affordable and accessible hacks that help her feel good, from nutrition and exercise, to breathing and sleeping.
“Looking after our health and wellbeing is no longer a luxury, I think it is a necessity. I’m as guilty as the next person of putting everyone else in my life first, and putting the to-do list before myself,” she reflects.
“Every single woman I know is wearing an invisible superhero cape, she is juggling everything. Women are life’s fixers, we are nurturers, we are caregivers, we have so many roles. Every woman I know is trying so hard to stay on top of everything for everybody.”
Daly is the main cook in her famous household, although Vernon makes a mean roast (“His roasties are amazing”) – and she’s all about healthy comfort food.
“You’re not sacrificing on satisfaction, but it’s quite nice to know that what you’re cooking for those you love [has] a lot of nutritional properties.
“I love food, I love cooking, I love feeding my family healthy dishes. But it’s a constant challenge because I’ve got teenagers and their tastes change from week to week.”
Hailing from Stockport, white potatoes featured heavily in her childhood, she says. “I love white potatoes, it’s soul food for me. I grew up on them – seven days a week. I’ve got Northern and Irish blood, so it’s what we eat. But they don’t always like me. I eat them because I love them, but they tend to make me a little bit bloated.”
She’s been focussing on her gut health for years. “I’m fascinated by the power of food to be medicine or poison. It can either heal you, or food can cause illness.
“If you’ve got an unhappy gut – and you’ve got more sort of bad bacteria than good bacteria – then it’s going to affect your digestion, it’s going to affect your sleep, it’s going to affect your mood, it’s going to affect the production of serotonin, your happy hormones, and obviously hormones totally govern the way we feel.”
Her book brings in experts in different areas to really dig into this stuff. You can expect to find immune-supporting recipes like pumpkin and ginger soup, and gut-friendly crunchy superfood salad, or gently fermented coleslaw. Meanwhile, comforting, family-friendly dishes include a crowd-pleaser turkey shepherd’s pie (mush easier on your digestive system than red meat) and golden chicken nuggets with sweet potato mash (with a gut-friendly yoghurt marinade).
“It feels wonderful when if you can eat food that you really enjoy, that is doing wonderful things for your body at the same time,” Daly says.
Breakfast is important for her, particular during Strictly filming. “It’s 15-hour days and you have to pace yourself, often you are barely sitting down at all. So I always make sure I have a good breakfast,” she says. “I’ll take some Greek yoghurt, some berries, seeds, maybe banana and some honey, and just chop all that out. At least I know I’ve had something substantial, and then I’ll graze throughout the day.”
And all those vitamins and nutrients probably have something to do with her TV-perfect hair and glowing skin.
“They’re all interlinked,” Daly stresses. “For me, if I sleep well, my mood is boosted, and my skin looks better, I can see it in my skin. I’m at an age now where everything shows in your skin – you can’t get away with a late night because it shows.”
So she eats healthily but never deprives herself (“that’s just misery to me”) and makes sure she stays hydrated. One of her secret beauty ingredients is ginger.
“I eat lots of fresh ginger. I’ll make ginger tea, I use ginger in pretty much most of my meals. Ginger is anti-inflammatory and [it] helps get rid of puffiness.”
Skipping, she says, helps her lymphatic system, and she’s a fan of practising nasal breathing to boost her skin too.
“Whenever I breathe through my mouth, for example, if your nose is blocked, the next day you wake up and your skin feels dry – it feels dehydrated, it looks dehydrated, it just doesn’t look as glowy and fresh and well-slept.”
For Daly, the best beauty secrets are free, too.
“It doesn’t cost you anything to sleep, it doesn’t cost you anything to breathe.”
4 Steps To A Happier, Healthier You by Tess Daly is published by Bantam, priced £18.99. Available now.
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