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Nadia Sawalha On The Dangers Of Diet Culture And Baring All Online

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Nadia Sawalha can’t remember exactly when she first started stripping down to her pants and posting photos on Instagram, mimicking the Kardashian sisters. But she’s certainly glad she did.

“Somebody said yesterday – this is my favourite comment, I think, ever – ‘Oh my god, your arse is so relatable’.

I was proper laughing!” the Loose Women panellist says, beaming, as we chat over Zoom from her home in South London, where she lives with TV producer husband Mark Adderley and daughters Maddie, 19, and Kiki-Bee, 14.

Not only do her parody pics garner hilarious comments, but they also make a serious point about how celebrities so often perpetuate unrealistic body ideals.

“That is the nub of it,” she continues. “Because these bums that we’re seeing all the time, are for rare creatures.

They’re either people that are, like, supermodel status, who earn millions of pounds because of it. Or they’re people who have [photoshopped] it. Mine is relatable. It’s a bit big, it’s a bit flat, but it’s not doing too badly for 57!”

Not that Sawalha – who starred in EastEnders before joining the Loose Women line-up in 1999 – was always so body confident.

She slogged through “three decades of doing every diet there was, and trying to get quick fixes with the kind of exercise I did.”

Nadia Sawalha with husband Mark Adderley and children Kiki-Bee and Maddie
Nadia Sawalha with her daughters and husband Mark Adderley (Alamy/PA)

She recalls the “stinking thinking” that led her to believe that by eating “boiled eggs and grapefruits for six weeks”, she “could one day look like Brooke Shields.

I did 1000 calories [a day] for years. And since then, when I spoke to doctors, they said that’s actually an eating disorder.”

It’s one of the reasons why the presenter is now working with David Lloyd Clubs – to encourage people to adopt healthy habits for life, instead of following crash diets and fitness fads.

“I’ve been right in the diet culture all of my adult life, and the fitness fad culture,” says Sawalha. David Lloyd research found that

“over 60% of Brits have done at least 17 fad diets at the cost of over £3000. And I’m like, ‘I think I might have done more than 17’,” she admits.

These days, however, the mum of two subscribes to the ‘everything in moderation’ approach when it comes to what she eats.

“I don’t ever cut out a food group. If I give up carbs, I just want to die! It’s the most miserable existence.

So I don’t exclude anything – not sugar, not alcohol, not carbs. And because of that, I don’t binge on them.”

In the past, Sawalha says she hated exercise because it was “punishment for what I’d eaten”.

Now though, she is a proud fitness fanatic – and for all the right reasons. “I only exercise for how it makes me feel up here,” she says, tapping her forehead.

“You know, people don’t realise we make these incredible, free, legal drugs in our bodies – endorphins. And they really, really work – better than a gin and tonic.

And then a side-effect is that I improve my cardiovascular fitness, my bones, my muscles, and lose weight sometimes.”

After discovering yoga during the pandemic, she now practices every day, makes sure to walk or run 10,000 steps, and has recently started weight training. (“And kitchen dancing, of course, which is the greatest form of exercise ever.”)

Documenting her wellness journey on The Sawalha-Adderleys YouTube channel and Instagram, she says when it comes to body acceptance, she’s been hugely inspired by social media influencers.

“The very first influencer was Stacey [Solomon] when she first joined Loose Women. In a meeting one day, she looked at me and she goes, ‘I can’t believe the way you talk to yourself’. She said, ‘You’re so horrible to yourself, you are. I think you’re beautiful’.”

Initially, Sawalha dismissed her co-presenter’s concern, but admits: “Over time, she really made me see the way I was talking to myself.” Now, she wants to pass on that message.

“As a mum of daughters, you’ve got to do a constant drip, drip, drip to try and rebalance what they’re being fed all the time [on social media].

That’s not to say that we weren’t all victims of it anyway, because I was as f****d up as I was without social media or anything.”

At the same time, she believes women her age can learn from millennials and Gen Z, who are fighting back against body shaming and misogyny online.

“I’ve had 1000 epiphanies by listening to younger women. My generation [is] actually behind these trailblazing young people. Young women are going, ‘Do you know what? I’m sick and tired of this’.”

Spurred on by the fantastic reaction to her bum-baring photos, Sawalha is going to keep preaching the gospel of body acceptance, one Kardashian-spoofing pose at a time.

“Actually, I feel really hopeful,” she says. “It’s not just a moment anymore – I think it’s a movement. It’s going to take so long to unravel the conditioning that we all have, and I want to be there helping to unravel it because I’ve got daughters coming up behind me. I believe we can change the narrative. I really believe it.”

Nadia Sawalha is supporting David Lloyd Clubs’ mission to encourage Brits to say no to fitness fads and yes to a lifetime of wellness, and its Wellness Pledge which calls on the fitness industry to advertise responsibly and encourage healthy habits in January and beyond.