My Wedding Diet and Exercise Routine: How to lose body fat on a plant-based diet
Body fat and body composition are so much more important for health and aesthetics than the weight on the scale and this is what I try to teach my patients.
Just by doing these two things, I managed to lose over 6% body fat in the 6 months leading up to my wedding. This made a huge visual difference to how I looked but was only 3kg’s difference on the scale! Once again, scale weight is not important when it comes to looking your best.
Okay, so this title is a bit of a click-bait because this post is not really about my pre-wedding prep but more about how I managed to lose body fat and increase my muscle mass in preparation for my wedding so that hopefully I can help some of you out there who are wanting to achieve similar results using a plant-based approach.
Some of you who have been following me for a while will know that I lost about 15kg’s when I switched to a plant-based diet over 3 years ago. You can read more about my plant-based health transformation here. Before I went plant-based I was about 7-8kg’s overweight and all I wanted was to get to a healthy weight so that I could live a long healthy life. I had tried and failed for years to get to a healthy weight and so I never dreamed that it would ever be possible to get down by 15kg’s! I was so happy and so grateful with these results and I was really content with my new slim physique. Shopping for clothes became easy and I was no longer dressing just to hide my lumps and bumps or living in tights because jeans were too uncomfortable. However, I still didn’t feel completely satisfied with how my body looked, especially when wearing a bikini or showing my stomach area. The reason for this is because even though I was at a healthy weight, my body fat was still high (i.e. the percentage of fat that made up my weight was relatively high). I see this so often in my female patients who have reached goal weight or who are already at a healthy weight but still want to lose more weight because they still feel like they have extra fat to lose or still feel uncomfortable with their bodies.
Weight means relatively little when you think about the fact that your weight is made up of muscle, fat, water, organs, bones, etc, and the only thing that really makes an impact on how you look and feel is the percentage of muscle and fat that makes up your weight, not your total weight.
So, with this in mind, after over 2 years of successfully maintaining my new weight, I decided that I was ready to continue working on my body and to take things a little bit further. This decision happened a while before I got engaged and so my wedding preparation was just an extension of what I had already been working on for a while but I loved that the wedding gave me a time goal to work towards.
After I made the decision to lose body fat and get toned, I experimented with many different approaches to my exercise and diet, most of which proved unsuccessful. Sometimes this was because I simply didn’t enjoy them, they were unsustainable for me or because they just weren’t working for my body. In this time, I had two important realizations which I want to share with you:
- There is very specific scientific evidence related to which dietary approaches work for weight loss and there is also a specific scientific method for accurately calculating what and how much people should be eating for their individual body composition goals. I would never recommend following a random meal plan on the internet or going to someone who is unqualified in nutrition for nutrition advice. Likewise, with exercise! There are many workout plans floating around online and there are many trainers, bloggers, etc. who give workout plans but who are not sufficiently trained in exercise science. I realized that the same way I know that most meal plans out there are rubbish and not scientifically calculated, most exercise plans out there are rubbish and that you need to go to someone well qualified who can scientifically calculate a workout plan for your needs. And so, I contacted a sports scientist, Vicky, to make a workout plan for me. Vicky has an honours degree in high performance sports science from Stellenbosch and she did a full assessment on me and calculated my workout routine to my preferences, skills, time schedule and available equipment.
- My second realization is that I make meal plans for people every day of my life and I know that my meal plans work when they are followed correctly BUT I have never actually made myself a meal plan or followed one of my own meal plans. In the time that I lost my 15kg’s on a plant-based diet, I never once thought about calories or measure my portions. So, I decided it was time for me to pay closer attention to my diet. I did some calculations and calculated what my calorie and protein intake should be to achieve my goals and I began to measure my portions and monitor my food intake according to these calculations. I didn’t do this 100% strictly every single day but I definitely developed more of an awareness of portion sizes and calories and definitely tried to stay on track, especially during the week, whilst incorporating some treat meals on weekends and listening to my bodies cravings when necessary. If you want help with a meal plan for your body composition goals, I am here to help you!
If you are wondering exactly how I trained and ate in this time, I have put all of the details below but I must emphasize that this should always be an individual approach! What works for me, may not work for you so it’s important to experiment and listen to your body and to get the right professionals to help you with an individualized approach.
My workout routine:
My trainer, Vicky made me a workout routine based on my specific goals and time availability. I started Vicky’s program about 6 months before my wedding and the program was designed in 6 week blocks. After every block I would give Vicky feedback and update my goals and she would then use this to make my next 6 week block. I also took a couple of 1-week breaks between the different blocks for holidays or just for general rest and recovery (from a mental and physical perspective). I am very good at pacing myself and believe that body improvement work is a marathon and not a sprint so my first 2 blocks were just about building lean muscle mass and cardiovascular fitness as I felt that it was necessary to get those two things in place before focusing on pure aesthetics and body fat losses. Vicky progressed the intensity, duration and volume of my workouts over the course of the 6 months. My last 6 weeks before the wedding was my most intense training block and it was definitely the one where I saw the most results.
- 1 x week: 5-7km flat road run
- 1-2 x week: 50-90 minute indoor spin
- 1 x week: upper body strength training (3 sets of 2 exercises x 5 different circuits + a 20 minute treadmill warmup with interval sprints)
- 1 x week: lower body strength training (3 sets of 2 exercises x 5 different circuits + a 10 minute treadmill warmup with incline walking)
- 1 x week: full body high intensity workout (3 sets of 4 exercises x 3 different circuits + a 10 minute treadmill jog for a warmup).
- 1 x week: 90 minute Iyengar yoga class
I found this 6 week block extremely taxing on my body as there weren’t any rest days and I was struggling with finding enough time to get all my workouts in along with planning a wedding and running a business so I did cut down on the volume a little bit by only doing 1 spin session a week and reducing my runs to 5km.
Since I was strength training 3 x per week and was aiming to gain muscle and recover well between workout sessions, I started incorporating some pea protein isolate into my diet on days that I did strength training. I also started eating a generally higher protein plant-based diet as I found this helped so much with keeping me full and satisfied whilst eating fewer calories. Whilst it is definitely possible to get more protein in with whole plant foods, it is difficult to do this whilst keeping total calories low and that’s where the pea protein powder helped a lot. I found that on days where I did more strength training, I would be absolutely starving and therefore I made sure to eat more calories on these days in order to support my training and lean body mass. I have never been a fan of overly restricting calories and I believe in listening to my body and eating enough to sustain my energy levels and workouts. Over-restricting calories will just lead to poor recovery, fatigue, muscle soreness and loss of lean mass. On days where I rested or did yoga I would eat a lot loss calories as I just wasn’t as hungry so these were the days where I really “cut” body fat.
In addition to these changes I simply started measuring my portions of starches, fats and legumes to ensure I was getting enough protein and calories but not overeating. I also cut down on eating out and treat meals. I am a total foodie so I love eating out and trying all the delicious vegan food on offer but most of these meals are really high calorie, even if they are seemingly healthy! So I decided to cut down on eating out, eat at home more and make myself more homemade treats as opposed to bought treats as I could then have more control over what was going into my food.
That being said, I definitely still ate out about 1-2 times per week and ate whatever I felt like for these meals. I didn’t restrict myself to just having salads. I also still ate about 1-2 blocks of dark chocolate a day during this phase. In my opinion, this journey is all about consistency and the cumulative sum of your diet over time. The odd piece of chocolate or a pizza doesn’t put a whole week of good eating out of whack. Plus, doing enough exercise and getting enough sleep, means your metabolism will be fighting fit to face these kinds of challenges.
I am not a calorie counter and don’t want to put a calorie number on what I ate because it wasn’t consistent from day to day and I know calories can be triggering for some people but here is an example of an average day of eating:
- Breakfast: 1 slice wholegrain toast with ¼ avo and a tomato + nutritional yeast OR oats with almond milk, fruit and peanut butter. Coffee and almond milk.
- Mid-morning snack: Fruit. On higher calorie days I would sometimes add a handful of nuts.
- Lunch: Meal prepped meal with ½ cup starch, ½ cup beans/ legumes and lots of veg. For example, chickpea tuna, potato and salad OR bean stew with brown rice and vegetables.
- Late afternoon snack: Vegetable soup + fruit. On higher calorie days: Ryvita/ rice cakes with peanut butter or avo or hummus.
- Post-workout: Protein smoothie with pea protein powder, frozen banana, chia/ flax seeds/ peanut butter and almond milk or water.
- Supper: Very similar to lunch. A big plate of fresh green salad + ½ cup starch + ½ - 1 cup legumes depending on my appetite.
- Post-supper: 1-2 blocks dark chocolate if cravings hit.
My top tips for losing body fat:
- Do enough strength training! Strength training helps to build muscle which makes you look more toned and “tight”. Muscle is a metabolically active tissue (i.e. it speeds up your metabolism just by being there) so having more muscle mass means that you burn more energy each day and it is therefore easier to maintain your weight in the long run. Most of my female patients focus solely on cardio for fat loss and whilst cardio does burn calories and is great for your health, just doing cardio is not going to get you the aesthetic results that you want. Incorporate a good mix of strength training, steady-state cardio and high intensity cardio training, along with some stretching or yoga.
- Be portion conscious. A little bit of portion control can go a long way in changing your physique. Portion control is not about eating less but about controlling your intake of high calorie foods when you are trying to achieve a calorie deficit. You might still eat the same amounts and the same types of foods that you always did but you would focus more on higher fibre, lower calorie foods to bulk up your diet.
- Make sure you are eating a balanced diet. Eating too little carbs, protein or fat is going to leave you feeling hungry and unsatisfied which can lead to overeating or bingeing later on. Carbs are an important source of energy. Fats help you to feel full and satiated and protein helps with muscle recovery and growth as well as fullness. I like to eat a balance of all of these 3 nutrients and focus on eating enough protein to help me feel satisfied without overeating on starches or fats.
- Be kind, patient and consistent. Unlike losing weight, losing body fat takes time and consistency. Know that this is a process and that you won’t see results overnight. Your health is a lifelong journey. Keep working at it, exploring and enjoying the process and don’t get down on yourself if you go through periods of not seeing any results or not having time to eat healthy etc.
- As always, keep your diet as green as possible! Focus on eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. This is great for recovery, skin and hair health and immunity. Looking good is also about being healthy from the inside out.