Having tried almost everything to lose weight, Jessica Kotlowitz had begun to lose hope of ever achieving the body of her dreams. Then, in a last attempt to ditch the excess kilos, she adopted a plant-based lifestyle that not only helped her to drop centimetres and live healthier, but helps the planet too. Here’s how she did it…
Occupation: Registered dietician
City: Cape Town
Weight before: 79kg
Weight after: 63kg
Time required to reach current weight: 11kg in 6 months, and 4-5kg over the next 2 years
Secret weapon: A plant-based diet
Like many women, Jessica struggled with her weight from childhood. “I went on my first official diet when I was 11 years old and continued dieting, albeit unsuccessfully, through my teen and varsity years,” she says. She fell quickly into the yo-yo dieter trap, losing a few kilos, then picking them up again. At the end of varsity, she decided to give up on dieting – “mostly because my knowledge as a dietetics student led me to realise that my approach to weight loss had always been unhealthy.”
READ MORE: Can Going Vegan Really Help You Lose Weight?
Jessica’s weight steadily increased until, at age 25, she decided to make a drastic change before she hit the “dreaded 80kg mark”. The crazy thing was that she never ate unhealthily and was physically active. “At my heaviest I was training for the Otter Trail, a five-day unsupported hike of about 43km with a 12kg backpack!” she explains. Something had to change – but what?
“I knew that my current state of health was going to lead me to illness eventually. I was suffering from high cholesterol, anxiety, acne, chronic fatigue, low immunity and irritable bowel syndrome.” At first, Jessica didn’t link her ailments to her diet, but as a dietitian she knew that food could help manage them. Then one day, while browsing Facebook, she had a realisation. “I came across a Facebook page of a bariatric surgeon who was claiming that the most effective diet for weight loss was a plant-based diet.”
Knowing a plant-based diet was healthy and had loads of benefits, she researched veganism and how it could aid weight loss. “From a scientific perspective, I knew this would be a great diet for general health and weight loss,” she says. Jessica found it easy to give up meat, but knowing exactly what to eat was a different story. “I was completely lost, so I made a list of what I should be eating based on the research,” she says.
In the beginning, Jessica still ate fish and dairy. “I had almost no idea what eat, so I mostly stuck to fruit and vegetables. I had big smoothies filled with fruit, high salads and plates of steamed vegetables,” she says. As she became more accustomed to the lifestyle, she got more creative with her cooking. “I started making bean stews, falafels, curries, veggie dishes and Mexican dishes. I was enjoying cooking more than ever!” she says.
“I chose foods high in nutrients: greens, vegetables, fruits and beans,” says Jessica. Instead of spending time thinking about what she couldn’t eat, Jessica thought about all the nutritious foods she should be eating. “I shifted from a mindset of restriction to that of abundance and started to listen to my body.”
Three years later, Jessica continues to eat unprocessed plant foods. She usually starts her day with oats, fruit and peanut butter, or a big smoothie. Snacks include fruit, vegetable soup, smoothies and rice cakes with hummus or avocado. “Lunches and supper are usually made up of bean stew or curry along with brown rice, potatoes or sweet potatoes and a big plate of vegetables and salads.” On occasion, she’ll enjoy a vegan pizza, burger or pasta.
After she lost the first 12 kilos, Jessica also made toning and building lean muscle a goal. “I started doing more weight training, running regularly, going to yoga and incorporating HIIT into my weekly routine,” she explains.
Jessica feels like a completely different person. “I have boundless energy and no longer need 10 hours of sleep a night in order to function,” she says. Her acne has cleared up and she was able to come off the Pill without any adverse reactions. “I was able to come off my anxiety meds and my IBS has almost completely disappeared,” she says.
Jessica’s partner and family have embraced the vegan lifestyle too. “Having a partner who lives this lifestyle with me – and has become just as passionate about it – is amazing. Adopting the plant-based lifestyle has made family gatherings and social events so easy and enjoyable,” she says. “[Being vegan] had added so much meaning to my life and a sense of peace that I’m no longer causing suffering and harm to our beautiful planet and it’s creatures.”
Try the vegan lifestyle: “If you haven’t given a plant-based diet a try, I encourage you to do so. It’s one of the only diets that has been shown to have myriad health benefits and allow for weight loss without kilojoule counting or portion control.”
Make it a lifestyle: “Weight loss needs to be a holistic approach. If you have other health problems, you need to adopt a lifestyle that will address all your concerns and target your weight at the same time.”
Don’t restrict or deprive yourself: “Find a diet that becomes a lifestyle and that allows you to eat until satisfied without feeling deprived or without feeling guilty for ‘overeating’. Feelings of guilt and shame only lead to a cycle of bingeing and restricting and can never result in a healthy weight in the long term or a healthy attitude towards food and your body.”