12 – week Vegan and Fitness Challenge


Nutrition is always a heated topic – its now up there with politics, religion and sex! The internet provides us with tons of (mis)information on which is the best “diet” or eating plan to get the best results. There is no doubt that not one single eating plan suits everyone and that as an individual you need to find what works best for you. This is what Leigh was trying to establish in her quest to become fully vegan. Below is her insight into her 12-week challenge she undertook to become fully vegan as well as trying to get stronger and fitter in the process. Maybe Popeye was right – The gains are in the greens!!

Over the past three years for various reasons I stopped exercising, became incredibly unfit and put on a lot of weight. This year I knew that something had to change and based on my increasing awareness of the detrimental environmental impact of industrialised animal agriculture (the meat and dairy industry).I have become increasingly interested in veganism.

I find the ‘banting craze’ that has taken over South Africa quite unsettling as I feel that any diet that advocates eating more meat, animal and dairy products in inherently unsustainable. But what is veganism all about? And can someone actually be healthy on a vegan diet?

After discussing this with Chris he proposed a challenge where he would train me for 12 weeks and I would try a whole food, plant based vegan diet. After 12 weeks we would see what results (if any) had been achieved.


Adopting a whole food, plant based diet 

After watching the Forks over Knives documentary I was inspired and wanted to try the whole-food, plant-based diet as I was hearing a lot of talk about the numerous health and weight-loss benefits it is said to provide. I armed myself with a copy of Dr McDougall’s Starch Solution and visited a dietician who gave me a vegan diet plan and food guideline.

Since I was already a vegetarian adopting a whole food, plant based diet was the final step towards becoming a vegan. But as Dr McDougall says there is a difference between a healthy and an unhealthy vegan; you can live on potato chips and Coke and be a vegan but it’s not very good for your health. Veganism does not give you an automatic pass to good health and there are vegans out there who have bad diets and are overweight, unfit and unhealthy. This is why the emphasis on the whole-food, plant based diet is key to great health and weight-loss, regardless of your thoughts on veganism. And in order to be truly healthy you also need to exercise.

Exercise with RaceFit Gym

For this challenge twice a week I did a one-hour strength training session with Chris at RaceFit Gym. Added to this I did a 5km Park Run every Saturday and attempted to run once or twice more during the week. Previously when I have tried exercise regimes at gyms I have found them time consuming and exhausting with slow and minimal results. Chris however is great at finding a balance between meeting you where you are and pushing you to the next level of fitness. He somehow pushes you to the max but also doesn’t give you more than you can handle. I just had to show up and give it my best. I have never enjoyed gym training as much as I do now and training is actually something I look forward to instead of dread. I have been to many personal trainers and gyms before and this is the best experience I have ever had and it has given me the best results as well.

Waist 88,5cm 80cm 8,5cm
Hips 114cm 106cm 8cm
Right Left Right Left
Arms 34cm 33,5cm 31cm 31cm 5,5cm
Thigh 54cm 52,5cm 51cm 50,5cm 5cm
Calf 42cm 42,5 40cm 41cm 3,5cm
30,5cm total cm loss
BMI 28 25
Waist-Hip-Ratio 0,78 0,75
Weight 91,4kg 83,1kg 8,3kg
Push-ups 5 14 9
5km RUN time 42:06 35:26 6:40

To me the results speak for themselves. They have certainly exceeded all my expectations. My body is literally transformed and I can feel the increase in my strength when I run. To have shaved almost seven minutes (6:40) off my running time in just 12 weeks is incredible!

Thanks to Chris and RaceFit Gym, I feel like I am the fittest and strongest I’ve ever been. Through this challenge I have regained my health and been able to get back to a healthy body weight. Although I am only about half-way to my ideal weight goal I still think the results achieved in 12 weeks are outstanding!

I am most pleased and impressed with the improvement in my running. From waddling around the Rondebosch common in 42 minutes and feeling like I was going to die, to running 5kms in 35:26 is in just 12 weeks is incredible. The best part is that I now enjoy running again and feel like I can still improve on this time. My next goal is to run 5kms in less than 30 mins.

Thoughts on the 12-week challenge:

Mentally this was the easiest diet and exercise program I have ever done. Deciding what food is right to eat and how much to eat when on a diet is usually quite stressful and anxiety inducing for me, but on the whole food, plant based diet I had no food anxiety. It is the least stressful diet I have ever done, it allowed me to eat all the foods I enjoy with no guilt, (I can eat as many potatoes as I like), even the occasional dark chocolate snack or vegan pizza (no cheese) didn’t stress me out. The diet was really easy to maintain and it helped me get over all my bad junk food habits. I do sometimes crave cheese (don’t we all) but it has never been so overwhelming that I’ve cheated on my diet (a first in my experience).

Before I started this diet I had a serious junk-food ‘addiction’ and was in the bad habit of constantly eating chocolates, donuts, ice cream, sweets, pizza and many other things usually all with added cheese. All of which are generally considered bad for you. While eating a whole food, plant based diet my cravings for these foods are mostly gone, although I do still have the occasional chocolate craving. Eating this way also makes me feel great. I no longer feel lethargic, bloated or sick after meals. I have better mental clarity and I feel more alert during the day instead of descending into a food coma every afternoon.

The exercise was definitely a key component to the success of this challenge and I don’t think I would have made the transition to a whole food, plant based diet without Chris’ encouragement and support. Diet and exercise go hand-in-hand and I wouldn’t have seen the same weight-loss results on this diet without doing the personal training. He was very understanding of my diet choices and open to the possibilities of a plant based diet. He is also the only trainer I have ever had who can make me look forward to getting out of bed at 5:30 in the middle of winter to go do pull-ups and burpees.

I would recommend to anyone who wants to take charge of their health and fitness to get an experienced, knowledgeable and supportive personal trainer who will help you build your strength and reach your fitness goals and find a diet that works for you and suits your lifestyle. Banting or paleo diets don’t suit everyone and I think the results of this challenge prove that you can still achieve good results by choosing a diet that is better for you and more environmentally friendly as well. I would recommend this challenge to anyone and after doing this challenge I am happy to continue eating and exercising this way for the foreseeable future.





093439 x600

For further information and tips regarding Vegan and Vegetarian eating, contact Leigh at leighmather@gmail.com or on Twitter @LKMather

Happy eating and training


About The Author


Leave A Comment



Unable to display Facebook posts.
Show error

Error: Error validating application. Application has been deleted.
Type: OAuthException
Code: 190
Please refer to our Error Message Reference.