Looking at the clothes in her wardrobe, many of them still brand new but too small for her, Vandana Desai finally realised the time had come to make a change. The former primary-school teacher, a stay-at-home mum, had gained weight over the course of two pregnancies and developed unhealthy eating habits over the course of two decades. In October 2020, she weighed in at her heaviest: 80kg (176lbs). “I knew that I had gained weight. I felt unhappy buying large sizes (UK 14 to 16) while shopping for clothes, and would purchase smaller sizes (UK 8 to 10) in the hope that it would inspire me to lose weight,” says the 48-year-old, whose two children are now teenagers. “One day, I noticed that more than half my wardrobe consisted of smaller-sized dresses, which I could not fit into. I said to myself, ‘This is it! No more. I am going to get into shape.’” Desai embarked on a two-year fitness journey, following a strict diet for three months in 2021 and again for another three months last year. This, along with committing to regular exercise, helped her lose 20kg by July 2022, and achieve her goal weight of 60kg. Through lifestyle changes, she has since managed to keep the excess weight off. Originally from India, Desai has called Hong Kong home for the past 20 years. When it came to losing weight, she turned to Trupti Majethia, a dietitian based in Mumbai. Majethia stressed the need to eat balanced meals at regular intervals and to practise portion control. “I began eating meals on time, keeping a two-and-a-half-hour gap between each meal,” Desai says. For breakfast, she would eat a handful of almonds and a bowl of fruit, followed by a pea protein drink midmorning. Lunch was a salad, a bowl of dal, two rotis and a cooked vegetable . For dinner, she had soup and an egg white omelette or chilla – Indian savoury pancakes made of ground lentils. Snacks included fruit, bhel puri – a savoury Indian snack made of puffed rice – and makhana, or roasted fox nuts . “I used to drink a can of Diet Coke every other day and consumed sugar in my tea, both of which I stopped,” says Desai. She also cut out alcohol for six months at the height of her dieting, and now restricts herself to one gin and tonic a week, which she enjoys on weekends with friends. Similarly, she limits treats like pizza, pasta or a samosa to weekends. Another lifestyle change that Desai – who was previously a late sleeper – made was going to bed by 11pm , which helped cut down on her late-night snacking. Sleeping and waking up at the same time every day gave her a sense of routine. She also doubled her daily water intake, from four to eight glasses.“Getting more hydration helped with my digestion and weight loss,” she says. My self-esteem skyrocketed. I want to stay fit because I love the way I look and feel now Vandana Desai Majethia, who has more than 20 years of experience as a dietitian, has three key principles for her clients to follow: “eating home-cooked, clean meals; following a holistic, balanced diet; and incorporating regular exercise into your schedule.” “Nutrition and exercise go hand in hand,” the dietitian says. “You cannot look at one in exclusion of the other.” Following this advice, Desai combined exercise with her dieting as part of her weight-loss mission, and started going for a brisk 45-minute walk every morning. “The aim was to go for a walk as soon as I woke up, on an empty stomach. My goal was to complete five kilometres (three miles) within 45 minutes, walking at a pace of nine kilometres per hour. “Other than the physical benefits, an early morning walk energised me, made me feel fresh and mentally alert, and cleared my head,” she says. Although she exercised and practised yoga in 2015, her routine back then wasn’t consistent. This time she made fitness a priority, resuming the high-intensity boot camp sessions she attended previously. “Exercising without following a healthy diet did not help me lose weight. The yoga and boot camp sessions felt like a chore. “However, when I dropped the first few kilograms after following Trupti’s diet, I felt so good that it motivated me to exercise regularly. “I realised that a combination of diet and exercise was necessary for my well-being. With the weight loss, I started enjoying my training sessions a lot more,” she says. Ian Colley, founder of Hong Kong training centre Primal Fitness, conducts the boot camp sessions twice a weekwith Desai and two others, on a public basketball court in her neighbourhood. “The exercises are hard yet fun. And training with friends gives me a sense of community,” Desai says. One hour a week of strength training ‘lowers risk of death by up to 20 per cent’ Colley’s training routine encompasses TRX (total body resistance) exercises, drills using kettlebells, and body weight exercises such as squats, push-ups and lunges. “My objective is to build strength and balance , and improve flexibility and stability. Working with a small group is effective as we motivate one another, and I am able to give individual attention to each person,” the 53-year-old trainer says. Desai also restarted yoga, which she now does twice a week. “It has made me stronger, more flexible, and it calms my mind,” she says. Looking back on the beginning of her fitness journey, Desai admits following the diet was hard at the start; she used to feel hungry and found the portions too small. However, “with time, I started appreciating and even loving the discipline and structure that following Trupti’s diet brought into my life”, she says. “The biggest change was that my relationship with food transformed. I see food as a source of nourishment now, instead of something to gorge on.” Desai also appreciates the support she’s received from her family during the course of her journey. “My husband is my biggest cheerleader, and every time he saw me eat my new healthy meal, he would applaud and encourage me.” “My sons noticed that it was challenging for me to follow the new diet, and they were proud of the way I kept myself motivated. On weekends, when we watched movies together at home, they would abstain from snacking, telling each other, ‘Let’s not tempt mum.’ “Towards the end of my weight-loss journey, they said, ‘Wow mum! Your tummy is really flat now – but you’re not as cuddly as before.’” As Desai shed the kilos, she felt lighter and had more energy. And she was finally able to fit into the smaller-sized outfits hanging in her wardrobe. “My self-esteem skyrocketed. I want to stay fit because I love the way I look and feel now.” Like what you read? Follow SCMP Lifestyle on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram . You can also sign up for our eNewsletter here .