How a high-carb, plant-based diet helped obese mother-of-two shed 32kg in 14 months. She’s known as Plantiful Kiki now

How a high-carb, plant-based diet helped obese mother-of-two shed 32kg in 14 months. She’s known as Plantiful Kiki now

“At 15, I was 9kg heavier than I should have been and didn’t know why, because my weight had been normal up that point,” says Nelson, who is in her early forties and lives in the state of Colorado.

YouTube influencer Kiki Nelson went from 88kg to 56kg in 14 months on a high-carb, low-fat diet, and has kept the weight off since. Photo: YouTube/@Plantiful Kiki

She started dieting in her early twenties.

Thinking “a low-carb, high-fat, high-protein diet was the way to go”, she first followed the Atkins plan, which allowed her to keep eating a favourite food, bacon.

She could never stay on a diet for longer than a month; even if she lost a few kilos she would put them back on – and a few more.

When she tipped the scales at 88kg, and with 43 per cent body fat, Nelson had a serious talk with her doctor, who “highlighted all my health issues and told me that I needed to lose 18kg”.

Filling and nutritious, potatoes are welcome in a low-fat, high carb, plant-based diet. Photo: Shutterstock
A friend suggested that she read The Starch Solution by Dr John McDougall, an American plant-based doctor, described to Nelson as having “helped many people lose weight as well as reverse their diabetes and other illnesses, simply by eating potatoes”.

Nelson believed that prediabetic or diabetic people should avoid carbohydrates and follow a high-fat, high-protein diet. “But I was so desperate for a solution that I bought the book and read it immediately.”

Grounded in science, the book challenges the notion that starch is unhealthy. It prescribes fuelling your body primarily with carbohydrates, rather than proteins and fats, to help with weight loss and to reverse and prevent serious illnesses like diabetes and heart disease.

“Dr McDougall had been helping people lose weight for more than 40 years but I’d never heard of him before, and the information in his book was new to me,” she says.

She learned of other doctors who promoted the plant-based lifestyle, including Dr Neal Barnard and Dr Michael Klaper, who also recommended a low-fat, high-carb diet as an effective way to lose weight and get healthy.

Since going plant-based I no longer feel fatigued

Kiki Nelson on one of the benefits of her change of diet

Convinced that she needed to change how she ate, she questioned where she would find protein and calcium – a plant-based diet excludes meat and dairy products. But McDougall’s book addressed those concerns.

She learned you can still eat large amounts of food while losing weight by focusing on low-calorie dense foods that fill you up faster and keep you feeling full longer, such as fruit and vegetables – even potatoes.

A 100-gram serving of potatoes, say two-thirds of a cup, has about 80 calories; a 100-gram serving of minced beef has three times as many – about 250.

Kiki Nelson and her husband both lost weight on a plant-based, high-carb diet. Photo: Kiki Nelson

Nelson started her family on a low-fat, plant-based diet, keeping meals simple and familiar. Her husband was not keen, but agreed to support her and try the diet for a few months.

She developed “cleaned up” meat-free versions of their favourite foods: spaghetti with tomato sauce, baked potatoes, and burritos filled with rice, beans and salsa.

As the weeks progressed, she experimented with other ingredients and tried new recipes.

The diet change paid off. After the first week Nelson had lost almost 3kg, and after a month she was 9kg lighter. After 14 months, she had shed 32kg.

“I used to have to nap in the afternoons before picking my kids up from school, just so I could function in the evenings, but since going plant-based I no longer feel fatigued – you don’t know how bad you really feel until you start to feel better,” she says.
Cystic acne on her forehead and along her jawline disappeared; she is no longer prediabetic, and her blood pressure, cholesterol, triglyceride and thyroid hormone levels are all healthy and normal.

Seven years on, Nelson has maintained her physique, and her weight ranges between 53kg and 57kg.

Nelson’s husband also embraced the plant-based diet, and lost 22kg. He is rid of aches and pains that had plagued him earlier.

The couple’s two children, now a teen and preteen, are healthy and thriving.

The cover of one of Kiki Nelson’s cookbooks of plant-based recipes.

Nelson shares the benefits of the vegan lifestyle widely. She has published several cookbooks – and taken social media by storm.

Known as Plantiful Kiki, she has a YouTube channel with 247,000 followers; more than 184,000 follow her on Instagram, and 106,000 on Facebook.

Her repertoire of recipes has multiplied to appeal to a wide audience hungry for vegan foods. On social media, she regularly demonstrates how to prepare satisfying and delicious dishes – such as a dairy-free broccoli cheese casserole, spring roll salad, Hungarian mushroom soup, blueberry muffins, waffles, pizza, nachos and lentil “meatballs” – that fill you up without the worry of weight gain.

These low-fat dishes use a variety of whole grains, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils that deliver a nutritious and flavourful punch.

Among her most popular recipes is “cheese” sauce, made with potatoes and carrots that have been diced and boiled, raw cashews, nutritional yeast, and onion and garlic powders; a nut-free version is fat-free.
Nelson samples her filling and budget-friendly easy ramen noodle soup on one of her many Instagram posts showing what she eats in a day. Photo: instagram.com/plantifulkiki/

Her family loves the sauce over pasta, as a sandwich spread, and as a dip with baked tortilla chips.

Nelson shares her recipes in her inspiring cookbooks – Plantifully Wholesome, Plantiful Kids and Plantifully Lean. Plantifully Simple will be launched this July.

If you think plant-based equals plain and boring, here are some recipes titles from Nelson’s upcoming book:

  • Raspberry Lemon Poppy Seed Pancakes;

  • Chocolate Peanut Butter Oatmeal;

  • Garden Vegetable Chickpea Omelet;

  • Butternut Squash and Kale Salad with Cranberries and Pecans;

  • Apple Pimento Grilled Cheese with Caramelised Onions and Arugula;

  • Hawaiian Street Cart Tacos;

  • Creamy Sriracha Dressing;

  • Heavenly Banana Brownies; and

  • Maple Pecan Pudding.

The books distil the knowledge she gained from her weight-loss journey to help the reader understand how plant-based eating benefits a body, and offer meal plans.

On Instagram, Nelson shares an example of the three meals she preps on Sundays to rotate during the week. Photo: instagram.com/plantifulkiki/

Nelson is grateful for having discovered this way of eating because it has changed her life and health for the better – and she is especially glad that she no longer has to limit her carb intake.

“I love that I can eat as much as I want at every meal without gaining weight, and I love knowing that what I eat is nourishing my body at the same time,” she says.

“When I started eating plant-based, some people would see me consume large amounts of spaghetti and warn me that starchy foods would prevent me from losing weight, but I knew the secret – starchy foods weren’t the problem, it was the fat that you added to them.”