Bhumi Pednekar famously made her acting debut playing an overweight, married woman. A brave choice in an industry that obsesses over size and appearance. But all Pednekar cared about was the chance to act. And if that meant gaining 23kg, she was game. For six months after she signed the film, Pednekar continued her job as a casting director at Yash Raj Films, one of Bollywood’s biggest production houses, while simultaneously gorging on butter chicken, dal makhani and all things fattening, to look like her character, Sandhya.
Now, a year after her debut film, Dum Laga Ke Haisha, released, Pednekar looks nothing like Sandhya. She’s slimmer, fitter and an incredible 33kg lighter.
The moment of realisation
Pednekar says the added weight never made her feel insecure. But being overweight, especially since it was achieved in short time, brought with it its set of issues. “I started developing health problems. My back and joints started aching… My diet was unhealthy. I don’t have a problem with being overweight. That’s fine. But there’s a thin line between being unhealthy and overweight,” she says, sipping on a cup of cold coffee now. “I was a regular Indian girl who would wear large and medium sizes… But with the added weight, I couldn’t restrict myself as an actor… We don’t have a lot of great scripts written for plus-size women.” So Pednekar decide to lose weight. Not starve, not deny herself things she enjoys, not aim for the infamous ‘size zero’ either. “I’m content with the way I am right now. I’m not skinny, and I like that,” she says.
The girl without a plan
By the time her debut film had released, the actor was already 10 kilos lighter. But she still had a long way to go. “Honestly, I didn’t have a plan. I tried to do it by myself. I told myself, if it didn’t work, I’ll get professional help. But I didn’t start out by going to a dietician or a nutritionist. I’m not against it… But back then, I just knew that I would have to invest in physical hard work.” Pednekar says “it was 60 per cent workout, and 40 per cent diet”. But she will also tell you that it’s a gradual process, so you can’t get demoralised if the results aren’t quick, or give up when you run out of steam. “I started with an hour at the gym. Then I started playing badminton and simultaneously increased my hours at the gym. There are times where you want to lose weight, and then there are times where you just don’t care. I realised it has to be a combination of both,” she says.
Keeping at it
Bhumi also maturely tackled an aspect fitness freaks tend to kill themselves over: she knew that resisting temptations wouldn’t leave her a happy person. So she found ways to retain her favourite foods in her diet. “I had the yummiest food. I believe a good chicken breast, if made well, is the best thing ever. I just picked healthier options. I quit wheat and refined sugar. I switched to whole grains. If you want to eat rotis, eat jawar ki bhakri. The Indian meal is the most balanced meal there is. I’d have one roti for dinner, and two rotis for lunch, and a cup of brown rice. I would put jaggery or honey in my tea. I would also eat rajgira… My only nutritionist was my mom,” she says.
But here’s Pednekar’s answer to the ‘what’s your secret?’ question: aloe vera juice, copious amounts of it, apparently. “I believe in detoxifying, and that’s what I did for the first two months. I drank litres and litres of aloe vera. Also, for minerals, I took supplements: because it was such a drastic weight loss, I didn’t want my skin or hair to go bad,” she says, She didn’t just watch what she was eating, but also how much. The first thing she cut down on was carbs: “I started having less than 90 grams of carbs, then went further down to 70, because your body doesn’t need a lot of carbs.”
The fitness guru
While into her weight loss regimen, you could tell Pednekar was having fun. So much fun, in fact, that she started sharing her fitness tips on social media, with the hashtag ‘#LoseItWithBhumi’; she even answered questions her followers would ask. “I would receive messages saying, ‘My husband doesn’t love me because I’m overweight.’ Personally, though, I never faced those problems even when I was overweight. I saw myself in the mirror, I saw a pretty, attractive girl I still wore the shortest of clothes, and got enough male attention. I’m being really honest, but if you get male attention, you are content. It’s a natural mentality.”
Pednekar speaks… listen up
* “The right information on the internet is your best friend.”
* “Do your research. Knowledge is power, but incorrect knowledge is poison. Research, double-check, talk to people and read about it. That goes for me too, and just because I’m giving you a tip, doesn’t mean you have to believe me. Go do your research.”
* “Do not wait for a Monday. It never comes.”
* “If you don’t want to hit the gym, go cycling, or skipping.”
* “Keep a check on the calories you consume. There’s a nutritional chart available everywhere, so just be aware. You should know what’s going inside your body and the effect it will have.”
* “Don’t be lazy; workout and diet is the only way to get fit. And do it naturally. If you go in for an unnatural method, it will only happen for a short period. I have taken a year to lose weight. I’ve moulded my body into being a certain body type. Give it time and work towards it slowly. Mould it slowly.”
* “Hydrate yourself, detoxify and, remember, water is your best friend.”
* “Stick to an Indian, balanced meal. It’s healthy.”