Strictly Come Dancing star Kristina Rihanoff has claimed that since going vegan, she has lost the weight she was unable to shift after the birth 18 months ago of her daughter
Its advocates claim it can help would-be slimmers shed pounds and rid the body of toxins. Veganuary – following a meat, eggs and dairy-free vegan diet for the month of January – is being supported by more than 50,000 Britons, and has the backing of celebrities including Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton and pop star Ariana Grande.
Now former Strictly Come Dancing star Kristina Rihanoff has claimed that since going vegan, she has lost the weight she was unable to shift after the birth 18 months ago of her daughter, Milena.
With a new tour looming, Kristina was losing hope that she would ever squeeze back into her trademark barely-there sequin dancing gowns.
But veganism, she says, has helped her drop two dress sizes, from a 12 to an eight. She feels the new approach has increased her muscle mass and given her far more energy. She even credits a vegan diet for helping her partner, former England rugby winger Ben Cohen, recover from a severe heart condition.
Kristina, 40, powers through seven hours a day of intensive rehearsals for her Dance To The Music show. ‘I’m choreographing and dancing, but I can manage it because I am fit, healthy and have a new-found lease of energy thanks to my vegan diet,’ says the Russian-born star.
It’s not only her energy levels that have benefited – Kristina has noticed similarly astounding effects on her body. ‘I really struggled to get rid of the last bit of my baby weight,’ says Kristina, who left Strictly in 2015.
‘I went from a size eight to a size 12 after giving birth and I have never been bigger than a size ten in my life. Within two months of going vegan, I lost the weight and was trimmer around my hips and waist area.’
The diet was also crucial to helping Ben – her partner on Strictly in 2013 – recover from a health scare last year, she says. In May, he was rushed to hospital with acute glandular fever and pericarditis – swelling of the sac that surrounds the heart – leaving him weak and bed-bound for two months.
In an effort to nurse him back to health, the couple adopted a fully plant-based diet. ‘Lots of my friends who are body-builders and dancers have lost fat and gained muscle tone on a vegan diet,’ claims Kristina. ‘They told us that the vegan diet would cleanse Ben’s body and get rid of any toxins. Within three days of starting the diet, he was feeling much better and had enough energy to go back to the gym.’
She even credits a vegan diet for helping her partner, former England rugby winger Ben Cohen, recover from a severe heart condition
Despite her claims, there is no scientific evidence to provide support for the health-healing properties of a vegan diet. ‘There’s no link between recovering from glandular fever and diet,’ says dietician Dr Carrie Ruxton.
‘If you have something for two weeks or more, it is probably on the way out anyway. Studies have shown that high doses of Vitamin C, which you may get in a vegan diet, only take about one or two days off your virus.’
Kristina, who has never eaten red meat, has some unusual views when it comes to animal products, claiming that they have an ‘inflammatory effect’. ‘There is so much drummed into us about getting protein from meat or chicken, but we can get all the protein we need from plants,’ she argues.
‘You can get lots of vitamins without taking supplements or eating meat or poultry, which create inflammation in your body.’
Kristina points to various documentaries on TV streaming service Netflix which, she argues, provides more than enough evidence to support her beliefs.
‘Lots of my friends have gained muscle and lost fat since going vegan,’ she tells me. ‘Elephants have the biggest muscle mass of all animals – and they have a purely plant-based diet.’
Looking good is, of course, crucial to her career, with her new stage show marking a return to the spotlight. ‘Now I finally feel able to perform on the stage, wearing the outfits, surrounded by the other girls,’ she says. ‘There’s so much more pressure on women and it’s hard because I have to look a certain way as I’m on TV.’
With a new tour looming, Kristina(pictured with Milena) was losing hope that she would ever squeeze back into her trademark barely-there sequin dancing gowns
Kristina’s eight-year stretch as a dancer on Strictly wasn’t without controversy. She was reported to have had romances with three of her celebrity dancers, all of whom had partners at the time.
Dubbed the Siberian Siren, Kristina was accused on social media of deliberately provoking drama to save herself from getting the chop.
The negativity, it seems, took its toll on the 5ft 3in star’s confidence. ‘On Strictly I was always surrounded by girls who had a great feminine shape,’ she says.
‘They weren’t stick-thin or anything, but I was always aware that I had to look good and be on top form when I was dancing with them. We always want what we don’t have – and there are some things you can never change. I will never be able to wear skinny jeans, for instance.’
The challenge of staying in shape is harder post-Strictly. ‘When I was dancing for nine hours every day, I could eat whatever I wanted and it wouldn’t matter because I would burn it all off. Potatoes, chicken, fish and vegetables were the main meals but I ate snacks in between and managed to stay in top shape for the whole six months. Then I stopped dancing and had a baby.’
For her new nationwide tour, which starts this week, Kristina teams up with her former Strictly co-stars Oksana Platero and Robin Windsor to take audiences on a journey from the charleston to street dancing. Although she will take to the stage almost every night for two months, Kristina says the schedule is not as intense as Strictly.
‘I am running my own show, so I can choose when to have time off and spend it with my family,’ she says. ‘Being a dancer is not a job or a hobby, it’s a way of life. But at least there is less rehearsal time, which means I have a chance to cook something healthy.’
Although Kristina argues for the benefits of veganism, Dr Ruxton remains unconvinced. ‘While it is possible to have a healthy, balanced diet as a vegan, there are no studies that show it is any healthier than an omnivorous diet,’ she says.
‘Several randomised controlled trials have shown that eating up to 300g of red meat every day as part of a healthy, balanced diet can reduce markers of inflammation and cholesterol.
‘Our digestive system has evolved to consume animal products, and law requires any animal presented for slaughter to be clear of antibiotic residue.
The injection of hormones is banned within the European food supply.’ The Government advises that we eat no more than 500g red and processed meat per week.
One thing is certain: whatever Kristina is doing, it’s working. ‘I’m in the best shape I’ve been in for more than 18 months,’ she says. ‘It may not be for everyone, but for me it has worked wonders.’
Kristina’s Dance To The Music tour (dancetothemusic tour.com) runs from January 10 to February 28.