Leonie Pitts had always known she wanted to be a mother. But after years of fertility struggles, she and her husband instead decided to adopt, welcoming their daughter Beatrix into their family in May 2016.
Then, just over two years later, the seemingly impossible happened. Leonie conceived naturally: a total surprise. A miracle baby.
But the stress of pregnancy after years of traumatic fertility treatments and problems came with a price. “I felt that my doctor was very blunt with me regarding my weight gain during pregnancy,” says Leonie, a British expat living in Dubai. “Having failed to conceive for seven years, I appreciated her treating my miracle baby just as preciously as she felt to me. But infertility issues had scarred me mentally and I was constantly worried about miscarrying. Worrying about my weight on top of all that was too much to bear, so I ignored her as much as I could.”
While her doctor kept giving Leonie extra tests to check the cause of the extra weight gain, “in truth it was probably mostly comfort-eating carrot cake, ice cream and digestives that helped me gain so many kilos! But I was so worried about the baby that I didn’t feel self-conscious about being bigger at first.”
A challenging pregnancy
A month before getting pregnant, Leonie weighed 70kg and was in the best shape she’d ever been, having gone on a healthy eating regime on the run-up to her sister’s wedding. But once she conceived, the pregnancy undid a lot of her good work. “For the first 19 weeks I felt nauseous all day every day and cried a lot. I was disappointed and a little ashamed that I wasn’t enjoying the pregnancy I had so longed for. I thought the nausea would magically stop at 12 weeks, but when it continued, it felt like it might last forever. Constant carbs were basically the only thing that would keep it at bay - a lot of bread and biscuits and fruit juice.”
When she went for the anomaly scan at 20 weeks, Leonie was finally feeling better. “I had started to feel kicks and was no longer feeling ill. I had more energy and I was feeling excited at last.”
But the scan revealed that she had placenta previa – a condition that put Leonie’s pregnancy in the high-risk category. “Due to the precious nature of my pregnancy I was advised by my doctor not to exercise and not to travel.”
Trips home back to the UK were cancelled, and all attempts at exercise were put on hold. “I didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize my baby’s health and was terrified of causing a bleed and freaking myself out further, so I basically wrapped myself in cotton wool... and ate cake and ice cream,” says Leonie. “I was in survival mode. Yes, I could have eaten less, but I had so much else on my mind. So long as my baby safe, all was OK.”
The baby bubble
Leonie gave birth to her baby, Dottie, in July 2019, at a time when most of her friends were away from Dubai for the summer. “So I felt very little pressure to get into shape, I just enjoyed being in the newborn bubble. Days and nights blurred into one, and I wasn’t actively trying to lose weight for a while.”
Although Leonie was a second-time mum, her older daughter was beyond the newborn stage when she came to live with the family, so Leonie was experiencing the joys and challenges of this intense phase for the first time. “Breastfeeding and sleep deprivation left me ravenous, so I ate even more than when I was pregnant! I gained even more weight in those first couple of months.”
At her heaviest, Leonie says she weighed 100.6kg. “I wasn’t happy with my shape, but I was so proud of my body for having grown a baby, a feat I never believed I could achieve. The extra rolls and folds definitely helped with all the rocking and feeding too!”
Then COVID hit – and any thoughts of weight loss fell by the wayside. “I felt totally out of control of the situation,” says Leonie. “Sweet and sugary foods are my biggest weakness and were also my biggest comfort during lockdown.”
“Then something snapped”
As lockdown eased and Dubai started opening up into a new normal, the extra weight she’d accumulated started to take its toll. “The relentless failure to fit into any of my clothes, endlessly disliking all the wobbles that stared back at me in the mirror, and being unable to even fit into my wedding rings for over 18 months, just ended up wearing me down and putting me in a pretty low place, mentally,” says Leonie.
Then one day, when her youngest daughter Dottie was 13 months old, “I just snapped,” says Leonie.
“We were out for dinner with friends. One of them was doing a macro diet, looking fabulous and losing weight, but seemingly eating exactly what she fancied that night. I felt flabby, and sluggish, and depressed in my own body. I had trouble sleeping due to my high sugar diet, and it was starting to affect everything.”
Leonie decided she’d had enough of struggling to find something that fit her in her own wardrobe. Something needed to change. And now.
“So for once in my life I didn’t wait for a new week, I decided there and then, Friday 21 August, to dedicate some time to making a change, for myself. I haven’t stopped since.”
For once in my life I didn’t wait for a new week. I decided there and then, to dedicate some time to making a change, for myself. I haven’t stopped since.”
- Daily motivation, quotes from Instagram account @farfromfat126
- Myfitnesspal app to help track food
- Focusing on a high-protein diet, but still eating takeaways, treats etc
- Progress photos to keep up motivation
- Postnatal and baby-friendly fitness classes with ReBalance ME, starting two months after birth
- Working out 4/5 times a week, sometimes at 5.30am to fit in around childcare
Leonie decided to start tracking macros the very next day. “I woke up, took my measurements, took photos of myself from each angle, and decided to take control of the situation once and for all.”
The term ‘macro’ is short for macronutrient, the three categories of nutrients that provide you with most of your energy: protein, carbohydrates and fats. So counting macros just means counting the grams of proteins, carbs or fat that you’re consuming. “Macro tracking, which is essentially just a more detailed version of calorie counting, has simply helped me to gauge how much I really want to eat something, and educated me so that I can make smarter choices,” explains Leonie. “The myfitnesspal app, which I’ve also used in the past but not in such detail, has been an invaluable tool to help me on my weight loss journey.”
Leonie says the key for her has been that she can still eat the foods she loves, but in moderation, “so it avoids that starve and then binge cycle of eating that often comes with dieting for me, and never works. Along the way I’ve had dinners out, take aways, cakes, pasta, everything. I’ve just counted it and had smaller portions, but it hasn’t felt like a restrictive diet, because I’ve been able to eat exactly what I want, and that is how I’ve been able to keep going.”
Macro tracking has worked better than any diet or fitness regime Leonie has tried before. “I had no idea I would stick at it for so long, or surpass my weight loss goal with ease. I am now the slimmest and fittest I have ever been in my adult life. Exercising has become my meditation, a way to clear my head, and I truly enjoy it. Getting up before the kids to carve out some me time first thing puts me in a much better mood for the day. And eating mindfully has now become second nature too.”
Heaviest Post-pregnancy weight: 100.6kg in September 2019
Weight now: 63kg in 2021
Leonie says: “I lost the first 10kg quite easily, I presume a lot of it was water retention, looking at my ankles! Then the next 10kg took a lot longer - over a year. The final 17kg took some dedication. In August 2020 I was 79kg and my goal was to get to my pre pregnancy weight, 70kg. But I’ve been surprised that another 6kg has come off since, purely from me leading a more active lifestyle and not having crazy cheat days or binges like I used to. The numbers aren’t a big deal to me anymore, it’s about how I feel.”
In turn, eating a higher protein diet and having 37kg less weight to carry around has given her so much more energy too. “I sleep better, and I lead a much more active lifestyle these days, without it feeling like a chore. I’ve created new healthy habits for myself and it feels so good!”
Advice for others
Leonie says that taking control of her weight has given her a purpose and direction at a time when there has been so much uncertainty. “I’ve really enjoyed having something that I can control, particularly in the crazy world that we’re living in right now! It has been empowering to take charge of something, and do it just for myself. Plus I’ve really noticed my daughters take an interest in my fitness journey too - setting a good example to them has been an unexpected bonus I hadn’t even considered before.”
She shares her journey on her Instagram page @leonieash, where she also gives advice for anyone else who might be looking to lose weight: “Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and it’s much easier to say this now, having come out the other side, than it would have been to hear it back then, but, if I could have I would have told myself sooner, ‘The only person who can take control of your weight and make a difference is you. You won’t feel better about yourself until you do something. What are you waiting for? Do it now. Do it for you. I promise once you get going it’s easier than it seems, and oh so satisfying!’”
But new mums have more than enough to think about. Plus our bodies have grown a human! Everyone needs time to recover.
Pregnancy and birth are a totally transformative experience, both physically and mentally. But for me, I’m so happy to have turned that into a positive. Rather than bemoaning all my body has been through I can marvel at all it has achieved. Having seen just what a miracle my body is capable of (growing a human) has made me realise just how amazing my body is. And in turn, not only has it pushed me to test my limits and see how far I can go with strength and endurance, fitness-wise. It has also made me appreciate so much more just how special it is. My body is worthy of being cared for and looked after properly, with good food and exercise.
I am all for body positivity. We are all different. Everyone recovers differently. And everyone has a different natural shape and size to each other too. But I also believe that there are too many Mums who write themselves off, resigning themselves to the fact that because they have had kids (which has stretched their body in unimaginable ways) and because they now put themselves last (prioritising those kids) they are destined to never be happy with how they look ever again. Giving birth and being a mother doesn’t have to feel like it has broken you, instead it can empower you.
Women’s bodies are amazing, we are incredible. And I have never felt so happy in my own skin, healthier, or more in tune with my body and its needs. I am so proud of myself. And I hope that by sharing my journey, that others see that they have the power to feel the same way. They just have to start and keep going, one day at a time.
I love nothing more than a message from someone who has been inspired by my run, or weight loss, and has started their own journey and is seeing results and feeling really proud of themselves. It brightens my day thinking I can make a difference. Because I’ve been there, in that rut, feeling totally depressed about my body, and it feels SO GOOD to feel in control again. But there’s no secret, anyone can do it with enough determination. You just have to really want to make a change.