It was actually a blog that Leigh wrote that gave me the idea to start this interview series. She’d posted a photo of her pink boxing gloves and explained how becoming active and punching stuff was helping her to improve her wellbeing and cope with all that life had thrown at her (and that’s more than most of us have had to deal with). To me she was a shining example of how finding the activity that suits you is crucial and how the benefits are huge. I love the way she has gone on to inspire others by posting lots of her exercise sessions online. Do pop over to her blog to have a look, especially if you’re lacking in motivation. Boy, she works hard!
Tell us a bit about yourself Leigh
I’m a communications professional, writer, wellbeing coach, and patient leader.
In 2014 at just 24 weeks’ pregnant I was diagnosed with the rare, life-threatening pregnancy complication HELLP syndrome. Unless the baby is born, both mum and baby will die. Sadly, my son Hugo died aged 35 days.
Since Hugo’s death, I’ve been campaigning to raise awareness of HELLP syndrome, and to improve support for bereaved parents. It is known as Hugo’s Legacy. I was named in the list of HSJ Patient Leaders in 2015, and won the Tommy’s Mum’s Voice Award in 2016 for Hugo’s Legacy, as well as my work with the #MatExp campaign.
I’ve been recording my journey through my award-winning blog, Headspace Perspective which is about moving forward after trauma and loss with passion, humour and style.
When did you decide to start exercising regularly and why was that?
I’ve exercised regularly on and off, and half-heartedly for about 10 years. I had a gym membership and would workout on the cardio machines, as well as do some classes. To be honest, I didn’t really enjoy it and therefore wasn’t committed.
It was the traumatic event of Hugo’s death that motivated me to commit to exercise, and to take it seriously. My partner and I had been trying unsuccessfully to fall pregnant again and were referred for an infertility assessment. An incredibly rude consultant said that my high BMI meant I would be unable to conceive naturally, and that my BMI was too high to be referred for IVF. My BMI was also too high to receive a fertility drug called Clomid, which helped me conceive Hugo. He told me to go to Slimming World. I don’t deny my weight was a little heavier than I would have liked it to have been, but the consultant refused to acknowledge weight is not the only factor in infertility (I was also diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after Hugo’s death – excessive stress can also contribute to infertility). I told him what I thought of his opinion, joined a gym, and recruited a personal trainer.
The rest, as they say, is history.
I’ve worked out like a demon, have watched what I eat but not dieted, dropped two dress sizes (but little actual weight on the scales due to gaining lots of muscle), transformed my body and the way I perceive it. I am managing my PTSD symptoms, too.
The best thing? Four months later, I fell pregnant. Completely naturally. Sadly, I had a missed miscarriage at six weeks but I was delighted to prove that consultant wrong!
(March 2016 and May 2016)
What activities have you tried and what’s your favourite?
Since working out with my personal trainer, Matt, I’ve tried all sorts of activities. We do a lot of high intensity interval (HIIT) circuits, with a mix of cardio (but not on the boring old machines) and body weight: plyo jumping, sprints, sandbell slams, kettle bells, press ups, boxing, TRX, cable weights, dumbbells, squats, lunges, and lots of ab work. My favourite is boxing – it’s been a brilliant way to let out the anger I had been holding from my grief and PTSD, release the cortisol, and let in more endorphins.
What has been the biggest barrier you’ve had to overcome in your fitness journey?
The biggest barrier was at first my own negative perception of myself, and of fitness. I was rubbish at sport at school: being an uncoordinated dreamer is incompatible with traditional school sports of netball and hockey! In addition, I’ve always been a curvy hourglass, and that I couldn’t do anything like circuits. The media doesn’t help – you see few fitness models with big boobs!
I thought working out was something to be endured rather than enjoyed.
Have you had any negative comments and how have you dealt with them?
No, I’ve received nothing but support and positive comments. I’m fortunate to have a very supportive and positive trainer. He’s not the shouty type, and instead motivates with positive encouragement and by making the workouts fun (yes, that is possible!). The team at Fitness First Bedford, where I train, are also incredibly supportive.
Family and friends have also remarked on my progress, with some even saying I have inspired them to embark on their own workouts, which is a great feeling.
What goals have you set and have you reached any of them yet?
My initial goal was to be able to reach the weight that would enable me to be prescribed Clomid. The doctors then changed their minds about the BMI….and I got pregnant naturally anyway. So goal smashed!
Currently I’m doing the 22 press ups for 22 days challenge that you might have seen doing the rounds on social media. The aim of the challenge is to raise awareness of combat veterans’ PTSD, and so I’ve borrowed it to talk about Hugo’s Legacy and perinatal PTSD. I got a bit bored of doing press ups every day so have been showing things like sandbell rainbow slams and bosu burpees too.
My next goal is to complete the FitBrit challenge. Eight exercises, including a 800 metre sprint, kettle bells, Vipr tilts, and paralettes – against the clock.
What benefits has being active brought you?
So many! For me, fitness has now become about my overall health rather than about my weight. Fitness has helped improve my psychological health and emotional wellbeing – I used to be a chronic emotional eater, but punching and throwing things feels much more satisfying!
Being active has also helped improve my confidence. Challenging myself to do things I thought I was unable to do has been transformative. At one time I would have been far too self-conscious to be working out in front of the cardio machines doing my own circuits, but now I just get on with it.
I also now try to focus on what I can do, rather than what I can’t. For example, I know I am never going to be a good or fast runner, but my tenacity and determination combined with my strength means I can do all sorts of HIIT circuits. This confidence is helping me see results.
I’ve been so inspired I now offer wellbeing coaching – Bright Mind Spirit, named after Hugo.
What advice would you give to other women who want to start exercising?
To borrow a slogan from a well-known fitness brand: just do it. Try not to worry about what you can or can’t do, or what you might look like doing it.
Don’t be afraid to try something new. These days there are so many different activities you can try, and most will let you try something out for free. A personal trainer will be able to craft a programme suitable for your own abilities and goals, as well as push you to achieve things you didn’t expect! Not everyone will be able to afford a personal trainer, but there are many places that do small group circuits, helping you get benefits in a similar way.
Most importantly, find something you enjoy and the rest will come.