Finding Your Smile Within: LeAnne’s Journey to Health and Happiness

Who says ordinary people can’t do extraordinary things?” 27-year-old LeAnne of Plainfield writes on social media. “We can all be extraordinary if we set our mind to our goals.”

LeAnne is the definition of extraordinary. In under two years, she’s lost over 164 pounds. LeAnne credits her very own drive, discipline, and determination, combined with the ongoing support of her biggest cheerleaders: her wife Michelle, 12-year-old daughter Hannah, and 6-year old son Hunter. “I would never have been this successful without the support of my family. We are succeeding together.”

Following her extensive weight loss, LeAnne underwent a Full Abdominoplasty last March at Hendricks Regional Health Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery to remove 11 pounds of skin from her stomach. And just 10 weeks post-op, she ran in her first OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini Marathon, crushing her goals and gaining a whole new perspective on self-confidence. “I never smiled a true smile until I started loving myself through this journey.”

LeAnne’s story is nothing short of inspiring — and she’s just getting started.

Making a choice

“I have always been big,” LeAnne says. “In Kindergarten, I stood a foot taller than any other kid. In first grade, I was tormented for my size. By 6th grade, I surpassed 200 pounds.” LeAnne then began taking medication that contributed to a 100 pound weight gain. “I always struggled socially, because of my size. I always felt like an outsider. I could never dress the same or do the same things.”

During her years at Ben Davis High School and following graduation, her weight fluctuated. After undergoing lap band surgery, and eventually having it removed due to health complications, she hit her heaviest point. “I weighed 395 pounds at 25 years old.”

On January 8, 2015, LeAnne made a life-changing decision. During a visit with her family physician, she was told she wouldn’t be able lose weight without surgery. “It terrified me,” she recalls. That night, LeAnne went home and made a plan. “I told myself, ‘Yes, I can lose this weight on my own and I am going to. And it’s going to start right now.’ I realized that I, too, deserved health and happiness.”

Bringing fitness into focus

First LeAnne completely revamped her family’s approach to nutrition. This meant no more boxed dinners, sweets, and snack foods: “My biggest vice was salty foods and popcorn.” She made meal plans, but was cautious knowing that to make this truly work, she needed to eat foods that left her satisfied, were easy to prepare, and didn’t make her feel like she was missing out on family get-togethers. “I didn’t have a bunch of fancy products. I had a budget to maintain for my family. But I didn’t need fancy or expensive to lose weight. I needed meat, vegetables, and some fruits and carbs. It was about as simple as you can imagine.”

At this point in her fitness journey, LeAnne was unable to go for a walk without feeling short of breath. Walking a mile took her close to 30 minutes. But each day she tried to go a little farther and work a little harder, adding at-home bodyweight workouts to her exercise routine.

In March 2015, LeAnne and her wife Michelle made a commitment to each other: They were going to run at least one 5k every month that year. And they did. After finishing an 8k in Brown County that December, LeAnne decided her next goal would be to run 13.1 miles at the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon. “To me, the Indy Mini is an iconic race. I’ve always heard about the amazing energy there, and I really wanted to do it!”

Finding a surgeon she could trust

By this time, LeAnne had lost 150 pounds. “Running felt like a chore. The amount of excess skin I had around my abdomen would hang down my legs and constantly make noise when I ran. It wouldn’t stay where it was supposed to because there was too much.” When she ran, LeAnne would stop and walk past other runners so they couldn’t hear the skin slapping, and she’d run on secluded trails or at random hours to avoid people along her path. “I realized I wouldn’t get to my goal if I didn’t do something about it.”

LeAnne voiced these concerns with Dr. Amy Roberts at Stafford Pointe Family Physicians, who recommended scheduling an appointment with Dr. Rachel Scott at Hendricks Regional Health Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. In January 2016, LeAnne had her first visit with Dr. Scott, where she shared her goals and dreams. “Dr. Scott’s number one goal is to help her patients live their best life. She said my journey was more than a patient who needed plastic surgery. It was an evolution of me as a person, someone who had transformed how she looks at herself and the world.”

LeAnne knew surgery was the next step in her health and fitness journey — and she knew Dr. Scott was the right surgeon for the job. “I wanted someone who I could trust to not only care for me pre and post surgery, but who had the resources and the expertise that she did.”

Racing towards recovery

LeAnne underwent a Full Abdominoplasty on March 1, 2016. “I was really nervous. The procedure not only has a huge physical recovery but a big mental recovery. When I went into surgery, everyone was beaming. Dr. Scott and the nurses put me at ease. They knew exactly what they were going to do and how to take care of me.”

LeAnne met with Dr. Scott every couple of days post surgery to monitor progress. Seven weeks after surgery, she was released to full activity. That night, LeAnne went home and signed up for the 500 Festival Mini-Marathon, just two weeks and three days before the event. Then she put on her running clothes, headed outside, and ran five miles.

“It was my best run ever to that date. I still had to wear compression gear because of surgery, but the run was so easy without the extra skin.” The next day after that she ran six miles, then the next day seven miles, and she kept adding on until the big day.

Crossing the finish line

When LeAnne signed up for the Mini-Marathon, she estimated her end time at four hours, which placed her in the very last corral, Corral Z. For the first two hours of the race, she dodged walkers and zig-zagged through crowds. “That took a lot of energy. It poured when I was running around the racetrack, and I had sores and blisters on my feet. My stomach was still healing, and with my compression gear on, it became hard to breathe in the heat.”

At 11 miles in, LeAnne texted her wife: “I’m done. I can’t do it.” She had hit her wall and her legs wouldn’t work. “They felt like cinder blocks.” But Michelle texted LeAnne back with the encouragement she needed: “You’re almost there. I’m standing right here at mile 13. Keep going.” LeAnne crossed the finish line at 3:01 with the runners in Corral L.

“It was the best race of my life. Since the sixth grade, I never received positive attention from anyone. I would get catcalled and made fun of for my weight. But at the Mini, people were cheering me on, genuinely wanting me to succeed. I didn’t have to put my head down like I used to. This time I welcomed a whole community supporting me.”

Creating a healthy balance at home

LeAnne’s fitness journey is a family affair. “Before we were a couch family. My kids weren’t the type of kids in organized sports or Little League. Their fun time was watching movies on our couch. It was all they’d ever known.”

Now, Hannah’s in her second season of cross country, and Hunter is an active soccer player. He leads the family in yoga stretches. And Michelle, who has undergone an incredible weight loss journey of her own, underwent a panniculectomy with Dr. Scott in July. As a family, they enjoy hiking and exploring different trails together, from the Appalachian Trail and Mammoth Cave to Brown County and Turkey Run.

For all of them, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is all about balance. “We have off days all of the time. Nobody is perfect,” LeAnne says. “I don’t want the kids to eat on a meal plan all the time. If they have a great grade, I take them to get ice cream. I don’t tell them it’s an off day — it’s just life. And I’m going to have a small ice cream, too. At the end of the night I’m not going to let it throw me off and go home and be sad. I’m going to eat the ice cream and enjoy it. And then I’m going to go to the gym afterwards.”

Inspiring others every day

LeAnne continues to radiate the kind of contagious optimism that’s earned her 84,000 followers on Instagram. She documents the ups and downs of her journey on her account daily. “I’m not a perfect shining example of a weight loss icon,” she writes in a post. “I fall down. I get back up. I love beer. I love pizza. I’m not going to take pictures in my best angles. I’m not going to stare at my screen making sure I suck in just right and am perfectly posed. What I am is the poster child of how much chasing dreams to get healthy can breathe life into your entire being.”

Next up on LeAnne’s agenda: reaching her goal weight. She was also recently selected as one of 13 influential runners and walkers to represent the 2017 OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon as an official Mini Ambassador. She hopes to bring others like her to the race, and plans on completing the Mega Mini (the 5k plus the full Mini) next year. “It’s crazy how much my outlook on the world has changed through weight loss and having this surgery.” Soon she will schedule another appointment with Dr. Scott to remove excess skin on her arms.

LeAnne approaches each day with courage and strength. She’s a shining example of how a little bit of self-love and motivation can go a long way. “It’s not an easy journey, but there is so much victory in every step of the way. Every good decision, every dropped size, every upped weight, every personal best. Everyone can do what I’ve done. All you need is some hard work, dedication, and goals.”

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