Danielle Armstrong on why abusive trolls have made her determined to lose the baby weight her way

DANIELLE Armstrong felt her heart drop as she read the direct message that had landed in her Instagram inbox. Just 10 days after giving birth to her first baby, pictures of her out shopping had been published online and a troll had gone to the trouble of creating a new, anonymous account especially to tell her that she “still looked fat and pregnant”. 

Danielle, who was recovering from a traumatic birth as well as getting to grips with all the emotional and physical demands new motherhood entails, immediately broke down sobbing.

“I’ve never been massively affected by trolls, but that time I had a proper cry,” she says. “I mean, how sad that someone felt the need to do that? I’m not usually one to read those messages and let them ruin my day, but in that moment I felt really rubbish and then I looked at myself and thought: ‘God, I am big’.”

On top of that, the deluge of comments posted underneath the online article itself were relentless. Danielle knew she shouldn’t look but she couldn’t stop herself.

“It was all: ‘She’s huge! How fat is she? She looks like a man.’ One of them asked what my boyfriend could possibly see in me since I was so fat.” 

She shakes her head in disbelief, baffled as to why people would be so cruel.

“Those words have an impact. It was horrible and it broke me for a little while. I went from being overjoyed about having my baby girl and everything I’d ever wanted, to suddenly feeling really insecure. That’s not right.”

This is the reason Danielle, who gave birth to 8lb 11oz baby Orla in May, has decided to speak out about her experience and the body pressures faced by women – and new mums in particular.

Thankfully, she’s made of tough stuff and after her initial upset, the personal attacks strengthened her resolve to have realistic expectations and to kick back against the crash-diet culture. She refuses to be bullied into a “quick fix”. Instead she wants to celebrate what her body has achieved by being kind to it and to herself.

“I’d never put myself in the position where I had to lose my baby weight in six weeks in order to bring out a DVD for Christmas. I couldn’t put myself through it.  And I would never want to do a liquid diet or go to these camps where it’s just juices. It’s not sustainable. If I only had fruit juice for 21 days then yes, I’d lose weight but it’s not nutritional and as soon as you have a carb you’re going to put it back on.

“For me it’s about doing it my way – the healthy way – and working it around Orla. So it might take me three or four months to be back in my size 10s; it might take me a year. All I know is I’m doing it my way and I’m loving it.”

After raising the issue on her Insta Stories last month, Danielle was saddened to receive messages from women who were torturing themselves over their so-called baby weight. She says it’s almost as if people had forgotten what a woman’s body goes through to grow and birth a baby, and they needed to be reminded of what was real life and normal.

“We need to remember what our bodies have just done and be proud of that. We have just created this beautiful little miracle – a human being. I know some celebs walk out of hospital in their size-8 skinny jeans, but that’s not realistic for most women. Most of us don’t snap straight back and that’s fine. That’s normal.”

She mentions former TOWIE co-star Chloe Lewis, who posted a selfie in her Calvins two weeks after having baby Beau last year and says she is the exception.

It took nine months to grow that baby, it’s not going to take nine days to get your body back to the way it was.

“Fair play, she looked amazing. But for me that was never going to happen and we all need to be honest with ourselves. It took nine months to grow that baby, it’s not going to take nine days to get your body back to the way it was. Everyone’s metabolism is different. Everyone’s body is different.”

She adds with a sigh: “But you know, you can’t win as a woman. You’re either too fat or too skinny and whatever you do you’re setting a bad example. I’m not saying I’m a role model, but I do think I have a responsibility to send out the right message.”

As well as the huge number of messages of support she received from followers when she first spoke out, Danielle also had back-up in the form of boyfriend Tom Edney, 32, and her mum Debbie, who have very different ways of pepping her back up again.

“My mum wants to go and find out where they all live,” laughs Danielle. “Sometimes she’s replied back to them on my Instagram which is so embarrassing because I’m 32 and a mother myself but she goes in there. And she’s not very nice to them! 

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“Tom is more tough love with me. He says: ‘Dan, why are you even reading it? These are sad people so don’t entertain it’. I think I kind of need that perspective.  He always tells me I’m beautiful. He reassures me every day that he fancies me, which is nice because you definitely don’t feel very sexy after having a baby! So he’s a good combination of reassurance and tough love.”

She has also taken measures to ensure the trolls can’t get to her again in the same ways they have previously by using Instagram’s filter facility, which allows users to block certain words in the comments underneath their pictures.

“I’ve put the words ‘fat’ and ‘ugly’ in and so anyone using them in the comments doesn’t show up. People can still DM, which obviously isn’t great, but it’s a good first step by Instagram.”

After years of being conscious of what she ate due to regular TV appearances, Danielle jokes that she “took full advantage” of being pregnant and gained 4st.

“I’d always had to watch what I ate, not in a crazy-dieter way, but I’d been careful. So when I was pregnant, I decided to take advantage and, oh my god, did I! 

I couldn’t have one Krispie Kreme, I had to have the whole box.

“During the last trimester I ate everything. I never felt full! I’d have a Sunday roast with dessert and then I’d have the leftovers, too. I couldn’t have one Krispie Kreme, I had to have the whole box.”

Danielle spent the first six weeks of motherhood cocooned in her baby bubble before she felt ready to start easing her way back into a manageable fitness and nutrition plan, embarking on the first of a series of 21-day challenges with Herbalife Nutrition, alongside the online female support group she’s run for the last three years. 

The challenges see Danielle doing three live workouts a week alongside a PT (joined by best mate Ferne McCann every Friday) and following an eating plan, sharing recipes and doing regular cook-alongs with her Facebook group. The idea behind the 21-day blocks is to break it  down into achievable chunks and stay motivated. Danielle, who doesn’t weigh herself, went from a size 14 to a 12 during her first challenge in July and posted her second set of before and after pictures earlier this week.

“It’s great to see all these women coming together – we have up to 300 joining me on a live workout and 5,000 in the support group. People really like being part of a community.

“In the last year I’ve been listening to Tony Robbins [American author and motivational speaker] and a lot of personal development stuff, and whether it’s diet or business you should always set short-term goals. If I wanted to go straight from a size 14 to an 8, I’m going to be disappointed. But having smaller aims makes it feel more manageable.

“I never go on scales. I don’t believe in them because you never get a true reflection of what’s going on. You might have lost fat but gained lean muscle so I’m going by my measurements. Bathroom scales tell you nothing.”

Danielle is especially conscious of the example she sets now that she’s a mother to a daughter and knows only too well the sort of image- and weight-obsessed world Orla is going to grow up in.

“I know the pressures to look a certain way and I hope I can give her confidence in herself.  Social media is amazing in so many ways but it also has a bloody massive impact negatively on young girls. I think the Kardashians have a lot to do with influencing young girls with all the contouring to make their noses look smaller and their cheeks bigger. They’re wanting fillers and Botox at a younger and younger age.”

Yes, I’ve had Botox, but I definitely feel like I’ve changed my priorities and maybe I’ll not… I just feel more content and happy in myself and I don’t feel like I need to get my lips done or Botox.

Danielle says this as someone who has had cosmetic work done in the past herself. 

“Yes, I’ve had Botox, but I definitely feel like I’ve changed my priorities and maybe I’ll not… I just feel more content and happy in myself and I don’t feel like I need to get my lips done or Botox.  I just hope Orla has self-love and is happy with how she is rather than wanting to change herself.”

It sounds like motherhood has changed her outlook on a lot of things? 

“Oh yeah. Completely. 100%. All the things you used to worry about just don’t matter any more. I am absolutely obsessed with her and only her. I remember my mum always used to say you will know your baby and I didn’t understand what she meant, but it’s so true.

"I mean, the first two weeks you don’t know what you’re doing, you feel like you’re jetlagged 24/7, but mother’s instinct kicks in and you just know.  If I’m away for an hour doing a workout, I miss her. I just love her so much.”

Orla’s arrival marked the pinnacle of what has been the most extraordinary turnaround for Danielle. Last summer, after her latest relationship had ended in heartache, she had decided she was officially off men and staying single. 

But sometimes the person you’re looking for is right under your nose all along and it was reconnecting with construction manager Tom, who she’s been friends with since secondary school (and had a brief fling with at the age of 18) that changed everything. 

“We’d always kept in touch because we had mutual friends and I’d see him at 21st birthdays and festivals. My friend Sammy passed away from breast cancer two years ago and Tom was at the charity football match her parents put on last summer and we started talking. 

“I said I was single again thanks to yet another failed relationship. He’d been single for a couple of months and it was really random but we were a bit flirty and he said he’d love to take me out on a date.”

They went out the following week and, Danielle says, it was like everything fell into place and finally made sense. 

“It was one of those things that as soon as we were out on the date it was like, why has this taken us all these years? Within three weeks he asked me to be his girlfriend, a month later he moved in and then I found out I was pregnant. We’ve known each other for 20 years, but he’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. He brings out the best in me.”

Isn’t life a funny old game?

“It’s mad. After all the other guys I’d previously gone on dates with or had relationships with, it’s mental to think that Tom has been there the whole time.

“I was over it. I was giving up on love. I was done. I always wanted the fairy tale, but it didn’t seem to happen. I never have regrets because I think you can learn from every relationship. But the difference with Tom is the friendship. We’ve also got the same morals and our families are typical East End who moved to Essex. He’s everything I could ask for in a partner. And he’s the best father to Orla.”

In the beauty chair with Danielle

What’s your lockdown skin routine? 

ZO Zein Obagi – the products are expensive but worth every penny. I use the cleanser, toner pads and exfoliator polish three times a week, and the Brightalive Skin Brightener and the SPF 50 Smart Tone every day. 

What are your make-up bag essentials? 

Chanel Bronzing Cream – perfect for that sun-kissed look.

What do you never leave home without? 

Bitch Lipstick by Charlotte Tilbury. 

What’s your best bargain buy? 

In lockdown I’ve been loving Primark eye lashes – they’ve served me well! 

How has your relationship with make-up changed? 

From my early 20s, I was all about the thick lipliner and pale lipstick – I even used to put concealer on my lips! But now I feel like less is more. I love the sun-kissed look and a peachy lip.

However, if falling in love with a best mate from school took Danielle by surprise, she definitely didn’t foresee having a baby in lockdown while the world fought a pandemic. But she’s taken the unusual circumstances in her stride.

“When it’s your first, you don’t know what to expect and you don’t know any different so we’ve just got on with it. But it’s been sad for all mums on maternity leave not being able to do the classes or see family. I’ve found this is where social media has a positive impact. 

“I’ve been interacting with people on Instagram and I love keeping it real on my Stories and chatting to people. I think you have to get into a positive mindset and find things to keep you going. And the start of lockdown was a nice time to nest.”

She plans to be part of the TOWIE 10th anniversary celebrations later this year, but is ruling out a return to the reality show full-time.

“Towie is the reason I’ve got the lifestyle I have now and I’m so grateful for what the show gave me. But I’m done. I had four years of drama, break-ups and rowing and I’m not in that place any more. I’m too old for that now!

“I want to concentrate on my nutrition business, working to support and help women find their confidence. Once the world goes back to something near normality, I’d love to run events and face-to-face support group sessions with women and new mums. That is where my passion is now.” 

  •  Danielle is an ambassador for Herbalife Nutrition. Visit Dannisbodygoals.com

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