Two images side by side, one enjoying a day at Ascot Races and the second in hospital

I have been both of these people over the past 10 months – and that really is the story of me living with active Crohns.

2018

Let me take you back. It was November 2018. Ahead of me I had Christmas, a incredible 7 week trip around Australia and Singapore planned and I just found out I landed a new job which I’d be starting in April 2019. I was so pumped for the things to come, but my body was having other ideas. My Crohns symptoms had started flaring to a level I couldn’t ignore and before I knew it, I was whipped into hospital to have a joyous flexi sigmoidoscopy to have a good old look at what was going on (I don’t have a large intestine, hence the flexi rather than a colonoscopy).

I always have sedation when I have a flexi (sorry but after 23 years of Crohns and some kind of camera up my bum at least once every 18 months, I made a blanket rule for myself to always have sedation. It just makes the experience slightly more pleasant), so when I woke up I was totally disorientated. When I heard my consultant say “we’ve found some severely active Crohns”, I was kind of hoping I was dreaming. Alas, I was not, and the second thing he said to me in my drunken-post sedation state was “but the good news is, we have options before more surgery”. I wobbled out to greet Josh who was waiting for me, still slurring my words from the sedation to say out loud for the first time “I have active Crohns”. The shock was similar to someone hitting me round the head.

For context, I was diagnosed with Crohns Disease when I was four years old and I am absolutely no stranger to having active disease. When I was 12 years old I had my 90% large colon removed, lived with an ileostomy for three years and was re-joined when I was 16. After that I had many scar tissue complications which involved multiple operations, but I never had any ‘active’ Crohns (read my full IBD story here). In 2016 I had minor-moderate flare, which I got under control with the liquid diet (read all about that here) and since then with the help of Adalimumab, I had generally felt pretty well. So to be told this was no longer the case and there was a very real reason I was shedding a large amount of blood – it was quite a shock.

So it was November 2018 and I was due to fly to Australia in less than 5 weeks for the biggest adventure of my life, and I had severely active Crohns which was in no way under control. The first thing they gave me was mesalazine suppositories – which it quickly became clear did absolutely nothing. I continued on the adlimumab, but as it got closer to Christmas, I began to get increasingly anxious that I was going to take myself to the other side of the world with no proper working treatment. Not to mention, I was exhausted. Barely functioning, barely socialising and barely stringing sentences together – the Crohns fatigue was REAL. Two days before we flew to Australia at the end of 2018, I was given high dose steroids. It wasn’t what I wanted, but I also wanted to feel well and enjoy the trip Josh and I had saved so hard for.

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Honeyzzz I’m back and WE ARE OFF 🇦🇺✈️🇦🇺 and what does an English person do before a 24 hour journey? Have a good cuppa of course! (With almond milk obvs) Christmas has been an joyous whirlwind and I cannot believe we are sitting here at T2 about to embark on a trip we’ve been planning for months.🥰 In all honesty, December was such an uphill struggle with my #Crohns – I did wonder if this moment would ever come. But here we are and I can’t wait to spend 6 weeks with my best friend & properly rest my body & soul 💖💖Hope you’ve all had an amazing Christmas – first stop, S Y D N E Y 🇦🇺✈️ I’m also officially open for foodie recs 🙌🏼 #abellyfullofhappy • • • • • • #glutenfree #dairyfree #foodblogger #foodblogeats #glutenfreelife #glutenfreedairyfree #londonfoodie #foodietravel #ibs #crohnsdisease #invisibleillness #gratitude #wordstoliveby #positivevibesonly #travellife #australia #passionpassport #sydney #nye #seetheworld #abellyfulloffood #sydneyaustralia

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2019

The Budesonide steroids got to work extremely quickly and our trip to Australia was AMAZING. I was still taking Adalimumab at this point, so I travelled around the country with all my meds (click here to find out how I did that) and I felt great, I loved every single minute of it.

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‘Will I ever be able to travel like I used to with IBD and my tummy troubles?’ The answer is HELL YES you can! 🌍 You just have to find out the best way to do it for you. I am so excited to share the first blog post of a mini series I am publishing on my site, which shares lots of tips and tricks I’ve learnt after my 6 weeks travelling #Australia. First up – ‘how are you camping with tummy problems??’ 🚌 This was the most common question into my DMs and I totally get it. Staying in a campervan or a tent inevitably means being further away from bathroom facilities & that obvs is a massive root of anxiety for many of us. And genuinely, if someone asked me to camp on the other side of the world 10 years ago I would have said no without a minutes thought. But I embraced this adventure and it was AMAZING. I so hope you find these tips useful & empowering too. Link in bio & as always id love to hear what you think 🌟✈️ #abellyfullofcrohns #abellyfullofhappy • • • • • • #glutenfree #senzaglutine #glutenfreelife #glutenfreedairyfree #dairyfreelife #londonfoodie #singluten #foodietravel #ibs #crohnsdisease #crohnsandcolitis #colitis #intolerances #invisibleillness #positivevibesonly #ibs #ibstips #crohnswarrior #australia #campervanlife #campervanculture #eastcoastaustralia

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I returned to the UK in February feeling good, refreshed and ready to kick arse in my brand new role, which was starting in April. That didn’t seem to last too long, as in March I was served with a stellar Crohns slap in the face in the form of an abscess on my bum. I unfortunately have experienced one of these before which required surgery, so I know all well how quickly the situation can escalate. I had three (yes three!!) rounds of antibiotics before it got to the stage when I had to go to A&E and have emergency surgery to drain it. It all happened so quickly it was such a shock – it also happened one week before I was due to start my new job. Talk about timing!

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Last Monday vs This Monday🥴🤯 Pic on the left: Last Monday served me a stellar Crohns shaped shock in the form of emergency surgery in A&E. Albeit minor, it was under general anaesthetic and has left me with a new wound to add to the scar party! Josh and I went straight from Cotswolds to A&E and 36 hours later I was high on morphine after surgery, with a open wound. 💖 Pic on the right: this is me, yesterday, starting my new job! No, I’m not 100% and I left early to have my daily wound dressing & lie down (literally), but I am beaming because Crohns has not bloody beaten me. 💖 I am not sharing this for a pat on the back (Josh, my friends + my family are giving me enough of those 🥰) I am sharing because this is exactly an example of when #Crohns will slap you in the face when you least expect it. But the point is with laughter, love and determination – there is nothing that can’t be accomplished. And a prime example of how you can never, ever know what someone is truly going through just by looking at them. Whatever your unexpected curveballs are, I urge you to laugh more than you cry, be kind to everyone even if you’re struggling yourself & trust that it will all get better. Because it always does 🙌🏼 #abellyfullofcrohns **FULL DISCLAIMER: I have not been this positive the whole time. In fact this morning I had a meltdown at my wound dressing because it made me late… but then I got a coffee & got on with it #hustler🤣☕️ ** • • • • • • #glutenfree #dairyfree #foodie #foodblogger #glutenfreelife #foodietravel #ibs #crohnsdisease #invisibleillness #gratitude #positivevibesonly #wordstoliveby #judgementfree #realtalk #wisdom #colitis #chronicillness #chronicillnessawareness #invisibleillnessawareness

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During this whole saga and the recovery period that followed, my other Crohns symptoms started to show their ugly little faces. The consultant appointment that followed was basically me crying about the abscess, crying that my symptoms had come back mixed with me telling the doctor very firmly (my mum said I was frighteningly firm!) that I needed a new treatment plan. So I came off adlimumab and started Ustekinumab – a different biologic drug. Little did I know that takes up to three months to work, so coming off the steroids just made me flare again so back onto the steroids I went. So as I sit here writing this, I feel amazing, but I’m on high dose steroids and Ustekinumab. Why does that sentence warrant a but, you might ask? It warrants a but to me because I am due to taper down my steroids very soon – and my track history follows the pattern of flaring up as soon as the steroid dose is reduced. So I am loving this feeling – but also feel well aware I have no idea how long it’ll last. What I HOPE is the Uste is working some magic in the background – and that will be what will prevent another flare up.

Now

This probably all sounds very negative – but the truth is, I honestly haven’t been unhappy during this time. Of course, I’ve had some real lows (the abscess really pushed me to breaking point), but overall I have tried to take it all in my stride and I have had unreal support. I started my job in April full time, but in June it became clear that full time shift work was not working in my favour. I went part time in July with the full support of work – and will continue that arrangement until I feel the time is right. Josh, my family and my friends have been there for me every single step of the way and I am very lucky I have multiple people I can call on if I need to. Despite my active Crohns, I still travelled around Australia, I still have been on holiday to Portugal and Spain, I’ve attended weddings, socialised, worked and I’ve hosted not one, but two A Belly Full Of events.

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💞 Crohn’s disease & mental health 💞 I’ve shown you so many ‘glam’ bits of my life recently that I realised it was about time I shared some other real bits – the #Crohns real bits. This photo was taken on Monday when I was having my first dose of a new medicine called Ustekinumab. I felt SO optimistic about this Med after my operation etc – and I still do – but my body had a very weird reaction to the IV (only temporary!) and I’m not going to lie, it unsettled me. Whilst this little wobble might not sound like much, the past two days I have been an emotional wreck. Welling up at a drop of a hat, having to practice deep breathing because I feel like I have an elephant is standing on my chest and then today I saw my GP and she said ‘and how is your mental health doing, whilst you are coping your Crohns?’ I was so stunned by the question I was speechless. Until I realised I legit haven’t been asked about my mental health by a doctor in relation to having a chronic illness for about 15 years. ✨ Of course my Crohns impacts my mental health. How could it not? Chronic illness can encompass your entire life – and recently it certainly has with me. My feelings aren’t unreasonable – it all stems from my brain trying to process what the hell is going on with my body. In my 23 years with #IBD I’ve experienced some lows but I have always come out the other side. Talking helps a lot – as well as knowing it’s okay to be angry and frustrated. It’s #mentalhealthawarenessweek and that is why I’m sharing this extremely personal post. Because I would hate anyone to look at my feed and think I cope with it all like a boss – because I don’t🙈 ✨If you ever feel like you need to talk there are many places you can do so – @mindcharity, @heads_together and @samaritanscharity are all an excellent place to start #abellyfullofcrohns • • • • • • #glutenfree #dairyfree #foodie #foodblogger #glutenfreelife #foodietravel #ibs #crohnsdisease #invisibleillness #gratitude #wordstoliveby #positivevibesonly #judgement #realtalk #wisdom #selflove #chronicillness #londonblogger #chronicillnessawareness #invisibleillnessawareness #mentalhealth #chronicillness

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My life philosophy is very much take every day as it comes and I truly live by this. I don’t worry about next week/next month and even next year, because I’ve learnt my Crohns can slap me in the face when I least expect it and I find it easier to just focus on the present, rather than worrying about what might happen in the future. Living with a chronic illness is a constant rollercoaster and focusing on the negatives never helps anyone does it? BUT what I do think is helpful is being honest, real and open. So I hope I have done this through this blog (and my events) – because I know how crippling isolating this disease can be.

If you’ve read to this point – THANK YOU! And I always love to hear what you think. This blog and my whole platform is about real and honest conversations. If I’ve inspired a thought or there is something else you’d like me to write about, please let me know!

Find me on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or email me on abellyfullof@gmail.com.

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Bryony Hopkins | A Belly Full Of

I’VE GOT GUTS. IBD Awareness Week Q&A

This is something I’ve been promising for a while and I’m so sorry it’s taken me so long to compile! I first came up with the idea of doing a Q&A on living with IBD in the summer, having been asked a series of similar questions in my DMs for sometime. I wanted to create the post then but I quickly got quite sick afterwards (with my Crohns, classic!) and I didn’t feel like I could write all the answers I wanted to without compromising my mental health. Being open and honest can take it’s toll sometimes, and I seem to find it a lot easier to write about my experiences when I’ve come out the other side – rather than when I’m in the middle!

However, I am so passionate about raising awareness of this wretched illness and so I thought Crohns and Colitis Awareness Week was the perfect time to finally bring this Q&A to fruition. I am constantly overwhelmed by the amazing messages I receive in my inbox and so I really hope this article helps answer some of the most common questions I get. All of these have come in the form of comments or DMs and I really hope it’s useful.

Of course, before we get into this I should say I am NOT a medical professional and so everything I share below is anecdotal and first person experience. I am merely sharing my experiences and if you ever want to change your own diet, or medication, you should always consult your doctor first. IBD is different for every single person and so you should always be mindful that works for me, may not necessarily work for you.

So let’s launch in! This is a long one… so feel free to jump down to see which questions interest you most. I’ve addressed diet, alcohol, social life, work, diagnosis, surgery, medication and much more!

What is IBD?

IBD stands for Inflammatory Bowel Disease, which is an umbrella term for Ulcerative Colitis and Crohns Disease. IBD is an autoimmune disease, which means your body attacks itself and it’s a chronic illness (life-long and ongoing, there is no ‘cure’) The main symptoms are stomach pain, diarrhoea, fatigue, mouth ulcers, loss of appetite and anaemia. IBD can also cause arthritis, joint pain, abscesses, fistulas and eye inflammation. You can be in remission from drugs or surgery and it impacts over 300,000 in the UK alone.

What is an ostomy?

Sometimes, surgery is needed to treat Crohns Disease or Ulcerative Colitis. There are many different types of surgery, which you can find more about here.  In some cases it is necessary to form an ‘ostomy’, which is basically a re-routing of your digestion system. It requires forming a stoma, which is when they bring your intestine out of the stomach and an ostomy bag is attached to collect the waste. More info here.

When were you diagnosed?

I was diagnosed when I was four years old, so literally 22 years ago now. I was on holiday in Wales with my family when I started experiencing some awful symptoms – running to the bathroom and losing a lot of blood. I don’t remember an awful lot about it to be honest, as I was so young and I know lots of people can remember way more about their diagnosis than I can. But I was whisked to a main hospital in Wales where I stayed for a few nights before I was well enough to be transferred immediately to a paediatric gastro specialist unit (the John Radcliffe in Oxford). I essentially completely skipped primary care because I was so poorly, and so young, and my consultant quickly diagnosed me with Crohns Disease.

What were your initial symptoms before diagnosis?

I find this such a hard question to answer because I was so little! A lot of my early childhood with the disease was quite traumatic, so I don’t remember an awful lot. All I do remember from when I was 4 years old was going to the loo A LOT, looking down the toilet bowl and seeing scarlet blood. I lost a lot of weight, was in a lot of pain and therefore it was a pretty swift diagnosis for me.

How did you feel about surgery and talking openly about it?

I had my first operation when I was 12 years old and to be honest, I was absolutely desperate for them to remove my large bowel because I was really so poorly. Even though I knew that meant I would have to live with a temporary ileostomy, I was just so sick of constantly being in pain, not being able to be more than 2 minutes away from a toilet and feeling constantly like I was functioning at 30%. I missed heaps of school, barely socialised and was either blown up like a balloon on steroids or on a liquid diet. There was no other options and surgery literally gave me my life back. That being said, I was of course still a child, so there were many people around me who also had a say in the decision, including my family and the doctors. After the ileostomy surgery and subtotal colectomy, my life was transformed. I went on school trips, parties, holidays – I was suddenly able to do it all. I didn’t however, have the ability to speak openly about it.

I don’t think I felt confident enough to talk about it until I left university at 21. So that was about 9 years after my first operation which removed my bowel – and it was 5 years after I had my ileostomy reversed (that happened when I was 16). I think there were many turning points in my ability to articulate what I’d gone through and how I felt about it. One was meeting my partner, Josh, who has given me more confidence in myself than I probably ever admit! And the second was entering my career and meeting amazing friends at university who accepted everything about who I was and loved me for it. Learning to be open about my surgery has been a process over years and years – and many people, including my family, Josh and my friends, have helped me get there. I never could have imagined at the age of 16 and even 20, that I’d be writing this all down for anyone to read!

In a nutshell (this has turned into a rather long answer!), the journey for every single person is completely different. And you shouldn’t feel like you need to share anything until you’re ready.

Bryony Hopkins

Straight after surgery in 2014, one of many

What was it like living with an ileostomy?

It was…. challenging! But also, amazing because my quality of life improved dramatically. I think it’s important to remember that I had my ileostomy between the ages of 13 and 16 – which is literally the most critical time of your life when it comes to figuring out who you are, how you feel about your body and establishing self confidence. Therefore my memories of how I felt about it are very much skewed by the feelings I had as I went through puberty and so it was quite a negative experience for me in terms of accepting my body. I know however that if I was to need an ileostomy in the future (which is fully possible), I would find it a lot easier to accept because I am so much more confident and comfortable in my own skin. Also the online community is just AMAZING now (which didn’t exist when I had an ostomy!). Two amazing accounts I would recommend are Billie and Where’s My Ostomy.

How do you deal with your scars?

Again, my journey to accepting my scars has taken years! It took me a long time to accept my scarred tummy but now I fully embrace it. The amount of times I have been so poorly I could barely get out of bed, it seems totally mad not to celebrate how much my body has overcome and my scars are part of that story. Of course sometimes I still have self conscious days like anyone else and sometimes when I’m on holiday that centres around my scars. Being in a solid relationship has definitely helped my body confidence, as well as going on girlie holidays and realising mostly people don’t give you a second glance! I’ve written a lot more about scars here and here.

Bryony Hopkins | A Belly Full Of

Proud of my scars, after many years of hiding them away

What medication have you taken?

I have think at some point or another, I have tried nearly everything! When I was first diagnosed as a child I was on a cocktail of extremely high dose prednisolone steroids, mesalazine – and also went on to try Infliximab and Budesonide. I was on azathiaprine for a long time as a teenager. I’ve been on multiple drugs to treat nausea specifically including ondssatron and cyclizine. I’ve also been treated for bacterial overgrowth with big antibiotics and a anal abscess which also required surgery and big old antibiotics. I’ve had the tablets, suppositories, foam – literally every way you can minister drugs, I’ve done it!

Right now I am unfortunately in a little flare up – and I take humira injections once a week (which I do myself) and I’m also taking prednisolone suppositories (THE GLAM LIFE GUYZ).

How do you stay so positive?

The honest answer is that I don’t stay positive all the time – in fact, when the disease is at it’s worse I really am an emotional wreck. Having said that, perhaps it’s just the length of time I’ve dealt with it, I’ve learnt that negative thoughts and feelings don’t actually assist in me feeling any better about things. I have long found that positive thoughts breeds positivity around you – and I am so lucky that I have that in my whole support network. I almost always have someone coming with me to hospital appointments, so I’m never alone for the good or the bad news, and I talk about it A LOT with my Mum, Dad and Josh. Being able to talk about it means I am able to rationalise things and essentially, just get on my daily life!

My emotions are permanently at the surface though and I cry at just about everything (I cried at an advert for a Christmas light switch on last night and I cry at FRIENDS episodes even when I know the outcome!) I guess my best advice is to talk, cry and moan when you need to and do things that make you feel good. For me this is my work, my social life, travel, yoga and reading a good book!

Bryony Hopkins | A Belly Full Of

Incredibly lucky that I have visited some amazing places, including San Fran

Why did you decide to go gluten and dairy free?

I went gluten and dairy free after I completed a 4 week liquid elemental diet to treat a particularly bad flare up of Crohns. It was actually the whole reason the blog was born – and you can see lots of my recipes + my liquid diet story on the ‘A Belly Full of Crohns’ tab.  Afterwards you have to reintroduce slowly on the LOFFLEX diet and during that process I found my stomach pains and bloating significantly reduced when I took dairy and gluten out of my diet. The whole process was supported by my specialist consultant and a dietician.

Everyone is different so of course eliminating these things from your diet won’t help everyone, and other people find other diets work, but this seems to have done me okay for the past couple of years! Being gluten and dairy free does NOT mean I am cured or symptom free. Unfortunately it is quite the opposite, I find gluten and dairy only really helps with bloating and some pain. My Crohns has a mind of it’s own and will play up anyway, meaning even if I am totally free-from these things, I still have mad toilet rushes and lots of pain.

How does alcohol impact your Crohns?

Alcohol seems to constantly impact my Crohns in different ways – and it largely depends how active the disease is and how I’m feeling overall! For example, in a flare up right now I am finding alcohol a massive irritant. Previously when I have been in remission, I found I can tolerate alcohol. This one really is a moving feast and I know everyone with IBD will have a different experience or way of dealing with it. I know some people with IBD who don’t drink at all – and I totally respect that. I personally prefer to judge it based on how I’m feeling. When I’m poorly I’ll avoid – when I’m feeling well, I will enjoy a drink.

Bryony Hopkins | A Belly Full Of

Burger + prosecco = YUM

How do you maintain a social life?

I think I manage to maintain a social life because I have such amazing, understanding friends! They will however probably all tell you I am a massive flake – as I do have a habit of over committing myself and then cancelling when I feel overwhelmed and exhausted. Luckily they are all incredibly understanding, for which I am grateful every single day!

Having a social life with IBD can be extremely challenging though and I have gone through periods where I have cancelled everything because I’m not well. These periods can feel lonely and isolating – and my best piece of advice here is to try and get friends and family to come and visit you. Movie nights and meals at home are perfect for this. Phone calls also are a great way of keeping in contact, even if you don’t have the energy to make it out the house. Being open helps too, so friends know that you are cancelling on account of your health – not because you just can’t be arsed. And any friends who judge you or make it difficult for you – ain’t worth your time.

How does your partner deal with your IBD?

I feel like Josh should really be answering this – but I know it is a constant challenge for him too. No-one wants to see their partner in pain but he is unbelievably positive, always making me laugh at hospital appointments and at my bedside. I know that it takes its toll. I think I should get him to write a proper answer to this!

Bryony Hopkins | A Belly Full Of

He actually hates social media – but he is my absolute rock

Did you tell your workplace about your Crohns and how did you go about it?

This has been a right old journey for me too since I left university, because there is no handbook in ‘telling your employee you have Crohns’! (Ok actually this resource on Crohns and Colitis website is actually pretty good, I wish I had found it when I was first entering my career!) I did tell my current workplace when I first joined and I’m really pleased I did – as two years later I ended up needing surgery and was off for 10 weeks. I think being honest and open as you can really helps reduce your own stress around needing time off for sick days and appointments etc. I enter into every new job with openness about it, but it ultimately always helps me too. This year I even reduced my hours to help manage my fatigue and they were amazing about it – I think because I had that open and honest conversation. It’s difficult for sure, but it does get easier.

Bryony Hopkins | A Belly Full Of

I work in journalism, which sometimes requires very early starts! Here’s me on the radio at 4am!

Does shift work mess with your tummy and how do you deal with it?

Yes it does!! Working as a journalist in a 24 hour newsroom means I have worked earlies and lates and it really messes with my tummy. In all honesty, the only way I have dealt with it is to be open with work and minimise the amount of shift work I actually do. Sometimes I do radio shows which require a 2am alarm and that will always impact my tummy for the rest of the day. I know a few people have messaged me to say they have felt the same – so unfortunately it seems to be a thing!

Do you find probiotics help your IBD symptoms?

Yes and no! I’ll hold my hands up and say I haven’t tried lots of different probiotics and I still find the whole topic quite overwhelming and confusing – especially when it comes to my well and truly messed up gut! I have recently been taking Symprove, which I have found helps with my bloating and pain on a daily basis. However having been on Symprove ,I’ve still had a flare-up – which shows how stubborn the disease can be. I’m not an expert in probiotics and I won’t pretend to be but I do find this one helps balance things out for me.

I’ve just been diagnosed and I’m so scared and overwhelmed. What advice do you have to dealing with this?

This is probably the most common question I get into my DM! Being diagnosed is completely overwhelming and can be totally terrifying (especially when I know people can be misdiagnosed with IBS for months and even years, beforehand). My best advice is to get yourself into secondary care as soon as you can and don’t be afraid to ask your consultant every single question on your mind. The online community is amazing and there are so many blogs and resources out there now, for you to read other people’s experiences. It’s SO important to remember that every single case of IBD is different though, so although it’s great to read other people’s stories so you know you’re not alone, it’s important that everyone’s journey is different. I would thoroughly recommend reading the information on the Crohns and Colitis Website – they have incredible resources.

If you’ve got this far – thank you for staying with me! I really hope it has gone some way to answer some of your questions <3

Bryony Hopkins A Belly Full of Food www.abellyfullof.com

 

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Bryony Hopkins, A Belly Full of Food, Food Dairy Co

The gorgeous pages from the Food Diary Co. Scroll down to find my 10% off discount code – exclusive for you guys!

‘Why don’t you start a food diary Bryony? You might actually be able to see what is making a difference rather than speculating’. That was my Mum, talking to me after I had my sixth open stomach surgery. I was at home undergoing a mega recovery and felt frustrated I was still in pain and discomfort. With nothing else I do, I started a meticulous food diary, which went on to dramatically change my quality of life.

That was back in 2015 and so when Laura from the amazing Food Diary Co got in touch with to share her amazing food diary, I was made up. And also in disbelief. It is so useful and life changing to document what you eat and your symptoms, that someone has actually made a business out of it? What a brilliant thing. At the beginning of the this summer, with my new diary, I started documenting my lifestyle and diet again and just as it did before, I found some hard to ignore patterns. (Scroll down for my discount code to buy your diary!)

But before I get to that, let’s rewind back to 2015. It was the first time I had even thought about documenting my diet and my symptoms and I didn’t really know where to start. I was first diagnosed with Crohns Disease when I was four years old and nobody had ever suggested to me that this might be a good idea. Which seems mad now even three years on – but back then it was a bit of a breakthrough. I started by simply writing down what I ate and rated my pain out of ten. I thought it might be quite poignant to show one of my diary entries, which I dug out of the archives below.

A Belly Full of Food, Bryony Hopkins

You can see dramatically how much my pain changes when I had a drop of milk!

Even just with this very basic method, I was able to deduce that dairy was causing me major problems. My pain shot up to 8 or 9 out of 10 on days when I had milk in my tea, a slice of cheese or even milk chocolate. When you see changes like that, it becomes incredibly hard to continue as normal. I went through a similar process in 2016 to discover gluten was having a similar effect and since I cut them both out – I’ve never looked back, and I’ve never documented what I was eating since.

So when I received my diary, it seemed like a no brainer to start again. The most brilliant thing about The Food Diary Co, is the ability to document SO much more than just your diet. Like so many other people with gut conditions, I am massively impacted by many lifestyle factors outside of my diet. A busy day can impact my stomach. A run of late shifts, lack of exercise or drinking alcohol, can all impact my stomach. Even just a bad nights sleep – that can impact my stomach! And it was brilliant to have a place to jot all this down in my new Food Diary. It became almost like a journal for me – as I was able to write down so much more than just my pain.

A Belly Full of Food, Bryony Hopkins

You can see here the layout of the page, where you can jot down everything from mood, sleep, stress, drinks, medicine and exercise.

Having a place where I could write down everything from sleep, drinks, stress and medicine essentially gave me place where I could actually identify patterns. I’m sure I’m the same as many in the fact that I am very time poor – with a demanding job, a busy social life and juggling lots of commitments constantly. It seems strange saying it out loud, but sometimes I genuinely can’t remember what I ate for breakfast – let alone how it made me feel! It actually became incredibly refreshing to see how I was doing every day – and be able to look back on it, see it in black and white and absorb the patterns appearing.

Living with a condition like Crohns Disease is a minefield – every day is different and sometimes in the fog of fatigue, it can be hard to see the wood from the trees. From looking back at every entry over a month and then looking at the ‘month’ round up page at the back, some of my triggers became clear. I am majorly impacted by stress, lack of sleep, alcohol and unfortunately my one love, coffee. My summer with The Food Diary Co has also made it pretty clear that I can’t do oats in large quantities and I can’t do soya milk everyday. Who knows why this is the case and I am still in the process for hunting for other patterns for other niggles. What I do know now though is that I have the knowledge and tools to make better decisions for my health – based on my scrawly biro writings in my Food Diary. I’ve started reserving my energy so I don’t get burnt out and I always make sure I get 8 hours sleep. These lifestyle changes have essentially made it easier for me to put one foot in front of the other.

Bryony Hopkins, A Belly Full of Food

A veggie pasta packed with goodness

So what top tips would I give if you are starting a diary for the very first time? Throw everything at it and literally write down everything you can possibly think of. Even if it doesn’t seem relevant – jot it down. What this diary is amazing for, is making you see that everything you do has an impact on how you feel. I will even write down ‘cried today about X’ or ‘felt really happy about Y’, because I know my mood is detrimental to my wellbeing. I’ll also write down what medication I took, as well as how much water I’ve drunk. I asked Laura, the fabulous founder of The Food Diary Co, what her advice was.

‘I would say firstly, congratulations! You’re starting a journey to taking control of your gut and health again, and I am so excited for you! Secondly, be sure to check out our blog on the website because we have lots of really great posts that can help you, including our big bumper guide to using a food diary (if you want a downloadable copy of your own to keep, be sure to sign up to the newsletter for your free download!), and the 8 ways I used my food diary to heal post. That one is all about the habits I formed to help me successfully keep a food diary.’

I hope this post has given you some food for thought on starting on a food diary journey, I would love to hear your thoughts. Better yet – to get you kick started you can use my exclusive discount code for 10% off a beautiful Food Diary Co! 

Use the code ‘BELLY10’ for 10% off at the check out – and get in there fast! The code ends on 31st October 2018. Click here to buy.

Cannot wait to hear what you think!

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** I was gifted the diary for free, but was not paid for this post. All reviews completely honest.**

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After my Crohn’s journey blog post for World IBD day was picked up by Huff Post, I was over the moon when they asked me to write another piece for their campaign ‘Everybody’. The campaign seeks to redefine and empower those living with disabilities and invisible illnesses, whilst raising awareness of the modern lifestyle with such conditions. I took this opportunity to write a piece about positive body image when your body has been through the mill – and I’d love to share it with you below.
Let’s take a minute to talk about positive body image. Do you feel positive about your body? Do you love everything about yourself? Do you embrace everything you have and your flaws? This question is becoming increasingly hard to answer. Now imagine you have something on your body which is a little unusual. A scar, stretch marks, a burn… or in some cases, a little part of your intestine sticking out of your stomach to form an ileostomy bag. This little bag has saved your life. The scar has saved your life. Yet why is it so hard to get it out in public?
I have lived with an invisible illness for over twenty years – which at the age of twenty-five, is pretty much my entire life! Crohns Disease is an autoimmune disease, which can affect any part of the digestive tract. The body attacks itself, causing bleeding, ulcers, extreme stomach pain, nausea and diarrhoea (I know, mega glam!) I am just one of over 300,000 people in the UK living with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (we abbreviate to IBD). The disease can manifest itself in a million and one ways, which mean every single person’s journey is different. No two IBD stories will be the same – but the feelings at the core often are. My journey started when I was four years old and to date I have been under the knife seven times. Which means of course, my body has taken a bit of a bruising – internally and externally. Simultaneously, my confidence has taken multiple blows too.

The journey I have come on to accept who I am and what I look like has been long, arduous – and painful. And I’m not talking physical pain here; I’m talking about gut wrenching emotional pain.scar 2016 At the age of twelve my large intestine was so ulcerated and swollen, the only answer was to remove the whole thing. To be in a position where your body is rejecting an organ is a funny concept to get your head around, but I was so sick, I just wanted it out. To remove this, they had to make a 30cm incision, from just below my chest to below my pelvis. They then had to form an ileostomy, which I lived with for three years. This ileostomy transformed my quality of life and medically, I was the healthiest I had ever been. My confidence however, was on the floor.
My family has always instilled a great sense of perseverance in me, and so even though my teenage years were a monumental struggle, I still did everything my friends did. I went on school trips, sleepovers, did P.E classes and even had boyfriends. But I was constantly anxious, private and not myself. It was like my ileostomy and my scar had wrapped me in a Perspex box and I whilst I was physically there, I couldn’t engage in the way I wanted to. Most of all, I kept everything a secret. I didn’t talk about my Crohns, I certainly didn’t talk about my bag and I DEFINITELY didn’t talk about my gut issues. This was ten years ago now and I have since had my ileostomy reversed, but the memory of how I felt remains strong. I often open up my social media accounts and feel proud about how much awareness has been raised in the past few years and how many people are open about their IBD experiences. There was a time when talking about gut issues was taboo and embarrassing. Whilst it still might not be the best dinner chat, the grow of Insta-famous nutritionists and health bloggers mean there is now a forum for talking about this kind of stuff; there is a community sitting there waiting for you to unlock it and find the support you need. The fact I am even writing this article is a beautiful thing!! The growth of online support and awareness really couldn’t come at a better time; the rate of IBD diagnosis’ in young adults is at an all-time high… and rising.
Scars are beautiful because they demonstrate a battle won. The point is that there is no such thing as an ‘imperfections’. Who defines what is or isn’t perfect anyway?! If you have stretch marks because you’ve carried a baby, own it! If you have stretch marks because you’ve gone on an incredible journey to lose weight, own it! If you have spot scars from your teenage years, own it! And why should you own it?bryony bikini 3
Because ultimately, not accepting the way you are will only make you unhappy. Everybody is beautiful in his or her own way. If you’re body has overcome something amazing why should that be hidden? I’m not saying it’s easy by any stretch of the imagination, and there will surely be tears lost along the way to finding your way to body confidence. I used to walk around in a bikini with my hands covering my belly to hide my scar! But to my mind, if your body has been through the wars and has overcome it, then it should be screamed from the rooftops! MY BODY IS AMAZING AND THIS SCAR SHOWS YOU WHY!
Living with an invisible illness is a paradox, with which I still struggle. I want to look healthy and the same as all my peers, yet I also want people to understand the pain and struggles felt on a daily basis. Whilst looking completely normal, I want someone to rub my back and say ‘don’t worry Bryony, I understand you’re in pain/you feel sick/ you’re exhausted… Why don’t you take it easy today?’ On paper, it sounds absolutely bonkers (and also SO unrealistic!!) – yet this is the genuine dilemma of so many of us living with invisible illnesses. You can’t see it, so I’m fine, right!? It’s a total double-edged sword. Yet I’ve come to realise that humankind is pretty amazing at times. People understand more than you know and if they don’t, I’m no longer scared to put the record straight. Everyone has life experiences, which should be shared and learned from. Visual body victories are no different!! Share your knowledge, own your scar and tell the world what you’re all about. Your perspective on life is unique; and so very precious.
How is your body amazing? I’d love you to share your stories with me – in the comments below or on my social media channels to the right 🙂
Read the article in Huff Post here. 
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Eating out when you’re gluten free, dairy free, soy free or any other kind of free can be stressful – I’ve already had to become that person who reviews menus before I will confirm I can attend said restaurant! Navigating the menu is just the starting point, then discovering that the waiter/waitress doesn’t actually know what’s in the sauce, or if the fish is fried in butter makes the ordeal so awkward, you think you may as well just stay at home.
BUT NEVER FEAR! I am on a one stop mission to find the best hidden gems of allergy eating in London. See my previous post with four other amazing restaurants Eating out – May favourites– and these next three are a real treat!
WAG Free Kitchen
Price range: £
When my boyfriend proposed this for dinner, I raised my eyebrows too. Why are you taking me to a ‘WAG’ Free Kitchen? Of course, WAG in fact stands for ‘Wheat and Gluten’ and I’m so glad he discovered this buried in the listings of Time Out’s Top Gluten Free restaurants. It’s in Brixton market, a tiny shop with probably only around 10 or 12 tables. The menu was simple British food with a Brazilian twist – burgers, chicken escalope, fresh soups and quinao salads – something for everyone!

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WAG’s venison burger

As soon as I saw the menu I knew I had to take advantage of the rarity of gluten free bread, so I went straight in for the venison burger with crispy wedges, home made mayo and a gluten free bun. It was gorgeous – so simple and so delicious. I was told they usually have a chef there who makes the gluten free bread fresh on site – but unfortunately he was on holiday when we visited. This of course means I have to go back again to try it! At £20 a head, including a Brazilian caipirinha and a gluten free beer for the boyf, this is a totally affordable dinner destination.
NAMA
Price range: £££
NAMA is the home of the raw – artisan raw to be precise. Everything on the menu is totally vegan, gluten free and raw, which means nothing is heated above 46C. Tucked in a small street about ten minutes walk away from Notting Hill, it isn’t in the most easy to find location but the trek is totally worth it. I was firstly impressed by the menu and the descriptions of every dish, for example you can take your pick of ‘Pizza’ or ‘Italian Pizza’, or even ‘Pad Thai’ – old favourites with a raw twist. Originally a small cafe, NAMA is only open for dinner Thursday to Saturday and I attended with a friend who knew the restaurant well.
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On recommendation I went for the Italian pasta – courgette noodles tossed in tomato sauce, with marinaded mushrooms, caramelised onions, black olives, sundried tomatoes and almond parmesan – sounds amazing right?? We also ordered the kale salad as a side to share. Both dishes were delicious and it was definitely an experience eating raw dishes that shared so many similarities with classic dishes I love. The kale salad was so good we ordered another!! Although to be honest, the real highlight of the meal was dessert. A blueberry cheesecake – they’re most popular dish. IT WAS AMAZING! So unbelievably smooth and creamy. I would go back a thousand times over for that cheesecake.
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The creme de la creme of NAMA

At around £35 a head, this is at the upper end of allergy eating and I have to say, I found myself hungry again later in the evening. I would go back to try some of the other dishes but be prepared to spend more – and I would pick this as a perfect cake and coffee place!
Indigo at One Aldwych 
Price range: ££££
Indigo at central London hotel One Aldwych was a find whilst watching Masterchef (yes, I am equally obsessed with watching food programmes). It is a completely dairy free and gluten free restaurant and I was so excited to try it when I saw the celebrities create some of their dishes on the most recent series.
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Starters and main course

The menu is full of so many British classics – gnocci, pasta, fish and chips and steak. We went for lunch set menu, which came to £27 for three courses. I chose the rabbit terrine whilst my Mum had the smoked mackerel gravalax. The rabbit terrine was good – if not a little dry but Mum’s mackerel was delicious. Extremely delicate and tasty, although the portion was tiny! The highlight of this meal was definitely the main course – my steak bavette with fondant potatoes was cooked to perfection and Mum’s aubergine cannelloni was divine. The presentation was incredible, such intricate designs in the courgette flower arranged on top of the rolls, stuffed with a light mushroom tapenade.
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Aubergine cannelloni

Unfortunately the desserts were not as sublime as NAMA – I had a blueberry panna cotta which was light and coconutty and I was happy to finish the lot off. My Mum had a ‘apricot fool’, which turned out to be a very underwhelming coulis with coconut yogurt.
With a glass of prosecco and a mint tea to finished, the bill came to an eye watering £50 a head but it was a overall delicious meal in a gorgeous hotel atmosphere. I would definitely return and would be intrigued to try some of the dishes off the set menu, including the gnocci and the beer battered fish.
Happy allergy dining!!!
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