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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This is a skill that I have been forced to learn – and boy, has it taken some years. Arguably, learning to listen to your body is the most important step to keeping

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I was completely in tune with my body when I decided to take on the liquid diet. I knew it was the best option for me over steroids.

your body and soul happy and healthy. Yet most people I have spoken to admit they do know their body and the warning signs when things are about to go south – but they struggle to actually do anything about it. Listening to your body is completely useless unless you actually respond to it. Responding is pivotal- and really can work wonders (I am living proof of this!) Let me explain.
What do you mean when you say ‘listen to your body’?
Listening to your body is being in tune with your physical and emotional needs, and learning what you can do to feed and nourish them. On a basic level, this is eating when you’re hungry; sleeping when you’re tired. Yet there are so many levels above this and learning to hear them is a source of great power. It is fact that your body will always give you signs when it is struggling. That niggling cold for example, is the first sign that your body is in distress. Those tears you shed, is a sign that your soul is sad. Equally, it will also tell you when it is flourishing – those endorphins when you see the person you love or the excitement at an upcoming trip or event. Whilst this may seem blindingly obvious – why do we so often ignore these signs? The answer is one word – life.
Life is busy. Too busy. We work hard and long hours. We are constantly tapped into the digital world; social media, work emails, news outlets and celebrity culture. So it is unsurprising that amongst all this noise, our bodies are ignored. It’s boring to rest/take downtime/acknowledge home truths that require unwanted action.
I will hold my hands up and admit I have been the queen of ignoring my body in the past – particularly during university. This has resulted in some disastrous outcomes – including weeks laid up in bed due to fatigue, surgery, flare ups and on one particularly memorable occasion, contracting Mumps (despite having had the jab!!) My body was tired and vulnerable. Unfortunately, that is just through working hard and having a social life. A home truth which I still find extremely hard to acknowledge.
How do I respond to my body?
On feeling warning signs it’s important to evaluate what you can do to stop things escalating. If you have the beginnings of a cold, take time to rest and make sure you get lots of sleep. If you’re feeling tearful – acknowledge why you’re feeling sad and what you can do about it. Unhappy in your job? Find ways to love it or move. Unhappy in your relationship? Address it or leave. Find something that gives you some ME time – yoga, mindfulness, running or cooking. Whilst my examples may be extreme and you probably won’t end up having surgery if you ignore your body, you may end up getting sick, physically or emotionally – and why let it get to that?
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Taking time out on holiday is one my fave ways to unwind and refresh (unfortunately, my bank balance doesn’t allow this to happen as regularly as I’d like!)

I now know that I have to rest when I start getting warning signs – and sometimes I still get it wrong. I have just had to take four days of enforced rest as my body started rejecting all my food – a tell tale sign for me that my body is at breaking point. Utterly exhausted, I knew that if I had pushed through it (which I so often did at university), I would have ended up in a far worse position than just a couple of days off work.
The first step
Is to figure out what makes your body tick and what your body needs to bloom. This could be SO MANY THINGS! It could be a particular diet or exercise. It could be a hobby or spending time with particular people. It could be working a job you love, going on an amazing trip or having a social media detox. In deciphering this – you will also find the things that your body struggles with.For me, it is relentless work and social plans, meaning I have to prioritise how I spend my energy and know when it is time to stop. It is also eating foods that work for me and knowing that my health is THE most important thing. Even more important than the party I really really want to go to!
 
Believe me – I don’t say any of this lightly. It is difficult – but so worth it if you can find your body formula.
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Let me put this plainly – I am not a runner. I hate running. In fact, I’m not really a fan of any sporting activities unless it involves dancing in a nightclub or maybe Zumba.
So when I decided to take on the British Vitality 10k, it was a big undertaking for me. Not least because I don’t enjoy running, but also because I’ve never pushed my my body to that kind of physical limit. The idea came at a spa (obvs, running and being fit and beautiful seems like a completely achievable goal when you’re at a spa), after Christmas, when I was drawing up my list of New Year’s Resolution. The resolutions were as follows:

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FYI – I am going to Bali and my nails are in good shape… I’m working on the others

I signed up with my boyfriend, Josh, in January and I was quite swift at getting the training going. IT WAS SO HARD. Given that I genuinely had never run further than 500m in my life, I found the first month gruelling and frustrating – my general fitness was extremely poor. I kept plugging away though and by March, I was able to comfortably run 5k in just over thirty minutes – SUCCESS!
Then came the Crohns flare up and the liquid diet – my training drew to a complete and utter standstill. Just getting to and making it through the day at work became my main priority pre liquid diet and once April came and I was on all liquid… well, hunger isn’t much of a motivator!! I did go for one run and well… it was interesting. Click here to read about it! Day 14: Halfway baby!
I managed to get back into it again by June, but by then I was only one month until race day and I still hadn’t run further than 6k. Furthermore, every time I ran I was experiencing really bad stomach ache – something that was definitely slowing me down! My Mum joked that because I didn’t have any large intestine, everything had more room to be thrown about. I think she was probably right! I resided that adrenaline would get me through the day and I would just keep running 5k as practice and hope for the best on the day… a risky strategy I appreciate.
We woke up at 0630 on the morning of the run to get to the starting line in central London for 0900. I honestly have to say that it was one of the best days of my life.
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Feeling spritely at 2k

The atmosphere on the day was incredible and to run with thousands of other people was just exhilarating. Of course the real motivator was the huge amount of money I was able to raise for Crohns & Colitis UK and I was truly blown away by the generosity of family, friends, colleagues and fellow ‘Crohnies’!!
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Feeling the pain at 8k

When I had to walk for a bit during the run as my stomach winced with pain, someone screamed ‘GO ON CROHNS AND COLITIS!’ It was all I needed to keep going and make it to the finishing line in 1 hr 7 mins – my best ever 5k time, twice over.
The feeling crossing the finishing line was just incredible and to have Josh run alongside me – I couldn’t have asked for anything more.
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Crossing the finishing line at 10k!!

I’d like to take a moment to thank everyone who has sponsored me so far. I thought of you all and the thousands of people in the UK who suffer from Crohns or Colitis every step of the way.
It gives me great pleasure to say, at time of writing, I have raised an incredible £1,430.00 for Crohns & Colitis UK! But never fear, there is still time to donate. Click here to see my Justgiving page. (One final plug is allowed!)
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Before I start, this is a gushing post. You’ve been warned!
I’m documenting the ultimate cornerstone to my entire liquid diet journey. This post in fact deserves the biggest chapter heading in the tale of Bryony Hopkins. Last week, I had my first doctors appointment with my specialist consultant since I finished my liquid diet. The same consultant who was determined that steroids were my only option and I opted for the complete opposite – a month intense liquid diet.
I have to say I was extremely nervous for the consultation. I worked it up in my head and the very thought of it reduced me to a near tearful wreck. Why you might ask? I obviously feel 1000x better than I did before the liquid diet, but the

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At the start of the liquid diet, April 2016

fact is, that not all of my symptoms have completely 100% disappeared, like I thought they miraculously would. What I didn’t know was that this is part of a longer healing process and as my consultant pointed out to me today, I am in a million times better place than I was before. I am pain free and able to control this through my diet. I am able to work full time, I am fulfilling all my social plans AND I’m training for a 10k. Pre liquid diet, I was just about able to get out of bed without being doubled over in pain. Yet I had completely forgotten how bad things were before until I sat in front of my consultant. He said ‘last time you came here Bryony you said you couldn’t carry on like this. You were at your wits end’. And I was – I had just forgotten. I was so focused on the fact I wasn’t completely ‘cured’ that I lost sight of the journey I’ve had and the transformation my body has gone through. The transformation that I allowed my body to go through and the work I have done to get it here.
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I can still eat deliciously good food! Black bean brownie and matcha latte courtesy of Ethos Foods.

It feels amazing. I actually can’t stop smiling. After I chose the liquid diet, I was rife with uncertainty. I had absolute no clue that I was doing the right thing or just being a stubborn cow. I am just over the moon it has worked out and been recognised by the most hard to please doctor! Whilst I am still on adlimumab injections, I am wholly optimistic that one day I could be drug free. It’s hard to believe how much things have changed just through one month of pure elemental.
For anyone who also suffers with Crohns & Colitis, I urge you to give the liquid diet a try if you’re ever at a treatment crossroad. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it’ll mentally challenge you in ways you couldn’t have ever imagined. Yes, you’ll be hungry and angry for a few days. But my god – is it worth it! It’s a clean way to let your body heal – no chemicals, no side effects. Just you and your willpower.
My journeIMG_3837y is by no means over. I still have many food groups to reintroduce (this has all slightly stalled since I started a new job which is completely exhausting) and I have a job on my hands to manage my stress levels to keep my pain at bay. But the point is that’s all in my hands. I’m back in control.
This makes me even more determined to raise as much money as possible for Crohns & Colitis UK in my 10k run this Sunday. If you have any pennies to spare, I would be so eternally grateful – every pound means more than I can put into words! Click here to donate.
I feel like celebrating with a gluten free and dairy free brownie!!!!!
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