Bryony Hopkins, A Belly Full of Food event

I will forever look at this photo and wonder how I look so awake at 7am. (Photo: Emma Parlons

In early July, I was absolutely delighted to host my first ever A Belly Full of Food event. This has been something I’ve been keen to launch for a while and I was so excited when everything began to come together for it. I kept it super small for my first event (I’ve never even organised something like this before!), and so I really wanted to write a little about it so I could share it with more of you and hope you will be able to join me for the next one!

Bryony Hopkins, A Belly Full of Food event

Rhiannon Lambert & I mid gut health talk!

For anyone who follows me or reads this blog, you’ll know that I am a HUGE foodie and also mega passionate about educating people on living with IBD. As a journalist by day, I am hugely motivated by getting evidence-based knowledge out there and educating others about how food can play a role in a disease of this nature. I find the online world hugely frustrating at times, when I see influencers advertising products, which are not necessarily based on evidence and the messages out there are confusing and conflicting. This is something I was really keen to address in my first event, and I was so delighted that Registered Nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert came to speak and share her nutritional knowledge (more on this below!)

Bryony Hopkins, A Belly Full of Food event

The gorgeous spread of brightly coloured fruit outside

A Belly Full of Food breakfast mingle came around when I stepped into the doors of the gorgeous Panzer’s Deli, in St Johns Wood and met the amazing team there. We worked together on hosting this first gut health foodie event under the A Belly Full Of brand (eeeeek!)

The aim of the event was mainly education – to learn about gut health, including IBD and IBS and also gathering together some foodies to eat some amazing food! I was so lucky that Panzer’s Deli put on an amazing spread, which catered for gluten, dairy free and vegan, including the most insane fruit salad, fresh berries, coconut yogurt and artisan coffee made to order. Everyone gathered to eat the delicious food, before I introduced the special guest, which was the lovely Rhiannon Lambert of Rhitrition.

Bryony Hopkins, A Belly Full of Food event

How epic is this gluten free and vegan spread at Panzer’s Deli?

Rhiannon was absolutely focal to the goal of my event, as a Harley Street nutritionist, she knows everything there is to know about food, nutrition and gut health, and would never say anything that wasn’t rooted in evidence and research. Together over half an hour, we discussed IBS, IBD, Coeliac Disease and some gut health basics. Along with the huge support from Panzer’s Deli, a wonderful friend Sarah from BTempted Cakes bought along her brand new vegan and gluten free cupcakes for the goodie bags – what a way to start the day!!

Bryony Hopkins, A Belly Full of Food event

Feeling so excited to have the first event go so well and gives me so much pleasure to announce that this isn’t the only A Belly Full of Food event. I can’t wait to share the details of the next one with you – a much bigger event which won’t start so early in the morning! I’d love to hear any other health topics you’d like me to look to cover in the future – not just gut health, but anything! This concept is really about educating on a wealth of health conditions and topics. Hit me up with your suggestions below (or via Twitter, Instagram or email). I really would love to hear from you!

Bryony Hopkins, A Belly Full of Food Events

My beaut GF girlies bought me flowers and it was just the loveliest moment. GIRLS SUPPORTING GIRLS

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

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Last night I posted a spontaneous story sharing how I was feeling as I go through a bad patch with my Crohns Disease. What started as a raw moment of honesty ended up with me somehow ended up going off on a tangent, stating the fact I still take medication for my Crohns Disease and I am not ashamed to say so. The replies and outpouring of people thanking me for being so honest was incredible. A couple of people told me they had fought against taking medication themselves, because it seems like a ‘goal’ to be med free and this got me thinking. What world do we live in that there is a whole tribe of people boycotting medical intervention? And not only that, there are people on social media who are willing to tell us we are wrong to take medicines, based on absolutely no scientific evidence? In fact, in response to the story I posted I received a message telling me I should try another natural remedy and if I did, I wouldn’t need medication. That literally sums up the entirety of the problem we are facing. It really has me scratching my head and feeling desperately sad and worried about the way the ‘wellness’ word is shaping how we feel about meds…

It seems bizarre to me that I even have to state that it’s okay to take medication when you have a chronic illness and when I said it on my Instagram story; I really wasn’t expecting such a reaction. Inflammatory Bowel Disease is an autoimmune, which literally means your body is attacking itself. It is completely irresponsible to think that no medical intervention for such a venomous disease is needed. This has really made me quite concerned that anyone reading or finding my story online might be lead to believe that I have ‘cured’ my Crohns through diet alone, because this is absolutely factually incorrect. I won’t recap my life story, but please do read my whole Crohns story here.
So here are the facts. I have been on medication pretty consistently and in some form since I was four years old, even since I have done my liquid diet and since I had my ileostomy reversed. I take humira injections every fortnight and I have just finished a course of mesalasine suppositories for constant bleeding (these are unpleasant, think of pills that go up instead of down!) I take Ondansetron on days when I feel so nauseous I might pass out, a drug which is used for cancer patients and I have done all of these things since I went totally gluten and dairy free, and since I upheaved my lifestyle.

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No amount of dairy or gluten free would have meant I didn’t need the surgery I have needed.

So what is it about wellness and health on social media that has led us to feel like we should be ashamed of taking medication? And why have even I, at points, felt like a failure because I still have to take medication alongside my dietary and lifestyle changes, otherwise my intestine literally might disintegrate? This is such a hard question to answer but I think its two main reasons.

  1. We know of several hugely successful health bloggers and Instagrammers who have made their fortune based on ‘curing’ their chronic illness through diet. Whilst they may not have directly said they don’t take meds, it has lurched us towards this ideology that it is possible for us all to achieve this goal, whilst we forget that every single one of us is completely different and unique.
  2. We want a message that is clear and simple. I.e. – ‘you can put your IBD into remission if you’re gluten free’ or ‘if you’re vegan you won’t suffer from your psoriasis’. These claims are wildly dangerous and not evidence based BUT they are clear, and so they gain attraction. It’s the same as a punchy news headline. The message ‘I am gluten and dairy free but I also take injections, and suppositories and anti-sickness tablets and to honest sometimes I still don’t feel great’, is a less eye-catching strapline.

So where does this leave us? It leaves us angry, defensive and confused. I should say at this point that I honestly believe I have radically changed my quality of life due to making some diet changes, but has my Crohns gone? Of course not. Am I still on medication? Yes. And what happens if I stop my medication? Well, things fall apart pretty quickly. I believe diet is an absolutely integral part of dealing with a disease which manifests in the gut, but I feel angry and upset that social media has led us to a point where we feel like we can boycott medical intervention because someone slid into our DMs to tell us better.

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I have tried every treatment, up heaved my lifestyle and still rely on meds. That’s just IBD!

So if you’re reading this and follow me, I really hope you know and appreciate that I enforce all dietary and lifestyle changes alongside medical advice recommended by your doctor. Sometimes of course, we make our own decisions regarding medication/surgery/treatment – but this isn’t me saying to ignore the advice of medical professionals. And if you take medication to stay on track of your life, then own it! The clear message here is that every single one of us is completely individual and unique. What works for one person, might not work for another, especially with a disease as complicated as IBD, and so we should remember that when we are flicking through social media.  Anyone can say anything these days – so make sure you are getting your information from a reliable source.
Do I hope one day I might not need medication to keep me well? Of course. But I just want to live a full and healthy life – and at the moment, my meds help me do that (most of the time!)
As one of my wise followers DM’ed me ‘If diet was the answer to cure IBD, we would all be well!’
BRYONY HOPKINS, A BELLY FULL OF BRYONY

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We saw in the New Year at Sky Gardens – a day I felt good and it was bloody brilliant.

I’m not sure if it’s too late to say Happy New Year, but seeing as this is my first post of 2018, I feel it’s appropriate to say!
My new year started with a bit of a bump, as all of you who follow me may know I have Crohns Disease, which I write about quite regularly. This little hiccup has really reaffirmed to me that all I ever really want each year is good health. Health to be happy, good health to live my life and good health to enjoy every day to the fullest.
I’m sure many of you fellow Crohnies will relate to knowing that you’re really operating at 50% and so, I have compiled a list of 10 things it’s okay to feel when you’re going through a bad patch with your chronic illness.

  1. It’s okay to stop and admit you feel like s**t
  2. It’s okay to lean on your friends and family
  3. It’s okay not to be strong all the time
  4. It’s okay to cry
  5. It’s okay to be angry
  6. It’s okay to want to talk about it, over and over again
  7. It’s okay to look after yourself and be antisocial
  8. It’s okay to research and understand every single treatment and medication possibility
  9. It’s okay to jump to the worst conclusion and mentally prepare
  10. It’s okay to be frustrated when people don’t understand

 These are some mantras I’ve had to keep reinforcing for myself recently, particularly as my body is fighting so hard; I am sometimes too exhausted to be rational (cue literally tears about everything, putting slippers on wrong way, jumper back to front.. you get the jist!) Although, I think the above could apply to many life situations and I think it’s important to remind each other that we don’t have to have a brave face, everyday.

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31st December 2017. Always sparkles. Always optimistic.

So although 2018 hasn’t started as I wished (sick days, hospital appointments and spending too much time resting), every bump on the road reminds me what to be grateful for and helps me remain positive that the blip will pass – and the year will continue with ease. These mantras help me hold onto the good days – and try to forget the bad days.
It really is true, that the greatest wealth in life is health.
BRYONY HOPKINS, A BELLY FULL OF BRYONY

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This blog post has been in the pipeline for a few weeks now. Well, since my gastro consultant told me for the first time in my entire life that I’m in ‘clinical remission’ from my Crohns Disease. Big announcement. Big two words – two words I wasn’t expecting to hear, AT ALL! (See below for what remission means)
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what it means to be in remission and how my body feels and I think it’s important I share this. Let’s rewind quickly first though… why was being told I’m in ‘clinical remission’ such a big deal – yet such a surprise at the same time? I was diagnosed with Crohns Disease at the age of four – which now at the age of 25, is a staggering 21 years ago.

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Loving the liquid diet life back in April 2016…

I recently candidly told my story for the first time for World IBD Day, which was featured in the Huffington Post. You can see the article here.So 21 years of fighting, dealing with medication, being cut open time and time again… until spring 2016 when I found myself in the middle of ANOTHER FLARE. All I could think was geez, not this s**t again.I was told outright I needed to go on high dose steroids to get things under control and I just couldn’t do it. I made the decision to go on a four-week liquid diet – which turned out to be a massive turning point in my entire Crohns journey. You can read about my liquid diet journey here.
So fast forward a year, and I’m sitting opposite my consultant who has seen me through thick and thin since I was 17. He’s a straight talking man, but a man I know has a lot of time for me (it’s a personal challenge every single appointment to make him crack a smile! I succeed every time, obvs). We run through the usual things and out of nowhere, he says ‘well, it looks like to me you’re in clinical remission’. There was a long pause, until I said, ‘well, nobody has ever said that to me before!’ Cue the smile from Doc and he said I’m by far the healthiest he’s ever seen me. He let me go after agreeing to reduce my adlimumab injections to every fortnight and told me to enjoy the summer.
I walked out the hospital in a complete state of disbelief. CLINICAL REMISSION – WHAT THE F**K? How did that happen? How did I not even see that coming? I still suffer stomach pain, bloating and fatigue. Whilst I’m not passing blood, I still have to manage my lifestyle to contain my symptoms. I evaluated the past year since the liquid diet and it finally dawned on me. This remission isn’t a result of adlimumab , a drug I have taken for over 7 years now. This remission was a result of me changing my diet and lifestyle. As I travelled back into London from my specialist hospital in Oxford I thought – I BLOODY DID THIS. And how have I gone 21 years without anyone telling me to evaluate my diet and lifestyle sooner?!? I felt weirdly elated yet frustrated that I could have done something a lot sooner if I had known what impact a year of change would make.
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I continue to feel extremely lucky that I’ve reached this point in my life, but I still won’t be lured into feeling secure. I have had a few people say to me now ‘oh you’re in remission? Well brilliant, you’re alright forever now then!’ Well no, that’s not quite how it works. As we all know, IBD (I’m talking Crohns & Colitis here) is a chronic condition and can rear its ugly head at any time. A fact that I’ve been conditioned to never forget (although I wish I could!) Additionally, being in ‘remission’ doesn’t mean I no longer feel pain, bloating and extreme fatigue. I still have to very carefully manage my life and diet. Eating one thing that disagrees with me, being too exhausted or stressed can quickly send me in a little downward spiral. Self-management and self-care doesn’t stop at the phrase ‘clinical remission’… the journey never ends!
Having said that, the biggest lesson I have learnt is that the medical professionals don’t always know EVERYTHING. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t be where I am today without the incredible support from my Gastro team at the John Radcliffe in Oxford, but it was my decision to do the liquid diet and make a lifestyle overhaul. That being said, it’s not always easy and there may be a lot of trial and error. What I’m saying is try different things, do your research and know that you can make a difference to your illness.
And for me – I’m going to live life the fullest and continue sharing the journey with you!

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Sunning in Marbella with my favourite people and smiling because I can!

**So what is ‘remission’? Achieving remission means stopping symptoms as well as inflammation. Another way to think of remission is as a span of time when your disease becomes inactive or quiet.**
As always, I’d love to hear what you think.
Follow me on Instagram here. And on Twitter here.
BRYONY HOPKINS, A BELLY FULL OF BRYONY

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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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