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World IBD Day: A letter to my IBD

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Dear Crohns Disease

You’re a right little pickle aren’t you?
You joined me in my life at just four years old. I still remember the day I looked down the toilet bowl and saw a big pool of blood, and even my four year old brain knew you were going to be constant in my life. You were here now for the long haul.
You scared me as a child. I wanted to play like everyone else, but instead you chained me to the bathroom. You made me painstakingly thin, and then the steroids made me huge. Other children noticed. I went on a 8 week liquid diet because of you. I spent Easters and birthdays in hospital because of you. I missed months of school because of you. You literally annihilated my large bowel and with every medication, every treatment, you just got stronger. How the hell did you do that? You had hulk levels of strength and despite the fact literally nobody wanted you around, you persisted. Until my large bowel was at the point of no return. They removed 90% of my colon when I was 12, because of you.
I lived with an ileostomy when I was a teenager, because of you. I felt numb to you then – like you had scooped out my ability to feel and replaced it with a large empty hole. But I became a pro at pushing you away – right to the back of my mind and doing everything I wanted to do. School trips, parties, friends, holidays, activities, boyfriends, exams – I did it all. You didn’t stop me from doing anything, you didn’t hold me back. The problem was though – I still couldn’t talk about you. I didn’t know how to explain you.
I went to university to study drama and it was incredible. I met so many amazing friends, and it was the first time I lived on my own with you. It was harder to keep you a secret when you impact so much of my daily routine – my normal. Because of you I had internal scar tissue – and at uni I had to have two major operations to fix bowel obstructions. I had to talk about you then – I had to explain why I left uni for months on end. And my friends were amazing about you. They didn’t care one bit, didn’t see me any differently. Suddenly I realised NOBODY cared that I had you in my life. I was so much more than you. I wondered why I had lived with the burden of keeping you a secret for so long.
This breakthrough was pretty life changing for me. You were no longer a secret. You were just part of me – as much as I have brown hair and brown eyes.
You have made me so strong.
You have taught me to live in the moment. You have taught me to be compassionate. You have taught me to live one day at a time.
I’ve cried lots of fat salty tears because of you. I have smashed plates in anger because of you. I’ve had parts of my body examined and poked by more healthcare professionals than I wish to count because of you (that is one major downside tbh, why can you only be accessed via the rear?)
But do you know what? I am so proud of you. Well, I’m proud of me. You made me who I am today. You make me, me. I am well aware that we are nowhere near the end of our journey together, but now I know that whatever you hurl in my direction, I can deal with it. I’ve got control over you. How you make me feel. I’m not scared of you anymore. And whilst you will probably try to own me for the rest of my life, you should know you never will.
You are part of me, but you will never own me.
With regards,
Bryony
xo
Ps please could I just request one fatigue/pain free day? I think I’ve earned one. Thanks.

A letter to our IBD/gut issues – from you 

Today is World IBD Day.  To mark the day, I wrote this open letter to my IBD and I asked you guys to get involved too.

I was overwhelmed at the words you sent me – I could relate to every single one of them.

They were honest, relatable and some of them, very very funny.

These are your words to your gut. xo

“You’ve turned my world upside down and you try to beat me almost every day, but I always come back stronger, more resilient and grateful in ways I never thought possible.” @laurenhintonx

“WHY ARE YOU HERE?” @claireharman and @natalia.santacreu

“Can you just behave yourself and not give me any more surprises?” @djfranks1

“I’ve grown as a person and all but why did you feel the need to take my colon?” @billieandersonx

“You make frustrated and anxious at times, but I won’t let you beat me!” @_lottiec

“You suck but you’ve made me, me!” @fayezyfizz

“You are exhausting. You make me angry. I hate you for taking away my old life. You’ve made me kinder. You’ve made me stronger. You’ve made me weaker. You make me so anxious I can’t function. You make me fearful and anxious for the future. Thank you for my scar, it looks awesome. I hate you for what’s behind my scar, my body doesn’t work properly anymore because of you. Thank you for introducing me to the IBD community.” Anon

“We’ve had a tough journey together and although at times I hated you, you have made me who I am today. You have showed me how strong I am, you have enabled me to be more compassionate towards others and you have made me realise what’s important in life. For these things I am grateful.” @clemmiemacphersonnutritionist

“I knew my body so well until you came along.” @vickimg89

“I’m trying to listen to what you’re saying.” @naineos

“Please can you stop being such an attention seeker!” @katiebenhaaam

“You are not going to defeat me. Even when you hospitalise me I’m still going to win.” @ruth.cotton

“It’s given me compassion for others. You never know what’s hidden behind the facade”. @hegoswife

“Calm down angry tum. We’ve got this.” @the.gfg

“Thank you for making me grow up more compassionate and empathetic. Please don’t be passed down to my baby, like how it was passed to me from my mum. And finally thank you for letting me have my baby boy.” @chronically_successful

“Even though some days you suck, you’ve changed me life in good ways not just bad.” @flower.power.xxo

“You gave me strength and a new appreciation for life.” @bhavini44

“I would say ‘let it go, let it gooooooo!'” @tinaambrose87

“Would you just cease and desist so I could get into a decent exercise routine?” @hannah_views

“Thank you for making me appreciate the good times much more!” @clare_the_pear

“You made me strong.” @allyadamsx

“You made me not take life for granted.” @nmonk_ostomy

“I’m in control.” @em.ily_.__

“You are part of me and I accept you.” @gabriellagrees

Thank you so much to every single one of you who sent in such beautiful words and I’m so sorry I couldn’t include them all.

As always I’d love to hear what you think – you an find me on Insta, Twitter or email me abellyfullof@gmail.com.

Big love

Bryony xxx

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9 hacks to flying long haul with food intolerances

Bryony Hopkins | A Belly Full of | A Belly Full of Food | Australia

The beauty of flying longhaul is finding idyllic spots like this. Taken at Lake McKenzie, Fraser Island

There isn’t anything much more stressful when you have food intolerances than giving your total trust to someone who is serving you food – which is essentially what you have to do for the entirety of any flight you took. It obviously doesn’t help that the the is aircraft travelling 35,000ft above the ground, so you really don’t have anywhere else to turn!

Flying 23 hours to Australia is probably the longest I’ve ever had to trust that what was being served to me was ok to eat – and over the course of many other long haul flights I’ve defos learnt the dos and don’ts. Essentially kids, it’s all in the preparation. Because let me tell you, there is NOTHING worse than being hangry somewhere over the ocean!

Find below my 10 tips to flying longhaul with intolerances!

1. Look online to see the meal options as soon as you’ve booked your flight.

Often they will have ‘vegetarian’, ‘gluten free’, ‘low lactose etc’ and if you only have one intolerance, or low severity, this actually might be you sorted. Unfortunately in my experience, airlines are pretty rubbish at catering for double intolerances (dairy AND gluten is a nightmare!) Having said that, I have found that the gluten free meals are generally MOSTLY dairy free too. So I usually select gluten free and then call the airline, as described below…

2. Call the airline ahead of time

It’s not unreasonable as a passenger to request your needs to be catered for, so explain your intolerances and ask what they can do. Unfortunately sometimes they will only offer you a very bland option – on a very memorable 11 hour flight to San Fran I was only offered fruit, because that was the only totally safe DF & GF option (that was Virgin Atlantic…!) If so in this scenario head to number 3…

3. Pack snacks. Literally, all the snacks

As many as you can fit in and of variety! Even if you have selected an appropriate meal – you never know what might actually end up in front of you. Always best to have yourself covered so you don’t starve.

4. Know the rules

It is worth knowing that countries like the US, New Zealand and Australia do have a restriction on what food can be bought into the country. The US don’t allow meat and dairy products for example, whilst Australia also prohibits grains, nuts and seeds. Quite annoying if you have packed snacks but they do sometimes check bags into the airport – so always best to leave any leftovers on the plane (sorry!)

Bryony Hopkins | A Belly Full of | A Belly Full of Food | Australia

The famous Bondi Iceberg Pools – a slice of heaven!

5. Pack homemade sandwiches and teabags

Homemade sandwiches are really easy, are filling and you have the peace of mind knowing you made them. You can take these on your flight out to your destination and also on your return. If you can get a lunchbox going, then that’ll protect any squashing! Would also recommend bringing on any soothing teas you find help your tummy, like peppermint tea. The plane will always have hot water available and this can be a really comforting thing to do when you’ve been in the air for a long time.

6. Explore the supermarkets

Don’t forget to explore options in supermarkets in your destination! You could find lots of other good options which you could take on the flight back.

7. Be sensible kids

This is a boring one – but try to avoid alcohol and drink LOTS of water. Altitude can have a funny impact on the stomach, as well as you will dehydrate quicker. Avoiding alcohol & drinking water can definitely help sooth the stomach.

8. Travel with your medication in hand luggage

If you have Crohns like me, or IBD or any other serious medical condition, you absolutely MUST carry your medication in your hand luggage. Even if you have medical sharps or injections, it’s essential it is on your person and not in the hold. Not least because you probably need to take it over a period of 24 hours anyway! I will be doing another blog post on travelling with medication – but make sure you have all your meds on you.

9. Essentially always prepare with provisions & make sure the airline are aware.

AND ENJOY IT! I always try to see a long haul flight as ‘me’ time with no distraction. Listen to podcasts, watch movies, write in your journal – make it time that feels good. And don’t forget to get some shut eye to try and get ahead of the jetlag!

Bryony Hopkins | A Belly Full of | A Belly Full of Food | Australia

The Oriental Gardens at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

We flew Singapore Airlines to and from Australia and I was honestly so impressed. I opted for a gluten free meal and it was almost 70% dairy free too – I even got vegan butter with my GF roll and soya milk! Would highly recommend this airline for comfortable longhaul flying.

As always I would love to hear your thoughts and stories. What are your experiences flying longhaul? Share your stories in the comments or over on my Instagram, @bryonyehopkins.

Bryony Hopkins | A Belly Full of | A Belly Full of Food | Australia

Living our best life – Blue Mountains, New South Wales

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Tips for camping with IBD and IBS

Bryony Hopkins | Travel | Australia | A Belly Full of | A Belly Full of Food

This was our Maui campervan for 4 weeks in Australia! We drove over 2000km up the east coast in this badboy, we called her Cami the Camper!

‘How are you coping with camping with tummy troubles?!?’ is probably the most common question I got in my DMs whilst I was in Australia. And for good reason, camping can entail being far away from a bathroom, navigating to said bathroom in the dark & not having the comfort of privacy and facilities you would usually have at home.

This blog is the first of a mini series of posts I will be sharing with you after spending 6 weeks travelling around Australia – and each blog post addresses the most common questions and queries I got in my DMs whilst away. One of the most resounding questions I got, as mentioned above, was asking me how camping was possible with IBD or IBS. If someone had said to me 10 years ago that I would be camping on the other side of the world for 4 weeks, I honestly would have laughed. (You can learn more about my Crohns story here.) I have never enjoyed or entertained the thought of camping – but now having spent 4 weeks in a campervan, I have realised it is more than possible. The secret is really identifying your anxieties and making sure everything is planned to minimise those concerns.

Bryony Hopkins | Travel | Australia | A Belly Full of | A Belly Full of Food

The beauty of driving a campervan is the freedom to stop wherever you like and find the most secluded spots. Taken at Hellsgate, Noosa Heads, Queensland.

I think these simple top tips will really help & also reassure you that whether you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Inflammatory Bowel Disease, there are ways you fulfil a travel dream and enjoy a adventure in the great outdoors, like I did.

1. Ok full disclaimer here, I got a campervan with a onboard toilet.

Yes, a proper flushing toilet. And I probably wouldn’t have been able to do it without having that reassurance. They do cost a little more but I honestly think it’s so worth it. Navigating to the toilets if you get up at night can be stressful – and this just eliminates that anxiety.

I should add that obviously this means you have to empty the toilet yourself too – and I want to also reassure you that this also really isn’t as bad as it sounds! They are usually equipped with a self contained toilet container and are full of chemicals – so really you are just disposing of chemical fluid.

We booked our van through STA – who talked us through what the best option was for us.

2. Book a campsite with proper camping facilities – and I mean, private toilet cubicles and showers.

95% of our campsites had really decent bathroom facilities. If you go for a campervan or tent with no toilet facilities – don’t be afraid to ask for a camping spot near the amenity block. It seriously helps in the night!

Whilst in Australia we booked all powered sites – which means you can plug the van in and have full working electricity and this cost around $30-$40 (Australian dollars) per night, which is around £20-£30. We booked a huge amount of sites through Big4.

Bryony Hopkins | Travel | Australia | A Belly Full of | A Belly Full of Food

Beautiful views at every stop of Australia’s East Coast. Town of 1770, Queensland.

3.  Which brings me to number 3 – always pack a really decent torch. Campsites get alarmingly dark at nightfall and this will be your saviour!

You can also use it to spot some pretty amazing wildlife in the campsites – we saw possums, koalas and kangaroos at night with the torch!

4. Often camping involves lots of travel and time on the road – another time you could be away from a bathroom.

Bryony Hopkins | Travel | Australia | A Belly Full of | A Belly Full of Food

On one of our longer drives we stopped off at the Town of 1770 to see where Captain Cook landed when he discovered Australia. Freedom to find spots like this, is why driving yourself in a camper is so amazing.

Plan your route and suss out petrol stations enroute. They will all have toilet facilities! We were lucky we had a SatNav onboard that told us when we had petrol stations coming up and I found this such a relief.

5. Make sure you have enough of any meds you take for your tummy.

And be reassured even in a campervan without a flushing toilet, you will often have running water which means you can make peppermint tea/take meds when you need to.

It’s quite amazing that even the smaller vans will have running water (which again, you have to fill up yourself at campsites!) and this is very important not only for being able to cook basic food like pasta or rice, but keeping hydrated and being able to take medication too.

In Australia the tap water is of the highest quality – so you don’t need to worry about only drinking bottled water.

6. You can also cook some pretty simple & delicious meals with really basic camping cooking equipment.

Bryony Hopkins | Travel | Australia | A Belly Full of | A Belly Full of Food

Enjoying a proper camping supper, made on our pull our BBQ! After it fell dark, the stars shone so brightly you could see the Milky Way. Incredible!

In our van we not only had running water but a 3 ring stove inside and a pull out barbecue on the outside. We also had a toaster, microwave and a kettle – which meant we could actually cook some really simple meals all with our own equipment. When you’re travelling it can always be a bit hit and miss eating out, and I don’t know about anyone else but I get a great source of comfort eating food I’ve cooked myself (not least because I know what’s in it!)

We ate a lot of simple tuna pasta with sweetcorn, with gluten free spaghetti and also barbecued fresh fish and meat which we served with fresh salad or even rice bags which we slung in the microwave. The smaller vans also have this type of cooking equipment.

7. Go with someone you trust. Because generally that just makes the whole thing easier!

Maybe this is obvious, but make sure you are travelling and camping with people or someone you trust. It means if you do have any issues, being open and honest about it will make it a whole lot easier.

Bryony Hopkins | Travel | Australia | A Belly Full of | A Belly Full of Food

Freedom is sparkling seawater and smooth sand. Taken at Burleigh Heads, Queensland.

8. Boring but essential – make sure you get good travel insurance that’ll cover your medical problems.

It might cost a lot, especially with IBD – but it’s worth it. I used Medical Travel Compared to get a really good price for this trip (it still hurt how expensive it was, but for peace of mind it was worth it!)

9. If you have Crohns or Colitis and you’re going away for an extended period of time, it is probably worth telling your specialist consultant.

I had lengthy chats with my IBD nurse ahead of my 6 week trip, to make sure I had the right medication and also documentation for those medicines. I also asked their advice of what to do if something went wrong whilst I was away and more than anything, they reassured me that my health insurance would cover any disasters.

10. ENJOY IT! The beauty of a campervan is the freedom & flexibility to stop anywhere, see untouched natural beauty & watch the stars.

Your tummy shouldn’t get in the way of that.

Bryony Hopkins | Travel | Australia | A Belly Full of | A Belly Full of Food

The trip was the adventure of a lifetime – and I hope this inspires you to see you can fulfil your travel ambitions too!

What are your tips you’d add to this list? DM me and I might feature you on my Instagram!

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