Lots of people have been getting in touch recently asking for Crohn’s or IBD advice after being first diagnosed and I suddenly thought it would benefit others to write down my entire Crohn’s story – warts and all, from start to finish (well, to present!), for World IBD Day today. I was diagnosed at the age of four, and now at the age of 25, I’ve experienced A WHOLE BUNCH OF STUFF, including lots of abdominal surgery (yes, I’ve had a ileostomy) and medication. I sincerely hope that documenting some of my experiences may help others suffering from IBD, those who have just been diagnosed or just want to understand more about the illness. It’s a confusing and ever changing illness and I must stress that every single person with IBD is individual. What works for one person won’t work for another – there is no IBD ‘path’ – you just have to carve your own story! (So basically, don’t freak out if you’re newly diagnosed and reading this!)

So let’s start with diagnosis, and to be honest, I can keep this pretty brief, seeing as I was four years old and I really don’t remember much! I was on holiday with my family in Wales, when my parents noticed I was getting extremely pale, not eating, losing weight and going to the bathroom A LOT. On one horrible morning when my mum asked me how I was feeling, I told her I was losing blood. I went straight to a hospital in Wales, where I was admitted and quickly transferred over to an expert gastro unit in Oxford, where I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. And that was the start of my IBD journey! I should add here that Crohn’s Disease is an autoimmune disease – it is your immune system malfunctioning.

Steroids, crohns

Let’s ignrore my questionable haircut and my brother’s weird face. On steroids in primary school

In simple terms, the body eats away at the digestive system, causing inflammation, ulcers and bleeding anywhere along the digestive tract. I was at my sickest as a child; I remember countless birthdays and Easters spent in hospital. My first treatment was steroids, which sent me completely bonkers and made me put on weight faster than an inflating balloon. My disease was ravaging my large intestine, and although the steroids worked for a short time, as soon as my dose was reduced, I would start to flare again – big time. I went through cycles of mesalazine, azathioprine and infliximab, but nothing would calm my angry insides.

When I was coming up to about ten years old, I went on my first liquid diet. By this point, the conversations about having to remove my large intestine had been floating around for some months now. It was pretty clear that the disease was extremely resistant– it wasn’t responding to any medication. The liquid diet consisted of drinking cartons of Elemental 028, a nutritional drink designed to be absorbed instantly into the body, with your gut having to do absolutely zero work. As I was about to enter puberty,

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I thought I wore it well tbf. At school age 11

I was required to consume even more of the liquid to ensure my growth wasn’t stunted. It was physically impossible to drink the required amount, and so I would sleep with a tube that went up my nose and into my stomach and the rest of the liquid would be pumped into my body. In the very early days of the liquid diet, it was so traumatising having the tube passed up my nose that I didn’t want to take it out – so I went to school with it. The psychological battle was immense, but the liquid diet was my most effective treatment yet.

Alas, a few weeks after I started eating again, the Crohn’s returned with vengeance and at the age of twelve, I had an ileostomy formed. By this point I was practically begging them to take my large intestine out – I was tired of being constantly sick and living this half life in and out of hospital. Still being so young, they were reluctant to actually remove it all, and hoped that bypassing it via the ileostomy would help it heal. It did not. Nine months later I was back under anaesthetic and had my entire large intestine removed – with the exception of a tiny bit at the rectum. This tiny bit of intestine turned out to be my saving grace. Due to the mechanics of the colon, because I still had that little bit left, there was a chance they could reconnect my small intestine with the end of my large intestine and a chance I could be bag free in the future. To be honest, I think this is what got me through. Although I was desperate to feel better, nothing could prepare me for the emotional and psychological difficulties of living with a bag whilst I was going through puberty. A teenager is self-conscious enough as it is right – without having to worry about part of your intestine sticking out of your stomach! The three years with an ileostomy are a blur now, but it dramatically changed my quality of life. I finally had my life back. I was able to function – I was able to go to school everyday. I was able to hang out with my friends. I didn’t have to take drugs, I could eat what I wanted and I wasn’t at the mercy of my disease anymore.

When I reached the age of sixteen, the ileostomy had done its job and I was rewarded with a bag reversal. Another major operation, reopening my entire 30cm scar and another scar left where the ileostomy once was, but I was completely liberated. FREE FROM A BAG! Lollzzzz but totally not free of Crohn’s. I was actually pretty healthy doing my ALevels and I secured my place at Loughborough University to do a degree in Drama with seeming ease (health wise at least!) I had the most amazing time at university, but during this time, the Crohn’s began to spread to the lower part of my rectum and small intestine, and so I was put on Humira – a weekly injection administered myself. This managed to get the Crohn’s under control, but by my second year I was struggling with repetitive obstructive symptoms. I was in and out of hospital, in and out of A & E, and it came to pass that they had to operate.

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After my sixth operation, I asked my Mum to take this to let me friends know I was ok. Two hours out of surgery, I have no recollection of this being taken!!

Again. They found and closed an internal hernia, as well as adhesions, which were causing the obstructions. A year and a half later, just as I was completing my finals, the obstructive symptoms started again and after a particular memorable experience where I lay in a hospital bed in Leicester, surrounded by my friends and boyfriend who had fled a night out to my aid, I was under the knife again. Looking back, it was perhaps the immense amount of partying (I’m only human!) that took place over these three years that led me to need these two ops. The toll to my body was great and as I was recovering from my fifth operation, I began to ask myself, would these operations EVER stop?

After recovering from this fifth op, I plodded on quite well for a while. I got myself a job at the BBC as a Researcher and plunged myself into the world of commuting and full time work. I’d be lying if I said it was easy, my body took a while to adjust to the exhaustion. After my 21st birthday, a hernia popped up on my scar. LO AND BEHOLD – ANOTHER OPERATION. By this time I was officially at breaking point with being opened up so many times. I remember vividly bursting into hysterical tears in front of the surgeon and asking him, ‘WHEN WILL THIS END?’ I like to think I am an extremely strong individual, but I just couldn’t take any more operations. The isolation of the 8 week recovery alone was enough to send me completely insane, let alone the physical shock of going through all that pain over and over again.

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Apols for the faint hearted here, but this was post my sixth op. You can see the little scar from my ileostomy too

I guess the positive of undergoing such repetitive surgery was becoming proud of my scar. It’s 30cm long, stretching from just below my chest to below my pelvis and it’s extremely visible. I wear it loud and proud now and I take the stares on the beach to mean, ‘wow – that girl must be made of steel!!’

I got to spring 2016, when I started to relapse again and I was given the choice, which lead me to start writing this blog in the first place. Sat in front of my gastro specialist, he told me I needed a quick treatment that was guaranteed to work – steroids. I couldn’t do it to my body- I couldn’t do it to my mental health! So I took on the one month liquid diet, which is where this blog was born. It was honestly the best thing I ever did and despite the mental battle, I came out feeling amazing. My skin was glowing and I appreciated the impact of what I put in my body more than ever. I reintroduced food gradually and found I was intolerant to whole food groups by keeping a food diary for weeks, which has further kept my tum happy. You can read my liquid diet journey here. In October, I learnt to meditate – a skill, which my paediatrician had tried to introduce to me during puberty. You can read more about my journey to meditation here.

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Ended up forming quite a bond with my liquid diet cartons

Since then I have taken a short nutrition course, started yoga classes and started experimenting with what I eat and how it feels in my tum. I feel so very grateful for the journey I have come on to where I am today. I whole-heartedly believe everything happens for a reason and my IBD journey was meant to lead me to where I am today. To stand tall, tell my story and be confident in who I am. Because there are thousands of stories like mine that aren’t being shared, or are being misunderstood. IBD ain’t glamorous. Heck, I’d enjoy a day where I didn’t think about my gut – but that is the reality for so many of us living with Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis. This is what we live with and we plod on. We make mothers, fathers, partners, friends and colleagues and STILL battle the debilitating symptoms of IBD – with a smile. I dare anyone who is embarrassed or struggling to deal with their IBD to speak out, confide in a friends/family and realise YOU ARE STILL B****Y BRILLIANT. IBD will not rule your life.

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Living and loving life in Bali – wearing that scar loud and proud. YES I’VE BEEN TRAVELLING TOO!

If you’ve got to the end of this epically long post, then thank you so much for reading and I hope you have taken something from my story. I would welcome comments/feedback  (comment below!) and any of your stories. I would love to hear them all.

Happy World IBD Day!

*I know I haven’t just written a book, so to do a thank you sounds weird – but I can’t write this and not mention the amazing care I have received over my entire Crohn’s journey from the gastro team at John Radcliffe Hospital. They have always answered all my questions, listened to me when I have said no, given me VIP treatment and taken the best possible care of me. Brilliant, brilliant team.*

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bryonyhopkins

This Friday 7th April is World Health Day – but what does it actually mean to be healthy? For me, being healthy is having a handle on practical things you can do to make your life easier and make you feel better about yourself. If you feel better about yourself, your body and your emotions, then surely that is a one way ticket to feeling healthier.  So where should you be looking to feel healthier? You should be looking at YOU!
Perhaps you could start by asking yourself some of the following questions…
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Okay maybe this is an alarmingly obvious question, but often we neglect to ask ourselves. How is your health? Are you on an even keel, or are you particularly tired? Are you in any pain or rundown? Are you feeling in good shape? Are you feeling happy with your body? There is often no easy ways to answer these if you have a chronic condition. Like me, suffering from Crohn’s Disease, I’m never quite sure how my health is! But I can recognise when I am over worked, over tired and stressed and I know that these are vital keys which can unlock a whole host of problems for me! It might be worth also giving my Listening to Your Body article a read, to help you get more in tune with your body! Answering all of these honestly will get you straight on the path of figuring out what tweaks you need to make to your lifestyle to start feeling healthier.
What are you eating? Is it making you feel good?
This can be a hard question to answer but I think it’s vital to start working out where you’re at with happy and healthy eating habits. Essentially – it’s not just about what you eat, it’s also about how you feel about eating. Our emotions are strongly linked to our eating habits – I think we’ve all reached for chocolate or ice cream when we’re feeling low.

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I switch to really easy foods when my stomach is playing up – like this simple turkey noodle soup

So really this question is about honestly asking yourself if your food choices are making you PHYSICALLY happy. Sure, chocolate may feed an emotion, but how do you physically feel after? For me, I love cheese (like, really love cheese), but it was making me so bloated and giving me terrible stomach pains. Despite the fact I loved it, I knew I had to cut it out and it turned out that it was dairy entirely which was causing me problems. Sure it takes willpower to cut out something you love, but if you feel better afterwards it’s a no brainer! I discovered this by writing a food diary and documenting all the things I had eaten that day and how I felt afterwards/later at the day. I think this is a fabulous way to get in sync with how your body is reacting to what you put in your mouth. Evaluating and understanding what you’re eating and how it’s making you feel is the first stop to feeling better and healthier about your diet.
Are you exercising?
We are absolutely barraged with advice on how we should be exercising these days. Running, weights, HITT, yoga, Pilates… but really you need to find w

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Me pre yoga at The Life Centre, in Notting Hill, London

hat works for you. I find it completely overwhelming sometimes, and that’s even before people have started telling you what they do to stay fit! You have to go with what feels right for you and not what everyone is telling you. I have friends who do PT sessions – but I sure as hell couldn’t think of anything worse! Instead, I signed up for a beginners yoga class and learnt the basics. It’s good for all of us to exercise – but there’s no point doing a fitness regime you hate.
Are the people around you making you happy?
Another hard question to answer, but it’s worth considering what your support network is like around you and do they actually make you happy?! This could be a colleague you always talk to or a friend who drains the life out of you… if you’re not getting anything out of a relationship, is it a relationship worth having?
How do you relax?
Arguably, I think this is the most important question of them all! How do you get your ‘me time’? It might well be exercising – or it could be reading a book, watching your favourite TV programme, meditating or practicing mindfulness.  Whatever it is, make sure you’re making time to actually do it! A relaxed soul is a happy soul – and a happy soul is a healthy soul!
Happy World Health Day 🙂
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bryonyhopkins

When I was a child, we used to go on camping holidays to northern France and play in the gorgeous french sunshine. I have so many happy memories of exploring northern France, in particularly Brittany, where we would ALWAYS round off the day with a crepe (or actually, sometimes start the day with a crepe!)
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Since I’ve gone dairy and gluten free, I don’t think I’ve eaten a crepe or a pancake. When eating out, there has never been the option for a flour or milk free crepe – and so it seemed clear that I needed to get in the kitchen to create one!
This recipe is absurdly simple – the main ingredients being just banana and eggs. The cacao replaces the chocolate that I used to gorge on when I had a chocolate filled crepe in France – and the pomegranate provides a wonderfully sweet crunch.
Ingredients 
This recipe makes six pancakes. They are dairy free, gluten free and vegetarian. 
For the pancake:
3 eggs
2 bananas
1 tbspn desiccated coconut
2 tspns raw cacao powder
Coconut oil/olive oil (1-2 tspn)
For the toppings:
Date syrup/maple syrup/honey
Pomegranate seeds (I bought a ready made packet of them from a high street supermarket)
Method

  1. Take a medium sized bowl and mash up your bananas  with a fork, until they form a sticky pulp. Try and get the pulp as smooth as possible – but a few little lumps do add a little texture!IMG_4541
  2. Add your 3 eggs, tablespoon of desiccated coconut and two teaspoons of raw cacao powder. Mix everything together – this is your pancake batter!
  3. Heat a teaspoon of coconut oil (or you can use olive oil) in a medium frying pan on a medium to high heat.
  4. Once your oil is hot, fill a small ladle of mixture and place into the frying pan. If you hear a big sizzle, then turn your heat down a little. (A small sizzle is expected!)
  5. Fry for about a minute to 2 minutes on each side – or until they are turn brown. The cacao powder will mean they naturally brown them, so monitor closely so they don’t burn!
  6. Repeat this process until you have finished your batter, and begin piling them in a stack on a plate. Don’t worry if they are all different sizes – that’s part of the fun!
  7. Once you’re done, now it’s time for toppings! I sweetened mine by drizzling over date syrup, but you can also use honey or maple syrup. Now take your pomegranate seeds and sprinkle all over the pancakes – the more the better!
  8. Tuck in and enjoy!! 🙂

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*Created for Inghams Foodie Finds campaign!*

bryonyhopkins

When I was a kid I used to absolutely love it when my Dad made us ‘eggy bread’ – AKA French Toast! (Although I actually only discovered that was it’s real name very recently!) So I took to the kitchen to find a gluten and dairy free alternative and came up with these cracking sweet and savoury options. Perfect for breakfast or brunch!
Savoury – French toast with Balsamic Cherry Tomatoes, Mushrooms  & Spinach
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Serves 1. Dairy free, gluten free and vegetarian. 
Ingredients 

  • 2 (or 3 if you’re hungry) slices of gluten free bread
  • 2 eggs
  • Splash of almond milk (I like Rude Health)
  • Black pepper
  • 6 cherry tomatoes
  • Handful of spinach
  • 8-10 Chestnut mushrooms, chopped in half
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Coconut oil

Method
1. Whisk together the two eggs and a splash of almond milk in a bowl, with a little bit of black pepper. Pour into a large shallow dish – big enough to put your bread in to soak! Add your bread and let the egg absorb to one side, below flipping over to soak the other side.
2. Whilst the bread is soaking up the gorgeous creamy egg mixture (the almond milk makes it creamy!), put two frying pans with coconut oil on a medium-high heat and let the oil melt into the pan.
3. As it melts, quickly chop up your mushrooms. Add these to one of the frying pans to sizzle away. In the other pan, gently put your egg soaked bread onto the frying pan and let fry for 1-2 minutes. In the other pan, add the cherry tomatoes whole and drizzle with a little balsamic vinegar. Let these sizzle together with the mushrooms! After 1-2 minutes, turn your bread and fry the other side. They should start to go golden and brown! Add a handful of spinach to the tomato and mushroom pan and let this gently wilt.
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4. When your happy with the golden colour of the french toast, take off the heat and serve topped with the spinach, mushrooms and balsamic cherry tomatoes! You can even add another drizzle of balsamic vinegar here for good measure!
Sweet – French Toast with Warm Berries 
Serves 1. Gluten free, dairy free and vegetarian.
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Ingredients

  • 2-3 slices gluten free bread
  • 2 eggs
  • Almond milk
  • Coconut oil
  • Frozen berries
  • Maple syrup
  • Coconut yogurt (Co yo, Rebel Kitchen and Coconut Collective all do gorge coconut yog!)

Follow steps 1 and 2 to get your french toast going!
Once your french toast is frying, put a bowl of frozen berries in the microwave for 3 minutes. This is basically my cheat to a quick berry compote!! Once your french toast is done, serve with a generous helping of maple syrup, warmed berries on the top and a big dollop of coconut yogurt. This is such a naughty sweet decadent breakfast!
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bryonyhopkins

So I know this is coming about 4 weeks late and everyone has already done their bit about 2016 –  but having taken a fortnight holiday to reflect, I came to realise how much 2016 gave me. Whilst the world of politics pretty much turned upside down – my personal journey of 2016 was pretty revolutionary too!

2016, was the year of the liquid diet. It seems mad to think that this time last year I was going through tests which would eventually lead me to making the steroid vs liquid diet decision to get my Crohn’s Disease  back under control. I had absolutely no idea that decision would have such a major impact on not only my quality of life, but also in finding something I’m insanely passionate about! This blog was born out of the trauma and need for some distraction during my month of not eating – I’m not sure A Belly Full Of would ever have come to being without it!!

Without that liquid diet, I never would have become the food blogging- instagramming lover that I am today. I would never have cut my pain levels in half and I would never have realised quite how much my lifestyle and food was affecting my health. To look back at my liquid diet journey – check out the ‘Liquid Diet Diary’ tab at the top!

But it wasn’t just the liquid diet that made 2016 amazing. 2016 was the year I finally got my Journalist job title

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First piece to camera on coffee – obvs

and started working on stories across the globe for a huge British broadcaster. It was also the year of my first on screen appearance – on a food related story, obvs.

2016 was the year I travelled halfway across the world to Bali (read my Bali tips here!) – the furthest I’ve ever travelled and something I’ve always been quietly nervous about, in case of something going wrong with my health! Obviously nothing happened and I gained some incredible food inspiration from across the world – and learnt so much about their amazing culture.

2016 was the year I ran my first ever 10k – having always been a self proclaimed exercise hater (I still am, and I won’t even deny it!) Another massive personal achievement for me, having always found vigorous exercise extremely painful on my stomach. I completed the 10k in 1 hr 11 mins AND raised over £1,400 for Crohns & Colitis UK (I probably should note here that I genuinely haven’t run since then…!!)

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 And last but certainly not least, 2016 was the year I learnt to meditate. This was an extremely important personal feat for me, having identified later last year that my stress was severely affecting a flare up of my symptoms. The London Meditation Centre, with the amazing Jillian & Michael, taught me the art of vedic meditation and whilst this is something I am still working on to absolutely nail and get my forty minutes in every day, I have already felt a difference in my stress levels, my approach and outlook to life and a drop in my pain levels when I’m consistently meditating.

So I am going into 2017 with fire in my belly and so many more ambitions for this year. It just goes to show how much can happen in a year! Whilst all this was incredible – I still had some health ups and downs and have come into the new year on another medication for a short while. Life is nothing short of surprises – but it’s amazing how much better I feel having made changes on MY TERMS. My gastro consultant and team are truly amazing, but nobody has ever sat down with me and suggested these simple changes that have made such a staggering difference. I’m going into 2017 feeling like Crohn’s no longer owns me.

Watch out for much more to come on A Belly Full of this year…!

For more of my updates, you can catch me on Instagram & Twitter.

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bryonyhopkins