How a fitness craze turned my life around after Ulcerative colitis nearly destroyed it

I was diagnosed with Ulcerative colitis, a form of Inflammatory bowel disease at aged 17 – during my final year of A Levels.

Ulcerative colitis nearly cost me a chance to go to university. I was constantly missing school, suffering with lack of sleep and having constant flare ups (blood loss, weight loss, tonne of meds). I was trying to catch up on work but I was constantly rushing to the toilet.

I made it to university where I experienced another 3 years of flare ups. This was probably due to stress and not looking after myself – constant bad food, an increase of alcohol and just an overall bad lifestyle.

I was around 75kg and what I thought was the peak of physical fitness. I graduated with a 2:1 and took a short break to the USA to de-stress.

But the second I got back, I was straight back to having aggressive flare ups, being unable to work for months, trying new medication every couple of weeks to the point I was having constant hospital visits and stays.

In March 2014 I was admitted to hospital to have part of my inflamed bowel removed and to be fitted with an ileostomy bag.

But the doctors ended up deciding they wanted to try one more drug and avoided the surgery. It wasn’t great but it was the last medication I could try.

Towards the end of 2014 I started working at a sports university and I started to use their facilities to get fit. I had always been interested in going to the gym but never wanted to commit.

I was that ‘typical lad’  who worked on getting big arms and chest and buying standard supplements you see in supermarkets.

When I was surrounded by world class athletes I started to take a bigger interest in my health and fitness. I got to an average level of fitness, but I wanted more.

When I was working in the USA I remember seeing something that blew me away. Seeing men and women, almost superhuman, pushing their bodies and minds to braking point. What I saw was CrossFit.

CrossFit is a fitness regime which was developed by Greg Glassman over several decades. It is described as constant varied functional movements performed at high intensity.

The workouts are based on functional movements, and these movements reflect the best aspects of gymnastics, weightlifting, running, rowing and more. These movements relate to everyday fitness and movements.

It appealed to me with the success I had seen it have on people. I wanted to push myself as far as my body could go and then more!

I started attending the classes the CrossFit box (gym) put on several times a day. You turn up, go through some stretches, maybe some strength work and then get onto the work out of the day.

The whole process is done in an hour. I thought I was fit, but this wasn’t the case. I was feeling exhausted after each workout but feeling a sense of achievement.

I remember doing a workout called Cindy. It’s 20 minutes of as many rounds as possible of 5 pull ups, 10 press ups, 15 air squats. I got just over 6 rounds and was struggling to do the pull ups…. but now I am over 20 rounds.

I attended the classes for several months, learning the skills, building a good foundation of fitness. I then got a coach that gave me that extra push. I did a couple of competitions and kept training hard but there was always room for improvement.

I have never felt as fit as I currently do – but don’t get me wrong there is always room for improvement.

When looking back at old pictures of myself, I don’t recognise the person I used to be.

I have surrounded myself with a great set of friends and fellow athletes that I can learn from and work with to improve. I have made some changes to my lifestyle to improve my health. I have cut out alcohol all together, nearly 6 months without a drink, as my body does not react well to it.

My diet has become very paleo, which is a diet that is based on what early humans ate, so: meat, vegetables, nuts and seeds. I do enjoy the occasional pizza or burger but try to stay away from as many processed foods as possible.

Every night I stretch, mobilise, and practise my breathing techniques. These help me relax and de-stress – which is key to keeping my colitis at bay.  

I am at a good healthy weight but I am always researching and looking for things to improve my health.

I still suffer like everyone else with fatigue, increased toilet visits and lack of sleep but I aim to improve my way of life. 

I enjoy CrossFit so much and having seen the improvement in my life, so much so that I am going into the coaching side of it.

I have my Level One course in a few weeks and after that I will be able to take classes. I can’t wait to promote a healthy lifestyle.

As well as coaching I am undertaking my masters degree in sport and exercise. My research dissertation is based around how adaptive people train and compete in CrossFit.

They are not heroes, there are examples of these people out there proving people wrong in relation to their fitness. I want to improve people’s life. I would love to open an adaptive athletes CrossFit gym.

Hopefully, by improving my lifestyle and continuing in CrossFit I will see a reduction in hospital visits, less flare ups and just a general improvement in my condition that I’ve been suffering with for many years.

I would say to anyone suffering with a invisible illness, surround yourself with supportive people, make small changes to your lifestyle and if you can do some exercise, it could alter your life for the better.

Words By Matt James Deacon

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