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

An open letter to all airlines who serve passengers with invisible illnesses

I have an invisible illness. That means that I, along with thousands of others, suffer in silence most of the time.

It means that able-bodied privilege is not only all around me but that I’m hyper aware of it as most of the world assumes I am just like them. I’ve learned to live with my invisible illness and work with it but recently I had an experience that was a slap in the face to myself and anyone who constantly hears ‘But you don’t look sick!’

I am a 3-time cancer survivor facing heart failure and implanted with a Left-Ventricular-Assist-Device or LVAD to help circulate my blood. An artificial heart to put it in simple terms. And I’m relatively young at 35. Piercings, pink hair, pink cheeks, and a pretty smile so I don’t expect people to automatically know how ill I am.

I make efforts to not look like I’m dying whenever possible but sometimes I do need help. Recently I flew for the first time since getting my LVAD placed. I was nervous but prepared ahead of time. I had spoken to my doctors about it, I had a letter from them for TSA to make security easier, I spoke to the airline (Air Canada) ahead of time to make sure they were aware of my needs, and I requested wheelchair service so I didn’t have to overexert myself walking across all the terminals. I thought it would be fine. It was a nightmare.

On my first flight I pre-boarded so I could get help with my bag.

It’s heavy and contains my medical equipment and must be with me at all times but since I am still healing from my open heart surgery I cannot lift it up into the overhead bins. Pre-boarding is supposed to allow you extra time and help. When I pre-boarded boarded there were no flight attendants to be found. I pressed the call button but within seconds the plane was filled with regular passengers. I waited until the aisles were clear and called for help again but by the time a flight attendant came all the overhead bins were full. I started to really worry about my medical equipment and even more so when he started to insist that my bag MUST be checked.
I complained that I had pre-boarded for the extra help and never got it and he just walked away saying ‘write a letter’. It was only when I insisted that this LIFE SAVING medical equipment cannot be separated from me and started to pull out the letter from my doctors that he agreed to hold it up front for me.
I had told the agent when I checked in that I would need wheelchair service when I was to meet my connecting flight at Vancouver . I am familiar with Vancouver Airport and how large it is and I only had a short time between flights. This was compounded when my first flight arrived late. I disembarked and saw a man standing at the top of the ramp next to some wheelchairs. Already huffing and puffing just from dragging my bag up the ramp I saw him and smiled and exclaimed ‘Oh are you for me? I requested a wheelchair!’ He gave me a once over and saw a young healthy looking mobile woman and said ‘No, I have a cart.’ I looked confused so he said ‘A golf cart. Here take the elevator,’ and he pushed the button for me and walked away.

Up top I saw his cart and some seats and figured a cart was even better than a wheelchair so I waited for him or whomever was supposed to help me as I requested.

I watched all my fellow passengers leave. I watched the flight attendants leave. I watched the pilots leave. No sign of that guy again and by this time I was in a severe time crunch to get to my next flight.
So I start walking, getting more and more tired. At the end of a hallway I meet a young airport employee who was in a wheelchair himself. I explain my situation to him and he guides me to customs where he tells an agent there that I need a cart. She attempts to raise the man who was supposed to meet me on the radio 3 times but he does not answer. I start getting nervous about making my connection so she calls for another cart, puts me in the speed line for customs, and says the cart should meet me on the other side.
I go through with no issues but there is no cart on the other side. All the employees I ask about it have no idea where I’m supposed to go. I wander the terminal getting more and more panicked until I spot an Air Canada counter. I am panting and coughing by this point and I stumble over and say ‘Please can you help me?’ No one moves.
I explain that I had requested a wheelchair and none ever came for me. They still don’t move but one man sleepily asks if I still need one. I’m almost in tears at this point just out of sheer frustration. The woman who had helped me on the other side of customs walked by at that point, she had her purse and jacket and was clearly off work for the day.

She saw how upset I was and said she’d take me herself.

She grabbed a wheelchair and whisked me off as I thanked her profusely and tried to calm my racing heart down. She was an angel, she pushed me across the international and the domestic terminals all on her own and there is no way on earth I could have walked that far myself even if I had all the time in the world.
She got me as far as the security check point and then I was on my own again. Having already done this before my first flight I was all ready with my passport, boarding pass, and letter explaining my LVAD and how I cannot go through metal detectors and need a pat-down. My LVAD is internal but the controller and batteries to power it are external and connected by a cord that comes out of my abdomen and hang at my side in a bag.
I explained this to them and how I cannot remove this bag but they can inspect it. Still I was barked at and yelled at with demands to place my bag on the conveyor belt by at least 4 employees. I finally got fed up and was forced to lift up my shirt to show them where the bag came out of my body! Then and only then did they let me go through, and they still tried to force me through the metal detectors.
When I repeated that I need a pat-down I asked them to please hurry as my flight was leaving in 10 minutes. It is my opinion that this annoyed them. The man who seemed to be in charge started moving very, very slowly. The female agent did my pat down reasonably fast but he took my paperwork and walked away slow and took an unreasonably long time getting it back to me. At this point I lost it and actually started to cry and he just looked me in the eye and sauntered away slowly without breaking eye contact leaving me no doubt that he was punishing me for being emotional.
I finally got my paperwork back and thank the heavens there was a cart at the end of the security check, and even though he wasn’t there for me when he saw my boarding pass and how the plane was due to leave at that very moment he took me instead. He warned me that we might not make it and I started to panic, my heart started racing, and my chest started to hurt. We pulled up to the gate and the doors were closed. I started to cry and begged the agent there to let me on, it wasn’t my fault, I didn’t get the help I needed.

She took pity and let me on and helped me with my bag herself.

I boarded with the entire plane staring at my tear streaked face as I coughed and struggled to catch my breath and clutched my chest and I couldn’t help but feel like I was being terribly overly dramatic. But in hindsight all that running and fear and adrenaline might have hurt my heart and I was in very real physical distress. I sat down in my seat and promptly fell asleep before we even took off.
My return flight went fairly smooth except for one moment that put it all in perspective. This time I reminded everyone at every step of the way that I needed a wheelchair or cart at Vancouver and this time there was one there to meet me. Security was much kinder and a United Airlines agent wheeled me right up to the gate and parked me by the desk along with 2 other more elderly passengers in wheelchairs where I waited with my bags on my lap.
They announced the pre-boarding and United Airlines flight attendants came and took the two passengers in wheelchairs on either side of me so I waited for one to come help me as well. Then they announced regular boarding. I was honestly flabbergasted. I moved my bags off my lap and stood up from my wheelchair and everyone in line stared at me.
I went up to the agent at the counter and told him I needed to pre-board. He looked at me and sighed and said well they already announced it and I had missed it. I told him quite curtly that I know they announced it I was sitting right next to him in a wheelchair and watched as the other two passengers in wheelchairs got help so I had assumed I was going to be helped as well.

He sighed again and said something along the lines of ‘Fine, you can board now then if you want.’

He clearly seemed to think I was making it up and was just trying to cut the line. When I said I would be needing help with my bags he actually rolled his eyes! He grabbed my bag without saying another word and took off speed-walking down the ramp.
I trailed after him trying to explain that I have a weak heart and my LVAD and recent surgery and I actually was apologizing for needing him to lift the bag since he was so obviously annoyed. He put my bag up and walked away without another word and I sat down and felt like the biggest jerk in the world.
It didn’t even occur to me until almost an hour later that HE was the jerk, that I shouldn’t be made to feel bad for needing help, and that he had judged me with one glance to be a liar and a troublemaker since my illness is invisible. So did the man at the top of the ramp with my first Vancouver connection. He took one look at me and decided that I couldn’t possibly be sick. I was lying, I was lazy, I was out of shape and didn’t want to walk, or I just wanted attention. I sat there and all my shame and guilt turned into anger and righteousness.
I am a very independent woman and I already find it hard to ask for help. Then when I do I get judged and shamed and flat-out ignored! People of all ages can get sick. Wearing makeup to hide the bags under your eyes and clothing that covers your surgical scars does not mean you do not need help. Smiling and being polite does not mean you are not in pain.

My illness is invisible and during those flights I felt invisible as well.

Dismissed and ignored. It made me terrified to ever fly again and let me explain what a loss that is to me. When you live with heart failure you have to live as if each day might be your last because it very well might be. So that bucket list of things to do, places to see, people to visit one last time while I still can… most of that just became impossible for me if I’m afraid to fly.
My whole life I’ve refused to let my health dictate who I am and what I can and cannot do, but I believe that race across the airport could have killed me. And I cannot take that risk. I can’t risk being ignored again, I can’t risk being made to feel invisible as I pant and cough and beg for help.
So that is why I’m writing this and making it public. So that all airlines can take notice, not just Air Canada and United, and hopefully they’ll make some changes in the way they treat the disabled. Perhaps to spread awareness of people with invisible illness so that when a child is going through chemo but hasn’t lost his hair yet, or a young mother with fibromyalgia, or a teenager with chronic pain, or anyone else who doesn’t fit the stereotype of a ‘sick person’ asks for help they are met with courtesy and respect not judgment and rolled eyes.
I have been flying alone since I was 7 years old without a lick of fear and I hate that this experience has made me afraid. I hate that others ignorance is crippling me more than my own illness. So I’m speaking up and I hope others will as well and that together we can make the world a more caring and comfortable place for all those with disabilities, hidden or otherwise.
Words by Shanti Parmelee

How having a mental and a chronic illness has messed up my eating habits

I have had a problem with food for as long as I can remember.

It started when I was quite young, 6 or so I think. I was always a little bit chubby but as a little girl that wasn’t a concern of mine. I enjoyed my food, maybe if even a little too much.

But my dad had started taking me swimming in order for me to lose some weight, and there was this one time where we’d gone to the shops for a new swimming costume. I tried one on that I liked, but was told that I couldn’t wear it because I looked far too fat in it.

While this wasn’t what led to my eating disorder, which saw me hospitalised in 2011, it was definitely a stemming factor and likely one of the first factors to the following years that saw my self-esteem completely deteriorate.

But anyway, this isn’t just about my trouble with bulimia – you can read all about that here.

This is about how both bipolar disorder and my ostomy reversal – of which came as a result of a battle with Ulcerative colitis that saw me having an ileostomy bag for 10 months – alongside my past weight struggles have affected my eating habits and the way I view myself.

You see, since having my ostomy reversal, I end up using the bathroom at least eight times a day.

This can be incredibly disruptive to my daily routine and can mean I’m often unable to leave the house for longer than a few hours or even at all. Of course, there is medication to help slow my digestive system down – but I haven’t yet found one that hasn’t left me in horrendous amounts of pain a few hours after taking them.

To help myself, I have been advised to eat less fibre-filled foods, such as white bread, white potatoes and basically anything that you’d avoid when dieting.

Which would sound easy enough – if I wasn’t absolutely terrified of gaining weight, and if I wasn’t on medication that makes me gain it faster than normal.

And this is where the bipolar disorder comes in.

For my bipolar disorder, I take mood-stabilising medication and anti-psychotics. Unfortunately, most mental health medication comes with a weight gain side effect – and this can’t always be managed by good eating, as some medications actually change the way your body stores fat and makes you gain the weight quicker than usual.

But even so, to keep my weight steady, I need to eat healthily. But this, as you can tell, is a huge issue when I’ve been told to eat things to slow my digestive system.

So I feel as though I’m constantly stuck in limbo.

When I eat these carby foods, I feel bloated and horrible in myself. I feel unattractive and I hate looking in the mirror. I know some of this lack of self-esteem stems from the eating disorder habits I still harbour, but it has an incredibly negative effect on my mental health, and can often make my low periods feel even lower.

I often avoid going out or wearing certain things because I feel so uncomfortable in myself.

When I eat better, more fruit, vegetables and grains, I feel more confident. Happier in myself, non-bloated, but I end up limiting myself because I’m stuck in the bathroom more often and I end up with awful stomach pain.

It feels like a never-ending cycle that always has the same end-result of feeling crap.

I really, really, just wish there was a way that I could feel good in myself both physically and mentally without risking one bout of good-health for the other.

While suffering with both a mental and physical illness is hard enough, it’s even more difficult, when you’re constantly subsiding one or the other just to feel good about yourself.

It almost feels that to live a ‘normal’ life, I am either going to have to pick a team: my mental health or my physical.

But sadly, I know that even when picking a team – one is always going to be negatively affected.

Words by Hattie Gladwell


How I turned my life around after a battle with Ulcerative colitis resulted in life-changing surgery

September 2013 and I was starting a new life of independence and opportunity at University studying my dream subject, Photography.

My Ulcerative colitis was more or less under control after ruling my life since the age of 12.

Fast-forward to January 2014 and everything had changed. My flare ups were worse than ever and I was considering leaving. One morning on the way to the gym across campus I had a bad incident, for those with the same issues, you’ll know what I mean.

Emotionally and physically exhausted at the fact this wasn’t an unusual occurrence, I packed my bags and I was at home the next day.

It had become too much for me to deal with and I wasn’t going to put up with it being an overwhelming burden any more, so I met with a surgeon a month later.

By early April I had woken up with no colon, a big scar and a bag attached to my stomach.

The very next day complications started to arise. I was white as a sheet and was being given numerous blood transfusions.

It turned out I was having severe internal bleeding and needed emergency surgery.

Another day or two went by before I was awake at three in the morning with the worst pain I’ve ever had, even after the colitis.

The next thing I know the on-call surgeon is at my bedside and I’m being pumped with painkillers before I start to feel the ping of stitches being re-opened as I’m told an infection had taken place.

This has now left me with a very odd and rather unpleasant deep hole scar that looks like more of a belly button than my actual belly button.

We all know life is in no way fair the majority of the time and this situation was no exception. One issue led to another and by May 2015 I had found myself on the waiting list for a liver transplant, of all things, due to an added condition of mine, Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis, better known as PSC.

On top of this I was still struggling to adapt and accept life with a stoma and accept the fact I couldn’t be more than two hours away from the hospital.

I was bored, sick, alone and a very interesting shade of yellow –  which actually gets commented on more than you would think.

It’s now October 2016, I have had the transplanted liver for 8 months and all is well. I’ve not only accepted my ostomy bag but now, with the prospect of a reversal, I find myself wanting to keep it.

I used to have extreme anxiety, and I still do to be honest – but it’s a lot better nowadays, and I would put that down to these experiences.

They have changed me as a person and given me new ways to cope and be comfortable and they always give me something to think back to when everything starts feeling hard.

The point of this post is to let people know that things can feel like there’s no hope, or life just keeps coming at you, but it does get better.

What seemed like a never-ending struggle now seems like a blip to me.

I’m now a normal colour –  thankfully – instead of looking like a washed out Simpson, and I’m also starting to cross things off of my to-do list, which has been building up the whole time I’ve been knocked back. Things like learning to drive (finally), looking for a career in health care and picking up photography again for the first time in almost three years are all things I now have under my belt.

I’ve even found myself in a loving relationship, something that after my first surgery I never thought I would have.

There are awful moments for anyone going through these situations, but looking back now I will always remember to never say never.

A phrase I love is that if you have scars then it proves you showed up to the fight.

Words by Ollie Avis

11 things people who have never had sex want to know

I’m 25 and I’ve never had sex.

I’m not even ashamed. I’ve never got close to it even happening so I wouldn’t know any different.

I’ve never really had ‘the chat’ or participated in any sort of conversation surrounding ‘sex’ and the ins and outs. It makes me feel slightly uncomfortable as I don’t want to pretend I’ve done something I haven’t just to fit in.

Like many who have never experienced sexual intercourse before, I have a lot of questions.

Here are 11 things people who have never had sex want to know.

1.Is it really worth it? 

I guess that my only experience of ‘sex’ happening is either pornography or the dramatisation of sex on a TV show or in a movie.

It’s made to look fantastic, like the characters are having the best time ever. I guess my notion of sex is slightly warped due to never having sex. I like the idea of it, but would I enjoy it?

2. Does it hurt? 

Seriously I’ve always thought about this. Surely it hurts the first time for both parties? Pornography makes it look easy, but is it?

I personally don’t enjoy pain so this puts me off slightly. If it’s painful, why carry on?

3. Is there preparation involved? 

What is foreplay? Is it someone teasing you like you’d tease a dog with a bone? How do you prepare yourself?

A shave of the necessary areas, a decent shower? There’s so many questions!

4. Is there such a thing as no strings? 

You always hear people say ‘It’s just sex’ – but what exactly is ‘just sex’?

There is always an obvious attraction to someone if you want to ‘do the deed with them’.

So can sex ever be no strings? Will someone get hurt?

5.How do you know if someone is really having an orgasm? 

How can you tell? What’s different about someone faking one? Can you tell if someone is faking an orgasm?

6. What is squirting?

This is a genuine question. I’ve heard the phrase ‘I made her squirt’ once or twice in my life time, and it just sounds really unsavoury.

7. Does penis size really matter/can you break your penis? 

Well does it? Can a penis be too big? Will it hurt? In extreme cases, can your penis ‘snap’?

8. Sex toys… do they really spice it up? 

I have never owned a sex toy but see people talk about them frequently. Does using a sex toy really spice things up? What makes it so different?

9. Is sex really better without protection? 

Sexual health is so important, so why do many advocate sex without a condom? I’ve heard lots of people say ‘it feels better without a condom’ or ‘he doesn’t like wearing one’.

10. Can sex cause damage if practiced incorrectly? 

I’m serious, for both males and females can this cause long term damage? How do you move on from that? The fear of this makes me never want to have sex.

If something goes wrong and the worst happens, will it scar you for life?

11. STD/I’s: Should I be worried? 

Chlamydia, gonorrhoea, genital warts, genital herpes – the list goes on.

How do you know when you have contracted a sexually transmitted infection? Do you even know?

What does this mean for long term sexual relationships? Does this affect your confidence?

Words by James Conlon

Why my colostomy bag makes me feel better about my body

I’ve been all different shapes and sizes over these last 30 years.

I was a chubby child.
I was an overweight teenager.
I was an underweight Crohn’s patient.
I am now a curvy woman.

When you have a chronic illness, it’s very easy to hate your body. You feel as though it has let you down, and you feel angry that it’s stopping you from doing what you want to do. But when you’ve always hated your body, even before your illness flared up, it can be a real challenge to learn to accept it.

When I was a teenager, I had a lot of pretty friends and I couldn’t help but compare myself to them. I don’t think it helped that I went to an all-girls’ school, as many of the girls seemed to be very critical of each other. So when they would all look cool, with their perfect eyeliner and short skirts, I was over here looking all dumpy with panda eyes. I soon found myself buying those magazines – the ones where every other article was about how some celebrity had gained too much weight or lost too much weight, and how ‘horrific’ they looked when, in reality, they looked normal. I was being bombarded by bullshit about how, if you didn’t look ‘perfect’, you were inferior. I blamed my body for letting me down.

It was the same when I was at university – I had loads of awesome friends who were pretty and looked amazing on our nights out.

It was always my friends who got all the boys’ interest, and I never got a look in. I felt as though no-one would ever find me attractive. I lost respect for my body, and I drank and I smoked, and hated how I looked.

When my Crohn’s disease flared up, I lost about half my body weight, had horrendous abdominal pains, lost blood and generally looked tired and grey. At first, the only symptom I had was weight loss so I wasn’t concerned. In fact, I was elated that I was finally shifting some weight. I thought it was just a natural loss in body fat – the ‘student diet’ of cigarettes and not much food, because most of my money was spent on getting drunk and dancing the night away for most of the week. But when the other symptoms (the pain, the blood loss, lacking energy) kicked in, that’s when I realised something wasn’t right. I was still losing weight, and I had gotten way past the point of being slim – I was now very underweight and looking terrible. I felt terrible too; I had no energy and even sitting down was uncomfortable, because my bony bum had no padding.

It got to the point where my parents had to pretty much drag me to the doctors and I finally had to face what was going on. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, and it was very aggressive. Within months, my bowel was so weakened that it perforated after a colonoscopy. I had no choice but to have ostomy surgery.

They disconnected my colon, cut out a couple of really damaged bits, drained the perforation, and gave me two stomas – an ileostomy and a mucous fistula.

For someone who already hated their body, I thought having two ostomy bags would be the final nail in the coffin. I thought it would send me further into the self-hatred spiral that I’d been falling into since my teens. But strangely enough, the opposite happened. After my ostomy surgery, my symptoms eased off. I was feeling less pain. I was feeling more energy. My body didn’t feel like a torture chamber anymore. I felt freedom. I felt exhilaration. I felt better than I had done for years.

It’s not exactly been an easy journey towards feeling better about my body. There were a few blips along the way, one of which being my midline incision wound. It had reopened a couple of weeks after surgery and so it was a huge blow to my recovery as well as my self-esteem. I lived with this open wound for seven months before it healed and, when it did finally heal, it was a deep, ugly scar. I hated it for years. It wasn’t until my most recent surgery in May this year that I really felt at peace with my body.

I had my original ileostomy taken down and reconnected to my colon, and the mucous fistula was turned into a proper colostomy. Aside from the huge change of going from two stomas down to one, my surgeon (my wonderful, incredible surgeon) closed the wound with staples and left me with a neat, beautiful scar. Well… to me, it’s beautiful.

Poo isn’t exactly the most glamourous accessory to wear, but there have been times in my life where I’ve felt truly beautiful, even with ostomy bags.

My vintage hen party photoshoot was one. My wedding day was another.

And sure, I am not in the best shape of my life right now but it doesn’t mean I hate my body. I love my body, even if it’s not what people perceive to be ‘perfect’.

I’ve said many times before that these are my battle scars, and I am proud of them. But it’s more than that. Yes, my scars and my colostomy bag are a reminder of how my body overcame something that nearly killed me. But they are also a reminder of how my body somehow found the strength to fight back, even though I had treated it so badly in the past. It didn’t give up. So, now that I’ve pretty much recovered from my most recent surgery, I’m going to start exercising more regularly and eat better. Sure, part of that is to get back to a healthier weight, but mostly it’s because I just want to reward my body and look after it better, especially now that I finally accept it and respect it.

Words by Thaila Skye

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How one woman who once suffered with anorexia is inspiring thousands to love themselves

Gina is the founder of Nourishandeat, a blog and Instagram account that aims to inspire others to love themselves.

Starting as a personal recovery account, Gina suffered with anorexia, orthoexia and excessive exercise, and had faced many self-esteem issues. But, it later turned into her journey of recovery – as she met with and connected with many others who had gone through a similar situation to her.

Now, Gina inspires thousands every day – reminding them to be happy, confident and to love themselves just as they are.

We spoke to Gina to find out all about her journey, and what she feels is most important factor in teaching yourself to love yourself completely.

Where did ‘Nourishandeat’ begin?

Nourishandeat started as a personal recovery account. I used it to follow the girl who wrote a tumblr blog about ED recovery (, and other people who inspired me. On it I posted the things that I wanted to believe, like inspirational quotes and doodles about loving your body, even though at the time I didn’t think they applied to me. I used it to connect with other people going through the same things I was, and the more people I met and the more friendships I made, the more I learned about body positivity and my own recovery journey.

What was it like to suffer with an eating disorder?

From early 2011 until late 2014 I suffered from anorexia, orthoexia, and excessive exercise – but I’d always had a body image problem, something I never really realized I had until after I started recovery. Ever since I was a little girl I was tall and thin and felt awkward all the time. I was bullied all throughout elementary school, and from then (and into my 20s, and even still now) I constantly worried that people didn’t like me as much as I thought they did, or that I was a burden on other people. And when my eating disorder developed, all those feelings sort of came to the surface.

What inspires you to post such uplifting posts all of the time, and how are they received by your followers?

Mainly I post about the things I’m feeling at that time, or if there’s a topic that’s really bothering me I’ll talk it out on Instagram. I try to be the influence I wish I’d had when I was younger. Obviously, I’m human, and I don’t get it right 100% of the time (none of us do) – so sometimes people will comment with their opinions – I’m learning every day. But usually the response is overwhelmingly positive.

What do you feel is the most important factor of loving yourself?

Not giving a shit what other people think, honestly. There will always be people who tell you you’re not enough of one thing, or too much of another, or to sit down and not say what you think. I’ve stopped attributing my self worth to the opinions of others. Body love isn’t about what other people find beautiful – it’s about finding and exploring the beauty in your SELF, and knowing that you are good enough just the way you are because you exist.

Do you think loving yourself completely is achievable?

I do. But I also think that it’s unrealistic to expect the old feelings of inadequacy to just disappear. I think it’s entirely possible to love yourself completely, just the way you are, while still having those mind ghosts pop up every now and then. What’s important is knowing how to control them, and having the right tools to banish them before they fully take form.

This 👆🏼 is what day 1 of my period looks like, with cramps and bloat and water retention and gas. My stomach is not flat. I am not comfortable. I am irritable and swollen and eating everything in sight like a hungry monster. My insides hurt and the pressure in my stomach is less than pleasant. But I am sharing it with you because this is something girls rarely see on social media. Right now, this is what my body looks like 🙌🏻 Bellies are not always meant to be flat. It's ok to bloat! My body is performing a natural task — one that my eating disorder took from me for years. I may not be comfortable, but I will always be grateful for a body that works to keep me alive. ❤️ #embracethesquish #nonairbrushedme

A post shared by Gina ✌🏻️ (@nourishandeat) on

How do you feel someone wanting to feel comfortable in their own skin should go about doing so?

Go through your means of influence and get rid of anyone who makes you feel bad about yourself. Rid yourself of toxicity – in friendships, in your social media feed, in the way you talk to yourself. Surround yourself with people who challenge you in a good way; start following body positive and inclusive accounts. Start looking out for all the ways that society has told you you’re not good enough – and remind yourself every day of the ways that the shape of your body has no real consequence on your worth as a human being.

Do you have any advice for those who suffer with body image issues?

You are so much more than what you think. You are not a size tag or a number on a scale. You are not the size of your hips or the flatness of your stomach. Your value does not depend on how correctly you fit the definition of ‘female’ or ‘male’ or ‘beautiful’ or ‘strong’ or ‘sexy’ or ‘thin.’ Take a few moments at the start of every day to look at yourself in the mirror and accept that while you might not like all the parts of you right now, your body is beautiful. It is the home chosen for your wonderful spirit. The size of your jeans or the shape of your face has absolutely nothing to with your self worth. You are amazing and powerful and enough just the way you are. There are people out there who don’t give a flying fuck about what you look like or how much you weigh – surround yourself with those people. There’s more of us than you think.

Edit: this photo is an exact copy of @chooselifewarrior's original post a few days back, which has been reported by trolls and removed by @instagram 4 separate times. It has already received a better response than any of her posts. Why? Because I'm thin — because my body is deemed socially acceptable. Because the sexualization of my body is not considered a fetish. What a disgusting double standard. #IstandwithDani 😐⚡️ "Some people talk about my body as if they have any idea what it's like to walk in it. Society talks about my body as if it owns it. As a woman I am expected to meet the beauty standard set before me — And instead of empowering us, they become a vice, tightening with unrealistic expectation, and the shame of self-promotion. Women's bodies can be naked for profit — sure. Naked for men's eyes — sure. But naked and posted by women themselves?DISGUSTING. Sexualised by men? Sure. Taunted by society? Fine. Fallen in love with by the soul within? ABSURD. Women who understand the need to control their own sharing and promoting of body image get it. They understand that in order to create change, we need to see diversity — diversity in bodies and in people. Nakedness is nothing to be ashamed of — but as women we are told that our bodies have a different purpose: To excite men. Even if we don't mean it; Even if it is not sexual; Even if we do not consent; The simple act of empowering ourselves is twisted — because we are always to blame, men are always 'boys being boys.' See, my body is sailing ship — Meant for a million other things before my sexuality, before the use and gaze of men… But that's all society sees. This isn't an advertisement for sex.This is a woman claiming her body. Let's not be afraid to empower ourselves, whatever that means for you. To the men who think my body is theirs, thinking that their opinion will break me, or that it even matters. To the women who slut shame for no other reason than they've bought into the bullshit establishment which holds our rights as women hostage. I'm showing as much of my body as I want, to normalise its existence. Sex has nothing to do with it."

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