I need 4,000 calories a day to live

I need 4,000 calories a day to live

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Jo sold her story to Fabulous
Jo sold her story to Fabulous
When doctors told me I needed 4,000 calories a day to live, I couldn’t believe it…
By Joanna Hill, 36, from Bristol

I curled up in bed, squinting at the crack of light beaming through my curtains. As I pulled the duvet over my head, I knew it was going to be another one of those days. I desperately wanted to get up and be ‘normal’, but the pain was excruciating.

I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in November 2015. Before my diagnosis I was a strong and healthy powerlifter. After eight years of training, in August 2015, I finally broke the BDFPA Wales record for bench presses. Nutrition was my life. I lived on fresh fruit and vegetables, combined with a high protein diet supplemented with lentils and grains. I was a health fanatic, to the point I started my Nutritional Therapy Diploma to become a nutritionist.

Jo powerlifting
Jo powerlifting

But then, at the end of October last year, I started haemorrhaging blood. It was terrifying and doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. I lost seven pints of blood over three days, needing multiple blood transfusions and five bags of plasma.

Luckily medics managed to stop the bleeding, but not for long. I was in and out of hospital for over a month with severe bleeding. I lost over two stone and still had no idea what was wrong. I went from a healthy nine stone to weighing under seven stone. After a number of invasive tests the doctors finally delivered their diagnosis: I had Crohn’s disease.

It meant my body was struggling to absorb the nutrients I needed. Suddenly, my rapid and dramatic weight loss started to make sense. But the worst was to come – it turned out that my diet of fruit and vegetables had caused the severe bleeding. I was stunned. I’d prided myself on my athletic lifestyle, but my healthy diet was killing me.

Doctors explained that the high fibre foods in my extreme powerlifter diet had inflamed my intestines. The irritation had led to the bleeding. When they told me I had to avoid fresh fruit and vegetables and consume a staggering 4,000 calories a day to treat it, I was shocked.

My family were so supportive and were relieved that I finally had a diagnosis, but the news hit me hard. I went from being a fit, strong, healthy powerlifter to getting through an entire cake a day. I felt like a fraud as a nutritionist and when I came out of hospital, I had a bit of a breakdown. It was only then that I realised just how much my life was going to change. It was tough but ultimately I decided I couldn’t let Crohn’s rule my life.

Chocolate cake snack
Chocolate cake snack

With the help of a nutritionist, I planned my new high-carb diet. Now, I start my mornings with a fry-up, and I’ll snack on crisps and chocolate bars mid-morning. For lunch, I’ll have a curry or pie and mash, followed by more cake and sweets in the afternoon. In the evening, I’ll have a steak for dinner and polish off an entire cheesecake before bed.

It goes completely against everything I learned as a powerlifter but because my body only retains a small amount of nutrients from the food I consume, I can eat as much cake as I like without gaining weight.

I’ve finally learned to love my diet but it’s hard to remember to eat all the time, even when I’m not hungry. Junk food is no longer a treat – it’s a lifesaver. But I always look on the bright side of scoffing a guilt-free cake. My friends are jealous whenever we go out for dinner too!

I can still suffer from daily pain from my condition, but I won’t let it stop me. I’ve embraced my diet as part of me and try to keep as active as possible. I keep fit by kickboxing and although I still can’t believe how ill being healthy made me, I’m not going to let Crohn’s define who I am.

Jo before and after powerlifting
Jo before and after powerlifting

FACTS ON CROHN’S:

  • Crohn’s disease affects around 115,000 people in the UK alone, suffers experiences can range from severe bleeding to intense pain.

  • Crohn’s is a chronic condition of the digestive system or gut, and can also lead to malabsorption, where the sufferer loses the ability to absorb nutrients which can lead to extreme weight loss.

  • There are 5 different types of Crohn’s, each type affects a person differently, and can overlap with another  meaning each suffer has an individual experience of the condition and rarely have the same symptoms.
Joanna wanted to raise awareness of Crohn’s when she told her extreme health story to Fabulous magazine, in the Sun on Sunday. If you have a health condition you want to talk about in the national press, contact us via the form on the right and we’ll give you a call to discuss the process.