Monday, 7 July 2014

Get Your Belly Out!

When Bethany Townsend shared her story on the Crohn's and Colitis UK Facebook page, along with some holiday photos, I'm sure she didn't expect this response. The photos have been seen by more than 12 million people worldwide and her story has been picked up by news outlets everywhere. She shared her story in response to the brilliant Get Your Belly Out

Sahara, Victoria, Gem and Lorna launched the #GetYourBellyOut Facebook and Twitter campaign in March to raise awareness of IBD (that's Inflammatory Bowel Disease, if you didn't know) and have raised over £8500 for Crohn's and Colitis UK in the process. Their aim was simple, but #GetYourBellyOut has become so much more that. Through their Twitter account and Facebook page, they are supporting IBD sufferers across the world and inspiring them to feel confident about their body in the face of an illness that so often saps all self-esteem. They're raising awareness about IBD through social media and encouraging others to share their stories to further the cause. From such humble beginnings to worldwide recognition in just four months is something rather special!

Anything that helps unite the IBD community is awesome in my book (see also Crohn's Zone) and I was delighted to see how many people shared their own belly pictures in time for World IBD Day on 19th May. The four girls behind Get Your Belly Out are an inspiration.

Before The Get Your Belly Out girls started their campaign, there was a limited number of people willing to share their stomachs with the world. A quick scroll through the photos shared with Crohn's and Colitis UK shows that pre-March 2014, only a few brave souls were willing to bare their scars, ostomies and bags. Now, both CCUK and Get Your Belly Out can hardly keep up with the volume of photos! Bethany was one of those people who shared.

The Daily Mail's headline yesterday suggested that "score of Crohn's sufferers ... post(ed) bikini selfies inspired by" Bethany. This is not the case. In fact, the photos of other people used in this article (in some cases, without permission) came from the CCUK and Get Your Belly Out Facebook pages and some were shared well before Bethany Townsend shared hers. It's also worth noting that some of those sharing have Ulcerative Colitis, not Crohn's.

If I'm completely honest, I'm a little saddened (but not surprised) that in spite of thousands of IBD sufferers sharing their photos and stories, the media didn't pick up the story until an aspiring model shared hers. Don't get me wrong, the publicity is brilliant (when it's factually correct) and if it raises awareness of IBD, great! It's just that Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis wreak havoc on your body and your confidence, and I'm not sure that promoting only those people with model-good-looks in the press is helpful. People with IBD come in all shapes and sizes, like the rest of the population, and it's just as brave and equally inspirational when they share their photos with the world. Extreme weight loss during a flare or puffy Prednisolone moon-face can make it a challenge to simply get in front of a camera and allow your image to be captured - that's why I prefer to stay behind the lens.

I did share my own belly photo for World IBD Day. Ok, I was wearing my Muppets pyjamas and not a bikini, the perspective is off and you can't even see my face, but even so, it was one of the hardest photographs to take and share. As I clicked the 'Tweet' button, my palms were sweating and I wanted to delete it as soon as it appeared on my timeline. I needn't have worried, though. The response was wonderful; people were supportive and encouraging and I realised that I'd been worried about nothing. Actually, now I'll show my scars or my bag to anyone who asks. I'm not ashamed of my ileostomy and I know that the more I talk about it, the more normal it becomes. The reactions aren't always positive and I do get the odd hurtful comment, but some people will always fear what's different.

Is Bethany Townsend brave, beautiful and inspirational? Yes! And so are all the others who make the effort to raise awareness about Crohn's and Colitis.

To join in the campaign and help raise awareness of IBD, all you have to do is upload a picture of your belly to your chosen social media accounts using the hashtag #GetYourBellyOut. If you're sharing on Facebook, remember to change that post's visibility to 'Public" so Get Your Belly Out Can find you! If you'd like to make a donation when you share your belly picture, text IBDA99 and your donation amount (e.g. - IBDA99 £3) to 70070 (UK mobiles only) or go to the JustGiving page. All donations go to Crohn's and Colitis UK.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Costa Coffee Gluten Free Wrap

As Coeliac Awareness Week draws to a close, I've been thinking about the theme for this year. 'Gluten Free Guarantee' calls for better availability of gluten free food in stores. While all larger supermarkets have a free from section in some form, most smaller stores (especially metro/express/local branches in small towns and suburbs) have a tiny amount of gluten free products, if any. I'm fortunate enough to live within 5 miles of all of the Big 4 supermarkets, all with small but well-stocked free from aisles. I know from past experience, though, how frustrating it can be to want to pop out for bread, pasta or flour and instead having to get in the car and drive to the next town to a supermarket large enough to stock the gluten free items I need.

Since the birth of my son, 14 weeks ago, I've never needed quick and easy gluten free food more! I applaud Coelic UK's effort to get core items stocked in every supermarket, but I want lunch, too! If you're lucky enough to be in one of the selected M&S or Waitrose store that stock gluten free sandwiches, then you're sorted, but I'm, rather inevitably, not near one when I need lunch! Of course, there are always coffee shops. Starbucks, Nero and Costa all offer a gluten free option.

Here's the thing, *whispers* I don't really like sandwiches. I know, that's odd. Not all sandwiches, I should add, just ones made a few hours in advance of eating them. It's a texture thing. That's why I was so excited to learn that Costa Coffee were launching a gluten free wrap!

The wrap, using Newburn Bakehouse's seeded wraps, is a lovely combination of chicken and basil salad. The wrap holds up well with the filling without becoming soggy or falling apart. The filling itself is gently pesto-esque with a good crunch from the salad. My only criticism (and this is a personal thing, really) is that the filling is a little dry, I'd have liked a little more mayonnaise. I expect, however that more mayo would lead to the aforementioned soggy bread issue! When it comes to lunch on the go, I'll be heading to Costa in the future.

At £3.75 each, the wraps are comparable to the rest of Costa's sandwiches and paninis. The size is comparable, too - the gluten free wraps sat next to some (non gluten free) pulled pork wraps on the shelf and they weren't dwarfed by their wheat-y equivalent.

(I sampled Costa's new gluten free wrap at their branch in Bluewater. I was invited to do so by Costa and my wrap was complimentary. All opinions in this post are my own.)

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

2013. The Best Bits

Happy new year! I do hope you're all getting used to writing 2014, instead of 2013. I'll still be getting it wrong in April, but that's nothing new! Before I rush, head first, into the brand new year ahead, I thought I'd take a moment to look back at the highlights of 2013. Predictably, my favourite bits are all food related.

The absolute best bit of 2013, for me, was my trip to River Cottage for their gluten free cookery course. As well as completely changing the way I approach my baking, it showed me how removing the gluten from something doesn't automatically require me to add loads of rubbish in its place. I've embraced many more grains and different gluten free flours than before, and I've even made my own sourdough starter! I'm dropping serious hints to my family about the advanced course that's running in August (coincidentally, just after my birthday)!

The most moreish cake of the year was Honeyrose Bakery's Banana Cake. They sent me a sample back in April and I'd eaten the entire thing before I had a chance to photograph it! In fact, I've bought many more banana cakes since then, and they all seem to magically disappear in a matter of minutes. The Husband doesn't even like banana, so I can't blame him - this cake really is good! Actually, all of the free from products I've tried from Honeyrose Bakery are excellent. I particularly love their individually wrapped brownies and macaroons, I can pop a couple in my bag for peckish moments when I'm out and about!

Back in Spring, I started to notice that Asda's distinctive yellow and black free from packaging was being used for non-gluten-free products, and wondered what was going on. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I work for Asda, but until 2013 I had very little in the way of praise for their gluten free offerings.) I was delighted to discover, however, that they were phasing out the old packaging to make way for an extended range of free from products, in new purple packaging! As well as their own-brand products (of which, the cheese sauce mix and cous cous are my personal favourites) they have introduced an increased range of products from other producers, like Isabel's and The Good Little Sausage Company. Well done, Asda! Now when people ask me what I think about my employers' own gluten free effort, I don't have to change the subject.

Eating pizza has never been better for us gluten free types, has it? Pizza Express and Pizza Hut showed the rest how it should be done, and Dominos did all they could to encourage us to eat our pizza at home! I don't know what 2014 holds for Coeliacs eating out, but the brand new Free From Eating Out Awards are sure to reveal a few gems.

Speaking of the Free From Food Awards (at least, indirectly), one of the highlights of last year's awards ceremony was the opportunity to try the Indian Coeliac's fabulous parathas. They are available to order, and I really do recommend you try them too. As the judging starts soon for this year's awards, I'm excited about what brilliant products I'm going to discover this time!

So, what were your free from highlights of 2013? Was it the chance to eat a decent bagel again? Maybe it was gluten free pasta turning up in the fresh food aisle of the supermarket? Could it have been the much discussed quarter final of The Great British Bake Off and its free from elements? Or, was it something else altogether? Let me know in the comments section!