Healing The Gut: How Yoga helps calm Crohn’s Disease

Yoga and Crohn’s relief. For many, the two go hand-in-hand when it comes to stress management and feeling calm. This week, I hand over the reins for Part Two of Hilary Zalla’s guest post. As you may remember, Hilary is a vocal advocate for inflammatory bowel disease and a news anchor at the CBS affiliate in Tampa Bay, Florida. She was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease 13 years ago. Since becoming a “Crohnie,” she’s come to realize how strong our IBD community is. I’ll let her take it away…

Since my diagnosis, I have always been most interested in learning how people treat their disease beyond prescribed pharmaceuticals. I’ve heard people swear by alternative therapies like acupuncture and chiropractic and diets like veganism, Paleo, and gluten-free. Whatever helps you, keep doing it! I am here to share with you how I use yoga to treat my disease.yoga

First of all, I want to start by telling you that exercise was pretty much non-existent in my life until I found yoga. I just never felt up to working out. I gave myself tons of excuses, but really I just didn’t care about my body. I had given up on it because it let me down so many times. I started practicing yoga two years ago when I realized I wouldn’t be able to continue working in television news if I didn’t start taking care of my body beyond medicine. I am so glad I did because I have been in clinical remission ever since!

Yoga has taught me how to take care of my body.  I have battled so many negative emotions since my diagnosis like denial, self-doubt, fear and embarrassment. I didn’t take care of my body for many years because I didn’t think it was worth it. I was already sick, so what good would anything do? Well, I was so wrong.

yoga4Yoga has taught me how to accept my disease and treat my body with compassion. As I started to progress through the physical poses, I realized how strong my body really was. I formed muscle and gained energy I never knew I had. All of these changes made me want to take care of myself. I started eating gluten-free, dairy-free, and seeing a therapist every week for my anxiety. I also started doing more exercises like running and lifting weights.

Yoga also increases my immune system. I am on Remicade infusions every eight weeks, which lowers my immune system. Yoga helps lower the stress hormones that compromise the immune system. By linking breath and movement, we’re able to condition our lungs and respiratory tract and get blood to the organs so they function at their best. I haven’t had a cold in two years!

yoga3Goodbye anxiety and stress! For most of us living with IBD, we hold our emotions in our gut. This is why we can feel abdominal pain when we are nervous or stressed. Yoga is an easy and natural way to make sure the mind and body are in-sync. The practice allows us to relieve physical tension and relax the nervous system. This takes the strain off our intestines and can really help relieve pain. 

As you can see, yoga has so many benefits for people living with IBD.  I have fallen in love with the practice and can’t get enough of it! I am now in the process of becoming a yoga teacher so that I can help others living with chronic disease find relief. I would encourage you to visit a local yoga studio and try it out! Namaste.

Way to go, Hilary! To continue to follow Hilary’s patient journey, check out her blog: Life Outside the Lights.

Why I went public about Crohn’s disease: A Tampa Bay anchor speaks out

It’s amazing how life comes full circle. I recently connected with a news anchor in Tampa Bay who battles Crohn’s disease, she randomly works with my friend and former meteorologist.  Given my past with the news business and my patient journey–we immediately connected on social media, started emailing and chatted on the phone like we’ve been friends for a decade. I was really happy to see that Hilary Zalla, a traffic anchor and yoga buff, who appears completely healthy on the TV each day, is brave enough to share her personal story to spread awareness. One of my regrets from my decade in the TV business is that I chose to keep my battle private. These next two weeks, I am proud to share two awe-inspiring guest posts from Hilary. I’ll let her take it away…

Hi! My name is Hilary Zalla and I am a news anchor at the CBS affiliate in Tampa Bay, Florida. HilaryI was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease 13 years ago and went public about four years ago.

“How did you get comfortable sharing your disease so publicly? Are you afraid of being labeled ‘the sick news anchor?’”

I get these questions a lot from people. In all honesty, I was very nervous taking off my “perfect TV persona” mask and unveiling my real, raw truths. But it so was necessary for me and for my fellow Crohnies across the globe.

Here’s how it happened. I was only 24 years old and working morning news in Dayton, Ohio. I was just two years out of college and so proud of my career. I had credibility in my market and was known for my bubbly and outgoing on-air personality. I knew the community looked up to me.

Then, I got my worst flare-up since being diagnosed.hilary2 I had severe pain, bleeding, anemia, and exhaustion. One day I was standing by on camera crouching down in pain. The producer was in my ear saying “Stand by, Hilary…5, 4, 3, 2…”. I stood up fast and started talking, trying to mask the pain on my face. My bubbly and outgoing personality was hanging on by a thread. I had lost 10 pounds and viewers started to notice. My hair started falling out because I was so low on iron and nutrients. I had to cut my hair short, but tried to keep smiling.

I went into the hospital and this is where I had a breakthrough. I asked myself, “Who the heck are you trying to fool, Hilary?” “Why is it so important for you to portray a perfect life?” “Who is that helping?” The answer was simple. I wasn’t  helping anyone, least of all me. I realized the energy I was using to hide my disease on and off camera could be used to uplift myself and others. I had to accept that Crohn’s is a part of me, but it doesn’t have to define me. It is the reason I am strong and brave. It is the reason I know my body so well. Then, I realized I was blessed with a massive platform to bring awareness to this disease. What better way to use television news than to change the world one Crohnie at a time? I swallowed my pride, came to peace with my vulnerability, and when I got out of the hospital, I asked my station to sponsor my very first Take Steps Walk for Crohn’s and Colitis. This was the beginning of “Hilary’s Crohnies.”hilary3

I exposed my disease to the public for the first time that year and never looked back. Since then, I have become a public spokesperson for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation and an advocate for Crohn’s patients. I emcee the yearly Take Steps Walk in Tampa and share my journey on social media and television.

And guess what? The most amazing thing has happened since I came out. My viewers, their family and friends, and people from across the world started coming out, too. They shared their personal stories with me and I realized so many people are affected by IBD. Too many. We just don’t talk about it and that makes us feel alone.hilary4

So, for all you Crohnies out there, listen up! I am here to officially say, stamped online forever, I am proud to be The Sick News Anchor!

Next week, Hilary will talk about how yoga has transformed her life and helped silence her symptoms. 

Patient Education Day: Speaking from the heart

Inspirational. Resilient. Strong. Those are the first three words that come to mind when I think of the Crohn’s and Colitis community. This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend and speak at a Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation Patient Education day event in St. Louis. Sitting in a roomful of patients, doctors and caretakers—surrounded by a group of people who “get it”. A group of people who share the same struggles, triumphs and life experiences.

There’s something to be said for making connections with this close-knit community face to face, rather than over the internet or social media. We laugh together, we shed some tears together, we meet people who are complete strangers who in a matter of hours feel like close friends.

In the days leading up to the event I had drafted a speech—all about preparing for a family with Crohn’s, pregnancy and motherhood. It was a busy week, so I never had a chance to look it over. In the minutes before I took the stage I kept going back and forth in my mind about whether I wanted to bring up my speech and hold the papers in my hands or just speak off the cuff.

I brought the papers up and as soon as the microphone was handed to me, I looked out the in the crowd and saw several young kids and teenagers. In that split second, I decided my speech should be motivational for them. I talked about how Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis enable us to have incredible perspective about life. I shared details about my experience being diagnosed and how I didn’t allow my disease to rob me of my dream of being a news anchor. I talked about the importance of caretakers and having the superpowers to see which family members and friends step up to the plate when you need them the most, and which fade to the background.

Most importantly, I spoke from the heart. If you’ve battled inflammatory bowel disease for any amount of time you have a story. Your story has the power to lift up others and show them they are not alone. It’s so easy to isolate ourselves and pretend that we’re feeling fantastic, when in all actuality our insides are inflamed and constantly leaving us in pain. As I looked out in the crowd, wearing a dress, standing tall with my hair curled—looking like a completely healthy person. I said—little would you know looking at me, that this morning at 2 a.m. I was stuck in the bathroom in excruciating pain, on the brink of throwing up. Those are the moments nobody sees, that we need to talk about.

As I looked out in the crowd I saw so many people nodding, so many people crying. I talked about how my husband Bobby has been there with me every step of the way since we met in 2013. Explaining his daily efforts to make sure I am ‘ok’. I saw tears in his eyes as I shared our story. After the speech I was approached by patients, parents and doctors. I was told countless times how my genuine and heart-felt words meant so much. Each of the conversations I had made me feel overwhelmed with joy. It was such a special day and such a special experience for my family. On the way to the event, I talked with my husband about how I wish I didn’t suffer in silence for over nine years and wish I would have shared my story from the start.

I don’t want you to have the same regrets as me. I know it’s easy to hide behind your invisible illness and think people will judge you, pity you and look at your differently. But what I’ve come to find out is that it’s the complete opposite. You will feel so empowered by sharing your story and you will quickly find out how strong and incredible the IBD family truly is.

“Don’t look back”: A mother’s tips for dealing with a daunting diagnosis

Being in control. Knowing what tomorrow brings. Understanding why. Unfortunately, when it comes to inflammatory bowel disease, we don’t have those abilities or those answers. This week, a guest blog from a California mom of six girls named Cait. Her 13-year-old daughter, Natalie, was recently diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. I connected with Cait on Instagram and look up to her as a mom who’s trying to navigate her daughter and her family’s new normal.

As a mom, I always want to have the answer or know just the right thing to do to help my kids along their own path. caitSo, when all of that seemed to crash around us in May I felt lost. I felt alone. I didn’t know which way was up. This wasn’t in my plan nor did I wish for Natalie to journey it.

But here we were. Months and months of tests and researching late at night on my phone. Was it a tummy bug? Was it a parasite? Was it a food allergy surfacing? Mono? So many questions and not enough answers. The one test we all felt Natalie needed, our insurance denied us.

We could not keep watching our precious daughter fade. Something was terribly wrong. When we saw her doctor one last time in hopes of finally knowing a reason, it was still unclear and we all decided it was best to go to the Children’s hospital so this could finally be resolved. cait4

Long nights, early mornings, no sleep, tests after tests and the same questions asked over and over again. It was exhausting. I have never felt so helpless. I tried to stay strong, encouraging her, supporting her, talking to the doctors and being by her side while my husband and both sides of our families cared for our five other daughters. Our family came to visit as much as possible, but the drive was far. I sat alone with Natalie when she went for her first scope. I sat alone with the doctor and received the awful news. But I was somehow relieved in those early moments. We finally had a name for what we were dealing with. Crohn’s disease. We now had a team of people who wanted to help us manage and get her disease under control. Such relief to no longer feel alone.

There have been hard days, and really hard days and then days it seems nothing ever really happened. And although we are so new to all of this, there are some things I have been learning along the way. cait2

It’s ok to cry with them. They need to know they are not alone. I tried to stay strong, but being able to weep with her was soothing for both of us.

Keep the lines of communication open even when they are hurting and may say they don’t. Those thoughts and emotions have to be worked through. This is a tough diagnosis.

Find ways to laugh. In the hospital everything was so depressing for us. So when we got the results we made a Snapchat video to share it with everyone. Somehow it lightened the mood and helped us embrace our new reality. cait6

Soak up these moments of bonding even though we all know we would rather bond over coffee dates and shopping trips and not hospital stays and long trips to see her specialist.

Do research and don’t be afraid to go with your gut (no pun intended). You know your son/daughter better than anyone else. Respect the doctors, but don’t be afraid to ask questions and have a voice in their treatment. You are your child’s best advocate.

My biggest encouragement is this, stop looking back. As a mom I want to turn back time. I want to fix it somehow. I want to change it all. Looking back only brings unnecessary guilt, sadness and regret.

Look forward. Find things to be thankful for. Do your best to give them the brightest future and speak life over them. Cherish every moment. And help them plan their future–which can be as bright as any other child.

To follow Cait and her family’s journey, check out her blog.


Six tips for being a healthy IBD mom

My little guy Reid turned six months old on September 29th. Everyone always says how quickly time goes, but until it’s your reality…you don’t realize what a blur everything becomes. These past six months I’ve had the fear of a postpartum flare looming overhead. Wondering when my disease was going to re-surface with a vengeance. Luckily, despite having a few rough patches…I managed to stay out of the hospital and keep things under control on my own. reid6months

I’ll be the first to admit, mom guilt is real. It’s especially real when you’re grappling with a chronic condition like Crohn’s disease. Wishing you had more energy to keep up around the house, wondering how you’re going to play re-do the following days, weeks and years ahead. There are days and moments that push you and the struggle doesn’t get any easier when you have to care for more than just yourself. Sometimes it can feel like an uphill battle. Other days you feel like you can conquer the world. AH1_4345I wish I could bottle up those fleeting feelings of invincibility and use them when I need them most. Because just like when you’re diagnosed with Crohn’s… it’s a part of you for the rest of your life, and so is motherhood.

Here are six helpful tips for conquering motherhood with inflammatory bowel disease:

  1. Get as much rest as possible

You know the advice you hear all the time “sleep when the baby sleeps”… pretty sure I actually only followed that rule of thumb a few times. But really, try and get as much shut-eye as possible. Especially after that early 3-4 am feeding. If you wake up again at 6 am you’ll at least feel like you’re just getting up for work or something! Work with your significant other to rotate who is getting up in the middle of the night and try to at least lay down, even if you’re not tired. My husband is always great about letting me “sleep in” on the weekends since I am the main caretaker all week. We all know IBD is a fatiguing illness as it is. The last thing you need is to couple that with utter and complete exhaustion.

  1. Keep all your doctor appointments and wellness visits

Once you become a mom you quickly realize that your needs drop to the bottom of the totem pole. It’s imperative you don’t let your efforts to manage your illness go by the wayside. Even when you’re delirious, take your medications and go to your doctor appointments. I scheduled everything from my GI visits to bloodwork around times I could have a sitter. I didn’t want to bring my son around the germs of a hospital or a doctor’s office (other than the pediatrician) before he was six months old. You’ll also want to attend those appointments by yourself or with a loved one or a friend, so you can listen and focus.

  1. When you have to go, GO.

One of the hardest things for me has been feeling the need to use the bathroom while feeding my son. I never want to interrupt his feeding or take the bottle away. Generally, when I do that he’s not the happiest with me. But you know what, the baby will survive if you need to take a five minute TV time-out and make a mad dash to the bathroom. In these past six months, I’ve carried Reid in the Rock N’Play and fed him from the door of the bathroom hunched over on the toilet on multiple occasions. How’s that for a visual, folks? Mom goals, right?!

  1. Schedule a massage…or two

Ladies, I don’t know about you…but one of my biggest “complaints” during pregnancy and after my c-section was back pain. IMG_1146I’ve had two professional massages at the spa since Reid was born and they have done wonders to relieve the stress. Massage and meditation is also beneficial when it comes to keeping stress levels low. For me, stress is my main disease trigger. I know massages can break the bank, so ask for gift cards around the holidays, for Mother’s Day or your birthday. It’s the best treat.

  1. Be mindful of what you eat and drink

Oftentimes the days are flying by so fast and you’re so focused on caring for your little one that you look at the clock and realize you forgot to eat the last few meals. For me, I constantly forget lunch. Don’t skimp on nutrition or eat foods that you know will trigger a negative response in your body. Try and meal plan and go grocery shopping on a Sunday so you have food readily available in your kitchen. Make enough for leftovers so you’re covered for lunch.

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

This is much easier said than done, and I know I struggle with speaking up. But we must. Being a mom is a full-time job in and of itself and then some. It’s the most amazing and the most difficult role you’ll ever get to experience. Know that you have a tribe of loved ones—family members and friends who are on the sidelines just waiting to sneak in and get some snuggle time with your little one. Take them up on it. You need time for you. You need a break to clear your head. Just ask—even if it’s only for an hour, speak up and you won’t be disappointed.

IMG_2624As far as postpartum flares I am thrilled that I’ve made it Reid’s entire life without needing to make an emergency trip to the hospital. (knock on wood!) I was also told by my pediatrician that Reid would no longer have the remnants of Humira in his system once he hit this milestone. We kept a bit of a low-profile these past six months since Humira is an immune suppressant. Reid couldn’t be healthier. Still hasn’t had a cold yet, so I chalk that up to success! It’s amazing how great it feels to just get outside and take a walk, soak in the fresh air and that time with your baby.

When you have a little human who depends on you for everything, it’s easy to put your own self-care and disease management to the wayside. But the funny thing is—we can’t be good mamas if we’re not healthy. IMG_1132So, take that time for yourself. Give yourself time to get into a groove and a routine that works best for you. Then one day, whether you’re holding your baby or just changing a diaper you’ll feel this empowering epiphany come over you and you’ll think… “I got this”… and guess what, you do.