Sophie is an ileostomate and Founder of I Am Denim! Her company is the first clothing brand in the world to create inclusive, revolutionary denim jeans for after abdominal surgery, specifically catering to the needs of ostomates.
I connected with Sophie after one of my Twitter followers mentioned Sophie’s company, and later found out that Sophie was also a vegan ostomate!
It really makes me happy to see ostomy patients who start up their own company to help other patients!
Enjoy the interview :)
Hi, Sophie! Please, tell us your story.
I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease at the age of 7 years old. I spent most of my life battling and trying to survive severe flare-ups. As I got older the disease progressed. Over the years I tried every medical drug available to help ease the symptoms including chemotherapy.
My remissions were short-lived and when there were no medical options left I would rest my bowel on a liquid diet for months at a time to try to heal it. The disease was aggressive and the pain was severe. I would suffer in agony from the pain to the point where I couldn’t swallow water due to the chronic ulceration throughout my entire digestive system.
I was dangerously underweight as eating was far too painful and I would spend hours in the bathroom sitting on the toilet bleeding. I was severely fatigued, malnourished and slowly dying.
My last flare was so severe it was life-changing. The doctors tried all known medical treatments but nothing worked. I weighed in at under 4 stone and my chance of survival was slim. I was told that the only option they had was to try surgery.
I was desperate to survive.
Having undergone 8 hours of major stomach surgery I woke up. I had survived and was so thankful for that.
My journey now began on the road to recovery and adjusting to life with an ileostomy.
So, I discovered that you’re also vegan. How long have you been following a plant-based lifestyle and what motivated you to try it?
I’ve followed a plant-based diet for about 6 years. After my surgery, I knew there wasn’t any medication available to keep me in remission so I decided to study nutrition and learned of the many benefits a plant-based diet can have. It was trial and error at first but once I found what worked for me I really noticed an improvement in my health. Everyone is different so it’s finding what works for you as an individual that is important.
Did any concerns come up?
To start with, I was concerned as often the advice after ostomy surgery is to avoid fruit and vegetables and have quite a carbohydrate-heavy diet. Sometimes I would get it wrong in the early days and found I could really upset my stomach with too much salad or fibrous vegetables. I found making smoothies and cooking all my vegetables really well and making soups improved this dramatically.
What has been your biggest challenge about eating this way?
I didn’t find it too challenging as I had been vegetarian on and off throughout my life. I think the main concern is always enough protein and healthy fats. I achieved this by having avocados, smooth nut butter, olives, and olive oil.
Many people eat a plant-based diet to improve their health. Have you noticed any other benefits?
Yes, I find I have more energy, my skin is clear, my hair is thicker and I generally feel happier from the inside out.
Oftentimes, it’s the people closest to us who give us a hard time about living a plant-based lifestyle. How did your family and friends react and have you noticed any changes in them over the years?
My family and friends are very supportive of my food choices and understand. Initially, I think perhaps they worried if I ate enough calories but they have seen my health improve and some of them even started including more plant-based foods themselves. My mum loves my plant-based cooking and will often try my recipes.
Let’s talk about food! What are you eating these days?
Often I’ll have homemade banana pancakes or avocados with a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of olive oil for breakfast or some well cooked green vegetables like asparagus. I like to snack on rice cakes or oatcakes with nut butters. Lunch will be a vegetable and garlic broth or rainbow salad. For dinner I like to make Mediterranean dishes, sometimes I make vegetable curries with jasmine rice or homemade vegetable pasta. I love cooking and like to make tasty nutritious meals.
And your favorite food?
I do love all green vegetables especially broccoli and I also love homemade vegan chocolate brownies!!
Do you have any “problem foods” that you avoid because of your stoma?
I don’t eat sweetcorn or mushrooms purely because when i have tried them they give me a stomach ache. I also avoid dried fruit and seeds.
According to new research, the number of vegans in the UK is an impressive 7% (SOURCE). I’m curious to know whether you find it easy or difficult to be vegan in the UK.
I live in the countryside so we are very lucky to have lots of organic farms that produce great local fruit and vegetables. I think its really easy to be vegan in the UK as even the local supermarkets always have lots of well-stocked fruit and vegetables available.
Do you find eating to be difficult when you travel? Are you easily accommodated or do you take extra steps to make sure that there are no problems with food?
When I travel I am more cautious as it can be limiting finding the right food. I always take my trusty avocados and oatcake with me just in case as I need to eat quite often.
What advice would you give to someone with IBD and/or an ostomy who wants to transition into a plant-based lifestyle?
Take it slowly when transitioning to a plant-based diet, adding in one new food a week and slowly increase the amount of fruit or vegetables to find what suits you.
I found keeping a food diary really helped me keep track of what was beneficial and what didn’t work. This type of eating isn’t for everyone, though, and so my advice would be to do the best you can to give your body the most nutrition and go with what suits you.
Do you have any general advice or tips that are not diet related for someone living with an ostomy?
Having had mine for 8 years now there’s so much I’ve learned and a lot of advice I could give.
I think it’s important to take each day as it comes. Learn to love yourself and be forgiving when you have a low day. Focus on the positives and remember you are amazing.
I discovered your company through someone on Twitter. Tell us about I am Denim and why you feel it’s something the ostomy community needs right now.
I Am Denim is the first clothing brand to offer jeans specifically for after abdominal surgery for all ostomates. Being able to create jeans that help ease the psychological impact of getting dressed after surgery is really special.
Our jeans offer complete comfort using super soft Italian denim and give ultimate coverage using a specially designed second skin waistband that helps support the ostomy. Our jeans are made here in Britain to ensure the quality and also so I can oversee the whole process.
Our ethos is no judgment, we are about self-confidence, self-love and really embracing who you are. After surgery, it can be life-saving but also life-changing. It’s really important we empower each other whether that be with love and support or a great pair of jeans. I want people to realize that although it can take time, you can be happy and confident.
For me struggling with something as simple as finding a great pair of jeans that fit with my surgery made me feel really different and affected my confidence. I didn’t want others to feel like this so it set me on a path to create my revolutionary, inclusive jeans that I can now offer to men and women worldwide.
I love hearing about what other ostomates are wearing. Tell me, what appliance/products are you currently using?
I use Hollister. It’s always worked for me although would love to see it available in white or some other colors!
(VeganOstomy note: I have already communicated with Hollister to let them know that we do want to see other colors and a better cloth material on their ostomy bags!)
Do you have any hobbies you enjoy?
I like gentle yoga and meditation and find it really helps me feel stronger, is great for the mind and relaxation.
Final question! Are there any other (non-ibd/non-ostomy) causes that you support?
Yes, my son and I like to support the World Wide Fund for Nature WWF. It is an international non-governmental organization founded in 1961, working in the field of the wilderness preservation, and the reduction of human impact on the environment.
Thank you so much for sharing your story and experiences with us, Sophie!
You can find out more about Sophie’s company, I Am Denim, at the following: