Tim, the “Vegan Barbarian”, Titus is an ileostomate from Chatham, Ontario. He found the VeganOstomy website after going vegan, and he connected with me through my YouTube channel.
I love Tim’s story because it shows how it’s possible to transition to a vegan lifestyle even after having an ostomy already. And it also shows how a single YouTube video can change someone’s life!
Hi Tim, tell us what lead you to have an ostomy.
When I was nine years old I began to show my first symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis but it wasn’t for about 2 months until I was diagnosed. At first, my general practitioner thought that a tear in my intestine was causing the bleeding. It only progressed though so he sent me to a Gastroenterologist who performed a colonoscopy. He could tell right away that it was UC as he had diagnosed hundreds of people.
I was immediately put on Prednisone and anti-inflammatory meds which ended the flare very quickly. Throughout the following years the effect of the meds waned, doses had to be tweaked and different meds were experimented with. After the meds stopped working and the worst flare of my life, the only option left was to have the surgery. So at the age of
Throughout the following years the effect of the meds waned, doses had to be tweaked and different meds were experimented with. After the meds stopped working and the worst flare of my life, the only option left was to have the surgery.
So at the age of 16, I had the proctocolectomy. The surgeon said my colon was so deteriorated that it ruptured as soon as they touched it.
Originally I was supposed to go through with the reversal but I gained a lot of weight after the first surgery that they couldn’t connect the small intestine to the second one. Having lost the weight now my stoma was misshapen, thus had to be revised and moved to the other side of my abdomen.
I was told after that surgery that the reversal is possible now but to me, that would present a whole new set of issues and concerns so I will keep the ostomy permanently.
You’ve had an ostomy throughout high school. Where there any big adjustments or challenges you’ve had to face because of that?
Being an ostomate in high school was challenging, however much less than living with UC in high school.
For me, the biggest challenge was concealing it from other students when the pouch was filling and of course, my big belly projected it out even more. I always carried a spare flange, pouch, and pair of scissors so that if it were to ever leak I could change it, thankfully this never happened.
After returning to school I also made sure that the principals and my teachers all new about it and were compliant with excusing me when I needed to urgently empty the pouch.
How long have you been vegan? What prompted you to make that decision?
I have been vegan for 14 months now since the end of January 2016. I actually made the decision to convert whilst changing my flange. I would always put on a video or music when I did and on this day I decided to watch Gary Yourofsky’s “Best Speech You Will Ever Hear.”
I didn’t know at all what it was about prior to watching it but once I saw what and….heard the suffering and pain the animals endure it changed my views on animal agriculture and the way people choose to eat.
I was a Lacto-Ovo vegetarian for about 6 months because I thought that was good enough, was I ever wrong. I finished the last bit of cheese I had that night and went vegan the next day.
Did you have any concerns about eating this way with an ostomy? Were you able to overcome those concerns?
Yeah, I was worried about the amount of fruit and vegetables I would be eating in my new diet. As we ostomates know, these are foods we are told to avoid in high volumes and I was never good at digesting them anyhow.
After experimenting, I learned what and how much of which foods my gut could handle. There was only one time I thought I might have had an obstruction. I boiled and ate 5 carrots, 5 potatoes, and a parsnip in one sitting. I figured they were soft enough that they would break down and pass fairly quickly but it took a few days to eliminate.
The blender has been very kind to me as this is the only way I can even partially digest leafy greens. Of course, I worried about where I would get protein until I realized how much is in every type of food and that we don’t require as much as people believe.
Have you noticed any health benefits since starting a vegan diet?
Before turning vegan, even as a vegetarian I was starting to get chest pains after every meal and after physical exertion. Since switching to a plant based diet this has not happened once so I presume my cardiovascular health has improved. I have also noticed my complexion is clearer and my digestion of plant-based foods has and continues to improve.
How did your family/friends react to your decision to go vegan? Have their attitudes changed over the years?
When I went vegan my family thought I was crazy. After being vegetarian for half a year already they knew how I felt about animals being killed for consumption but it took some explaining about how the dairy and egg industry aren’t any better before they understood why I made the change but they still think I’m crazy for caring about the animals.
My friends thought I was a sissy and probably still do but we don’t talk about it anymore. In the beginning, I had hoped to make at least one vegan out of my friends or family but I soon realized it was a wasted effort.
What was your biggest challenge when becoming vegan?
The biggest challenge about turning vegan was dealing with my family and friends and being around them when they were eating meat or dairy despite what I have told them and not caring.
I care a lot about them and about the animals so I tried to explain the health and ethical consequences of their choices but nobody cared enough to change.
I can understand why because that’s how we were brought up but I still hoped that at least one of them would have the compassion to understand and realize how damaging it is to eat that way.
Do you have any advice for someone who’s interested in transitioning to a vegan lifestyle?
My advice for people transitioning to veganism is to do the research, educate yourself about animal welfare and rights as well as the environmental impact and health effects of being an omnivore.
Develop an understanding and firm belief in why you want to make the change, that made it so much easier for me. Get educated in nutrition also and figure out how to make a vegan diet work for you and suit your needs.
Do you have any general advice or tips for someone living with an ostomy?
Embrace the ostomy.
I know it’s a very different lifestyle but it’s better than the alternative. I know for myself and many others that having an ostomy has saved or improved our quality of life. Don’t do it alone either, this is a big change and you will greatly benefit from having a strong support system along with advice, and validation from others who understand what it’s like to live this way.
Throughout my time with the ostomy, I never went to any support groups nor spoke to anyone who could help me deal with it and that has caused much anguish, despair, and many other negative emotions.
Also, understand that there will be times when your stoma misbehaves or your appliance will leak and develop a strong mindset to handle those situations calmly because you won’t do yourself any favors by losing composure.
Get a blender too, that thing will become your best friend for helping you to digest and break down plant-based foods.
What ostomy appliance/products are you currently using?
My appliance is a 2-piece click locking system. I have just recently started using Coloplast Assura flanges with the Sensura pouches. I was using Sensura flanges for a long time until I learned there is gelatin in them and not in the Assura.
The Sensura pouch to me has a better design and location of the filter.
I used Hollister floating flanges for a while but never liked the pouch to flange connection.
I prefer two piece because it allows me to see the placement of the flange and see if I have any areas where the flange is either too close to the stoma and the stoma touches it, eroding the flange thus breaching the seal or too far from the stoma leaving gaps where the stool can come into contact and burn the skin.
There were also times in the start when I had to wear the convex flanges to keep the stoma from receding.
What’s your favorite hobby?
My favorite hobby is strength training. When I first became vegan I dropped down to 135lbs because I wasn’t eating enough calorie dense food. Now I’ve gained 15lbs and since most weightlifters have gained their strength as omnivores, I strive to prove that muscle can be built from scratch as a vegan, even without a complete digestive system.