Curious about the pivotal role that fitness and nutrition play in managing inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)? In IBD Connect’s first ever guest blog post, Bryan Whynot, an IBD patient and seasoned fitness professional, offers a deeply personal account of his transformative journey with autoimmune disease, shedding light on the profound impact of fitness and nutrition in his life. As a fitness director, NASM certified personal trainer, and nutrition coach with over a decade of industry experience, Bryan brings a wealth of insight to the table. By detailing two impactful experiences in his life, Bryan explores how prioritizing his overall health and wellness has positively impacted both his physical and mental wellbeing. Through poignant anecdotes and practical advice, Bryan extends a guiding hand to individuals navigating IBD or autoimmune conditions, offering invaluable tips for embracing fitness and nutrition as powerful tools in the fight against chronic illness.
Before we dive into the content, please note that Bryan does offer general guidance for starting a journey with fitness and nutrition. Please note that his advice is meant to complement, not substitute, the guidance of you or your child’s healthcare provider and/or registered dietician. It is essential to consult either you or your child’s healthcare provider and/or registered dietician before making any significant dietary changes or changes in physical activity level. IBD Connect does not offer official guidelines or recommendations for physical activity or diet. Let’s dive into the content!
My name is Bryan Whynot, and I have been an IBD patient for over 18 years. I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis at age 8 and Rheumatoid Arthritis at age 16. Like everyone with IBD, I have had my ups and downs over the years so summarizing my journey sometimes feels impossible. I am 26 years old now, and I can honestly say this journey has been both a blessing and a curse. We all know the curses of diseases, but it isn’t all bad. The life lessons, personal bonds, and strength a disease can give you helps to shed light on a bigger picture that goes beyond the uncomfortable symptoms we face.
So, how on earth do I summarize 18 years of my life in one short passage. I honestly think I could write a novel at this point, but I want to focus on the thing that truly saved my butt through this journey and that is fitness and nutrition.
From the ages of 8 to 15, I experienced the “ugly” side of the disease. I was unconfident, the overweight kid in class, shy, timid, scared, had bad acne, and over all so uncomfortable in my body that I exiled myself from my friends and school activities. I grew up playing sports, and I felt out of place on the team due to my disease. I felt different than every other kid. I never told any of my classmates about my diagnosis except one student who kept my “secret.” I was also struggling trying to find medication that worked for me. Overall, I would think of myself as gross, and it was very hard to pull myself out of that mindset.
That all flipped on its head when I went through my first major hospital stay the summer before my sophomore year in high school. Now, the next two stories that I am going to share are not meant to be my “war” stories. In other words, they shouldn’t serve as a reminder of the bad times, but a reminder of how strong adversities like this can make you if you let them.
I went into the hospital at 230 pounds. I couldn’t walk with how fluid-filled my legs were from the uncontrolled inflammation running through my body. I truly thought the worst. My doctors at the time couldn’t get my symptoms under control and every intervention we tried failed to help. Instead, my symptoms kept getting worse. My doctors had started talking about the potential of colon cancer, as well as the possibility of me having a life expectancy of 25. I thought this was the beginning of the end.
Thankfully, that was far from the truth. I stayed 4 days with my mom in the hospital where I was pumped full of antibiotics and didn’t have the willpower to eat much. This resulted in me losing over 100 pounds in those 4 days. I walked out of the hospital at 115 pounds.
During my stay, I had the moment that flipped my mindset completely about my diseases. I shared the hospital room with a 5 year-old boy who was in a medically induced coma for my first 2 days. He was on the other side of the room behind the curtain. This didn’t mean anything to me at first because I was so caught up in my own situation. During the third day of my hospital stay, his mother peaked around the corner to say “hi” and politely asked us to not pay attention to her son while he needed to use the bathroom. She explained that he felt very self-conscious about how he looked. My mom and I understood completely and did just that. My curiosity was high though because I had been hearing conversations behind the curtain once the boy woke up from his medically-induced coma. So, I did what any teenage boy would do and went on my phone. I peeked up a little with my eyes as the boy walked by.
In that moment, life gave me the biggest slap across the face. My mom ended up doing the same thing as I did, and when the mom and boy went into the bathroom, I turned to my mom and said, “I am fine” in pure disbelief.
When I looked up from my phone, I saw half of this little boy’s face exposed to the bone, revealing his jaw and eye socket. These injuries were the result of a horrific bike accident. I was blown away at something that I had only seen in movies and knew immediately that I did not have anything to complain about with what I was going through. My heart fell to the floor hearing the boy cry about how he would never be beautiful and doctors explaining how they would need to do skin graphs on other parts of him to reconstruct his face. I will never forget this until the day I die for several reasons, the biggest reason being that I learned that there is always someone worse off and someone better off than you. You must be real with yourself and take your journey one step at a time.
I knew that at that moment I was going to turn my life around. My biggest insecurity growing up was my weight. After losing a significant amount of weight at the hospital, it was the perfect time to start my fitness journey.
I joined the local gym with my friend and started working out to build myself back up. I learned about fitness/nutrition while working on my own body. It was the best medicine I have ever given myself. The stronger I got physically, the more self-confidence I had, and my symptoms drastically improved. I started to look in the mirror and not dislike who I saw. I became more social and felt good about myself for the first time. I went back to school and turned everyone’s head with my transformation. Within a year, I was 75 pounds heavier and in the best shape of my life.
I knew within that first year after my hospital stay that fitness and nutrition was now going to be a major part in my life. From that point on, I dedicated my life to learning everything I could about the industry. I started working at my friend’s gym, and I learned under him. I tried out different diets that would help grow muscle and get the results I wanted.
I haven’t looked back since. I have now worked in gyms for over a decade, and I’ve held every position other than owning my own gym. I hope to do that one day.
The relationship between IBD and diet lead me to earn my bachelor’s degree in nutrition health and wellness. I wanted to better understand the science behind the results I was seeing with my own body.
Towards the end of my college career, I went through my worst IBD flare-up, and almost made my predicted life expectancy of 25 come true. Six months before my 25th birthday, I experienced an 80-pound weight loss, lost 8 liters of blood, suffered from a moderate heart attack, dropped to 20% blood oxygen level, had an absence seizure, and experienced other symptoms due to multiple mouth and stomach infections. This landed me in another multiple-day hospital stay with scopes, steroids, blood transfusions, and other medical interventions to keep me stable. During this stay, doctors asked me how I got to this point.
I explained that all of this happened while I was still managing a gym and earning my degree. I couldn’t stop because of this so I did my own physical therapy and explained what I ate every day for a month to keep myself going. I explained my logic with my years of knowledge in nutrition and fitness training. After I finished my explanation, the surgeons and doctors were left speechless for a few moments. Then, the head surgeon looked at me and said “It’s a miracle you are telling us this story. You walked a very dangerous road that most people wouldn’t have survived. The only reason you are alive right now is because of your nutrition and training habits. You should not have been able to do that.”
I got discharged without needing emergency surgery and have been on Remicade infusions for the past 2 years to manage my symptoms and get my life back on track.
Today, I am a Fitness Professional working as a Fitness Director, Personal Trainer, and Nutrition Coach. I have created my own brand in the industry. I have modeled for major brands such as Adidas, Footlocker, Barstool, Hollister, and Abercrombie & Fitch. With over a decade of fitness experience in 7 different gyms, I have truly gained back all the health I previously lost.
I am not special, and everyone reading this has a story like mine. Everyone has their hardship and scars, as well as the baggage that comes with them. Everyone has the choice to have those things make you stronger or weaker. I can tell you that giving yourself the fuel and strength to fight back makes it so much easier.
IBD is not going anywhere for me. I know this isn’t my full story and know that there are more hurdles to come, but I now know that if I care what I put into my body and give it the ability to be strong, I can overcome the future. The same is true for anyone who reads this.
My future plans are to continue my work in gyms and either own my gym or become a traveling trainer in the next 5 years. I also plan to continue to work with IBD Connect and other IBD foundations to show kids and adults how much fitness and nutrition plays a major role in fighting these conditions and keeping symptoms at bay.
My advice to anyone just getting into fitness is start slow cardio and resistance training. Work out with a professional if possible or join group classes that are more affordable. YouTube is also a great resource and how I got started learning. Watching channels like NASM, Body Building.com, and channels created by credentialed fitness professionals can give you a great starting foundation for growth and learning in this area. Like everything else, you need to find your own lane, but with all these resources, it is much easier than you think.
Just start, listen to your body, and keep an open mind. Nutrition is the same. Nutrition can be a little more difficult, but the simple way to look at it is the more natural the better. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean white meats have worked well for me. Limiting dairy, high fats and sugars has made a big difference for me too. It may take a little time but there is a diet and exercise plan for everyone.
This concludes IBD Connect’s first ever guest blog post with fitness professional Bryan Whynot. Clearly, fitness and nutrition have played a pivotal role in Bryan’s life. His experiences will hopefully impact and inspire other IBD Warriors seeking to begin their own personal journey with health and wellbeing. Admirably, Bryan has established The Whynot Lifestyle, an athletic lifestyle clothing brand dedicated to promoting active, healthy living as a means to combat chronic disease. For more information about Bryan and his clothing brand, you can visit his website, www.thewhynotlifestyle.com (link is below). Bryan is also active on Instagram @the.whynot.lifestyle. If you would like additional resources on nutrition and diet, IBD Connect offers insightful blog posts on these topics. These posts are meant to serve as introductory guides to these topics. It’s essential to note that these resources provide general guidance, and for personalized advice, it's advisable to consult with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian. As Bryan suggested, seeking the guidance of a professional fitness instructor can also be beneficial on your wellness journey. If you would like to connect with other IBD families with experience in starting a health and wellbeing journey, IBD Connect offers several support groups, both in-person and virtual. Feel free to click the link below for more information. A huge “thank you” goes out to Bryan for sharing his personal story and impactful message about fitness and nutrition. On that note, stay strong IBD Warriors!
Hi! My name is Emily Fournier, and I am a wife, mom, and registered nurse currently living in MA. I graduated with my Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing in May of 2020. Since graduation, I have had experience working as a registered nurse in both a hospital intensive care unit and a community health center. Throughout my nursing career, I have had several opportunities to care for IBD patients of all ages, which has allowed me to gain a thorough understanding of IBD from a medical perspective. Through my friendship with an individual diagnosed with Crohn's disease at a young age, I have also been able to see how IBD affects every aspect of an individual, whether it be physically, socially, mentally, or emotionally. With Emily’s Gut Check, I hope to combine my medical expertise with a more holistic approach to IBD care in order to provide support and encouragement to anyone affected by IBD, but especially to parents of a child diagnosed with IBD. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me at email@example.com if you have any questions, need advice, or have an idea for a blog topic to cover. Thank you all for being on this journey with me!