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Kelly Uchima

When you think of influencers, body positivity isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind. But for Kelly Uchima (known to her fans on Instagram and YouTube as Kelly U), it’s the core of her content. That’s because she has battled IBS, eating disorders, addiction, and all the hardship that comes with it—and just wants others to know that no matter what they’re facing, they don’t have to do it alone.
by Sollis Health

When and how were you first diagnosed with IBS?

I’d been struggling with constipation all my life, but I figured it was just “normal.” When I was 19 years old, a freshman in college, I had my first flare up. I didn’t even know what a “flare up” meant til they said it. My stomach bloated to the point where I couldn’t ignore it. Everything I ate, my stomach grew larger and it felt like my insides were on fire. I ended up going to the emergency room where all they said was “you have acid reflux.” They fed me a GI cocktail (a mix of an antacid, viscous lidocaine, and an anticholinergic called Donnatal) and sent me home. I made my first appointment with a gastroenterologist and started taking Omeprazole at 19 years old. I just turned 29 and finally stopped taking it. Why? It might be one of the biggest reasons I developed severe IBS constipation over the last 10 years. Omeprazole is a proton pump inhibitor that is intended for short-term use to treat acid reflux and any lingering damage of the esophagus due to acid overproduction. Just a month ago, I moved to LA, got a new gastroenterologist, and learned that this medication has been killing all of the stomach acid needed to digest food. Therefore causing me painful bloating, constipation, abdominal distention 24/7. I am currently in the middle of figuring this out, 10 years into this IBS journey…

How have you managed it, and what would you recommend to people suffering from it?

Self-advocacy is key. I’ve done just about everything to learn about and treat my IBS: low fodmap diet, probiotics, regular visits with a gastroenterologist, colorectal surgeon, IBS medications, Miralax, fiber, regular exercise, yoga, pelvic floor physical therapy, Botox injections to my anal and rectal muscles… the list goes on and on. I would recommend not giving up, finding a doctor you trust, but taking things one step at a time. Because of the severe discomfort and stress that IBS causes… we forget to try and enjoy life, even when we can barely focus. Some things that are so easy to forget: deep breathing, nourishing myself with good food, finding support in family, friends and caring for my mental health with therapy.

You also struggled with eating disorders, from a very young age. Tell us a little about what it’s been like, psychologically, and how you’ve been able to rethink your body image.

The bloating that comes with IBS hurts. Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. When I was 10, I suffered from anorexia. I had no clue what eating disorders were, neither did my parents, and all I wanted was to be “smaller.” Tummy issues challenge my recovery brain the most. I’ve learned that my body image doesn’t have much to do with the way I look, but the way I feel. And when I’m super bloated or constipated, it’s easy to jump to judging my body for not “working.” It’s even harder to accept that my nearly 20 year history of anorexia, binge eating, and bulimia have been a major contributor to my digestive struggles. At too young of an age, I learned how to ignore my hunger and fullness signals, go many days without using the bathroom, and fully dissociate from feelings in my body that would help me have a healthy digestive cycle. Now, I’ve learned that the key is sitting with myself, paying attention to how my body feels and not ignoring my needs. Sleep, self-care, socialization, movement, and nutrition are so key to the way we feel about our bodies.

“IBS is not ‘normal’ no matter how much a doctor tries to convince you of its raging prevalence among people today. Being bloated and constipated all the time is not something you have to live with.”

Has it been difficult to promote body positivity in the one place that tends to focus on perfection the most: Instagram? How have you managed to pull it off?

Having IBS was the hardest when I was hiding it. But when I finally posted my bloated belly on Instagram and admitted how deeply I was suffering behind the scenes, my world changed. I no longer felt alone and realized that it wasn’t “just me” struggling like this. To me, this is the best way I could’ve helped myself and so many others find love for our bodies and compassion for ourselves going through such BS!

Was community one of the things that inspired you to become an influencer? On the flip side, has being an influencer ever made dealing with any of your chronic conditions more difficult?

I really just fell into the role of “influencer” after eight years of organically sharing my journey through ED recovery, sobriety, therapy, basically all aspects of my life. I never pictured myself making a dollar from content creation. All I ever wanted was to feel like I was alone and remind others that “it is not just you” feeling like this or struggling with food, body image, toxic relationships, family, addiction, the list goes on and on. Having chronic IBS issues makes content creation very difficult because my entire job is showing up. A big part of my job is showing my face, expressing myself, shelling out content filled with well thought out concepts that are intended to entertain. When I’m in severe bloat and pain, the last thing I want to do is create and entertain. I’ve worked on balance and being very honest with my audience as to where I’m at. I’m very lucky to have this kind of relationship with them.

As someone whose brand is self-love, do you ever find yourself experiencing self-loathing when you have interludes where you don’t feel good? What do you do in those moments to show yourself self-compassion?

I’d say my brand is more about self-acceptance. I can still love myself while absolutely hating my current situation. I can hate the pain in my body from when I’m super bloated. I’m allowed to hate the fact that I feel really insecure on a really constipated day. I frame my feelings about myself and my body this way. I never let myself view my own body as the enemy. And I consciously take a moment to forgive myself when I start going in that direction.

On top of everything else, you’ve also been sober for almost two years. First of all, congrats! What can you share with us about that journey? Did you seek professional help, or is it something you did more on your own / with your personal support network?

I smoked weed for 10 years and am now two years sober. I started doing it when I was 19, in college, struggling to juggle an eating disorder, toxic relationship, three jobs, and a full schedule of classes. Do I miss it? No. Will I go back to it? No. But I know exactly why I needed it for so long and I really wouldn’t have been ready to get sober any earlier. When I quit, I lost the one thing that let me get away with numbing out. With weed, I really felt like I could escape my feelings, anxieties, depression, and trauma by getting high. The hardest part was admitting that it wasn’t working. I opened up to my therapist of five years. Before that, I hid my use from her. In hindsight, I knew I was struggling with addiction. I was proud to be a fun loving pothead with my friends, even family, but I didn’t want to tell my therapist who I told everything to. On June 21, 2020, I quit cold turkey. I told my therapist over a Zoom session during the pandemic and have been living in the real world since. No hiding, no numbing, no escaping. The real world is pretty awesome, but it was only until I healed a lot of other stuff to finally be able to show up. Sobriety is not for everyone, but being honest with yourself is a need we all have.

“Having IBS was the hardest when I was hiding it. But when I finally posted my bloated belly on Instagram and admitted how deeply I was suffering behind the scenes, my world changed. I no longer felt alone and realized it wasn’t ‘just me’ struggling like this.”

Have you ever felt like any of your doctors or therapists over the years were gaslighting you? What’s the worst medical horror story you can share with us?

In 2019 I went to the ER after 10 days of no #2. I was in such severe pain that I could not move for days. They initially thought I had appendicitis for the level of pain I was in. I did a CT scan and it turns out that I was suffering from a severe fecal impaction. Yep, it’s what you’re thinking. I was filled with s***. The only thing they did was send me home with a prescription for Miralax—“a gentle laxative used to treat occasional constipation. It works by holding water in the stool to soften the stool and increases the number of bowel movements.” Seven thousand dollars down the drain and I was told to get it from Walgreens MYSELF. Two more days went by and I still hadn’t pooped. I ended up getting a colonic from a place highly rated on Yelp for $185. What’s a colonic? You lay on a table, a sweet lady sticks a tube up your bum that pushes liquid into you with the goal of breaking up the stool clogging your colon. Did it help? 100 percent. Did it hurt? 10,000 percent. I have never experienced anything like this. I was terrified, mortified, and relieved all at the same time.

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about IBS, eating disorders, and sobriety? What does the medical community not tell you, and what do you wish you could help people understand better?

IBS is not “normal” no matter how much a doctor tries to convince you of its raging prevalence among people today. Being bloated and constipated all the time is not something you have to live with. I wish doctors were able to take IBS sufferers more seriously, understand that it could very well be associated with our eating disorder pasts, and still treat our struggles with compassion and true commitment. I also understand that doctors are not digestive magicians, so I would advise anyone with a history of IBS, eating disorders, and substance abuse to see a therapist to cater to our mental and emotional struggles that heavily contribute to digestive distress. This has been key for me. It’s so much more than the physical symptoms. What’s happening at home? At work? In our relationships? It all plays a part.

Any good words to live by?

Respond, don’t react. When it comes to digestive issues, my first instinct is to always jump to the quickest “fix.” This never “fixed” anything. The best thing we can do is build trust with bodies, forgive them for their shortcomings, and commit to a healing process that might take a lot longer than we want. Our mental and physical health are happiest when we stay grounded.
The views and opinions expressed in this campaign are those of the participants, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sollis Health.
Sollis Health is a 24/7 doctor, private ER and concierge service rolled into one. Whether it’s an emergency or simply to diagnose the symptoms that you typically Google in the middle of the night, our emergency-trained doctors are ready for anything. Interested in becoming a Sollis member?

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