"The best strategy for me in the beginning was knowing I knew nothing," Sunny Anderson said of learning all she could about her gastrointestinal condition
Sunny Anderson wants people to know "it's okay to talk about" ulcerative colitis.
The Food Network star, 48, recently opened up about living with the chronic and sometimes debilitating inflammatory bowel disease.
The chef says she first began experiencing symptoms in 1993. “I had severe cramping and thought, because I'm a woman, it was just that-time-of-the-month cramping. I had urgency to go. I had some blood in my stool. I still thought that maybe even the blood in my stool was from something I ate."
She had just relocated to South Korea for her Air Force deployment and chalked up her symptoms to the change in lifestyle. “I just thought that some of my symptoms had to do with moving and eating all this new food,” Anderson says.
But over the next three months, the symptoms worsened. She eventually saw a gastrointestinal specialist.
“When I made that appointment, the doctors were so cool,” Anderson said. “I told them everything that was going on with my body. I had no fear actually. I needed answers. I wanted answers as to what was going on. And we initially just started doing all of the testing that they wanted. Anything they wanted to do, I was down for it.”
She was surprised to be diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, which impacts approximately 1.25 million people in the United States. “I had never heard of it," she says.
Anderson worked with her doctors to come up with a plan. “Very early on, my doctors were really keen at telling me to keep a notebook of what I was eating and then how my body felt after I ate,” she says.
“I started noticing certain things that I wanted to do or really stay away from, or different ways I wanted to prepare food. That was when I was 19. I'm 48 now, so I don't even think about it. I just cook the way I cook, and thankfully it's worked out.”
After learning how to avoid triggers that exacerbated her UC flare-ups, Anderson came up with recipes that worked for her, many of which she shares on the website ‘This Is Living with UC’, which is a partnership with Pfizer to encourage people with UC to "Live Fully." Not only can UC affect a person's colon; its impact can extend to their mental, emotional, and social well-being.
For this reason, the campaign aims to provide comprehensive support and offer information and resources.
To Anderson, spreading awareness about UC and enhancing people's understanding of the disease feels like a "duty.” While she's been in remission for more than 20 years, she wants to use the partnership as a way to bridge he gap between misinformation and knowledge.
When asked what advice Anderson would give to individuals who may be experiencing digestive symptoms but are hesitant to seek medical help, her advice is simple.
“You're not alone. It's okay to talk to others about it,” she says. “There's nothing to be embarrassed about. The more people you can talk to about it, you'll find your community and feel a lot more comfortable getting it off your chest. And then also, other people will be educated by it.”
“I think the best strategy for me in the beginning was knowing I knew nothing and being okay with being dumb and asking all the questions.” Anderson says. “I think in general, with anything in life, people want to pretend that they know stuff or feel embarrassed that they don't know everything. And my thing was, give me all the information. Tell me every single thing I need to know about this so I can better navigate.”
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