Slimming World and Body Positivity

I joined Slimming World 12 weeks ago, this week I was asked how I could talk about a major diet industry whilst encouraging body positivity and I thought it was a really interesting point and it got me thinking.

So I haven’t always had the best relationship with my body, I was a size 8 before I had kids and never loved my body, I was always embarrassed by it and I never felt as though it belonged to me.  I was generally unhappy and so my body was another thing to worry about.  I started on a diet when I hit my late teens for no other reason than I thought it was what women did.

I had my first child at 19 and went from a size 8 to a size 16.  I had lots of stretch marks and my once flat stomach was now soft and squidgy and rolled over my trousers.  It was all a bit of a shock to be honest and it deepened my dislike of my body.

sam cleasby blogger

These feelings carried on for years and it was only after my first big surgery to remove my colon and form my ileostomy that I began to think about my feelings towards my body.  After the initial shock of surgery and having an ostomy, for the first time in my life, I felt proud of my body.  It had carried me through this stressful operation, had part of me removed yet I was still standing! I realised that my body was pretty fucking awesome!

I think that this time coincided with my children becoming teens was a big part in my change in thinking, I didn’t want my kids growing up hearing me hating my body.  I was trying to teach them to love and respect themselves and so I knew I had to lead by example.  I began to talk about my body in a positive and loving way.  I saw my stretch marks for the signs that I had carried my babies, my large breasts that no longer were pert were the things that fed those kids, my scars were the marks of my battles through operations and treatments and showed I was still here.

For the first time, my weight stopped being an issue.  I didn’t look at my size as a source of shame, I saw it as my body, and my body made me happy and strong.  My weight went up and down as I went in and out of surgeries, the steroids made me gain a lot of weight, the surgeries made me lose it.

My last op in September last year was to fix two large hernias, one of them ruptured and I was rushed into emergency surgery.  It was a big op lasting around 6 hours and they repaired the incisional hernia and the parastomal hernia with mesh and pig skin.  During recovery, I became terrified of having another hernia and so I stopped walking the dogs, stopped pretty much all exercise and in turn gained around a stone in weight.

woman with a stoma ostomy ileostomy colostomy

So my decision to lose weight was, for the first time in a long line of diets during my lifetime, not about hatred or shame.  It was about health, I knew that the more I weighed, the more pressure I was putting on those hernia fixes, I knew that the weight gain was making me feel sluggish and unfit.  Going into a diet not hating my body was a really new thing for me! I loved myself, I didn’t look in the mirror and dislike what I saw, I looked at myself with love and pride but with a knowledge that I wanted to make changes to benefit my health.

And so I decided on Slimming World, I wasn’t sure if it was going to be for me but I thought I would give it a try.  I went along to a local meeting and the leader weighed me and said this was the last time I would see that number on the scales.  I weighed 14 stone 5 lbs. The heaviest I have ever been.

It took quite a bit of getting used to, Slimming World gives you lots of ‘free’ foods that you can eat including meats, eggs, fish, veg and fruit and also rice and pasta, then two ‘healthy extras’ a day that are dairy and bread or cereals.  Anything else must be counted as ‘syns’ and I hate this word!! I hate that it makes those foods sounds like you are doing something wrong as I honestly believe you should eat what you like and not feel guilty about it.

It has made me really think about the food I put into my body and how many empty calories I was consuming through habit, boredom and just not thinking.  It is great for encouraging you to cook fresh food and ditch the processed crap.  Learning to look at the oils and fats I was cooking with has been a huge benefit and I have changed the diet for the family, our evening meals are Slimming World friendly and with a few little changes are much healthier and don’t taste any different.

I have ditched most sweet foods, cakes and biscuits etc as I realised I am just not that bothered, I was eating biscuits out of habit and now I don’t miss them at all.  If I really want something, then I have it and count it in my syns but I really am not that fussed.  I stopped having sugar in my tea and coffee and swapped to sugar free pop and squash.  I don’t eat much bread these days and it made me realise just how much of the stuff I was consuming and again I don’t really miss it.

Breakfast is probably the meal I find the hardest as cereal means using both my healthy extras of cereal and milk and I would rather save my milk for teas and coffees through the day.  I would usually eat toast, butter and jam before but now I very rarely have these things.  I now have porridge oats with yoghurt and fruit or scrambled eggs with spinach and tomatoes or grilled bacon and beans.

Lunch was usually a sandwich, these days it is usually a salad, jacket potato, or omelette.  Sushi is my go to lunch if I am out and about.

Dinners are the easiest as I find I can cook pretty much all my favourite meals syn free by cutting out the oil and using lean cuts of meat and plenty of veg.  I think you might struggle if you don’t like cooking as most processed foods are a no no.  I am not one for pre packaged diet meals so though they are available, I haven’t tried them yet.

And so today has been my weigh in for week 12 and I am 12 stone 12 1/2 lbs.  I have lost  10% of my body weight and I feel so much better for it!

slimming world diet weight loss

So how do I marry the ideas of body positivity with dieting? Well, I think we are taught to hate our bodies, especially women, we are shown unachievable, photoshopped images of women all day, everywhere we look we are bombarded by photos of women that are part of such a narrow, Western ideal of what beauty is.  We are taught to much so much emphasis on our looks and so it is unsurprising that so many women will openly say they hate their bodies.

My weight loss is not about what my body looks like, I love my body when it is larger or smaller and I am just grateful to still be alive! This weight loss is about me taking back control of myself and my health after nearly 4 years of surgeries and treatment that took over everything.  I have felt so weak and vulnerable during this time and now is the time where I want to feel in control and strong and I know that dropping a few pounds and getting myself into a healthy BMI is going to do that for me.

I don’t think that everyone should be the same size, I think that we should strive to look after our bodies and to be the way that makes us happy.  I have been on diets for years and they always came from a place of unhappiness, this time it comes from a place of self love and self care.  I want to do this for me, not for any other person.

I am really looking inwards at the moment, I am seeing a counsellor for my mental and emotional health, I am doing things for myself that make me happy, I am going to the cinema regularly on my own because I love it, I am (don’t mock me!!) doing jigsaws, crochet and reading more, I am spending more time in my allotment, and I am changing my food intake to give myself what my body needs not what my habits push.

I was nearly 14 and a half stone and a size 18 three months ago.  And you know what? I was banging hot! I felt sexy and beautiful and awesome.  I am under 13 stone now and I’m in a size 14 for the first time in years and I feel great.  Not because I weigh less, but because I feel I am looking after me.

It is so important to look after yourself, to work on self love and self care.  We so often put ourselves to the bottom of the list of priorities and that needs to stop.  Take a moment to think about what will make you happy and fulfilled and make the effort to do something that makes you love yourself a little more.


Sam xx

The Ostomistic Life

Earlier this year, I was asked to feature in the quarterly online magazine The Ostomistic Life and I totally forgot to share it with you guys!

Take a look here, I am on pages 12-15.

the ostomistic life sam cleasby ostomy blogger IBD health invisible illness chronic illness magazine

What do you call your stoma?

When I first had a stoma, the nurse told me that lots of people name theirs and it helps them to come to terms with it.  I believe I wanted to tell her to f**k off, though I held my tongue.  I just wasn’t ready to have that conversation.

I am comfortable with my stoma now, but at the time I remember being laid in HDU and not wanting to look down. I just didn’t want to see it or deal with it, it was such a huge ordeal to know that my body had changed so much.  I remember laying in the bed and turning my head to the window, counting the slats of the blinds as they checked my wounds and changed my bag.  I couldn’t look…

When I did, I was shocked.  A stoma (when we are talking about an ileostomy or colostomy) is the end of your bowel that is pulled through your abdomen wall and stitched to the skin.  It looks like a red or pink, wet, soft lump with a hole in the middle.  So it is a big shock when you see your insides on the outside for the first time!

stoma ileostomy femininity #stomaselfie woman with stoma ileostomy ostomy stoma images

But over time, I got used to it quite quickly, I realised it was my life line, that it had saved my life and it was nothing to fear.  It was part of my body and I started to understand that people name their stomas as part of the idea of coming to terms with their new body.  Naming it can feel like you are welcoming it into your life.

I named my stoma Barack Ostoma… I wanted something funny but also quite grand!  I then had jpouch surgery and so Barack left office, as it were.  After 18 months of chronic pouchitis, I had stoma number two.  I only have one stoma now, it is a permanent ileostomy, but in numbers I have had, it is the second one.  This one is called Babadook, due to the weird creaking, farting noises it sometimes makes and the fact that baba and dooky are terms for poo, so it seemed to make sense.

sam cleasby blogger ostomy ibd woman with a colostomy ileostomy bag stoma


So my question is, what, if anything do you call your stoma, and why did you want to name it or why did you choose not to name it.


Sam xx

Glastonbury toilets

I was at Glastonbury this year and for once, it was HOT!! The heat was tough but I drank plenty of (non alcoholic) fluids to stop the dreaded dehydration and having a few bag changes as the hot weather didn’t do my ostomy bag much good!

I unfortunately had a crap experience (!) with the toilets, and it was something I shared on my Facebook page, but realised I hadn’t talked about it over here.  I know that not all of you follow my social media and thought I would share it here.

“Tonight my bag suddenly filled fast, we walked away from the stone circle as we were waiting for the fireworks in search of a toilet FAST! You know those bag fills where it suddenly feels like it will pop off?!

We saw an accessible portaloo and a staff member said “this is for disabled people”. I said “yep I know thank you”

He asked if I was staying in ‘disabled camping’ and I said no. He said “you know these toilets aren’t for anyone other than disabled people right?” I said “yes I do, do you want me to tell you what my disability is?”

My husband said “you know that it’s not just wheelchair users don’t you?” My son pointed at the sign on the door that said “‘Not all disabilities are visible” 

glastonbury accessible toilets invisible disabilities

He said “lots of people might try and take advantage!” I said “do you want me to show you?!”

He eventually let me in and it was vile. Shit and piss everywhere, pitch black. I had to ask my husband to come in and hold a torch and I sorted my bag out.

We came out to him complaining to other staff members that people who weren’t in disabled camping shouldn’t be using the loos. I was mortified.

My husband went up and asked if there was a problem, he pointed out the sign and told them I had a disability and just because I wasn’t in a wheelchair didn’t mean I didn’t have extra needs. That we weren’t in disabled camping as he is staff so were in a staff campsite. They said they have to protect the loos from people who just want to use them.

Eventually another staff member said “do you have a colostomy bag?” I said yes ( then wasn’t the time to split hairs!) and he explained that I could speak to someone and get a wristband and also gave me the door code.

I’ve had to speak to a group of 6 people then another 2 to get use a toilet tonight. It’s embarrassing and humiliating. If I’d gone up in a chair and not had a wristband they would not have treated me like that.

And to have a guarded, locked toilet that was so disgusting is ridiculous. Having a larger cubicle does not an accessible toilet make!!! 

glastonbury accessible toilets invisible disabilities

A wheelchair user would have struggled massively to transfer themselves to that loo as it was filled to the brim with shit and the sides were covered in piss and shit. It was so dark in there that I couldn’t see a thing and needed someone to come and hold a torch!

I’ve done festivals for the past 20 years, I know what toilets are like, I’m no princess and totally get that they’re vile. But if you’re guarding and locking a loo and making such a fuss about protection of disabled people, perhaps make that toilet truly accessible. We can and should do MUCH better than this.”


I know that I really should have organised myself before, but I can’t help thinking that it really should only take some common sense.  I understand that people have a job to do, but going to an accessible toilet isn’t some kind of luxurious experience that people are going to lie about, surely?

There seems to be an obsession with the checking of disabled people and their toilet habits, so many questions to just go and have a shit and till you have stood with crap running down your legs waiting for another human to decide whether you should be allowed to go to the toilet, then it may be hard to understand just how humiliating, upsetting and degrading it is.

I will never stop shouting about this…


Sam xx

Are photo shoots naff when you have teenagers?

I LOVE photographs, I have thousands, both on my phone, on hard drives, in albums, on the walls and in boxes hidden away.  I adore looking through them and remembering brilliant times and revelling in just how small and precious the kids were.  Now they are teenagers.  And honestly, they don’t really want me to photograph them ever.  I have to steal their photos off instagram…

My husband is a photographer and though he takes beautiful images, he rarely has time to shoot us and I doubt the kids would stand for it anyway. Plus, if he is photographing us, then he isn’t in the shot!

And so, you can imagine their faces when I told them that I had booked a family photo shoot for us all.  “Muuuummmmmmmmm it’s so flipppinngggg weeirrdddddd!” “WHHHYYYYYYY??? You know what we look like!!!” and my favourite “Im not doing one of those all pile on photos where the dad lays on the bottom and then you stack up in height order…”

all pile on awkward family photo

Photo: Awkward Family Photos

And then the day came around and I drove four miserable faces out to Kelham Island in Sheffield to meet our photographer Corinne from Corinne Hills Photography.  She is a personal friend of ours, and I knew her relaxed and natural style would fit in so much better with our family than any white background shot or weird posing.

Corinne usually shoots in very natural settings, she is a forest schools teacher and so is usually found in the woods playing with sticks and making fires and so I knew I was pushing her slightly in wanting an urban setting for our shoot, but we agreed that it would be the same as her other work.  We’d go for a walk and she would quietly photograph us.

I was a bit worried that it might be weird or naff, that it really was something you only did with little kids.  But I couldn’t have been more wrong, it felt natural and easy and the images of my beautiful kids in their teen years (Thom is nearly there at 12, Ellie is 14 and Charlie is 16) made me cry. She captured the reality of our family, the silliness and the imperfections, she caught the moment I accidentally hit Ellie in the face and the repercussions of that! She caught my children’s personalities and their quirks and the photos make my heart swell.

If you would like Corinne to photograph your family, get in touch through though you may have to wait a while as she is laid up with a broken ankle and is very pregnant! But I guarantee you, it will be worth the wait!


family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

family photo shoot with teenagers in Sheffield urban kelham island

Love Sam xx


Talking to Scouts about poo

One of my favourite parts of everything to do with So Bad Ass is that I get to do talks all over the world about IBD, ostomies, disability, parenting and body positivity and so when I was asked by our local Scouts group if I would come in and talk to their Cubs about disability, working for a charity and my experiences to help them get their disability awareness activity badge, I jumped at the chance.

Then it got to the night itself and despite the fact that I have spoken in front of rooms full of the most respected doctors in the world, in front of hundreds of people at events all over the place, the thought of a bunch of 10 year olds was terrifying!!

But I knew I wanted to go ahead and so I went in and spoke about my illness, about my ostomy bag, scars, disability and lots about poo… There were some “urghhhhhh” comments, there were times when they asked weird questions, but it was all good and so great to talk about something that is very much seen as taboo.

I spoke about my work for Scope and their End The Awkward campaign, about how lots of people find it difficult to speak to a disabled person because they feel awkward and worried that they will say the wrong thing.

We spoke about examples of disability, and they blew me away by saying that one of their grandparents had an invisible disability in the form of dementia and I was so pleased that they had such a great level of understanding.  We chatted about how difficult communication can be for some people and how we can find ways to make it easier.

One child raised his hand and told me he had scars like me, that he’d had heart surgery when he was a baby but his dad told him he could tell fibs about the scar, that he won a fight with a ninja, that he survived a shark attack, that it was a Harry Potter scar… I love that! I often tell people I fought off cthulhu…

In short, they were fantastic and I think they all went away with a better understanding of disability and so it was all worthwhile.  I even got my own badge!  I was one of several people to come and talk to them over a few weeks, they had learnt some sign language, had a session with a man with a sight impairment and had talked about mental health too.

scouts disability badge
I did find out that 10 year olds are awful/brilliant. I said they could ask anything and I’d try my best to answer. One boy raises his hand, waving, desperate to ask his question. I thought ‘how brilliant! I’ve really reached him!’

He said “why is your hair half orange and half black?” 

Great.  Burned by a 10 year old cub scout…

Please offer me a seat…

Last summer I was contacted by Transport for London and a TV company about doing some secret filming and trialling their ‘Please offer me a seat’ badges. 

The ‘Please offer me a seat’ badge and card for people who find it difficult to stand when using public transport. The badge and accompanying card were created following requests from customers who struggle to get a seat, as their need is not immediately obvious. The badge and card remove the awkwardness of customers having to explain their need for a seat to others.

I wasn’t that confident that these badges would work, after all London tubes are not the friendliest places on earth and most people don’t even make eye contact let alone look to see if you are wearing a badge!

I have a chronic illness called Ulcerative Colitis, I have a permanent ostomy bag and symptoms of my impairment are extreme fatigue, joint problems as well as the odd bag leak.  From the outside, it is very difficult for anyone to see that I have an impairment yet there are times when I struggle to walk, stand and the anxiety of these things can make it really tough to even leave the house!

And so I boarded the tube with a team hiding at the other end of the carriage filming me and the people around me.  I stood on the busy carriage with my badge attached to my jacket and waited.  I didn’t have to wait long, within a minute a man waved to me and offered me his seat that I gratefully accepted, after a minute or two I spoke to him and the camera crew came in, I asked why he had offered me his seat. He said he noticed the badge and thought at first it was the pregnancy badge, then he saw it simply asked for a seat and he assumed that I must have some need to sit. We thanked him and moved on.

For the next two hours we got on tube after tube after tube and every single time, I was offered a seat almost immediately.  I was genuinely gobsmacked!

One man who was standing but saw my badge nudged a seated person and pointed at my badge and they jumped up offering me their seat apologising they hadn’t spotted the badge before.  They all said that the badge was a good thing and would make them realise that the person wearing it probably had some sort of illness or impairment and needed extra support.

There was not one journey in that time that I wasn’t offered a seat.  Men, women, children, older people, all saw the badge and offered to let me sit in their place.  I was expecting that a few people would take notice but I was amazed that it had a 100% success rate for my trial.

Last autumn, TfL held a six week trial with 1,200 people to test the new badge and card. More than 72 per cent of journeys were found to be easier as a result of the badge, and 98 per cent of people taking part said they would recommend it to somebody who needed it.

As a result, they are now introducing the ‘Please offer me a seat’ initiative permanently. The free badge and card are now available through their website or by calling them on 0343 222 1234.

There are no qualifying criteria – applicants do not need to provide a GP’s note or their medical history. The badge and card can be used across the network, on London Underground, London Overground, Buses, Docklands Light Railway, TfL Rail, Trams and River Services.

I think the badges are a marvellous idea, I would generally be too embarrassed, too uptight and well, too British to actually ask someone to give up their seat for me! I would assume they would question me and I would have to answer personal questions to a stranger if I asked and so these badges give an easy to understand request that isn’t pushy and in my opinion, help to end that awkward feeling of needing help but not wanting to ask.  The fact that I had such a positive experience really made me feel more positive about society and more confident in travelling around London on public transport.


It’s National Sister Day

Today is National Sister Day and so I thought I would do a little post about my big sister Lisa.  She lives in Sydney, Australia and I miss her every single day!

We are ten years apart in age and when I was younger, I always looked up to her so much.  I don’t remember her ever being anything other that a grown up and so that shaped our relationship as she was my big sister and I was the baby.

sam cleasby family photos national sister day


When I was a little girl, it was Lisa’s bed I would crawl into if I had a bad dream, Lisa’s hand I wanted to hold, Lisa’s life I wanted to mimic.  I think it carried on like this for a long time, with our relationship being unequal in some ways as it was her I turned to for help and advice rather than it ever being the other way around.

And then when she got pregnant with her daughter just after I found out I was pregnant with my third child, it really shifted the balance.  All of a sudden, I had experience that she didn’t, she needed to ask me advice and it changed us beyond big sister/little sister to really good friends.  She was with me when I gave birth to Thom and when her daughter Gracie came along, I was a proud aunty to a wonderful little girl.

Sam Cleasby family photos

Lisa decided to move to Australia almost five years ago, she had a job opportunity and had always lusted after a life down under since her travels ten years before.  When she told me, I was both devastated but equally excited and pleased for them.  We lived in the same village and our kids went to the same school and so we saw each other several times a week.  I remember weeping loudly whilst trying to smile and tell her that I was happy for them.

Since then, I have visited them over in Australia.  It was just three months after my first operation and it was the thing that kept me going through recovery.  They have been back for a couple of visits too, but I haven’t seen her in person for nearly 18 months and it is hard, I miss her every day.  I wish I could just walk down to her house for a cup of tea or a glass of wine, I wish I could call her at any time, rather than having to check what time it is in Sydney.

woman with an ostomy bag swimming ileostomy colostomy

She is my inspiration and the person whose opinion of me matters the most, I want her opinion and her approval as she is so important to me, she is smart and funny and caring and kind and I know that when she gives me advice, it is always in my best interest.  Of all the people in the world, I care the most about what Lisa thinks, I want to make her proud.

Since she moved away, my health deteriorated massively and the surgeries began, and so she hasn’t been here when I have been at my most ill.  I know this was really tough for her and she felt sad that she couldn’t be by my side.  But we found positives in the situation, she always says that she is my night shift, that I have lots of people to talk to in the daytime, but when I can’t sleep and am struggling in the night, it is her daytime and so she can be there for me when no one else is.

sam cleasby family photos national sister day


You have to look for these positives when faced with a tough situation.  We talk on messenger often and FaceTime each other whenever we can, the internet and social media mean that we don’t miss out on the important parts of echothers lives.  I can see her photos of a night out in real time, I can watch videos of my niece and shots of their days at the beach on my phone as they shoot them!  We have come up with our own codewords and made up silliness through years of messaging each other, when words have autocorrected to become something daft, they often stick.  One thing we have is a word for when we say hello. It is never both of our mornings or night time at the same time and so we greet each other with the word ‘nighting’ as it works for us both.

sam cleasby family photos national sister day

Any way, I just wanted to share a bit about my brilliant big sister today when I saw that it was National Sister Day as I love her very, very much and I hope she knows just how important she is to me.


Thank you Lisa, I love you!



Sam xxx