Bowel Babe: “Exercise Makes Me Feel Alive”

We caught up with Deborah James (@bowelbabe), who is living with cancer, to chat exercise, her love of food and lessons learned from motherhood.

What is your daily routine?

“Exercise makes me feel alive, so I’ll start my day with either a run or reformer Pilates class, which has completely transformed my body.

“The mental health benefits of exercise are a huge driving factor for me and it reduces some of the side effects from my treatment, which may seem counterintuitive, but running really helps with those aches and pains.”

How do you keep your body nourished?

“I love food and I think lockdown has forced me to learn how to cook! I’ve been a vegetarian for almost 30 years now and I’m so pleased that the world has finally caught up – there are so many options and a lot of thought goes into conscious vegetarianism now, which is great.

“I love having green smoothies and soups, but don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a big bowl of chips just as much as the next person.”

Being a mum has taught me…

“A lot about myself, to be honest, because I see some of my character traits in my kids. I’m quite creative, but in a messy way, and I’ll notice that my daughter is exactly the same as me.

“For example, I‘ll say to her: ‘you’ve literally left clothes everywhere!’ and then I‘ll look at my cupboards and have to make a massive conscious effort to be organised.”

How do you encourage your kids to exercise?

“I think it’s all about finding something they love. One of my favourite moments of lockdown was when my son and I used to do our hour of exercise together running all along the Common, so that’s a lovely memory to have.”

What advice would you give to your younger self?

“To be more open because life doesn’t go to a plan. I used to be a deputy head and lived my life to a timetable, so I’ve had to learn to be more flexible and go off-piste a little bit.”

What makes you the most content?

“I love the sunshine and being outside, especially in lockdown. I like eating with my family too. At the moment, I’m finding that food and exercise are my anchors – they’re quite grounding – so I’m pouring my energy into that.”

Do you think your relationship with food and movement has changed over time?

“What I’ve learned from [being diagnosed with] cancer is that you can’t cancer-proof your life. There’s a lot of dangerous advice out there and rather than people saying ‘you shouldn’t eat that’ or ‘you should live like this’, I think it’s more about having a positive love for food and understanding your body.

“I know what it’s like when you can’t do the things you used to, so when I’m doing a triathlon or marathon, I don’t care if I’m last, I’m just happy I’m able to do it.”

Listen to You, Me and the Big C: Putting the can in cancer on Apple Podcasts, BBC Sounds and Spotify.