How exercise helped Sophie Allen learn to love her body after life-threatening surgeries.

Almost six years ago, Sophie Allen went into hospital for a minor procedure to look for endometriosis.

During the investigatory laparoscopy, doctors found some scar tissue in the then-21 year old, removed it, stitched her up and sent her home for recovery.

Days passed and Allen wasn’t getting any better, unable to eat, walk or move properly. After seven days, she was rushed to emergency surgery where doctors cut into her abdominal cavity to determine the problem.

They discovered that during the initial surgery a perforation had occurred in her bowel.


Allen in hospital. Image: Supplied.

"They later told me that they had to remove my intestine from my body and submerge it in water like a bike tyre to find the bubbling air coming out of the hole," Allen told Mamamia.

Once stitched, she spent a month in hospital in intensive care over Christmas and New Year. Further surgery was required to remove the infection that had spread to her lungs and for two weeks, she relied on three tubes to drain the fluid.

The effect on her body after such massive surgery was enormous.

"Having spent so much time in a bed I lost almost all of what little muscle mass I had. I couldn’t walk - I was wheeled around in a wheel chair at the park for fresh air, I had so many drugs pumping through my body, morphine, ketamine (yes, horse tranquilliser) you name it! A grown man would have been flat on his back,' the 26 year old from Melbourne says.


Allen's scar. Image: Supplied

"The scar tissue was painful and felt sticky and stiff causing frequent pain. Chronic pain was mentioned and the doctors said an exercise routine would dramatically help to reduce that. Not only muscular but my whole digestive system was in shock.

"I was on antibiotics for months and pain killers and morphine as well for so so long, my poor body had no idea what was up. I have spent ages with the help of a naturopath getting my body back on track again."

She says discovering a passion for exercise after the surgery quite literally "saved her life".

"I so easily could have fallen into the depths of PTSD and gone the other way with everything. I could have easily sat with the ‘why me’ mentality I admit I had at times, but instead I focussed on what was ahead, what I needed to do to never be in that situation again and what I really yearned for and felt beyond jealous about when friends and family came to visit was their health," she says.

Watch: Sam Wood on why you don't need hours to work out. Post continues after video.

"It was summer so everyone was tanned, happy, healthy looking and strong. I was pale, ghostly, a bag of bones with a weird pregnant looking belly and tubes hanging out of me.

"Working out gave me an incredible purpose, knowing where I came from to where I am now has given me an incredible focus that has seeped into my everyday life - my job, relationships and friendships, my attitude and awareness. Pushing myself past my limits helped me overcome a depression I felt was imminent."

Describing her fitness routine prior to surgery as "non-existent", Allen was careful to start off slowly.

"I was really really cautious of pushing my body beyond its capabilities. It had just been through so much, yet it was yearning to be treated the way it deserved. I knew that working out and moving that scar tissue was the best thing for it, I just wasn’t sure what to do exactly," she says.

A bit about me and my BBG journey thus far (lengthy post ahead): this photo is something I posted a while ago, but I though I'd repost it and let you guys a bit more about me and my active life, and how I got here! The photo on the left was me at the end of 2010 age 21, & the photo on the right is me now age 26. December 2010 I had a laparoscopy to check for endometriosis, a minor day procedure investigating the state of my uterus. I went home for a week, but my recovery was painful and I seemed to be getting worse. My stomach was huge, I looks 6 months pregnant, I was in pain and couldn't walk or eat. I went back a week later to get my stitches out and was rushed to emergency surgery, where they found a perforation in my bowel. This had been infecting my system for the whole week, and can cause death as the organs start to shut down if left untreated. I was lucky we caught it when we did. I spent my recovery in intensive care, underwent multiple procedures, tubes down my throat, needles draining lung fluid from my back, blood being taken 3-4 times a day, countless X-rays and scans, blood transfusions, a line put in to feed me as I couldn't eat, I couldn't walk or stay awake for very long. I couldn't shower myself because my energy was gone.. It was pretty bleak. I spent Christmas in ICU and then when I thought I was on the mend I was told I had to go in and get lung surgery - the infection had spread to my lungs forming what's called an empyema (infection) so on New Year's Day I went in for a Thoracotomy my 3rd surgery in 2 weeks. Recovery was painful, I had 3 tubes in my chest draining my lungs and was still recovering from the previous surgeries. I spent a month in hospital in total. Fast forward to now nearly 6 years later this is beyond who and what I dreamt for myself sitting helplessly in that hospital bed. I would see people being fit and active and here I was hooked up to all kinds of drugs and machines being wheeled around in a wheel chair and so puffed and exhausted after a shower I'd sleep for 3 hours afterwards. For me, BBG has been about losing weight, yes. <<<<continued in comments>>>>

A photo posted by Sophie Allen (@sophactivelife) on Jul 25, 2016 at 5:22am PDT

"They told me recovery time for the stomach surgery is about one to two years and same for the lungs... so I knew to take it easy."

She started off running, gradually building up pace and distance and trained for a 15 kilometre race with some friends. As she got stronger, she started mixing in circuit work and took up hot yoga.

However it wasn't without its frustrations.

"I’d get five minutes in and be absolutely wrecked. I’m quite hard on myself and like to push myself so I’d walk, run, walk, run but by the end of the day or the next day I’d be in so much pain from the scar tissue being moved around," she says.

"So it was really important to slow it down, take my time and be patient with my body and its healing process. This was a big lesson for me, despite feeling like I could go harder, I really needed to stay in tune with by body to prevent any pain or damage from occurring."
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She learnt to appreciate the little milestones.

"I'd remind myself that months prior I was in a bed and wheel chair trying to blow a little ball up into the air, and now I’m actually running!"

The experience has also given her a new-found appreciation for her body - scars and all.

"My strength gives me body confidence - something I never knew I wanted until I realised I couldn’t do one push up. One of the best feelings I can remember is the day I went from zero push ups, to 20 push ups (this was all gradual of course) I was so damn proud. Things I could never do - sit ups, push ups, I can now do," she says.

"I actually really love my scars now too. Initially I was very self conscious of them, but now they’re a reminder of what I went through and how strong I was to come out of that alive."

There's a reason it's called the bikini body guide! ⚡️ And it's not solely about losing weight so you can fit into that smaller size bikini ????????. It's about getting to a point in which you feel strong ???????? and confident ????????. It's about completely transforming yourself from the inside out, head to toe. ???? I've changed a lot this past year (yes I'm a week off my #kaylaversary) and I still have goals I want to reach! But standing on this beach being photographed and actually FEELING confident, strong and sexy ????✨ is an entirely new experience for me. Thanks @kayla_itsines and @tobi_pearce for one badass guide that's been the only thing I've managed to stick to for so long ???????????????????????? wearing the stunning @kenzililyswim bikini which is all about fun, adventures and cheek aka me in a bikini! ???????? officially obsessed and ready for summer! #kenzililyadventures ☀️ also HI HAPPY WEEKEND!! It's my boyfriends bday weekend (who was the photographer here and a huge support to me always thank you B!) @justinsundance???????? lots of fun adventures planned ???? #Kenzilily #confidence #selflove #bodylove #strongnotskinny

A photo posted by Sophie Allen (@sophactivelife) on Sep 9, 2016 at 3:19pm PDT

Fast foward to 2016 and Allen runs a successful health and fitness inspirational Instagram account she started last year.

"I work out because I love it, I love the post workout feeling and the satisfaction reaching my goals bring. So I workout six days a week with one rest day. I’ve been doing Kayla Itsines Bikini Body Guide (BBG) for 52 weeks now which involves three resistance sessions, legs, arms and abs, as well as three cardio sessions which I like to do on the bike, one HIIT session and I also love yoga," she says.

"I eat very well, I love food, I love baking clean desserts and treats and snacks but I also love an indulgence (chocolate is my weakness) and I’m not about depriving myself so I do it whenever I really feel like it (with restraint of course)."

Often asked about the dos and don'ts of exercising after surgery from people in similar situations, Allen has some important advice.

So I went out for dinner last night and didn't get home till 9 I realised I didn't have anything prepared for lunch tomorrow so got myself together and made some chicken and vegetables and felt so proud for being so good ⚡️????????.. Get a message from my sister this morning saying I left the food out on the kitchen bench overnight ???? general consensus.. Who thinks cooked chicken sitting out of the fridge for 9 hours is a bad idea to reheat and eat for lunch?... ???? #fml so anyway I'll just be dreaming of this dish I made during the week - salmon cooked in @mingleseasoning 'Sally' spice with black rice, broccoli and Chinese broccoli ✔️ #letsmingle #mingle #mealprepfail and while I'm at it, tagged girls! #whatsonyourplate

A photo posted by Sophie Allen (@sophactivelife) on Aug 17, 2016 at 2:36pm PDT


"Try not to rush your recovery. While it feels like this is your forever, it’s not! Because this happened to you, it doesn’t make you weak, it will actually make you stronger. Listen to your body really carefully and give it what it needs, what it’s asking for," she says.

"Rest, nutritious food, moving it slowly (with yoga perhaps). And even once you’re given the all clear for exercising, take your time, no one can tell you what will or won’t happen/work, you need to discover that for yourself because every body is unique and recovers differently.

"Just remember that the worst part is over, you’re alive, you’re on the road to recovery and you will achieve your goals."

Image: Instagram/@sophactivelife.