Katya Kozary knows a fair bit about auto-immune disease management. Based in London and working as a recipe creator for those also living with auto-immune diseases, Katya was diagnosed at age 23 with Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (hEDS), Postural tachycardia syndrome (PoTS), Fibromyalgia, Mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS), Atlanto-axial instability (AAI) , Gastroparesis, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Migraines.
Not being able to find many store-bought foods that she could eat without causing her symptoms to flare up, Katya started creating her own recipes using wholefoods that were recommended as part of her restrictive elimination-based diet and publishing them on her Instagram account @positivelychronictravels. Her recipe book will be published later this year and will be packed full recipes and advice for anyone wanting to manage their symptoms (or simply enjoy delicious, nutritious creations) with meal ideas that are suitable for as many restrictive diets as possible.
She also has her own website where she publishes content for others to enable them to care for themselves when living with auto-immune diseases. Katya encourages people to find their own ‘trigger foods’ as she believes passionately that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution when it comes to disease management.
Tell us a bit about yourself..
I live in London, UK - a food photographer, videographer, recipe developer and digital content creator. I love doing exactly that and have made my hobby into my career around managing chronic illness (which is a full time job in itself)! I’m very passionate about raising awareness about certain issues that need more education or research around them. I also love to travel and especially love beautiful beaches [but a condition that was worsened because of having COVID (MCAS) has made me allergic to absolutely everything so not too suitable to travel right now].
You’re quite open about your journey with chronic illness – what prompted you to start your social pages and website dedicated to sharing this information, and can you tell us a bit about how you came to be aware of your conditions?
When I was diagnosed (took 23 years despite having symptoms for all of my life) I had to piece all management info together slowly over time and researched for 18 months every day after work to prepare for travels we did in Dec 2019 - March 2020: so on that trip I created positivelychronictravels, to help streamline travel with chronic illness for others, but when returning home because of COVID (and worsening of health simultaneously), I also share general tips and as much free support as I can for managing life on a daily basis with chronic illness, so that others feel less alone and have resources at their fingertips in one place to help them on their own journey.
How do you feel your diet corresponds with managing your chronic illnesses?
Because of always having tummy issues with IBS, MCAS, gastroparesis - I have a HUGE range of trigger foods that give different multisystemic reactions and make me feel unwell for days, or even weeks or months if that food triggers a “flare up”. So many foods can make me feel unwell and so food definitely has a big impact on my symptom management and there's a lot of trial and error in this process of establishing what's making me feel like this.
So with so many foods to avoid I realised I have to get creative in the kitchen with from scratch cooking for elimination diets. And why I'm creating a recipe book (being published later this year!) that's providing recipes suitable for as many restrictive diets as possible, whilst also being quick and easy and using minimal cooking pots / utensils etc.
It's important to note that there isn’t one ‘diet that suits all’ because of individual differences. People often preach specific diets for ‘curing/healing’ conditions and I’m very much against this because although one person may have had a positive response to one diet, we all have our own specific trigger or beneficial foods and it really can’t be as simplistic as ‘one size fits all’. By all means try things to work out what’s good for you, but know that your illness is not your fault because of eating a specific food or not. Any other viewpoint, in my opinion, becomes toxically positive and misleading.
What are three foods you couldn’t live without?
White rice - it's low histamine, gluten free, good for tummy flare ups and is a staple for when eating out and not feeling bothered to check if they can accommodate my 20+ limited foods list.
Avocado, yes it's high in histamine but I just love it so much and it's been a staple for too many years (classic millennial haha!)
Turmeric and Manuka honey for inflammation and immunity. *Steens Daily Range is perfect as to take as a daily supplement to support your immune system.
What are your top three tips for people living with chronic illnesses, and how to manage them?
Know that it's not your fault, you're doing all that you can . Try to make lifestyle changes including pacing your routine, changing careers or making work flexible or from home if possible, and altering your expectations to adjust with what you can/can't do so that you don't feel like you're missing out
Remember that ‘rest' is also ‘productive’ and try not to feel guilty for allowing your body to heal/grow and repair
What are the top 3 foods (or food substitutes) you recommend for anyone else with chronic illnesses?
Turmeric and Manuka honey for inflammation and immunity. Probiotics to help with gut health - as lots of immunity lies in the gut microbiome
How have you found that your chronic illnesses have affected the way you live your life?
In every way, but I've made changes to suit how they affect me, from the type of home I live in (level access ground floor flat) to the locations of appliances and things around the home that make them more accessible when flaring and unable to bend down etc, my job and what I do for work, my social life and having friends come to me and rarely going out etc. Lots more resources on this on my platform, and more to come still on specific strategies to manage around the house.
How do you incorporate Steens Honey into your Chronic Illness management?
I pop it on toast or into bakes and recipes or eat it by the spoon, especially when I'm fighting off a cold or virus it helps SO much and also soothes my throat!
For those of our followers who are not yet aware of your auto-immune conditions, is there anything you would like people to be aware of and to understand as to how they affect your daily life, and what people can do to help or support anyone else they know with these conditions?
Whether you have one or multiple, all of these conditions can all hugely impact daily life. It’s difficult to summarise into an answer that isn’t a book! But, an understanding that many of these conditions are frequently often invisible and so pain and symptoms aren’t always immediately obvious. There are many ways to support people with chronic illness (for friends and family) with what to say and what to avoid saying - I share several resources on my platform.
With regards to management, knowing that it’s about trial and error and that no one strategy or combination of strategies will be the same across different people because we are all unique. The importance of creating a flare up toolkit where you jot your go-to strategies; general or symptom specific, somewhere easy to refer to for when you need it and perhaps go blank due to the pain or symptom when it arises. Lots more resources on my Instagram to help with navigating this world if you’re new to it!
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received when it comes to living with these conditions?
Appreciating any things that your body CAN do each day, even if it’s just breathing! Whilst not trivialising your pain and symptoms, being grateful that regardless of all of these conditions, you’re still alive right now.
Lastly – do you have a favourite go-to recipe?
My shortbread recipe - it’s super simple to make, five ingredients, gentle on the tummy and I often spread them with manuka honey once made.
If you’re looking for a Manuka Honey that will support digestive health, try our UMF 20+ from our ‘Doctor Recommended’ Targeted Range in small doses throughout the day, and always ensure that your immune system is getting the help it needs, by dissolving a teaspoon of UMF 15+ from our Daily Range in warm water each morning.