Traveling is thrilling and fun, but the truth is that when you suffer from an eating disorder (ED), it’s above all terrifying. Breaking the routine, not controlling everything, what am I going to eat?, will I be able to work out?… This anxiety is normal, but it mustn’t ruin your trip. With these tips, you’ll be able to take the ED out of your suitcase and lock it!
This post is based on the experiences I lived when I went on vacation to Jordan with my mother in September 2018 (I had been in recovery for a little over 1.5 years). It was fascinating, I loved it and I had a great time. In a way that would have been impossible (and almost inconceivable) shortly before. At the same time, I went through bad moments and my thoughts tried to deceive me a lot. What I’ll say next is what has helped me to fight them and to enjoy the vacation to the full. Under some of the tips you’ll find extracts of my journal entries during those days, that exemplify how I lived them out.
1. Wait until you're ready
No matter how much you want to travel, be honest with yourself. Can your body handle it? Maybe at your current weight it’s a dangerous effort. And, is your mind ready? Or are you going to struggle so much with food that you won’t be able to enjoy the trip? Ponder your strength. You can use the desire of traveling as one more reason to keep going in recovery!
2. Have an accountability partner
The fear of gaining weight during the trip is going to make you tend to eat less than what you need. The ED is going to try to convince you with a thousand arguments that you don’t need to eat that much. And, since you won’t have any resources to measure and weigh the food or the same plates that you have at home, it’s easy to underestimate the portions. Therefore, the best thing would be to travel with someone who can take a look at your food and guide you. And that also gives you moral support, because there are going to be hard moments, doubts, panic… If you’re traveling alone or with people you don’t trust enough, search someone to whom you can talk to at the end of each day and send them pictures of your food.
“During this trip I want to totally trust my mother in regards to food, even if that terrorizes me”.
«Breakfast has already been hard because I’d have eaten less, but here I am, trusting my mother».
3. Build your plate
It’s possible that you eat at buffets lots of times, especially at hotels. My recommendation in those situations is to not take first one thing, then another, etc., because then it will be very difficult for you to calculate how much you’ve eaten and, since your hunger signals are still very messed up due to the illness, you’ll soon want to stop. It’s better that you take a plate similar in size to the ones you use at home and serve yourself everything or almost everything at once, so you can see the volume better.
4. Dare to challenge yourself
It’s the perfect chance to break your routine, get out of your comfort zone and try new things, foods that you wouldn’t have at your home and maybe even in your country. It would be such a pity if you confined yourself to the safe and known, you’ll be losing out on part of the trip. Remember that you’ll be in your destination place very little time: which memories do you want to take from it? That you followed perfectly your meal plan? Or that you took a risk and discovered new yummy flavors?
“My choice of food has been a bit complicated. I was doubting between salad or pizza. Salad pleased my ED more, but being with a bit of diarrhea maybe it wasn’t wise [because it had been washed with water from there]. Pizza was safest, but it was going to make me feel more guilty, like: “you’re being so exaggerated and now you’ve chosen wrong” or even worse: “that’s an excuse to justify yourself and eat the pizza, you gluttonous”. But I’ve pushed the thoughts aside and I’ve eaten the pizza”.
5. But not always
There are things that are more important than challenging yourself. To start with, it’s fundamental that you eat the amounts you need. Doing a challenge can’t mean restricting for the rest of the day, because your health comes first. Moreover, food is part of the trip, but it mustn’t be the center: you have to enjoy what you’re living. You’re already doing a great challenge just by breaking your routine so much, so if another challenge more will cause you too much stress or the thoughts afterwards will be so strong that are going to ruin your day, maybe it isn’t worth it.
6. Think about it as a cultural thing
Gastronomy is part of the culture of each place. Focus on tasting the typical products of the area (including sweets!). Just as you go to the museums, see the monuments, pay attention to the traditional costumes, listen to the music they listen there… when time to eat comes, look at it as part of that cultural immersion.
«Today, in the end my afternoon snack hasn’t been what I had brought, but a typical sweet. Total challenge».
7. Offer it up
God doesn’t go on vacation, but He’s still next to You. You’re going to have many opportunities to make acts of trust and offer Him things that you struggle with. He’s going to be taking care of you. When you’re swallowing that bite with a lump in your throat, tell Him: “Lord, I’m doing this for You”, and put your recovery on His hands.
“I’ve eaten all the food today, despite being in a plane. I’ve had to fight a lot against the ED. It tried to make me feel guilty, first for doing it [eating], when I was sitting and I hadn’t even worked out because I’ve taken today as a rest day as my personal trainer told me (and I’ve struggled lots!).
But, even more, for being able to do it well. It shouted me that I should find it hard, that I shouldn’t be hungry at all, that I’m a glutton for wanting to eat in such a situation… I mean, I don’t know if I was hungry or not, but once I’ve started, it felt good. And that earns me its reprobation. And it scares me, I feel like I’m not in control, like I’m a bottomless pit, like I need to restrain myself a lot if I don’t want to fall very low. But I haven’t hesitated and I’ve eaten everything, offering it up, with courage and a lot of trust to believe it was a good determination”.
8. Celebrate your wins
Don’t be frustrated by what you see you aren’t capable to do yet. Those days are going to be especially filled with attacks from the thoughts, with too many things that escape your control. And it’s completely normal to have down moments, to fall again into something you thought you’d already overcome… Try that it doesn’t happen, but be understanding with yourself. Look rather to all the things you ARE achieving. Probably, a year or some months ago you wouldn’t have been able to manage this trip as you’re doing it now!
“I’ve had a breakdown over food, because as a morning snack we’ve been offered cookies and I was going to eat them, but my mother has told me to wait since it was early, and I’ve freaked out, and finally I’ve eaten them but rushing around because we had to enter into another place […] and feeling dirty for having had to ask my mother to eat something sweet… and, on top of everything, I couldn’t of course cry openly [we were traveling with a group], so I’ve had a horrible time. But then I’ve been brave, I’ve blocked the thoughts and I’ve carried on. My mother says she’s very proud of me”.
“I’m still having a hard time with food, but, as my mother says, what I have to see is how much I’ve progressed. For example, I’m eating sweets every day, I’m not restricting even though I’m not working out, I’m more flexible with replacements, I even was able to leave one thing I wasn’t liking and take instead the equivalent amount of other thing”.
“I’ve finally been able to work out. I’m proud of me because I’ve taken it easy and I haven’t done a killer routine or used machines […] and I haven’t made it long or anything like that. I’m astonished by my flexibility”.
9. Appreciate what you can do
Thanks to the weight you’ve gained and the energy food provides you with, new possibilities open up for you. Now you can walk without feeling exhausted, you can participate in activities, you can live adventures. And thanks to the space you’ve got in your mind because you don’t have to be worried about food and exercise all the time anymore, you can fill it with experiences and memories and bathe in the atmosphere of the place you go to. Whenever you feel overwhelmed or with bad body image, stop for an instant to give thanks for everything recovery is allowing you to do.
“I’m constantly giving thanks for having the strength to do the things I’m doing: walking, carrying my backpack, climbing mountains, going up dunes… and also because my mother doesn’t have to be worried about me the whole time”.
Start to plan your next ideal trip, you deserve a prize for all the efforts you’re making! I hope that there you can create lots of good memories, as many as I take from the marvelous country of Jordan. Eat so you can conquer de world bite by bite.