Have Eating Disorder Recovery, Will Travel
As I write this I’m preparing for an upcoming vacation. And as excited as I am to leave town for a bit, I am also reminded of the years of disordered eating in which travel felt so stressful. I would be consumed with thoughts of food and exercise and could barely take in my new surroundings or enjoy the quality time with friends or family.
Sometimes I would purposely plan a getaway hoping that changing my environment would offer a chance to reset and somehow fix everything so I could just “eat normally” from there on out. Eventually I figured out that I took my eating disorder with me wherever I went, though.
To be honest, even in early recovery, some of these old behaviors would resurface on the road. When we’re feeling destabilized or uncomfortable, our eating disorders (including dieting, weight preoccupation and the obsession with “clean eating”) can creep back in to help give us a sense of normalcy or control. Even if we’re enjoying a trip overall, just being out of our routines and comfort zones can provoke some anxiety.
One way I’ve learned to manage travel while in eating disorder recovery is to think about packing my recovery and taking it with me, like l would my toothbrush and some extra pairs of socks. It’s just automatically on the packing list and I spend a little extra time before any trip thinking about how I want to practice it in my new surroundings. This continues to change throughout my recovery, and ultimately might look different for everyone, but some things to consider are:
To plan... For some people, such as those in early recovery, looking at menus ahead of time might be helpful in ensuring there is something you will like. This isn’t about finding the “safest” or “healthiest” option, but rather about prioritizing your pleasure.
Or not to plan. On the other hand, for some people or perhaps just later in recovery, you might think about resisting the urge to check menus, reminding yourself that you have permission to eat whatever looks good and that you have the tools and skills to figure out how to nourish yourself.
Challenging yourself with food. Another way to actively engage with your recovery while traveling is to try a new food, perhaps something that region is known for. Maybe even have that food multiple times from different vendors and get curious about which version you liked best and why.
Honoring your hunger. For someone recovering from an eating disorder, it might be hard to speak up when hungry and ask travel companions to make time to eat. Your daily energy needs don’t suddenly go down when you’re on vacation though, and your body experiences missing meals or snacks exactly the same as restricting or dieting. Bringing with you the Intuitive Eating principle of honoring your hunger is critical to maintaining a healthy relationship with food while on the go.
Creating a mobile support system. Telling a traveling partner ahead of time what you might need to help maintain your recovery can also help to ensure your needs get met. Creating a plan to check in with your therapist or another trusted source can also help keep you accountable and committed to recovery.
Thinking ahead to looking back. I often ask clients preparing to go into any new situation what they want to remember about that experience when they look back on it later. Asking yourself this before and throughout a trip can help guide you towards decisions relating to food and movement that promote recovery. Do you want to remember staying back alone in the windowless hotel gym or that spontaneous outing together to find the city’s best ice cream?
Of course, since recovery looks different for everyone, these might not all apply to you or might not cover everything. But taking some time beforehand to think about what you need and giving yourself full permission to seek pleasure can really help bring you into the moment and experience the world around you in a new way. And isn't that what traveling is really all about in the first place?