Hi friends! It’s Hannah, one of the RLRD interns. Happy Friday!! I hope your week has so far has been wonderful. A couple weekends ago, I took a mini trip to Colorado with my mom and sister. We had such a blast (well, I did once I got over some altitude sickness) hiking, exploring, trying new restaurants, and spending time with each other in the sunny outdoors. The weekend made me think about my past experiences with travel a lot, and how my previous, disordered eating habits changed and shaped the way I travelled for multiple years.
As a kid, travelling was so easy and simple for me when it came to food + movement. I feel very lucky and privileged that my family and I were able to take trips together. We’d wake up early and eat something that we’d buy at the airport, and once we were at our destination, I’d just order whatever sounded good to me in the restaurants we’d find. Even if it was a warm, beach trip, I wouldn’t worry about how certain foods would make me “look” in a bathing suit — I was an intuitive eater (like many of us were) as a child, and selecting my meals wasn’t a big deal. If something sounded appetizing, that’s what I’d pick. As for exercise, it was never about going to the hotel gym on vacation or squeezing in time to work out when it really didn’t fit naturally into the day’s schedule — movement was naturally incorporated through playing and swimming in the pool, skiing, hiking, or walking through the town to explore. Travelling, like regular life, was intuitive for me as a child before I was roped, like you might’ve been too, into the world of diet culture.
In the throes of my disordered eating period, I distinctly remember family and friend vacations feeling very different — because for me, they mentally were. I was stuck in the need to try to control my food and my exercise while in a new place or in the place of transit (airports were so stressful for me because I could never find food that fit within the way I was restrictively eating). I was quite distracted from the actual trip as well — the place, the people I was with, the culture, the new foods, because I was hyper-focused on keeping my rigid eating and exercising habits the same as the ones I more easily kept control over at home and at college. If right now you are in a similar situation as the one I used to be in, I feel you. I hear you. It’s tough; I totally get it, and you are not alone. What I can say now though, is that with time and a concerted effort on supported recovery, travel can and will get a whole lot better. And a ton more fun.
I’ve been on a few trips here and there since feeling fully recovered from my disordered eating thoughts and habits, and I still feel just as lucky and privileged (if not even more!) to be able to travel – to see friends who live far away, to explore new places, and to afford flight and train costs. I am very thankful for these opportunities and adventures. I’m taking even more advantage of them now because I embrace vacations and travel experiences in ways that are very similar to how I enjoyed them as a child: intuitively. Naturally. Happily. I no longer get anxious about needing to keep up with an exercise routine while travelling; I now realize that airports and train stations have lots of food, and that I have permission to eat whatever I’d like — nothing is off limits anymore. It took a while to get to this point in recovery, but I can promise you that it is SO possible. It just takes a lot of time, discomfort, patience and grace with yourself. Being able to travel freely without a diet leash around my neck has been one of the best parts of recovery for me. It’s beyond liberating to be able to go to new places and not feel anxiety about keeping up with the mechanisms that I thought were helping me “control” my body, weight, and hunger.
My family’s recent weekend adventure to Colorado inspired me to reflect on some tips that I have for you about traveling. Navigating the experience of travel, which involves leaving your physical (and probably mental as well) comfort zone, can be daunting for some of us, and these are some tips that I wish someone had told me a few years ago. I hope they are helpful for you.
1.) Feed yourself on travel days
I don’t know about you, but I often find that travel days throw off my hunger, especially if flying into a different time zone, or if I’m waking up really early to get somewhere. It’s totally okay that travelling does this — travel days are weird! But, what I think is important is that we remember to care for ourselves in these times of transit and not judge ourselves if we’re hungry at weird hours and want to eat. Our bodies know what they’re doing.
With that being said, I think packing snacks for travel days is cool because you can save some money at the station/airport, or maybe you had some perishable snacks that were going to go bad at home if you didn’t eat them, so you bring them with you. However, I don’t think packing snacks and meals needs to be obsessive — if you forget snacks at home, it’s okay! You’ve got permission to get something in your place of transit. I used to be so scared to eat food at the airport because I thought it was all “junk” and didn’t fit within my eating plan.
What I wish I could tell this old self of mine is this: Hannah! pleaaase take care of yourself and feed yourself food while at the airport/on the plane or train. Don’t go hungry just because you forgot your ‘compliant’ snacks at home — you have permission to eat airport food. It’s not “bad”. It’s food, it macronutrients and energy and therefore your body knows how to use it. This is just food, and you deserve to be taken care of. You deserve to be well-fed.
2.) Strive to go with the flow while out to eat
Vacations often prompt more opportunity for going out to eat than regular life does. This can be stressful for some of us. I’ve completely been there; it was anxiety-inducing, especially if my meal came and it wasn’t exactly what I had expected or ordered. I’ve come to enjoy going out to eat a lot now, but of course there are still those times where the food that arrives isn’t what I’d been anticipating, and that’s where practicing going with the flow comes in handy. For example, this past weekend in Colorado, I ordered this tasty-sounding roasted chicken — it came and was slathered in some creamy and savory sage butter. It looked delicious, but I know that my GI system and dairy don’t always agree. I’m learning that sometimes dairy feels totally fine, and sometimes not so much — it really just depends.
In this type of situation, something that I’ve found to be helpful in ‘flowing’ is thinking about my options. I quickly thought about the choices in my head before making a decision — one option was to send it back and ask for the chicken without the sage butter. Another option was to try and enjoy the meal with my family, and see what happens (this is very individual, but for me I’ll either get a bad stomach-ache from dairy, or nothing at all). I went with the latter option because I was really hungry, wanted to eat a good meal eat after a long day of traveling, and was willing to risk the stomachache. Now, if you’re someone who has a severe allergic reaction to a food that your meal comes with, of course I wouldn’t recommend this to you! But for people like me, who in the past have been scared to eat any “off limits” foods, I’ve worked these past two years to truly, mindfully introduce all foods and get to a place where no food is considered fearful and scary. I’d rather not have a stomach-ache in an ideal world, but sometimes it happens and I’m learning that I’ll be okay, that the situation is totally fine, and that whatever is happening will pass. (As a side, so happy that I kept the meal at that restaurant because it was very good with that savory butter!)
3.) Work to be adaptable with exercise
Travel doesn’t always lend itself to a rigid exercise routine. I used to try and “force” a strict exercise regimen onto vacations and while I studied abroad. Now,I’m learning it’s better and way easier to simply find ways to incorporate happy movement into the trip. If it feels constricting and not intuitive to be running on the treadmill at the hotel’s gym all the time, but you still would like to move while travelling, maybe explore other types of activities that involve getting your blood flowing. Kayaking, walking through the city, going for a hike or a sunset walk, swimming, snow-shoeing…what’s cool about travel is that you can experiment and find new ways to move, ones that you might not be able to do at home. If you can get outside, I recommend that! Fresh air and nature are things I’ve come to appreciate as much as possible since I reside in a city right now and don’t always have access to quiet, fresh outdoor spaces.
4.) Use travel as an opportunity to try new foods
I studied abroad in Greece my freshman year of college and my friends and I were lucky that we got to travel to a few various countries in the EU while living in Greece. I was in the throes of disordered eating during my time abroad, and I didn’t try the fun or traditional foods in any of the places we visited. I never had a gyro in Greece, a Belgian waffle in Brussels, or pasta in Italy. I know, I know. I didn’t have pasta in Italy. I was scared of gluten at the time. It’s sad now to think about.
It’s because of this that now, when I go places, I make an effort to try new, fun foods – ones that I haven’t had before but, that sound delicious to me. I empower you to try doing this too. We can be in it together. Of course there will always be the days, even when traveling, that you just want to eat something familiar and comforting and classic, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But if I’m you’re traveling somewhere and something new on the menu sounds appetizing, why not go for that? When you look back on your travels, you don’t want to remember calories, you’ll want to remember the experience.
One small example is that on a family trip last year, I experimented with peanut butter and honey on a blueberry bagel for breakfast at the buffet. I’d never mixed PB and honey before. This was a little, non climactic moment, but it was SO good and slightly transformative for my breakfast situations. Now, I love to drizzle honey on top of my PB-slathered bagels on a regular basis at home because of what I experienced on that particular vacation. I learned I really liked that!
Those are some small tips about travel based on my experience in the past and present. Hopefully they help! I hope you have a lovely week and holiday and if you’re traveling anywhere in the near future, I want to hear about your experience — safe travels!