Traveling often does not encourage positive relationships with food. Vacation means indulging — often over-indulging. It’s common to go on a diet before vacation just to eat and drink lots on vacation. That type of crash diet can lead to feelings of guilt and regret, further leading to punishment upon returning from your trip. Getting past that mindset towards food takes time (FYI: that’s disordered eating!), and thankfully, I’ve learned that traveling can actually improve your relationship with food.
I recall in high school going to an all-inclusive resort in Mexico. Even though I ate like shit regularly (cosmic brownies and fruit snacks were my main food groups), I danced 4-5 hours a day and was naturally extremely skinny. Somehow, still, I went into the vacation assuming I would gain weight. This continued on a cruise a couple years later. I knew I was going to gain a few pounds, and although my eating disorder hadn’t yet begun, those social norms were embedded in my brain already.
When my eating disorder was at my worst, I was also planning a study abroad trip to Rome. I was absolutely thrilled to travel to Italy, but I can’t begin to explain the anxiety I experienced worrying about food. Everyone at Loyola studies abroad, and everyone jokes that you gain weight at the Rome Center and lose weight at the Beijing Center. I was worried about not being able to plan my meals, not knowing what was in my food, not being able to purge (yeah, I know), not being able to exercise, and not looking good for all of the pictures I wanted to take.
From walking so much, I was always hungry and would always eat my friends’ leftovers. I worked out every day, even if that meant missing out on fun adventures with friends. I struggled a lot with food while abroad, but it was actually the beginning of my recovery without even realizing it. I learned that dairy didn’t always make me sick and shouldn’t be a fear food, I learned that my body physically needed fuel to function, and I learned that I could still survive without planning every single meal and hitting all of my macros. The best part is that I actually gained my most muscle ever there between LISS and heavy lifting! My relationship with food was finally starting to change.
When I traveled to Southeast Asia, I experienced several waves of struggle. First of all, I had so much anxiety about the flights. Sitting for that long and eating salty airplane food while dehydrated? I was sure would get so bloated and wouldn’t burn any calories. But what if I was starving and got light-headed on the flight from not enough food? This actually happened, so I learned to bring more protein bars than necessary. Still, I was always struggling to travel at ease.
In Singapore, I was basically always hungry from running so much, and I was also most confident in my body then. My abs were the most chiseled they have ever been and ever will be, which was great at the time, but not good for the rest of the trip. Still, I did enjoy all of the food in Southeast Asia, branching out to meals I would never try otherwise, especially with sharing dishes. But, would feel horribly guilty if I didn’t workout that day or didn’t reach my step goal.
Finally, I found myself truly at peace when I took a short vacation to LA after graduation. I tried to plan out my meals and restaurants initially, but when I wasn’t as worried about money, I let myself go with the flow and eat what sounded good at the time. I listened to my hunger cues, and there were always so many options to try out different cuisines. I carried plenty of snack bars, but I happily ate many big meals. I felt free from meal prep, and I felt free from disordered eating.
Recovering from disordered eating isn’t a permanent cure. There are good and bad days, and traveling can include a lot of bad days. However, I believe that not being able to track every calorie and every macro forces you to get out of your comfort zone and live — enjoying foods along the way! It can be difficult to push away those negative thoughts, but you wouldn’t be able to do that if you could meal prep all of it.
One day in LA, I had planned a big, lavish brunch after my long run, but after the intense heat, all I wanted was a cold smoothie bowl. When you listen to your body, you don’t have to overthink “good” foods or “bad” foods — you eat what’s good for you.
I love meal prepping and being able to fuel my body with the best possible foods, but it’s just as important to fuel my soul with yummy foods that remind me how amazing I can feel while indulging. Indulgences don’t have to include guilt if you practice moderation. Getting outside of your comfort zone and allowing yourself to enjoy what’s out of your control can change your relationship with food.