Written by: Sarah Ortiz, RD, LD
Exploring destinations both new and old is often an exciting and well-anticipated endeavor. While travel is often looked forward to, it can also be entangled with stress and the unknown. This is especially true when navigating travel during recovery, or if you have yet to travel after re-defining your relationship with food. If you or a loved one is planning to travel in the near or far future, consider these tips on navigating travel during eating disorder recovery.
- Pack snacks. This is one of my biggest tips for recovery in general! Keeping your go-to snacks on hand – in your purse, car, locker, etc. – can be a life-saver if you are in a pinch. When traveling this can be especially helpful for those times where plans might change, or you are unsure what snacks might be available at your destination. Keeping snacks with you can help you stick to your meal plan while traveling!
- Stick to the basics. While everyone is different, the rule of 3’s (3 meals + 3 snacks) is often a general guideline. Some days you may need more or less of this depending on your individual needs and recommendation from your registered dietitian. However, this can be a useful outline to keep in mind while out of your normal element. Aiming to regularly consume 3 meals and snacks while traveling can help keep your body and brain nourished and able to enjoy your vacation to the fullest!
- Plan for your travel day. Often times, the day of travel is a full-day event that includes some form of stress, hustle, and bustle. Solidifying a plan beforehand can help reduce stress and ensure you have the energy to make it through the day! Whether it is eating before you head out, planning for time to eat at the airport or while on the road, or thinking about fueling upon arrival, planning ahead for the day-of can be an important part of navigating travel in recovery.
- Scope out the destination. On the topic of planning ahead, looking into dining options at your destination ahead of time can be a game-changer. This can help ease anxiety or questions about what you might eat while traveling, and give you the option to look at menus ahead of time. If you are vacationing to a new city, browsing local restaurants beforehand can give you an idea of what to expect. If traveling to visit family or friends, it may be helpful to check in with your hosts beforehand to see if they have any dining plans and/or if you could bring some of your own options. Above all, remember that each person is different. Talk with your dietitian about the level of detail you should engage in for planning meals ahead for your specific recovery and needs.
- Don’t skip breakfast! – While traveling, you will likely be spending days exploring, conversing, and relaxing. It can be easy to forget or skip right over breakfast in an effort to get your fun day started, however, skipping breakfast can lead to lower energy levels and increased overall stress or “hanger”. Starting the day by nourishing your body can help set you up for a wonderful day ahead! Checking ahead of time to see if the place you are staying offers complimentary breakfast options or if you might benefit from bringing or purchasing some of your own foods upon arrival can help ensure that the “most important meal of the day” is not overlooked!
- Avoid Comparison. When surrounded by other people it can be easy to compare your eating choices to theirs. Remember that every person is unique and has different needs and preferences. Mimicking your travel buddy’s eating habits can increase preoccupation with food and the risk that you will not meet your individual nutirtional needs. Work with your dietitian to find ways that help YOU minimize food comparison.
- Perfect Eating Doesn’t Exist. Last but not least, remember that eating while traveling does not have to be perfect. Vacation is temporary and supposed to be fun! Do your best to practice enjoying the food and people you are with knowing that a temporary vacation will not make or break your recovery journey.
Traveling may seem like an overwhelming idea while in the midst of recovery, but it does not have to be! If travel is something that either you aspire to enjoy and conquer, or it is an inevitable part of your life (especially with the holiday season upon us), keeping these tips in mind and working individually with your team can help make the journey approachable. Above all, remember that you deserve recovery and there is hope for life outside of the eating disorder!