So don’t let it!
Alright, easier said than done.
I’m guilty for feeling the severe level of anxiety increase more and more as vacation got closer and closer. Vacation for most people means a time to relax, to spend days with family or friends (or go on a solo adventure), to unwind, to forget about work and other obligations, to eat good food, to immerse yourself into a new culture, and to witness a beach landscape that you’ve only seen on your Desktop background prior to the vacation.
For me, vacation used to mean a time to stress about what food there was going to be, over-analyzing the contents of every dish served, attempting to restrict in the morning in order to feel “allowed” to eat at night, and ultimately creating tension with my family when my anxieties over the food started to impact the enjoyment of our vacation.
Looking back on these times, I think to myself: what a waste of a vacation! I allowed my eating disorder to consume what could have been an incredible experience with the people in my life that supported me the most. Of course, in the moment, it was difficult and so god damn scary to let go of my food anxiety. If you told me that for 5 days I was not allowed to measure my food, calculate my calories, and eat my safe foods, I would start to catastrophize the entire vacation and not enjoy it before we even arrived to the palm tree lined beach.
Before every vacation, even now that I am recovered, I tell myself these following statements and affirmations:
It is temporary
You will not be eating “vacation food” for the rest of your life. A week worth of different food, which may feel unsafe, will not permanently change your body composition. It is actually incredible how much our bodies can adjust to a calorie increase, especially throughout anorexia recovery when any energy we give our bodies is used so quickly (refer to weeks of meal plan increases because your 3,000+ calorie meal plan still didn’t help you gain weight).
Plan ahead, to a certain extent
A vacation is not meant to be meticulously planned. While a long-term goal may be food flexibility and spontaneity, it’s normal that in the beginning stages of recovery that this may not be realistic. If packing snacks and meals is an option for the traveling portion of the vacation, I would encourage it if it’ll save you some anxiety when you actually reach the destination. A road trip can be brutal with only relying on gas station food. Packing snacks or a lunch is simple, and a smart plan to ensure that you are still reaching your daily caloric intake and keeping up with your meal plan.
Know what you are able to manage, and talk about it
Your family will not realize that the buffet dinner the hotel serves is a trigger if you don’t tell them. Have an honest conversation with yourself, and then an honest conversation with your family members (or travel companions) about what you can and cannot handle. It is okay if you are at a point in your recovery where you need extra support while on vacation, and it’s even more okay to ask for help.
Vacations can make it extremely easy to restrict throughout the day just to keep your food anxiety under as much control as possible. The problem with this is that it promotes habitual restriction. Many of us may have fallen into the pattern of restricting one day because we’re triggered, only to feel the absolute need to restrict the next day as well. It becomes a cycle, and a vacation can very easily result with this same type of cycle. My best advice is to make it top goal to stay consistent and to follow your meal plan 100%.
Use vacation as a way to obtain more “data”
Proving that a week away of unplanned meals and unexpected foods would NOT change my body was one of the most helpful things in recovery. Ask any one of your friends without anorexia about their vacation experiences; no where in their description will they talk about their fear of food, and how they avoided the all-inclusive meals at their resort. If anything, it’s the exact opposite. The majority, if not all, of my friends look forward to a week of delicious food and drinks more than any other aspect of the vacation! They have proven to me over and over again that a change in calories or a change in food throughout a week does not always equate to weight gain, and I am now able to prove that to myself as well. Eating freely and ignoring eating disordered thoughts can supply you with a ton of valuable data in terms of maintenance and how our bodies can truly adapt to weeks of vacation at a time.
Memories matter more than a number on the scale
I do not sugarcoat anything on this site; I am honest about my recovery and honest about my maintenance. Yes, I have been on vacations where I had 10 drinks too many, and meals when I wasn’t hungry. Yes, I came back home with a few added pounds. This was merely vacation weight; and I kept reminding myself that returning back to my balanced routine would ensure that any vacation weight was only temporary. While this caused a lot of anxiety in the past, I began to realize that had I been worried about the possible weight gain while vacationing, then I would miss out on the vacation itself. The memories you can make while on a vacation are ones that you will never get back. Do not allow anorexia to take those away from you. What I always tell myself: any amount of anxiety, any amount of fear or guilt, is worth it to me if I can at least create fulfilling memories and experiences.