Have you ever gone on a trip with someone, who ended being a terrible travel companion?
Probably the worst person I have ever taken on any trip is ED. Before I was recovered I took my eating disorder (ED) everywhere I went. I would obsess about food and my body on vacations just as much as I did at home, maybe even more.
With summer approaching, many of my clients in recovery for eating disorders are planning to take some amazing trips. The hope is always that while you are having fun with your friends and family exploring and relaxing, the eating disorder will be the furthest thing from your mind. For some of my clients, this has happened. But for most, ED gets louder and tries to ruin even the restful relaxing parts of our lives.
If you are in recovery and planning some summer travels, here are some helpful tips that saw me through to recovery and have helped many of my clients:
- Remember your Vacation Values. Write them down and display them somewhere prominent. This can be good for any issue that might crop up (Hello! Fighting kids in the car!). What matters most to you about this trip? Connecting, resting, adventuring? Ask yourself “Ten years from now what do I want to remember most about this particular trip?” Live into that, whenever ED tries to make it all about something else.
- Recognize that trips often bring up stress, anxiety, or other uncomfortable feelings. My family and I love to take long epic road trips and camp in beautiful places. It is always a challenge to me because sometimes we don’t know where we are going to sleep that night. I don’t always do well with the unknown. I start to notice the signs that I am gearing up for major panic and my family has learned to use humor to help me diffuse, while also acknowledging my feelings. If they see me loading and reloading the car, which I do at almost every new campsite, they know that I am feeling out of sorts. I have come to recognize this too. The sneaky thing about ED is he will try to convince us that if we change our bodies or eat differently all of our problems will be solved. Often I would get out my journal and write “what is ED promising to fix and will behaviors fix this?” The answer, so far, has always been no. Nice try, ED.
- Practice Presence. When ED is loud and screaming in your ears. Take a deep breath and look around. What do you see? What do you smell? What can you hear? What can you feel? Look for an object to ground you.
- Get support. Tell someone you are traveling with about your struggle, if you feel comfortable. If there is no one on the trip you feel like you can talk to, have someone at home to call or text if needed. In my practice as an eating disorder therapist, I often try to make myself more available to clients as they travel so that they have someone to check in with. Tell your support person how they can best hold you accountable. Everyone is different. Tell them what they might see or hear if you start struggling and what would be helpful for them to say if they notice any of these things.
- Have a plan. Don’t wing it. If you are still on a meal plan, make sure you are prepared and have a plan for all of your meals and snacks. Even if you aren’t on a structured meal plan, a lot of my clients do better in times of stress and transition to have more structure. Talk to your dietitian before you leave for the trip, even if you no longer see your dietitian on a regular basis, it might be helpful to reach out and have a session where you can make a plan.
- Know, Watch, and Acknowledge Your Triggers. Sorry guys, I am going to tell you something hard to hear. ED strugglers are often the worst at getting themselves in situations that they knew would be hugely triggering. I think people who struggle with eating disorders are often the kindest people, sometimes to a fault. They will tell me stuff like “well I knew it could create a struggle for me but I didn’t want to be a burden/high maintenance” or “I should have been able to handle that without being triggered.” So often my clients will sit through harmful diet discussions without saying a word (all the while ED is screaming in their heads “SEE?!! These people do it….so why can’t you???), not ask to stop for meals because they don’t want to burden anyone, or don’t speak up when harmful body talk is going on. These are the exact kinds of things that can ultimately reinforce the eating disorder. Knowing the kinds of things that trigger you can be important, but it’s also important to know that sometimes a trigger can come out of nowhere. Watch out for an increase in behaviors or desire for behaviors and back track to figure out what triggered you. Acknowledging your triggers, either silently to yourself, to your support people, or to the people that were triggering is such a powerful step in recovery.
- Stay Curious, not judgmental. If you struggle or notice ED popping up all over the place. Be kind to yourself, practice self-compassion, and be open to curiously exploring what might be happening. This will help your recovery grow stronger. Shaming and blaming yourself will only keep you sick.
- Remember to have fun! ED won’t always be around to steal your joy and distract you from the things that matter. Building memories and having a life outside of ED can be huge supports in sustained recovery.
Wherever you go this summer, I hope you know that recovery is 100% possible. It won’t always be this way. I have a client I saw just recently, who came back from vacation and we talked about all the recovery milestones she has made since the very first vacation she took in recovery. There is hope! Happy traveling. on your road to recovery, and your summer vacation.