Traveling with an eating disorder—whether you’re in the thick of it, in recovery, or consider yourself recovered—is a loaded move. While non-ED-afflicted humans rejoice in the opportunity to let loose, indulge endlessly, and take a break from the treadmill, I find myself panicking for weeks (if not months) beforehand. I’ve spent enough time in treatment centers and talking to friends who have also suffered from these disorders to know that this anxiety is pretty universal.
It always seems shortsighted to try and pinpoint where I am on my personal ED spectrum, as the recovery process ebbs and flows like no other. But for the sake of painting this picture, I guess I would say I’ve been doing really well by my general standards. The past few weeks I’ve eaten out frequently, returning to plenty of fear foods along the way. I’ve been really good about honoring all of my hunger cues, which occasionally means eating more snacks than my ED voice tells me are “necessary.”
One thing that’s kept me going was having my period return again last month, after taking some, ahem, time off since about Christmas when my recovery did a bit of a backtrack. Not menstruating has always been one of the few things that has had enough power to freak me out into eating more, though it should be noted that fear rarely lasts. This just proves that for all our talk of striving towards health, ED afflicted folk are rarely really heading in that direction. There’s, of course, nothing whatsoever to be gained from losing your period—other than a lack of monthly cramps (the pain from which actually excited me this time around, because, well, it’s nice to feel like a woman again).
So, inspired partly by this reminder of healthy woman–ity, and not wanting to render it null and void by excessive restricting, I’ve kept on chewing. It hasn’t been easy—the other day, for instance, I found photos of myself from my junior year of high school—when I was not fat by anyone else’s standards—and felt sick by the sight of them. I had a little baby fat here and there, and my bones couldn’t be gleaned through a thin layer of skin, so I roiled, literally ripping up the photos and throwing them away. My first instinct, of course, was to return to a highly moderated diet, based solely off of the fear that I’d become “that girl” again.
The saddest part, maybe, is that “that girl” was not unhappy with her body. At the time, I was in my first serious relationship and generally enjoying life and the fun of indulging in what it was sending my way. I don’t think my body thrilled me, either, but it certainly wasn’t the central focus of my life. Around that time, when I came to France with said-boyfriend, I tried all the exciting foods with healthy abandon, and I took my clothes off in front of him without any thought to being, say, bloated.
Things are decidedly different now. Though I’ve gone on vacation in tougher ED periods, when I was far more malnourished and subsequently illogical, I still find myself freaking out about every bite, trying to do a rundown in my head of everything entering my body. Being jet lagged doesn’t help the situation, as it throws my eating and hunger cues out of wack, the sheer exhaustion making me hungrier than usual.
The worst part for me, though, is the lack of a regular exercise routine—that reality at home having been a huge comfort to me in all my recent moments of normal eating. I love running for a variety of reasons unrelated to my waistline, but it’s also obviously a kind of ED-coddling safety net, providing me with a sense that my weight will never go too awry. It’s SO incredibly hilly right by our house here, though, that finding a place to run for long periods of time is tricky, and often a hassle to those around me. Still, worrying about this is quite silly, as my family and I don’t “vacation” as one might expect—we’re not lying on the beach everyday eating bonbons. No, we’re incredibly active, spending most of our time here (when we’re not eating and drinking) hiking, and biking, and going on walks. But, from my ED perspective, those experiences bring uncertainty, or—gasp—a lighter workout than I’m used to, causing me to feel especially “unsafe.”
Never mind that it’s practically normal to gain a pound or so on vacation—that most people do—and that the whole point of taking a trip is to relax, not continue pushing yourself in the manner of everyday life. I recognize all of this, as you can see, but it doesn’t seem to make the initial experience much easier for me. I could make endless jokes about my fears of returning home with an ass enlarged 90% by pain au chocolat, and they’d sound absurd—more absurd, though, is that they’re not very far from the truth.
My family can’t possibly understand, though they try to, or might even claim to. That makes the travel experience harder, because you feel fairly alone. Their endless suggestions to try this, and this, and this, are grating to me—when to most people, they’d read as totally harmless. They mean well, of course, and a little “food bullying” can be great for an ED person—too much, however, can throw me (us) over the edge, sending me back to the warped yet cozy cave of limiting my intake.
I’m writing this partially for them, partially for other disordered eaters to know that I get it—too, too well perhaps–and, finally, for the rest of you to try and wrap your head around how something seemingly so fun can actually be terrifying for a person with food issues. I’ve only been here twenty-four hours, and I’ve done really well so far, but it’s not a lighthearted process. There’s a lot of useless calculation and plenty of overthinking. I just can’t go from zero to sixty purely because I’m in a foreign country known by most for its wonderful cuisine. I will challenge myself with some foods, and pass up others. I won’t be perfect—not by my sick OR healthy standards—and I feel that, for now, that’s really okay.