While I was posting from NYC earlier this month, someone mentioned that staying in recovery while traveling is really hard. I totally agree- traveling (as much as I love it) is also a really big trigger. For me, it's the breaking of my routines. Then I start missing meals and snacks, or the food fears kick in and I start ridiculously overestimating what I ate. Or I'll end up in a situation where nothing really "fits" my meal plan, and then I get the all-or-nothing thinking that since it's not perfect, I may as well just skip dinner.
I do much better on the road now, in part because I've learned lessons the hard way. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. So here are a few of my hints for hitting the road and keeping your recovery in one piece.
1. Plan ahead. Pack extras with you. I always take protein bars, packets of Carnation Instant Breakfast, some instant oatmeal, and little packets of almond butter. If I'm going by car, I might throw in an Ensure. They've helped not only when snack time comes mid-flight, but also when I'm feeling anxious and unsafe eating food I'm not familiar with. I've smiled and faked my way through events, with a decoy plate of food, and then had my snack back at my hotel room. Perfect? Nope. But it worked.
2. Let go of perfection. Recovery is learning about how to live with stuff that is less than perfect. Life is flawed. There will inevitably be times when you eat too little or too much, through no fault of your own. Do what you can to avoid those situations, and then roll with it. Traveling is supposed to be fun.
3. Tell your travel companions about your nutritional needs. No, I'm not talking about sharing your meal plan or having your boss remind you about afternoon snack. Ideally, you'll be with someone who you feel comfortable mentioning that you need to eat regularly. They don't need to know why. I realize that when I traveled for work, I was often on my own, which made it much tougher. It might help to check in with someone back home or even a member of your treatment team while you are gone.
4. Keep extra food with you. Lots of people do it, so carrying a protein bar won't make you look like a freak. Carrying your own food is often cheaper than eating on the run, so it's good in two senses. That being said...
5. Try to sample the local cuisine. I realize that traveling to Podunk, West Virginia may not open up any opportunities for new cuisine (possum-fried pizza, anyone? Honestly saw that at a restaurant in West Virginia, though sadly I didn't have my camera with me to document it.) but if your trip does and you're not going to use the experience to indulge the ED, then try some of the new foods. I really enjoyed being able to try new things when I was in Europe- as much as my poor beleaguered stomach would allow. It's one of my favorite parts of traveling.
6. Have a contingency plans. Know ahead of time what you're going to do if things start to get pear-shaped (even outside the ED). How are you going to contact friends and family if traveling internationally? What's the information for your embassy? What prescriptions are you taking and what is your doctor's phone? If you need to get home early, what are your options?
7. Do some research before you go. Look for restaurants, eateries, and grocery stores that are near your hotel. The hotel staff can also be really helpful, but knowing ahead of time what's nearby can help you pack better. Not sure if you'll need all 10 protein bars and space is tight in your suitcase but there's a CVS down the block? Bring 5 bars. You can always buy something when you get there.
8. Individual serving packets help. Generally, I buy in larger packages because it's cheaper, and then I just divvy it up when I get home. But those individual milk or soy milk boxes, the packets of peanut butter, the individually wrapped Oreo cookies--all of these are great for travel. Keep in mind that nut butters are considered gels by the TSA, so pack it in your checked luggage or take the individual packets in your carry-on.
9. Don't be afraid to stay home. Traveling is super stressful. When I'm in the throes of the ED, every trip has been a total disaster. If you're uncertain about travel, don't go if you can avoid it. Your recovery comes first. You will have lots of time for trips when you are well.
10. Practice. Traveling requires a lot of eating out, and the best way to know if you're ready is to practice before you go. Take one day and "pretend" that you're on the road and eat the food you would likely have to eat while traveling. That way, you will know ahead of time if one restaurant chain doesn't work for you, what issues will arise, and how to cope.
I hope you liked the tips. Let me know if you would like to see more tips like this in the comments section.