It keeps our lives orderly, neat, predictable. I like the control a routine provides: when I’m going to the gym, when and what I’m going to eat, when I’m going to work, when I’m going to relax. If one thing disrupts my plan, the whole day is ruined. Okay, that’s a bit dramatic, but you get the point.
But, now that it’s getting into summer, it’s time for vacation season. We take vacations to take a break from our routine. So, why don’t the eating disorder thoughts take a vacation too?
Traveling is the opposite of routine. You don’t know where you’re going to be, what you’re going to eat, what you’re going to do… There’s so much uncertainty. While travel can be exciting for some people for that reason, it’s enough to send people like me into a panic. Even though I’m looking forward to my own vacation this year, the idea of disrupting my schedule, making my meals uncertain, and preventing me from conducting my normal workouts send the anxiety skyrocketing.
For someone with an eating disorder history, or even just someone who has made their routine so much of their identity, travel seems “unsafe.” But, as Miss Skinny Genes says, what we mean to say is that it’s uncomfortable.
It’s uncomfortable not being sure if the hotel will have a “proper” breakfast for you, but a week or two of not getting your standard yogurt and berries won’t make your body gain or lose 10lbs. It’s uncomfortable not being able to workout, but a few days of relaxing on the beach can allow your body and mind to heal. It’s uncomfortable not knowing when you’re going to eat next, but you might actually find yourself getting to eat foods you might never get to again: real gelato in Italy, fresh seafood in Louisiana, fluffy eclairs and decadent crème brulees in France.
To recover from any kind of disorder, being uncomfortable is necessary.
There are still the whispers in my head as I prepare for my vacation this year. I’ve never gone this far, for this long, with people who aren’t my family, with this much uncertainty.
I remember a 4-day trip to New York City last year with my family. I worried about food. On the way there, I could pack sandwiches and protein bars since we were traveling by train. But we were with a group so, more often than not, the leaders bought greasy pizzas for dinner, or “forgot” to allow us time for lunch until we were dizzy with hunger. (How someone can forget meals me is beyond me…) I remember finally stopping at a grocery store to buy food that I hoarded for the rest of the trip. And, even though we were walking around the city every day, I still panicked every morning when I’d wake up early, but be unable to go to the gym right after breakfast like I normally do. I’d sit there, anxiety filling my gut and wondering how “weak” I’d be when I got back into my routine.
Was it my favorite vacation? No. I found out I don’t like big cities and a lot of people. But would I have had more fun if I didn’t worry about food and exercise constantly? I don’t doubt it. I could have been “there” with my loved ones more, instead of grumbling because it was past 1 o’clock and the group hadn’t stopped for lunch yet, which I promptly ate every day between 11 and noon.
Even in recovery, learning to step outside of your own self-imposed “rules” is hard. You’re unsure, inexperienced. It’s okay to do your research before simply traversing across the globe. To know what you can and can’t handle.
Routine is “safe.” Routine has gotten you this far, so why change it?
But letting go of that routine for a while means growing stronger. It means questioning those “rules” that run your life. It means realizing what you are actually capable of. Sometimes, those “unhealthy” choices you’re afraid of making on vacation are actually healthy. They nourish your soul. They keep your spirit joyful and vibrant.
Lately, I’m learning to let go, let life. I’m not perfect, but I’m learning.
Yes, I’m packing snacks for this 10-day trip, but because I know I get hangry if I don’t have something on hand. Yes, I’m nervous because I’ve read in reviews of all the hotels we’re staying at that they serve just pastries, bread, some cold cuts, and coffee for breakfast. Yes, I’m anxious that I won’t be doing my exercise routine for probably 2 weeks straight, the longest break I’ve taken in a row for a while. Yes, I’m even jittery thinking about the mandatory food and wine tastings because what if I eat the whole plate of pasta while everyone else just picks at it? what if I get five slices of pizza after a long day and, gasp, gain 10lbs in a single day?
It’s going to be rough at first. That I know. But you know what else? I’m also excited to let go of control for a while.
By letting yourself explore while you travel, you’re going to make self-discoveries. You’re going to see what parts of your routine you genuinely miss, and what other “rules” might not be so concrete. Sticking to one “cheat” meal a month seems a little ridiculous when you eat Italian sweets for a week and don’t balloon into a gluttonous monster overnight. Not having a rest day even when you’re sick seems a little intense when, after spending a few days lounging on the beach and just walking along the boardwalk, you can still run those miles no problem when you get back.
Make taking care of yourself a priority, and the rest will fall into place.
No matter how long or short your vacation is, it’s only a small part of the year. Try not to waste it worrying about things that aren’t in your control. Recognize those negative thoughts or worries when they come up, but then let them go. Don’t let them ruin the fun you can have when being in a new place, experiencing new things, enjoying the people around you.
Routines are great. I don’t know where I’d be without them.
But we weren’t born with our routines. In order for us to have the schedules we keep religiously now, we must have one day decided to try something new. Something that we ended up liking. Something we found worked for us at that time.
Travel is going to make you uncomfortable, but you’re going to be one step closer to letting go of the obsessive thoughts that still linger. Slowly push your boundaries. Try one new food. Go a little farther than you’ve gone before. Stay a little longer than you had planned.
It’s time to get a little uncomfortable. To see the world. To set aside the routine for a bit.
I promise, it will probably only be for a little while. Your “safe” food, the gym, your set meal times… they’ll all be there when you get back if you want them to be.
For now, it’s time to be free.
What worries you about travel? Are there any tips that help you deal with not having your routine?
What are your thoughts?