Trigger Warning – Eating Disorders. This post in no way has been sponsored or endorsed by any of the apps or websites mentioned below. They’re all just useful tools that helped me a lot.
I think as we veer between possible lockdown and the overwhelming realisation that this ‘new’ normal, is actually going to be our normal for a while, it’s easy to feel anxious. Not even just anxious though, petrified and in an uncontrollable situation, desperate to exercise control over anything that might be easier than attempting to control a giant pandemic. As someone who struggled in secret with an eating disorder for many years, I have to be careful over what I talk about with certain people, due to potential triggers. If someone mentions a new diet and exercise regime they’ve discovered in lockdown that can lose them a schmillion pounds, I’ve learnt to take a deep breath and remove myself from the situation politely – rather than revert to old habits and start researching how I can lose ten stone in ten days. I learnt that, and many other helpful tools through my nearly two years of travelling. It sounds silly and easy, to have that ability to walk away from conversations, but I never used to have it. Sometimes, it can be an addiction to listen and engage with people or conversation that is unhealthily stimulating for you – but just like how I could get up and leave in an environment I was uncomfortable with away, I can do that with conversations now.
Many of you reading know that I’d been travelling for nearly two years before I got stuck on a visit in London, unable to make my way back to Australia. During that time backpacking, I struggled a lot trying to enjoy food whilst being belligerent to myself for doing just that. I persisted, I grew from it, my mind was split a lot of the time trying to do what I wanted with a voice telling me I was huge, but I tried to quell it as much as I could. From the writing about how I was feeling, speaking up with others around me and being so busy that I wasn’t focused on my food as much, I owe my travels a bloody, grateful thanks for essentially healing me without even realising. So I wanted to write a post about it – because I know I wasn’t the only one in this situation, and hell I know they’ll be others that can relate to this. I’m going to give you some tips about what helped me when I was feeling anxious about food abroad. I know I already write about Depression and Anxiety, so adding an eating disorder to the mix is a bit too much to take on for a Wednesday but still, it happened, it’s my life, and I’m proud of myself for my honesty.
SO: How DOES one travel when they’re suffocated with irrational thoughts about eating? If you think about all the incredible cuisine you HAVE to try abroad – because eating local food really makes your experience so much more authentic – marred by constants thoughts of “wow you’re getting fatter by the day son” whilst I struggle to climb the hostel stairs with my backpack on me after three nights of going out.
I’ll tell you.
I think it’s a lot easier said then done, but take it from someone who’s been there – if you can take a step back, a second out to remember how strong, how POWERFUL your body is, you begin to think a lot less about the aesthetics. Ok, so you’ve been eating local market food all day, and you’ve lost muscle mass – but didn’t you just hike for two hours? Isn’t that remarkable? Ok, so you’ve been out partying and you feel unfit, but weren’t you having the best time dancing? Singing? Making memories? Do you need the flattest pancake stomach in the world to do that? Are people going to be looking at thinking, well I won’t socialise with you because you’re lacking that. NO. We take our magnificent bodies for granted – they do so much for us without realising. They wake us up, digest our food, clear our body of waste, give us the ability to have babies, create babies, enjoy pleasure, grow, live, move FREELY. We owe it to ourselves to help it do its job – by nourishing it, and loving it and not being restrictive to it. Every day is a living miracle we’re alive – be kind to you.
The incredible, healing power of communication. I owe you – you know who you are – for the conversations. South America, India, South East Asia – I had them with all of you, and they helped me in ways I can never explain. There are many people I had this type of conversation with who related more than I could imagine in varying forms. Distorted thoughts about eating are common in both females and males – more than I realised. You’ll know inately if the person you’re speaking to cares about your story – and if they can simply either be a shoulder to cry on (post covid) or if they can relate and remind you it gets easier. I won’t name you here, but I thank you.
Yes, doing exactly the opposite of what your mind tells you to do. Depending where you are, a lot of local food is healthy – made in front of you and with fresh ingredients. Also? You’re away. YO to that LO. Even if it’s oily, and deep fried beyond belief, when are you ever going to have that opportunity again? To eat the unhealthiest food ever, after the best night, with wonderful people you’ve met that day from all over the world. Enjoy the moment. Rejoice in it. Here’s an example: I ate Pad Thai for lunch and dinner. I also ate it when I was coming home from a night out. One time? I ate it as my hungover breakfast. I ate so much Pad Thai my fellow backpackers were looking like rice noodles. I ate so much Pad Thai I reckon the rice fields ran out of product. I ate so much Pad Thai that half my clothes barely fitted me. I found out two months too late after I was practising injecting myself with the stuff that it’s not the healthiest option in the world and could contribute to the reason I was having to wear a loose fitting indian dress. Naturally I panicked, but I had enjoyed it. Scratch that – I LOVED it – so that was time well spent eating. Remember, we’ve got one chance at life. Do I want to spend it crying at my weight whilst I’ve simply been enjoying every single Pad Thai-infused aspect of my travel? No dammit, LET ME HAVE MY NOODLES. It was difficult, but I had to slowly let go of caring. Baby steps my friends, baby steps.
If you’re feeling unfit, find hikes and walk. Not only are you seeing the country from a different perspective, you’ll feel a lot better after. I’m all for taking the local transport, but I’m also a fan of walking. For one, it’s a great way of finding hidden gems down alleyways, quaint little streets and two, it’s better for the environment. It also means if you’re feeling unfit or uncomfortable, you can get some steps under your belt without pushing it.
ALRIGHT, DO SOME EXERCISE
Okay, I’ll be honest, I didn’t once do this. No, that’s a lie, I did it once in a hostel in Brisbane for the first time in about a year and a half. The result? I retched three times after and couldn’t walk for two weeks. I’m not kidding, I’ve never had that reaction before. Why? Because naturally one day i was panicking about the fact I had put on weight and decided, “Hey here’s a great idea! Despite the fact I haven’t worked out since before I went travelling, why don’t I burn off the entire year and a half’s calories by doing an hour’s constant HIIT with no breaks?!”
Yeah. Needless to say, it did not end well. I never used to be the type of person who can just workout a little bit, I used to (clearly) overdo it and get into this All- Or-Nothing attitude. NEWSFLASH – it doesn’t work people. If you’re feeling unfit or anxious about weight gain and simply cannot budge on that, you can always follow in the footsteps of other backpackers I met who wisely included small amounts of exercise in their day. They’d just wake up and workout in the hostel – but please don’t choose the dorm room as your location, you will literally stink it out.
Of course, there are ALWAYS helplines available. BEAT is the UK’s Eating Disorder charity – they offer helplines and advice online. You’ve also got MIND that provide information and helpful tips about different mental health disorders on their website, and I find SHOUT a great service – simply text them on 85258 and a volunteer will respond. They’re not councillors, but they’re a great source of help. You’ve got apps like WYSA and WOEBOT, apps providing you an AI chat to vent and work through negative emotions combined with helpful CBT and Meditative techniques to help you through. Also, the most obvious but not always the most used – family and friends. You’re on the other side of the world, you’ll bound to need to chat about this sometime with people who know you well.
Good luck, you’ve got this. Happy Post Covid Travels.