Vacationing With An Eating Disorder

Going on vacation, whether it be with family members or friends, is supposed to be an exciting and relaxing time. When struggling with an eating disorder, vacation can instead sometimes be a time of stress, which is not surprising. This is because there are so many challenges when going on a trip. For example, the environment is different from home, there is little alone time, there are many potential body image triggers and even many food challenges that may occur while away (eating out more regularly, off of a schedule, different cuisines…etc).

For these reasons, if either you or a loved one is recovering from an eating disorder, it’s important to plan ahead for vacation. The stage of recovery will determine the amount of detail you may need to go into in terms of planning. It’s always best to discuss these ideas with members of the treatment team. Below are some topics to think about.

What is the Agenda? Especially for Meals and Movement

This is something that is incredibly important to think about before heading off. I usually recommend to start this planning process a couple of weeks before leaving. You or your loved one’s stage in recovery will determine the amount of detail you’ll need to go into. Sometimes it can be a good idea to plan out what you will be eating for every meal, which is something to discuss with a dietitian (RD). Other times, it may be okay to have a more general sense of what and where you’re eating. Again, a great question and discussion for the RD. Here are some additional points to consider:

  • Where are you eating? (At the hotel, restaurants, cooking at an Airbnb, take out, buffet, vs. a la carte)
  • How challenging will the food be?
  • Do you need to take a look at menus and plan out what you’re eating?
  • Who can support you at meals if you are struggling? Is there someone who you should sit next to?
  • How active will the trip be? For example, are you going to a place where there will be lots of walking? What is your treatment team’s recommendation for movement?
  • Will you need to add in an additional snack (or two) for increased movement?

What Might Be Some Potential Triggers?

It’s okay if there are certain events or situations on vacation that may be potentially challenging. You are outside of your normal environment and things are bound to feel unfamiliar. I encourage you to try to identify some potential triggers beforehand and discuss them with your treatment team. Some of these triggers may be unavoidable, but you may be able to walk through hypothetical situations. For example, maybe you are going with your extended family and maybe there is a family member who doesn’t really understand the eating disorder and makes comments about food. It might be helpful to talk through how you will handle this situation. Will you walk away if the comments are made? Will you tell this family member you feel uncomfortable? Try to think about what would be best for you in these situations.

How Can You Take Care of Yourself While Away?

Yes, going on vacation can be so much fun! It can also feel stressful and overwhelming. Talk to your family (or friends) beforehand about what to do when you may need a break. Sometimes it can be helpful to come up with a certain code word. This code will let your loved one know when you’re struggling. It can be used in different ways. One example is to use this word at mealtime when you need to take a break from being at the table. Your loved one could step outside with you for a moment. Another way to use this word is to let your loved one know that you would like to head back to the hotel room for a bit, I would also recommend taking some fun, solitary activities to do if you need some downtime. It might feel too overwhelming to participate in all of the activities your family or friends have planned. So, it’s okay to ask for some extra downtime. Some suggestions on what you can do: read, puzzles, knit, or watch a movie.

Is Now a Good Time to Set Up a Food Challenge?

Think about where you are in your recovery. Vacation can be a great time to set up a food challenge. Maybe there are certain food specialties in the location you are visiting. Talk to your dietitian about this and plan it out step by step. What food will you be getting? Who will eat this food with you? What time of day is best to try the food? On the other hand, vacation may not be a good time to set up a food challenge. You may want to eat foods that you feel more comfortable with and just make sure you are following your meal plan. Again, talk to your dietitian about this. The more planning the better!

Reach Out For Support

Who on your trip can support you while you’re there? Are you able to stay in contact with members of your treatment team while you are away? It’s so important to reach out when urges are strong. Eating disorders thrive in secrecy, and reaching out can be a difficult thing to do. Remember that telling someone you are struggling is one way to challenge your eating disorder. And it will hopefully help you to enjoy your vacation while in recovery.

As you can see, there is a ton to think about when you’re leaving for a vacation while in recovery. But, remember, vacation is supposed to be a time to recharge and get away for a bit. Perhaps you may even experience being immersed in a different culture. Keep in mind, there will also be some challenges. Vacation can be a good opportunity to practice some of your recovery skills in a different setting. Recognize that it is okay if there are setbacks and that these are all part of the process.


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About The Author:

Alexandra Raymond, RD, LD is a Registered Dietitian and blogger for Empowered Eating. She is passionate about empowering her clients to rebuild a positive relationship with food. She has the knowledge and the drive to find strategies for her clients to make positive changes. Alex’s compassion and understanding allows her to support her clients step-by-step in achieving their eating disorder recovery goals.

Written – 2018