A Whole New World: Traveling in Recovery


I’ve been feeling a little nostalgic lately.

Well, technically I’m not sure if it’s nostalgia or déjà vu, but I don’t really know how to turn “déjà vu” into an adjective, so let’s go with nostalgia.

About this time last year, I was preparing to leave the country for the very first time, on an eight-week study abroad program in France. (Actually, I had left the country before, but since I live in the northern US and my “abroad” experience was Canada, somehow it didn’t feel like it counted.) Amid the packing and calling the bank to remind them not to turn off my debit card, which would in effect leave me penniless and force me to turn into a quasi-Gavroche from Les Misérables, there was a whole different wave of nervousness I was trying to deal with.

Screen Shot 2013-06-18 at 12.02.27 PM

How was I supposed to eat abroad?

For someone worried about their intake, strategically restricting themselves to a handful of “safe” foods, throwing myself into the center of haute cuisine wasn’t stepping outside my comfort zone so much as taking my comfort zone, placing it in the middle of the Champs-Elysées, and letting after-work traffic drive all over it.

Don’t get me wrong, I adored France. I was insufferable after I returned home, starting far too many sentences with “When I was in Europe,” or “The French do this so much better.” This Buzzfeed article? Story of my life. Not proud of it, but at least I’m honest.

But I just wish I hadn’t wasted so much of my energy on being worried about what I was eating.

Study abroad was both an eye-opening and difficult time for me, both on a general level and in terms of my eating disorder. I had amazing experiences (I CLIMBED A MOUNTAIN) and difficult ones; I had more than one Skype call hone that ran more or less like this:

Me: “I can’t do this. I’m eating dessert all the time and I can’t exercise because I’m constantly in class or seeing beautiful French scenery and historical monuments, and I’m going to come back five hundred pounds heavier and this is awful.”
My parents: “…Did you just hear what you said?”
Me: “That I’m eating desserts and going to French classes and historical sites and cities and it’s horrible?
My parents: “Yeah. That.”
Me: “Yes. And I mean it.”

I’m not trying to be glib about it, but the amount of energy I put into worrying about things completely out of my control was exhausting. My eating disorder came with me on my trip abroad, and it sucked some of the joy out of it that I could have had.

Not all. But some.

Haven't tried these yet? Run, don't walk.

Haven’t tried these yet? Run, don’t walk.

I still discovered a taste for French pastries, like the ubiquitous, affordable, and oh-so-delicious macaron. I tried steak tartare, which is… well, which is raw hamburger. (Surprisingly, tastes like cold pasta sauce. Not terrible.) My host mother taught me how to make chocolate mousse by hand, which is both easy and incredible-tasting.

But the time I spent worrying about the weight I might have been gaining could have been spent so much more productively.

And being so careful and nervous about how I was eating while abroad actually only set me farther back.

This was one year ago Sunday. Thursday, a few months shy of one year into recovery, I get a second chance.

Thursday afternoon, I’m heading back to the airport for my second trip abroad, this time to London and Northern Ireland. I’ll be studying creative writing with international professors and students from across the United States, and attending an international writers’ conference the last week of July. If this sounds like something I came up with in a fever dream, well, that’s my feeling too. I’m even going to see Macbeth at the Globe.

Let’s type that one more time: I’M GOING TO SEE MACBETH AT THE GLOBE.

And this time, I’m going to be far more discriminating with my packing.

Umbrella: check. Scarves and long pants: check. Electrical outlet converter and camera: check.

Eating disorder? I think I’ll leave that at home.

I’m not kidding myself that it’ll be perfect this go-around. I still have issues shaking up my daily food routine, though I’ve learned how to better manage my discomfort. I’ve been relying on an exercise routine to make myself feel comfortable, which I doubt will be feasible while strolling the streets of London and visiting the tombs of Chaucer, Spenser (I hate Spenser, but I’ll let that slide), Tennyson, and Dickens at Westminster Abbey. But I trust myself at this point to see the relative value of five pounds verses the grave of my literary hero and historical crush Chaucer.

The image in my head is of those travel-sized tubes of toothpaste that you’re still allowed to bring on the plane, despite the paranoia of the TSA. There’s still a small potential for danger there, but as long as it’s three fluid ounces or less, the damage possible is highly manageable. If I am going to bring the baggage of an eating disorder, I’m only packing the travel-size version. Pretty tough to ruin an entire vacation with a problem that can fit in the palm of your hand.

It’s not going to be as easy as it might be for someone who has never struggled with issues around weight and eating.

But I’m going to have my high tea in foggy London town and eat it too.


A brief side note to this post:

Given that I’ll be traveling through the United Kingdom from Thursday until the very end of July, updates to The Body Pacifist will not be as frequent as they have been previously. I’m leaving the country for a creative writing fellowship, so while my  Microsoft Word will be flexing its muscles pretty regularly, I don’t know how much time I’ll have to spare.

Never fear, however: I hope to update at least a couple of times while I’m away, and when I return at the end of this literary sabbatical I’ll be back with enthusiasm aplenty to continue writing.

Don’t miss me too much.

Or, if you like, do. My self-esteem would enjoy it 🙂



  1. I just wanted to say enjoy your trip and thank you for this timely post – I’m travelling to Paris next weekend for a five-day break and always find holidays hard, away from my safe foods and regular exercise routine. I love your idea of only taking the travel-size version of your anorexia with you – you’ve inspired me to try that too! My running shoes are always the first thing I pack and I agree with Terri that running or walking is a great way to explore a new city. I am a Brit reading your blog in the UK, so am totally biased towards London – it is architecturally stunning and someone of your artistic nature will be spoiled for choice with things to do. There are some fabulous restaurants too and most places are very accommodating with specific requests – I don’t worry so much about eating when I stay in London as there are so many options I can always find something that works. I hope you have a wonderful experience in the UK!

    1. Thank you so much! I’m having the best time here: I’m in Northern Ireland right now beginning work on the novella I’ll be presenting at a conference on the 28th of July, which is both exciting and terrifying 🙂 Have so much fun in Paris! I love that city so much, and there’s so much to do there. I’m sure that you’ll have a wonderful time, and I know that you can enjoy yourself sans anorexia. It takes power and it’s not always easy, but it’s worth it for the adventures you’ll have! We’re in this together! ^_^

  2. Here are some tips if you want any: Take running shoes (light ones). you can always get up early and run: its a GREAT way to get oriented to any city. Every hotel has a running map and there’s google. That sorts out exercise (plus all the walking you will be doing). On the plane, order a special meal in advance (vegetarian, low fat, diabetic, whatever) It means your food comes first and it’s healthier. Get some nuts so you can eat something natural and healthy if you get hungry and there’s nothing healthy to eat. You can always so no to unhealthy stuff. No-one really cares. Trying new things in moderation won’t hurt but no point eating things that won’t make you feel good about yourself either.

    1. Thanks for the advice! I’m hoping that I’ll be able to take changes in stride, since it’s only for a little over a month and it’s not a full lifestyle change, but it’s reassuring to think that it’s not impossible to take care of yourself while traveling. At the same time, it’s a great chance to let loose and have a little fun, and with any luck I’ll be able to balance the two!

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