I am getting ready to go on vacation and can remember the days when I had an eating disorder and when vacations were oftentimes stressful rather than relaxing. Several times I would obsess weeks in in advance about missing my regular exercise and eating routines. I would worry about how to figure out a way to continue to exercise, realizing that I would need to get up far earlier than my family in order to get at least 30 minutes to an hour in before we would depart for the day.
I also remember worrying about food—it was awful. I wondered where we would eat out, and worried about eating every meal with everyone. At that time I was skipping lunch, so I realized that I would have to figure out how to skimp on lunch or find a way to eat less. Regardless, it was SO stressful thinking of how I would handle meal situations, as I had no option to skip.
Vacations with friends and family are supposed to be fun. However, when you have an eating disorder, vacations can be ANXIETY producing! Here are a few tips to think about when planning your vacation. It’s important to have a plan for yourself, in order to handle eating situations and the anxiety that comes afterward. Planning ahead can alleviate stress.
- Tell your family or friends that you are feeling anxious—let them know that you might need support, and even though vacations are meant to be relaxing, communicate that they may not be relaxing for you. Ask them to be available during or after meals, and also tell them that you may not always be able to eat what the rest of the group is eating. Tell them that you might bring some of your own food.
- Take a walk after meals—moving is helpful and it can be a great distraction. Grab a family member or friend to go with you so you can talk about your worries if needed.
- Take a break from social media for a few days or at least hours, while on vacation. Social media can be so troublesome for people who have eating disorders—comparing your body image to others is very difficult with Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. Many of my clients sometimes will take a break from looking at these apps for a while, because the tendency is to compare bodies to other images that are seen in social media. Comparing is unhelpful and stressful.
- Try not to obsess about photos that are being taken. If you are feeling bad about your body image, try not to look or obsess—you don’t need to look at them while on vacation, and there is plenty of time to view photos later. Try to focus on what is going on NOW, in the present moment, and notice your surroundings and focus on the beauty of the place you are visiting.
- Find some sort of a routine, even while on vacation. People with eating disorders do very well with routine—vacations can get you out of your routine. Even if you don’t have a particular schedule planned and the vacation week plans are somewhat “open,” tell your family members or friends that you need some type of plan to know what is coming. Do your best to express that eating on time and at regular times is important to you. So, if you can, try to gauge how you will handle your day ahead and try to plan in advance what you would like to eat if you think that would be helpful.
- Bring your journal. Even if you choose not to write in it, if you are stressed, you know that it is there. A journal also can be a fun way of remembering your trip—cut and paste brochures, signs, stickers, or memorabilia from places you have visited. Journaling does not always have to be about writing down feelings, but can be a wonderful distraction for having fun and taking time to be creative.
- Be prepared—prepare for day hikes or longer outings by bringing snacks with which you are comfortable eating. If you are accustomed to eating every 3-4 hours, make sure you follow through. Going long periods of time without eating may set you up to binge or over eat later, which might make you feel uncomfortable.
- Have fun! Remember to try to enjoy the moment and look at your beautiful and interesting surroundings—that is why you are taking vacation in the first place