How Traveling Europe Helped My Eating Disorder

Market in Italy

One month ago I quit my job to pursue my dream of being a full-time writer. Three days later I boarded a flight to Milan to start a three-month trip across western Europe. Change is hard for me. I love structure, routine, rules, and regularity, especially when it comes to exercise and food.

After five and a half years, recovery is still a daily process. My need for control over the food I eat is light years less than it used to be, but a total lack of control still brings on tidal waves of anxiety. Taking this leap to shift careers and become a vagabond with no home is incredibly exciting and nerve-racking for anyone but for me the “food situation,” as I call it, brings on an extra layer of anxious uncertainty.

Thirty-one days into this experiment, prototype, whatever you would call flipping your life upside down, I’ve been surprised by several things:

  1. I’ve worked out five times in the last 28 days. Even writing this makes my eyes bludge and jaw drop. For someone who ridiculously worries that they will magically gain weight if they miss a workout more than two days in a row, this is huge for me.

On several occasions, I’ve been super anxious that there weren’t a free two hours in the schedule for me to workout and get ready again for the day, but for the most part, all the walking I’ve done to explore the new cities I’m in has eased my strict adherence to a daily super intense hour long workout.

2. I’ve eaten pasta, bread with butter, gelato, pizza, ramen, a lobster roll, sandwiches, and drank beer. These are all foods that I’m STILL uncomfortable eating. I’ll admit that spending the first week in Italy where everything about my life was changing and my uncle was making pasta with cheese every night caused some waterworks.

It was just too much too soon, but the majority of the time I’ve had eating disordered thoughts cross my mind about calories, calculating everything else I’d eaten that day to see if I should eat the said forbidden food or not, or body checking how much fat I have on the areas of my body that concern me the most, I’ve rationalized that ED voice in my head to remind myself just what those thoughts are, cognitive distortions. “People all over Europe eat sandwiches all the time and they are not fat, hence you won’t get fat from eating this one sandwich, so screw you, I’m going to enjoy this delicious sandwich,” or something to that variety.

3. I think I’ve lost weight doing the exact opposite of everything I did in my past life to try and lose weight. I’m not saying I’ve dropped 10 pounds, but my clothes feel the tiniest bit looser than before, and believe me, I still notice every millimeter of free space in my jeans every time I put them on, which is annoying, to say the least. Before, I typically ate extremely healthy food 70% of the time and then would flip the coin and eat extremely unhealthy food the other 30%, all while doing an intense workout for an hour a day at least five or six days a week.

I’m in love with the concept that “all foods fit” into a healthy diet, but putting that into practice has been immensely hard for me. I also know we need to let our bodies rest after tearing our muscles during exercise, but recovery is SLOW people, and I’m doing the best I can. All this to say, I’ve replaced intense workouts with walking and daily salads for lunch and dinner with a variety of foods I felt very guilty about eating before and my clothes still fit. Damn, this whole time I could have been eating bread and butter, after three solid years of not touching the stuff, it’s still magical to me when I eat it.

It’s crazy to me that jumping this far outside of my comfort zone hasn’t caused my world to crumble like it has in the past when my eating disorder rules dictated my every move. It hasn’t been easy, I’ve cried, one day I only ate one banana and ran six miles, another I ate way too much candy and pasta to the point where I didn’t feel good, but recovery isn’t a straight path, it’s hella bumpy, and for the most part I’ve kept my new life together and enjoyed the experience versus letting my eating disorder run my life. This, my friends, is progress.




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