Eating while traveling

This next Tuesday, I leave for Austria, Germany, and the 2010 International Conference on Eating Disorders in Salzburg. I've been to the UK twice (even lived there for a semester in college), but I've never been to mainland Europe or any country whose native language isn't English. It's exciting, and it's also a little nerve-wracking. My silly brain comes up with all sorts of scenarios to worry about, such as: what if the volcano in Iceland starts erupting again? What if I have to take a bath rather than a shower (it's a "thing" of mine, baths)? What if I don't know how to order decaf coffee or Diet Coke/Coke Light? What if our luggage gets lost?

There are those "what ifs" that I'm guessing many travelers with anxiety can relate to. Of course, my history of anorexia means I'm also worried about the food. My knee-jerk concern is that I'm going to gain heaps of weight while away. Granted, most German cooking isn't exactly low-calorie, but I also know that I basically have no real tendencies to overeat. Then I worry that the ED might decide to stow away in my luggage and ruin the trip and make me scared of all the food. I'm not sure how I can simultaneously worry about both weight gain and relapse at the same time, but let me assure you that it is possible!

Part of what I've learned in recovery is to always make sure I have food with me in case of emergencies. These so-called emergencies can be anything as minor as I get hungry at a rather inopportune time (high on the Alps, say), to being in a town and not finding anything I like. Most people probably wouldn't fret all that much about these scenarios, but I know I have to anticipate such things to maintain my recovery.

So here's a sampling of what I'm bringing: packets of Carnation Instant Breakfast (to add to milk or coffee to amp up any breakfasts that might be lacking or have at night), instant oatmeal, squeeze packs of almond butter to keep in my purse (no utensils necessary!), protein bars, and a water bottle. I'm very familiar with all of these options, so if I get spooked by massive portions of schnitzel or I find myself in any other bizarre situation, I have something safe and standard to fall back on.

Part of me, of course, wouldn't mind bringing all of my food, but a) I know that's pretty disordered thinking and b) how would I pack my shoes if I had all that food. I am looking forward to being able to try new food and such--it's one of the things I like about traveling--but it the prospect does bring a little uptick in anxiety. Like so many things in life, it's a mixed bag. I can't recover if I'm always hesitating and hanging back and staying perfectly "safe." I need to push the envelope just a bit, so I can have the experience of succeeding at another eating situation.

What are some tips that you use to stay in recovery while traveling?

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Maddi said...

good luck to you as you travel! Trust me, I know how it is! I had to go to China for two weeks, and gosh it was so hard not knowing calorie content and all, but guess what?? I ate till I was full most meals, and I didnt gain ANY weight! In fact, I LOST some!!! (probably because trips like that require a lot of energy!) I even binged one day, and I still didnt gain weight! So dont worry too much! And I think it is a great thing that you are bringing some of your own food too! Just dont rely on it too much or it sort of becomes a crutch and a reason to not eat "scary" foods. You can do this, try to enjoy this trip and not let food get in the way! I hope you have fun and get to do everything that you are hoping to do, whatever it may be! :)

Anonymous said...

I lived in Germany about 25 years ago, and I have to say that you would be hard pressed to find the differences in a German grocery store and an American one. Sure, many Germans like meat, but they also like veggies, salads, fruit, dairy products, and some sweets and salty snacks. Even 25 years ago, there were many McDonald's restaurants. (Sometimes the uniformity of McDonald's food is very reassuring!). One thing to be aware of: German stores tend to not be open at all hours, unlike American retail places.

James Clayton said...

You are spooky Carrie. I'm just about to jump on a plane and travel away to Italy for a week and I'm determined that food isn't going to be an issue.

My plan is not to dwell on it - I'm just going to have to see how I go. Nevertheless, there's no room for the eating disorder in my luggage so I'm hoping it doesn't hang on as a stowaway and rear its ugly head.

Anyway, enjoy your trip and take care of yourself. Germany is a lovely country and I'm sure you'll have a great time. Happy travels!

Melissa said...

Totally relate and always seem to go away with more food than clothes and more panic than anticipation. However...

I am trying to use my trips as an opportunity to experiment a little with a little less brow-beating: I always find it easier to change things outside of my routine and in new surroundings, so maybe it's helpful to think about the opportunity.

Having said that, it's also important to stay okay and not fall back into 'just in case' thinking. I guess this is where the snacks and things come in, and also a little bit of thinking ahead. For example, you can easily find out the coffee and coke things, and any other terminology that will make it easier for you.

Most importantly, try not to let it ruin your excitement or run the trip (...but then you know that!). ;)

Anonymous said...


As a european whose brother lived in Germany for 4 years, I can assure you it is not all sausage and weiner schnitzel. They have lovely food, as well as pizza, macondalds and KFC.
If you get stuck in England, ring me - I promise to feed you things other than roast beef and yorkshire pudding.
It is hot over here and Austria is quite beautiful - Europe has no borders now and Austria is very close to Italy so there is much of an Italian influence in their cooking as Northern European.
Cakes are the biggest thing.
Sachetorte - you only need a smalle slice but it is heaven!
Enjoy yourself and the views and don't worry about the food once you are off the aeroplane - that is where you might need emergency supplies!. You can get most of it over here (and I can always Fedex you some, if you want!).
Have a great time Love Charlotte

Anonymous said...

I would like a diet coke please: Ich möchte eine Diät-Cola bitte

I would like a decaf coffe please: Ich hätte gerne einen koffeinfreien Kaffee bitte

Simple :) Have loads of fun in Germany

Anonymous said...

My daughter is an athlete. In recovery from BN and she packs tuna and crackers in prepacked portions. Cheese sticks, some tinned fruit. All just in case she finds herself getting 'too hungry'

It worked well recently, sounds like this is what you do too Carrie.

Cathy (UK) said...

Like you Carrie, I find travelling scary. It's not the 'food thing' any more, but more the change of routine, conversing with people I don't know etc.

Having said that, I wish I was going to Salzburg. My family originate from Bavaria and I have had many a happy holiday in the Austrian-German Alps. You'll love it when you get there. The old part of Salzburg is especially beautiful.

I know you're worried about eating over there but the Austrians like their fruit and salads as well as their schnitzel. But, everyone, whether eating disordered or not, MUST take the opportunity to enjoy the Austrian-German afternoon custom of Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake) - at least once!

Have a great time in Mozart's birthplace :)

Anonymous said...

I can't speak to recovery, as I have no experience with it, and I guess that the ED makes your travel concerns a bit magnified as compared to folks who never had an ED. However, I have been to Europe and I wish there was some way I could truly allay your fears.

First of all, Western Europe is hardly a backwater. Countries such as Germany have large immigrant populations and cosmopolitan cities, so there will be a LOT more variety than just what we might think of as "German food". You will find Italian food, vegetarian food, French food, Asian food....On the other hand, you may have some difficulty finding things such as decaf coffee and diet soda... but are those vital to your recovery- especially the diet soda? You will probably find good coffee and excellent beer. If you don't drink caffeine for medical reasons (then I would assume you drink decaf soda as well), there are still plenty of things to drink. Again, I'm speaking from outside your experience, but it would seem this is an opportunity- a chance to use your recovery skills in adapting to a new culture and food supply. I think that by carrying food to a foreign country you are denying yourself some of the pleasure of being there. I have been to Europe a number of times and have never taken one morsel of food with me, and have never forced the issue of trying to find "American" food staples, and I believe I have had a better experience because of it.

Anonymous said...

This post is crazily similar to thoughts I am having right now! I have an opportunity to live in Germany for a year as an Aupair, but I am so scared that I will relapse and my ED will get the best of me!

I am also afraid that 1) I will gain massive amounts of weight be eating schnitzels and pretzels and beer, or I will 2)starve myself because of my fear of this weight gain. le sigh

It is so hard for me to see past these fears and just go! So yeah, I know EXACTLY what you are feeling!

Anonymous said...


About the diet soda and decaff coffee - we have it everywhere so please don't throw out your clothes to make room for that as well!

I know it is a big trip and is going to be very emotional at the conference but you are with good friends there.

This is bound to make you anxious but it may also be good fun and an opportunity to sample a whole different world. My little trip to Italy with d made the world of difference to her - she was very scared and anxious at first but in the end gave herself a holiday!


Mimi said...

The emergency food is good, because even though most days you'll find lots of new food to try and everything is great, sometimes things just don't work out. Another more general tip I have is to just try to really focus on the journey and enjoying yourself and fully experiencing it all. If the travelling is fun and entertaining and keeps your mind and soul busy and happy, then I usually find that eating comes more naturally. And do try the German food and discover what that's like! Hope you have a great time:)

Anonymous said...


Please enjoy your trip to Europe. I found that on an vacation to Paris that I felt a little more free with food. Many things in Europe are smaller than in the US and that included fridges and portions in restaurants. I enjoyed eating fresh breads, fruits and cheese. It was an opportunity to relax and enjoy different culture. I think having plans such as powdered shakes are great, but you can't "boost" your way through life. No fair "fast-forwarding" through meals.

When I begin to look back at vacations, I am SO glad my friends were there and helped me find healthy yet nutritionally sound foods. I was encouraged by the shopkeepers to take the foods (and espresso) as they came--without alterations. To just live life...and it remains one of my best memories ever.

balancingontwofeet said...

This isn't about what to eat, but rather and FYI that my current therapist Dr. Laura Hill is going to be there presenting with Walt Kaye and you most definitely should try to see their session. I actually mentioned to her that "this really awesome blogger" might be there a couple weeks ago when I found out she was going.

I know you will be find over there....the anticipation is the worst part of travel.

Anonymous said...

I understand how stressful eating while traveling can be. To keep myself in recovery, I usually go out and buy a few basic items once I reach my destination – bread, fruit, cheese, etc. – and keep them in a small fridge or icebox in my hotel. I use these items to make breakfast and lunch so I know roughly what I am getting in terms of nutrition for those meals, then go out for dinner with friends or whoever I am staying with (unless the hotel has a full-service kitchen where I can cook dinner, but that’s probably not the case in Germany).

Is this “disordered”? Yeah, probably, but it keeps me healthy and makes it so I don’t have to obsess about food while I’m on vacation. Honestly, I disagree with the idea that every opportunity must be turned into a “challenge” to eat as normally as possible even when that causes huge amounts of anxiety. The AMOUNT of food and nutrition I get is absolutely non-negotiable – I am NOT advocating restricting while on vacation – but if bringing food/making my own when I get there allows me to focus on other things, why not do it? The truth is, many people without eating disorders have eating habits that may seem strange or abnormal (whatever normal may be), and I think it can actually be damaging to focus so much on eating “perfectly” normally while out of town (or at any time). But maybe that’s just a rationalization.

Sarah said...

I agree with the last Anonymous--the most important thing is keeping yourself in recovery, so if you need to eat prepackaged snacks to stay there, that is CLEARLY the best thing. I definitely prepack snacks when I go to other countries or cities, and sometimes stop for things that are "safe" over trying local food. I am learning how to enjoy the food there but I want to make sure I have options that I can force down in case I get overwhelmed. Please don't feel bad about doing what you need to do to stay firmly in recovery. There will be plenty of opportunities to experience all that a country has to offer (including local food) once you are fully in recovery; you have to stay healthy to get there and that may mean turning down some opportunities that may lead to later restriction.

Use any setbacks on your trip as an opportunity to practice your recovery skills, and channel them into a travel goal like I did:

I am SOOOO jealous that you will be in Salzburg...I dreamed of studying abroad there. It is simply beautiful!!!

Lola said...

I love Austria!! I just want to second what the previous commentators said. There is much MUCH more to German food than meat, bread, and potatoes. Especially in Austria, where the cuisine draws from Italian and Hungarian traditions.
Also, Coke Light = Cola lite

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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