Tips for maintaining recovery on the road

While I was posting from NYC earlier this month, someone mentioned that staying in recovery while traveling is really hard.  I totally agree- traveling (as much as I love it) is also a really big trigger.  For me, it's the breaking of my routines.  Then I start missing meals and snacks, or the food fears kick in and I start ridiculously overestimating what I ate.  Or I'll end up in a situation where nothing really "fits" my meal plan, and then I get the all-or-nothing thinking that since it's not perfect, I may as well just skip dinner.

I do much better on the road now, in part because I've learned lessons the hard way.  Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.  So here are a few of my hints for hitting the road and keeping your recovery in one piece.

1. Plan ahead.  Pack extras with you.  I always take protein bars, packets of Carnation Instant Breakfast, some instant oatmeal, and little packets of almond butter.  If I'm going by car, I might throw in an Ensure.  They've helped not only when snack time comes mid-flight, but also when I'm feeling anxious and unsafe eating food I'm not familiar with.  I've smiled and faked my way through events, with a decoy plate of food, and then had my snack back at my hotel room.  Perfect?  Nope.  But it worked.

2. Let go of perfection.  Recovery is learning about how to live with stuff that is less than perfect.  Life is flawed.  There will inevitably be times when you eat too little or too much, through no fault of your own.  Do what you can to avoid those situations, and then roll with it.  Traveling is supposed to be fun.

3. Tell your travel companions about your nutritional needs. No, I'm not talking about sharing your meal plan or having your boss remind you about afternoon snack.  Ideally, you'll be with someone who you feel comfortable mentioning that you need to eat regularly.  They don't need to know why.  I realize that when I traveled for work, I was often on my own, which made it much tougher.  It might help to check in with someone back home or even a member of your treatment team while you are gone.

4. Keep extra food with you.  Lots of people do it, so carrying a protein bar won't make you look like a freak.  Carrying your own food is often cheaper than eating on the run, so it's good in two senses.  That being said...

5. Try to sample the local cuisine.  I realize that traveling to Podunk, West Virginia may not open up any opportunities for new cuisine (possum-fried pizza, anyone? Honestly saw that at a restaurant in West Virginia, though sadly I didn't have my camera with me to document it.) but if your trip does and you're not going to use the experience to indulge the ED, then try some of the new foods.  I really enjoyed being able to try new things when I was in Europe- as much as my poor beleaguered stomach would allow.  It's one of my favorite parts of traveling.

6. Have a contingency plans.  Know ahead of time what you're going to do if things start to get pear-shaped (even outside the ED).  How are you going to contact friends and family if traveling internationally?  What's the information for your embassy?  What prescriptions are you taking and what is your doctor's phone?  If you need to get home early, what are your options?

7. Do some research before you go.  Look for restaurants, eateries, and grocery stores that are near your hotel.  The hotel staff can also be really helpful, but knowing ahead of time what's nearby can help you pack better.  Not sure if you'll need all 10 protein bars and space is tight in your suitcase but there's a CVS down the block?  Bring 5 bars.  You can always buy something when you get there.

8. Individual serving packets help.  Generally, I buy in larger packages because it's cheaper, and then I just divvy it up when I get home.  But those individual milk or soy milk boxes, the packets of peanut butter, the individually wrapped Oreo cookies--all of these are great for travel.  Keep in mind that nut butters are considered gels by the TSA, so pack it in your checked luggage or take the individual packets in your carry-on.

9. Don't be afraid to stay home. Traveling is super stressful.  When I'm in the throes of the ED, every trip has been a total disaster.  If you're uncertain about travel, don't go if you can avoid it.  Your recovery comes first.  You will have lots of time for trips when you are well.

10. Practice.  Traveling requires a lot of eating out, and the best way to know if you're ready is to practice before you go.  Take one day and "pretend" that you're on the road and eat the food you would likely have to eat while traveling.  That way, you will know ahead of time if one restaurant chain doesn't work for you, what issues will arise, and how to cope.

I hope you liked the tips.  Let me know if you would like to see more tips like this in the comments section.

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hm said...

Are you kidding me? Tips from someone who KNOWS, who is a fellow sufferer, not just from professionals who can't relate??? Yes, give tips!

Lucy Sparrow said...

This was really useful! I'm traveling abroad next week and you've reminded me of the importance of taking extra food - I tend to avoid bringing extra food as the idea scares me, however my recovery is more important than that fear and I need to conquer it.
The best tip was about telling your traveling companions, fortunately I'm traveling with my Mum so it wont be necessary this trip but I can see how important it would be.
Thank you!!!

Cate said...

Thanks for this - I was just today starting to stress about going home for I was going to cope staying with and eating out with family and friends. I think I'll read this post a few thousand more times before december :-)

Libby said...

This is really good. Like print this and put the list on the side of my fridge so I can refer to it later good. Like print a copy for my own treatment team to see because they will think it's good, too, good. said...

Great post!

Practice makes PERFECT! ;)

Dana xo

Danielle said...

Thank you so much for this! When I'm in the car traveling or whatever it's really hard for me to get in meals and snacks and i start panicking. Thanks(:

Eating Alone said...

possumm the other white meat.

Sarah Owens said...

I love how you keep saying that recovery isn't perfect. If you do something thats not great, like eating in your hotel room, its ok. Its all about baby steps. These tips are fabulous. I am recovering from bulimia, so it is a little different.

If I am someplace without my own food or choices that are safe for me, then I will eat a "scary" food and most often feel awful about it and purge. So having choices in your purse/car can give you options so you aren't trapped in an uncomfortable situation.

Thank you for the advice and encouragement! You Rock!

Carrie Arnold said...


You made me snort coffee out my nose! You are *too* funny!

It was great spending time with you again in New York.

Carrie Arnold said...


You raise a really good point: try to have an "out" if you're in an uncomfortable situation. I've faked headaches and jet lag because a situation was totally overwhelming and I just needed to get away. It can also help to set up a time for a friend to call or text- it's great for grounding.

Holly said...

more tips would be WONDERFUL.

Maddi said...

awesome tips! i am going to be staying with my uncle and his family over thanksgiving holiday-about 5 days, and this was the perfect thing for me to read as I have been stressing out about it! I am going to print this out and use it as my guide to be well prepared!! Thanks!!! :D

Shells said...

Oh, TSA! I'm generally fine once I am where I'm going, but the travel days are quite challenging. Just last week I was traveling in the morning, had my lovely "safe" breakfast packed with the last bits of Fage, last of my strawberries, blueberries, granola, etc, all in an old Fage container, no less! When I went through security, they wanted to take away my food! I ALMOST lost it! "Um, hi, yes, I really really really almost didn't pack this in the first place and Greek yogurt is expensive and I'm pretty sure that I really need to eat breakfast, and I really don't think you understand the necessity of this?!?"

Thankfully the agent walked me around back OUT of security so I could snarfle down my delectable breakfast, and zip through security AGAIN. I was thankful for no lines so the agent could take the time to walk my food back out, and for ease of getting through the second time.

Never mind that last Thanksgiving I had all sorts of leftovers in my carry-on, including jell-o salad... Consistency, people, please!

Lexi said...

i love to travel, but the whole "eating out" thing is always an issue. thanks for the great tips! :)

Anonymous said...

Yes please! Thank you, Carrie! Unfortunately I just returned from a trip (which was an utter recovery disaster) but now that I have these tips, hopefully the next time won't be quite so horrific. Thanks!!

HikerRD said...

Great, practical suggestions! For additional thoughts on managing in challenging eating situations--managing your thoughts as well as your food intake, check out the latest--

The Strong Mama said...

Traveling had always always been triggering and a time of regression for me. Its important to remember for me that one setback doesn't mean the whole trip has to follow in the same pattern...

Angela E. Gambrel Lackey said...

I recently had a class in which we met to have an authentic Middle Eastern meal (related to the book we were studying, The Language of Baklava) and I am proud to say I took part in eating such things as falafel, baba ganoush, different types of rice dishes, hummus (which I don't have a problem with and eat regularly) and pita bread and of course, baklava (which scares the crap out of me, but I did eat a piece.) I did experience some anxiety, but I did it and even enjoyed it a bit and feel it was another step in my recovery process. In the past, I would have just ignored all of it or just not have gone and missed out on the fun.

Angela E. Gambrel Lackey said...

P.S. Now I just have to figure out what to do for my trip to Minnesota next week for the conference I'm presenting at. I have no idea what kind of food I'm going to face and that's one of the scariest things for me still. With the Middle Eastern thing, I was able to prepare myself ahead of time, which helps. And I have to admit, I still have the bad habit of reducing calories before these events "just in case." But I am trying to tell myself at least I'm taking part, which I wouldn't have in the past.

Ensure always does come in handy and I haven't forgotten your special recipe for it (Ensure and Bailey's, lol!)

Anonymous said...

Hey now some of us are actually from WV (and don't eat possum or know where you would get one to eat). And, yes, families and kids with ED live here too. Love your blog and visit it every day

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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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