The thought of spending anywhere else besides the safety of my own home or apartment for 18 days would have scared the living shit out of me in the past. To be honest, I was still pretty anxious throughout the days approaching my trip to Europe. My immediate thought (that I am totally aware is eating disorder related): what will happen to my body?

For one thing, I knew the hotels I’d be staying at didn’t have a gym. Not only do I love fitness and training, but it is a way for me to maintain my health (if I want to continue to progressing in my work outs, and to continue building strength, then I must eat. Refer to the phrase all treatment centers love to say, and that I completely agree with: food is fuel). Secondly, I went into this trip with the recognition that I was going to be eating every single meal out during the day. While I love eating at restaurants and do go out multiple times a week, knowing that I really had no choice in the matter for the next 18 days was daunting and extremely overwhelming.

Despite the anxiety, I reminded myself constantly how grateful I was to be traveling to Europe for essentially the entire month of August. I also looked at this trip as a way to really test out the last part of my eating disorder that I’ve been holding onto for 3 years: control over my meals.

My indecisiveness was constantly challenged

I am still pretty indecisive when it comes to food choices. My eating disordered side wants safety and “rule adherence,” while my recovered side is able to recognize when unhealthy habits could pretty quickly begin again. When someone asks me where I would like to go out to eat, I’m faced with a loaded and overwhelming question. I still struggle with deciding; I know that with whatever decision I make, I’ll experience some level of anxiety. If I choose somewhere “safe,” then I am worried that I listened to eating disordered thoughts. If I choose somewhere that isn’t deemed “healthy,” then guilt sets in. While these feelings have diminished over the past 3 years that I have been maintaining, they still exist and I still am frustrated by them.

While on vacation, every single day I had to make a decision. There was no option to cook,  It became easier and easier over the course of 18 days to make a choice without even looking at the menu (1, sometimes an English version of the menu wasn’t even provided and 2, we were so hungry after walking all day that literally any restaurant sounded appealing). What may seem simple and normal for others (spontaneously choosing a restaurant without fear of what is or isn’t on the menu), tends to be more difficult for me because of my food indecision. The trip forced me to place my indecision in the back of my mind, while I focused more and more on how normal going out to eat and enjoying a meal actually is.

“Food as fuel”

Like I said, I did agree completely with the statement that treatment emphasizes over and over again. However, anorexia likes to pick and choose what foods actually are meant to be used as fuel (which often times is the “cleanest” possible). While in Europe, I found that I focused less and less on what type of food I was eating, while caring more and more about the quality of the food and how much it would fuel me. Vacationing for 18 days meant a great deal of sight seeing; which also meant a ton of walking. When choosing a meal out, I was less concerned with how “safe” it was, and more concerned with whether or not it was going to keep me energized.

I stepped out of my comfort zone

Europe didn’t provide me with egg white omelets and sandwiches where every single ingredient (and amount of every ingredient) was known. Europe threw at me a variety of menu options that were foreign to me, and that initially did make me a bit uncomfortable. Anorexia builds such a sense of control over what food is put into our bodies; it’s annoying, frustrating, upsetting, and ironically feels extremely comfortable (especially when anxious). While at home, my sense of control has decreased over the past 3 years that I have been maintaining. However, the 18 days on vacation made me feel like I had to re-develop a sense of control, just in order to feel calm and safe. The first three days were hard. I found myself over-analyzing, which was something I haven’t done in a while. Over the next 15 days that followed, I found that in giving up control over my meals, I actually gained more control over my own decisions and was able to think more rationally. In losing anorexia’s control, I gained back my own even stronger than I had before leaving for Europe.

Facts were confirmed and my outlook has changed

I will be the first to tell you that our body’s caloric needs fluctuate from a day to day basis. Again, vacation for such a long time made me hesitant whether I wanted to believe this for myself. Upon arriving home, the facts were confirmed: you can maintain while on vacation. Vacation is not an reason to binge every single day. There were days I was hungry for more and craving something more filling (refer to the burger and fries in Amsterdam I had for dinner one night). There were also nights where I wasn’t as hungry and ordered a salmon filled salad. For me personally, this was what balance felt like on a vacation. I have now been home for a week, and have not wanted to think about the calories in the food I’m eating once. It’s irrelevant, and it’s freeing to let it go.