Intuitive Eating While Traveling

Mind and Body

So this was a challenge.

I did a lot of work on intuitive eating during the spring semester. I was feeling and looking better than I had in ages and it seemed like my mind was working in a whole new and much healthier way.

Nevertheless, a few days into my trip I found myself consistently preoccupied with the number of calories I was eating and how much I was moving. About two weeks into the trip I dropped into a full-on panic around food, convinced I was out of control and packing on weight and that by the time I get home none of my clothes would fit.

I think a major part of this was my mindset going into the trip. I never consciously asserted to myself that intuitive eating is what works and is what I would need to keep myself sane on this trip. Yeah, that self reminder wasn’t really there.

Instead, I was just coming off of the semester, feeling worried about how my eating will play out over the summer, worrying about running “enough” and about the abundance of hyperpalatable food that had snuck into my daily consumption lately. To top it off, I was recalling conversations with a good friend who had traveled the country on his own and reported spending less than a dollar a day on food and being hungry most of the time. Somewhere along the line, my brain translated that into “There is no reason to spend any money on food and if you aren’t hungry all the time then you’re doing it wrong.” Yeah, I realize how messed up that is. Yes, I still fell into the trap it set.

The deal with Workaway, at least with the hosts I had, is that all meals are provided. Great, no need to buy groceries, expense covered, case closed. I wish.

In the first two places I stayed, the meals provided have been healthy and delicious. However, I quickly found myself anxious that I wouldn’t have enough or craving more food after meals. I believe this was partially due to the constant, low-level anxiety I have about eating around people, especially when it is their food and I feel like I am imposing. Another component, I believe, was the mindset I had going in, that I shouldn’t spend any money on food. Because of this, I felt extremely guilty about eating any of the snacks I’d brought with me for the days I am on the road. I felt that I shouldn’t need them and I must be overeating.

This was not a fun game to play with myself, especially when my days ranged in activity level from walking 20+ miles to sitting in a bus for fifteen hours. I felt (cognitively more than physically) that I had to eat a ton more on the active days but not eat more than a few hundred calories on the sedentary days. When I did the latter, I ended up uncomfortable and feeling like I missed an opportunity to be in a caloric deficit. When I engaged in the former, I ended up overly hungry and ate too much too fast, which felt equally awful.

It wasn’t until two weeks into the trip, when I went into freak-out mode and sobbed to my friend on the phone (my first breakdown of the trip, by the way) that I recalled that intuitive eating was still an option. I had mentally already gone back to calculating what I should cut out of my diet when I get home, scared by the idea that I may not eat as “healthily” as I once did. When I slowed down and remembered why I hadn’t felt this awful in months, it was clear that intuitive eating has to remain my grounding when this type of thought hit.

A few days later, I sat on a bus for fifteen hours, but I still ate three meals. Meals that were nutritious and satisfying. The mindset shift definitely didn’t solve the problem, but helped me to be more rational about it.

I found that I needed to consistently remind myself of the principles of intuitive eating for the rest of the trip. I chalk this up to being in a new environment with new rules. It was an unfamiliar time and so my brain resorted to the familiar ways of coping. A manual override was necessary to right my thought patterns again.

Though it was challenging and inconvenient to deal with all these old tendencies on the trip, I think I’m now better prepared to combat them head on in the future-which is good, because I don’t plan on cancelling any trips 🙂

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