Traveling with an Eating Disorder
**Content warning: This is one person’s story; everyone will have unique experiences in recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors, and symptoms. Please use your discretion when reading and speak with your support system as needed.
Megan Bazzini is an anorexia survivor. She’s an American graduating from an Italian business school in June 2022. Her country-hopping uni years opened her heart and mind to choosing herself, recovery, and giving back. This is only the beginning of her advocacy for destigmatizing eating disorders. She is seeking literary representation for five novels featuring characters with eating disorders. You can follow her on Twitter (@BazziniBooks) or visit her portfolio.
The first words I learned in Italian were senza formaggio, meaning “without cheese.” I hastily Googled these words at the airport before flying to Milan, my home for the next two years. I know from experience that traveling with an eating disorder is the heaviest baggage possible.
Traveling is the eating disorder’s worst nightmare. Sitting for so many hours on a plane, train, or car. Hours that could have been spent exercising, compensating or using behaviors were being wasted by travel. We then stress about the lack of structure and the endless unknown variables. Unpredictable mealtimes, language barriers, lack of nutrition labels, entirely new foods, preferences of your travel companions, access to gyms, and much more.
When I first moved to Milan, the scents of fresh bread and hot pizza wafting through the air were too much for my anorexia to bear. I felt that just letting the smell hit my nose would make me gain weight. As my friends went out to eat, I made the usual excuses and burrowed further into the emaciated and lonely shell of myself that my eating disorder turned me into.
Lucky for me, the focaccia eventually won. I don’t know if it was because of my Italian ancestry or the amazing reminder that I am human. When in Italy, eat the bread.
And so my recovery began. Traveling and trying to sustain an eating disorder is exhausting, but traveling while in recovery can potentially be the most freeing self-discovery opportunity, as long as we prepare ourselves for the inevitable triggers.
I always pack snacks for the plane so that I don’t have to worry about access to fuel. I double down on my affirmations and journal time, remind myself that it’s not only okay to eat, but necessary, and give myself permission to enjoy myself and my surroundings.
Even with all these extra steps to ensure my recovery, traveling is still hard. If I have a particularly challenging day, I don’t force myself into more discomfort. Sometimes I’ll pay triple for the menu item I see as a “safe food,” and that’s okay. I also lean on my support system. Depending on the situation, I tell my travel companions about my struggles with anorexia or steer dinner conversations away from triggering topics like “being bad” because we’re having dessert or “needing to work off” all the new foods.
Overall, I try to not take myself or my eating disorder so seriously. During one particularly tantalizing pizza lunch during recovery, my friend turned to me and asked, “Megan, I thought you were allergic to cheese. Are you okay?”
I laughed and replied, “Beating my eating disorder has never tasted better.” And we moved on with the conversation. It was a reminder of all the painful lies I told to my friends and loved ones when I was sick. But it was also an indicator of the incredible progress I’d made in challenging my fears and eating pizza, con formaggio.
Traveling is certainly a privilege. Whether it’s across continents or a short trip from home, it allows us to disconnect from routine and learn new things about ourselves and our friends and loved ones.
It is absolutely terrifying to challenge eating disorder fears and sit through the discomfort of it all. But it’s even scarier to think of all the cultural and social moments missed if I let my eating disorder rule my life. I’m so grateful for the plane food, bakery scents, foreign language menus, friends’ cooking, unknown calorie counts, and feeling all fear that eventually turned into sweet freedom.