anxieties about eating when traveling abroad

Wow so its been a while since I last did a proper blog post. In between job-hunting & experiencing a quarter-life crisis trying to figure my life out, I’ve been feeling pretty zoned out and just felt a need to take a break from what I do on social media with regards to body image and EDs.

A few days ago I was just looking through the photos I took during my solo trip to Japan (Kyoto, Osaka & Nara) and found some pictures of food that I took. I’m by no means those people on Instagram with the compulsive urge to take pictures of their food before eating it. I’m more of the “can we just eat already?” kind of person. Anyway, I had taken the photos because I knew that when I got back, I wanted to do a blog post about the anxieties I always experience whenever I travel abroad and eateng.

Every time before I travel I’m always plagued by these questions

  • What if I can’t find food that’s suitable for me?
  • What kind of food can I eat?
  • Will the food I’ve been eating be available there?
  • What if I get fat?

In ED recovery, there is a “routine” of sorts that you become familiar with that is really important in  recovery, especially in the early phases. After spending so long eating haphazardly and bouncing from not eating to full blown bingeing, its important to establish a proper eating routine to help your body get its natural appetite and rhythm back and help you learn how and when to eat. At home (Singapore), I’m familiar with what types of food I can get, and where I can get them. I’d stick to certain types of food and avoid foods that I know will trigger unhealthy thoughts. I make sure that I eat something balanced at every meal (proteins/carbs/veggies) instead of just proteins orchards because I know I will start panicking if I eat only from one food group. Routine helps ease my anxiety because the predictability of knowing and being able to plan what food I will eat helped ease my transition into longer-lasting recovery. Routine also gives me something to rely on. Whenever I have a slip and mess up my eating, be in through overeating or bingeing from, negative thoughts, stress or boredom, I tell myself to just calm down and make a mental note to go back to my “routine” of my regular eating patterns that I’ve been adhering to (e.g. balanced meals, drinking lots of water etc). Routine also means that sometimes when I just don’t feel comfortable with eating a certain food, especially when I eat out, I’ll fall back on something that I know is “safe” for me.

While routine has its benefits, it also has its consequences in the long run. In the long run, routine means that we don’t learn to break out of our comfort zone. We end up eating the same type of food from the same places at every meal and may actively reject food that doesn’t adhere to our routine. We can’t possibly do that the rest of our lives? Are we going to reject cake at a best friend’s party because its not part of our routine, even if its just for one day? Are we going to refuse to enter a cafe or restaurant because it doesn’t serve the exact type of food you want? One can become bored with routine after a while. We need to practice flexibility and be willing to explore different types of food once in a while

The first few months of my recovery I spent a long time creating my own routine. I made sure to drink water before and after each meal because I know that when I don’t feel full, I may end up bingeing like I would in the past. I try my best to make sure I eat a balanced meal each time I eat and at the same time so that I wouldn’t panic at eating only carbs or only protein.

Before going to Japan (and also before my three trips to the USA) however, I spent about a week worrying about food. I’d be facing a totally new environment. I wouldn’t be able to go to a coffeeshop and order from a menu that I know. I don’t know what kind of food there will be. What kind of food am I going to be able to get? What happens if I have a slip? What if the food makes me fat?

After days of frantic anxiety and introspection, I came to the simple conclusion: I am going on vacation people. The point of a vacation is to see & experience new things. I’m not going to bring my alter-ego Snix along for the ride. I want to breathe in fresh hair, struggle to communicate with the locals, get lost in alleyways, watch the sunsets & walk all over the city. I don’t want to spent hours on end agonizing over food. I don’t want to go to a new country and eat food that I can eat back home. Heck I want to be able to try the local food while I’m there. That’s what traveling is about. Agonizng about food just robs you of the amount of joy & enthusiasm you will experience while on vacation.

Of course being on vacation doesn’t mean you should put your recovery on hold and take this as an opportunity to overeat every day. Yes, I was still worried & I wanted to enjoy myself without so I made sure to apply my own principles that I learned while I was abroad that: (1) eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full, (2) whenever possible try to eat balanced meals & (3) know your trigger foods but be willing to try something new. 

For instance, I typically have toast for breakfast in the morning, but I didn’t want to have plain ol’ toast while in Japan. In Japan, green tea and red bean go together like peanut butter and jelly. So every morning for breakfast I’d eat a different type matcha green tea pastry filled with azuki beans, topped with eggs…well, because I like eggs. One day it’d be a green tea danish pastry with red bean paste, the next I’d have a green tea choux puff with azuki beans and the next I’d have a green tea croissant topped with almonds and azuki beans. Its still bread, but just a different type of bread I always eat. When I ordered soba noodles from a noodle stand on the streets after visiting the Bamboo Grove Forest, I ordered extra sides as I didn’t want to eat only the noodles & wanted something with protein to satisfy my appetite.

What also helped keep me distracted from my worries about eating was that I was kept really busy with sightseeing. I was always seeing new things and taking in new sights and just the awe & excitement at being able to see beautiful world heritage sights was enough to take my mind off from food. Why worry about something like food when you can have a visual feast on breathtaking gardens, historic temples & magnificent mountains and lakes? When you’re treated to magnificent views, food becomes irrelevant.

To those of you with fears about how to continue your recovery journey while on vacation, give yourself a break and allow yourself in try some of the local cuisine there because you can’t do that often when you’re back home! Not only will trying the local food give you bragging rights (you guys had borsch soup? Sweet, did I tell you I had authentic borsch soup while I was in Russia), it helps you break away from your comfort zone and learn how to be more flexible with your eating and add more variety and fun to your meals. You don’t have to try something new for every meal time if it will make you panic, but do make the effort to try something new for at least one of your meals.

It can be daunting and scary, but the key here is to not think about dieting. Think about how you started your recovery and what steps you did to get your eating back on track? Continue to apply those when you are choosing the foods you eat and when eating them. For me, it was to have a balanced meal (I need to have a good mix of both carbs and proteins in every meal now and will feel weird if I don’t), eat til I’m full and drink water.

Now now to address the elephant in the room: as for your fear of getting fat, unless you’re in a tour group where’ll you’ll be sitting in a tour bus, think of all the walking and running around you’ll be doing. Some of the best sights in a new town are only discovered by walking so put on your walking shoes and go walk around! You’ll be getting in tons of cardio by all that hours of walking. I admit I too was afraid about gaining weight when abroad because I most certainly am not going to go to the gym when in Japan. But I was walking just about everywhere I went. I mean literally almost everywhere I went –  except of course when I needed to take the trains to other parts of the city – as it was just too far. I was walking along busy streets, “accidentally” walking into back alleys, strolling long pathways next to lakes and flowers & climbing up hills and endless stairs. Moreover, buses don’t really run in temples, shrines and gardens so there was a lot of distance that I covered on foot and I got to see lots of amazing sights that I wouldn’t have been able to see if I took the bus.

Finally, please remember this crucial thing: you are abroad. It can be for leisure or business, but the fact is: you’re going to a different country! That’s an exciting thing for anybody and you shouldn’t let your fear of food get in the way of discovering new and exotic places! Sure it might take some planning and some effort, but you’ll definitely enjoy your experience more so go ahead, bring out that wanderlust and treat yourself ❤

And now…PICTURES

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This is a traditional Japanese food called Okonomiyaki. It was 8pm by the time I got back to the Kyoto Station area where my guesthouse was and I was starving and simply decided to just go to whatever happened to be open at the time. It was my first day then and hadn’t really the chance to look around at the food places. I came across this in the menu and was about to pass it up, but decided that since I was in Japan, it’d be silly to not try a traditional Japanese food. It came with a choice of fillings so I had this with pork though I didn’t particularly fancy it as it was more wheat than anything else. I ended up dipping it in mayonnaise for added oomph.

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THIS IS SOYA DONUTS AND I HAD THE CHOCOLATE ONE AND IT WAS SO GOOD I WISH THERE WERE SOYA DONUTS IN SINGAPORE. Its more chewy and more doughy than regular donuts & oh my Lord I love soya donuts & I actually smuggled one home in my lunchbox & now I wish I had bought more.

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Some places do have English menus, but in other places, they don’t.. My friend, Mika read the menu for me but in the end I told her to order whatever she thought we should have.

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So Mika brought me to a place that serves kushiage – fried food skewered onto a stick! We ordered the set meal & we had fried chicken, fried salmon, fried sweet potato, friend green beans & fried cheese. YES. Fried cheese. I’m not one for fried food, and knowing that we’d be having a lot of fried food for dinner freaked me out. I ended up removing about 70% of the batter and eating what was underneath!

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This is the fried cheese! I was expecting something else to be honest, but it turned out to be a slab of regular cheese coated in batter. But still so cool!

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According to Mika, this delightful thing is called “monaka” which is actually azuki bean filling sandwiched between wafer slices, but the kushiage bar that we went to served ice cream instead of azuki bean filling. I initially didn’t want it as I don’t usually have a full desert after dinner but I’m so glad I ate it in the end because it was so nice to be able to eat ice cream after not eating it in months. AND it was so good.

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I decided to go and have McDonald’s on my last night because I really wanted to see how different it is in Japan. If memory serves me right, the menu for the outlet I went to in Gion only displayed, 5 types of burgers. No fancy Big Macs or special kinds of burgers whatsoever. No double chickens or fishes whatsoever. It’d either be simple chicken, fish or beef with their own Japanese dressing. Plus, fries, corn and some dessert or another. I decided to have the chicken filet burger because Singapore’s McDonald’s don’t serve chicken burgers.

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THIS WAS MAGNIFICENT I’M SO GLAD I BOUGHT THIS EVEN THOUGH IT WAS 2 BUCKS. It a matcha danish pastry with azuki beans I bought from the food department in Isetan (favorite department ever). You know how some bakeries rip you off by putting only a little bit of filling inside and selling it to you? This was different. This was filled with azuki bean paste in in layered swirls and topped with matcha green tea powder and it was just beautiful.

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I WENT TO HOGWARTS (okay Universal Studios) AND HAD ME A CUPPA BUTTERBEER. It was perfect to counter the sun beating down on your back!

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This matcha green tea macaron i picked up in Nara was amazeballs.

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Matcha green tea ice cream. Oh god. I couldn’t stop. Again, I didn’t want to get ice cream but I decided to just sod it because I wanted to have matcha ice cream in Japan. The matcha flavor was fabulously intense.

Now feast your eyes on a vast array of other types of food I saw whilst trawling through the streets of Japan.

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Convenience stores do sell ready-made bubble tea for you! Now that I think about it, I’m not sure how long they’re kept in the fridges and how fresh it’ll be. I’m thinking they bring in new ones every day and toss out unsold ones but when I first saw them I thought it was such a neat concept!

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Every time I enter a convenience store I’d always end up spending 5-10 minutes just looking at their drinks.

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You will see ice cream stands like this all over Kyoto.

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Some stalls along the street served free tea! It was cold, wet and raining and I decided to abuse that privilege for 10 minutes to warm myself up. Oops.

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I wish I had bought one back home 😦 I’m not a fan of cake but I can be partial to cream & the cream filling inside is just tempting me, even right now.

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Bento boxes!

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I came across this stall selling these spiral fries! I didn’t buy them though because I didn’t want to ruin my appetite for a proper meal later as it was already lunchtime then but it looked really interesting!

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Japanese curry is my absolute favorite Japanese food. I’m just sad that I only saw this restaurant on my last night AFTER dinner and on the way home and I couldn’t get to eat try it. I did have Japanese curry at another place, and also again in Osaka with Mika BUT STILL.

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I came across this sight while in Osaka and was curious to find out what it was. When I edged closer, it turned out to be a line of  business workers eating soba while standing up. Yep. In Japan, there is “fast food” places called Tachigui Soba – in which you literally stand up and eat soba when you’re hungry and in a rush and have time for a quick meal. They are mostly in train stations that serve commuters. Its fast food, not because its fried food, or burgers or anything. Its because…standing up and eating the soba like that without the need to sit down and wait is quick and efficient.

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Green tea popcorn! I contemplated buying one carton but it was so expensive! It was $7 so I just stood around staring at it for like 5 minutes before walking away and commiserating with that green tea ice cream.

The subsequent pictures below are food items from Nishiki Food Market – a market place that’s famous in Kyoto for selling traditional Japanese food at cheaper prices. Fish, meat, octopus, Japanese sake, wine, plum juice, traditional crackers, squid, clogs. You name it. Some say you might even spot whale meat but I didn’t. I thought I saw the Kanji character for “whale” but it turned out to be eel instead.

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Quail egg stuffed in the head of an octopus. Yeah I’m not sure I feel about this.

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Dried food

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That’s all folks! Shall post more pictures from my Japan trip in the next blog post!

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3 thoughts on “anxieties about eating when traveling abroad

      • i just remind myself that food is food. there’s no “good” or “bad”. and i need it in order to live life to the fullest. Regimens and rules are just ED trying to get into my brain. I try to replace the fear with curiosity. it’s hard to do, but with practice, it gets easier. stay strong love! xox

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