Traveling Internationally While Supporting ED Recovery

Lady Traveling Abroad

J. R. R. Tolkien is quoted as having said, “Not all those who wander are lost.”

While this is true, “wandering” can be a wonderful way for a “lost” person to become found. Traveling while maintaining eating disorder recovery is something that must be thought out before doing. There are no guarantees that triggers will not come up or that bad days will not occur, but there a few ways to focus on relapse prevention and prepare yourself for the adventures to come!

If you’ve decided to travel while in eating disorder recovery, consider how this travel may impact you. Many people find the exhilaration and adventure of travel to be restorative and healing.

This can be particularly true when traveling internationally, as navigating and experiencing cultures different from our own can help us to learn more about the world and our place in it.

Before traveling, consider how these adventures will affect you. There will certainly be stressful or overwhelming moments while traveling. Consider whether or not you feel strong enough in your recovery to become faced with the challenges of a new culture and use positive coping mechanisms.

Food & Body Image While Traveling in Recovery

A big part of traveling is the food. This normally joyful part of visiting a new culture can be stressful and difficult for someone in eating disorder recovery.

Consider how you will work through these food struggles while traveling. Remember to be easy on yourself in these circumstances, feeling guilty about struggling with the food while traveling will only make things more difficult. Be gentle with yourself in difficult moments, allowing yourself to process a meal or snack as you would while maintaining recovery back home.

It is also important to prepare yourself for the cultural shift in how body image and appearance are viewed. Cultures view the “perfect” physique differently, with Western cultures being more likely to emphasize and value the “thin ideal [1].”

Whether you are visiting a culture where bigger bodies are more valued, or those that conform more to the Western ideal, try to work through how these perceptions may impact you ahead of time. If you are visiting a culture where the Western ideal is glorified and you feel this may be detrimental to your recovery, you may want to reconsider your plans or, at least, process how you will respond if you become triggered.

This gives way to an incredibly important aspect of traveling while supporting ED recovery: plan in advance for a bad day. A good traveler plans for the worst but hopes for the best, and this is especially true when traveling while recovering from an ED. It would be wonderful if there was a moment when the eating disorder has been conquered and that voice no longer creeps in. It is not that simple, however, and whether at home or abroad, there may be days where that voice pops up again.

If that is the case, what will you do? Do you know the resources available where you are traveling? Is your recovery team going to be available should you need support? Do you have a mentor or support system that you can reach out to?

All of these are great questions to ask before you leave for your trip. If you find you may have no access to ED recovery resources, your recovery team, or your support system, work to implement these into your travel plans.

TravelEating Disorder Recovery Resources for Relapse Prevention

If you’re traveling internationally and find yourself struggling without assistance, check out Eating Disorder Hope’s International Recovery Database to find support.

Opening yourself up to the adventures and growth that can come along with travel is bold. Taking on new experiences and spending time considering your place in the world can be great for recovery, but it is important to be prepared for difficult moments so that those healing and restorative moments can shine brighter than your eating disorder.

Image of Margot Rittenhouse.About the Author: Margot Rittenhouse is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.

As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.


[1]: Witcomb, G. L., Arcelus, J., Chen, J. (2013). Can cognitive dissonance methods developed in the west for combatting the ‘thin ideal’ help slow the rapidly increasing prevalence of eating disorders in non-western cultures? Shanghai Archives of Psychiatry, 25:6.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on August 22, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on August 22, 2017.
Published on