An eating disorder is a journey in itself – then you decide to actually to get on a plane.
A year after diagnosis, repeated hospitalisations, doctor appointments, and nonstop meal support and care, our daughter reached her WR target. We longed to travel again and return to our family adventures.
But was she ready? Were we ready? Was it too risky?
What if taking that risk showed her we were willing to be brave like she was in her recovery?
Managing the risk
She still had fear foods. She still needed meal support. We had not been to a restaurant in over a year. Her meal plan had to be followed exactly with 6 meals a day. She was still on a lot of medication.
We took the risk.
Our trip would become a milestone in her recovery — and ours.
Here is what we learned:
Snacks Snacks Snacks
Be ready to pull out the right snack at any time. We brought an entire suitcase of nutritionally dense food to fuel her. We were determined not to miss a meal and let the ED voice creep in. Try these:
- Single shots of pre-packaged peanut butter
- Muesli bars of ALL kinds
- Dried fruit and nuts
- Up and Go’s
- Single packets of porridge
- UHL milk
- Single sachets of milo
- Weetbix in single serves
- Supplements just in case
Account for Long Flights and Time Changes
We knew our daughter had to eat about every 3 hours during the day. That meant timing her meals throughout a long overseas flight and adjust accordingly to a new time zone. We accounted for layovers (and potential delays) so she remained evenly nourished and didn’t miss a meal.
Food at Destination
We went to Japan so this added another risk with potentially confronting flavours. We knew rice would see us through at least. Each dinner out was incredibly stressful so one parent would investigate menus at restaurants ahead of time. We could stay calmer and were quick to order once we arrived and ready to distract following the meal.
Having a small apartment with a kitchen is helpful. We were in a hotel which was difficult for preparing snacks and forced us into stressful mealtimes at risky restaurants. Although it was an opportunity to try new challenges, considering accommodation to meet your own needs as well as your child’s is important.
Particularly for overseas travel, accessing medical care or returning early could be expensive. I was more concerned about leaving early if things went wrong so wanted to ensure we could recover some of the cancellation costs.
We came prepared with an extra week of medication should we have any delays in departure. I also carried a medical certificate from the GP verifying each drug and its purpose in case we ran into problems at customs.
After a meal we were quick to get her mind off the food she just consumed. Travelling actually made that easier as there were a lot of different things to see and do after a snack or meal. We brought lots of games for the whole family to play as well. Heads Up! is our favourite and a fun twist on charades.
Visiting family and friends
We met up with some friends on holiday who had not seen our daughter since diagnosis. Prior to travelling we shared with them what would be helpful to us and our daughter. Our meal time behaviour might be different than what they expected. They did their best and often just helped out with our other kids when we had to distract our daughter after a meal. By setting their expectations, it avoided confusion and also allowed us to ask for help when we needed it. We were glad to not only have their support but share an adventure as part of our return to normal family life.
Travelling was terribly risky. But it was so worth it. It became a turning point for our daughter and gave her a reason to fight for her health. It gave our family the chance to step away and take back a little control of our lives since being turned upside down from the eating disorder.
It reminded of us of being a normal family again. And it gave us all the hope we needed.