Recovered Addict in the Food Capital of the World
What happens when a recovered addict visits the food capital of the world where delicious food is less than a dollar a plate, all the while going through a difficult time in their life? A lot of eating to say the least...
My eating disorder ran my life for a handful of years. It invaded every thought and controlled all of my moods. Although I didn’t let it affect my career or studies, it heavily affected my personal relationships. The relationship I had with myself was at it’s worst and the relationships I had with my closest family and friends suffered greatly because of all the lying. I felt like a terrible human on the inside and I know it showed through my personality.
I’ve been eating disorder free for almost three years now and I haven’t had an urge until India. I didn’t act upon it, but the urge/thought was there. I know where it came from and I know why it happened, but it still scared me that my brain was still capable of thinking that way. A small reminder that no one is perfect or ever completely healed from something so powerful.
Being eating disorder free is the most liberating feeling in the world. It’s as though my mind is free from the prison it was held captive in for so long, but eating disorders don’t just dissipate into thin air. Everyday I have to practice mindfulness and continue to work on my relationship with food. I’m not going to lie it is a hard and constant battle, but my health depends on it. It’s a bit difficult in India because all Indian locals love to feed you and the food is undeniably delicious with tasty dishes everywhere you go.
Before I left I was incredibly healthy, eating a balanced diet with a lot of fresh vegetables and protein. I could see it in my face and feel it in my body. I was healthy and strong, although my mental health was struggling because of the loss of Jesse I would say I was in the best shape of my life.
When I left for Nepal I had this idea that I’d be able to continue my workouts and healthy diet while on the road. Boy was I wrong!
Let’s start with the workouts. I was doing less than half of the physical activity I was doing back home, practicing yoga only three times a week in the mornings and a bit of walking with no circuit training. I could feel my body changing and my muscles slowly fading away.
Diet was an even larger issue with limited amounts of fresh vegetables available to eat in these countries and the ever growing possibility of getting sick from them. Everything is cooked and smothered in ghee or butter, nothing simply boiled or steamed, no fresh leaves for salads, etc. The main staples in an Indian diet are bread (naan, roti, chapati, parantha), dairy (butter, ghee, chai, coffee, paneer), and excess sugar in everything (tea, chai, coffee, bagsu cakes, doda burfi, shakes, etc). All three of these things I try to limit while at home to keep me fit, but on this trip I found myself indulging more often than not. I was eating things I’d rarely eat at home like Snickers bars on the Annapurna Circuit and sweets every night after dinner, not to mention the copious amounts of bread served with every meal.
Another challenge is traveling with two boys who eat six massive meals a day, always snacking and tasting everything with fear of losing weight while traveling. I have to constantly remind myself that I don’t need that much food. Although the food is incredibly delicious I have to slow down and remind myself the importance of mindful eating.
While trekking the circuit I would buy peanut butter to have with my chapatis in the morning to save money. This was a HUGE test for me, given peanut butter and other nut butters were the main things I would binge on when at the peak of my eating disorder. Although I may have indulged a bit too much at times I never binged or purged any of it. I didn’t even have an urge to while in Nepal.
My diet was going through significant changes in Nepal and India. It was affecting my moods and causing me pain in my digestive tract. I thought that after trekking my appetite might subside, but it didn’t. My body got used to eating a lot more than normal. My portion sizes were larger and I was enjoying the taste sensations that these countries offered. I found myself waking up in the mornings feeling angry. I was angry with myself for having certain desserts and eating too much at certain meals. The indigestion and bloated feeling in the morning would cause me to wake up in a bad mood.
I found myself pinching the fat on my arms and stomach, telling myself to skip a meal or eat only fruits for a day, behaviors and thoughts I would constantly act upon when struggling with my eating disorder. I acknowledged these thoughts and accepted the fact that they were there without succumbing to the power of them. I did not act on these thoughts, but I knew they were the start of a domino effect. I needed to stop and remember that eating my feelings isn’t going to help change reality. Jesse has passed and me eating another parantha for dinner to numb the pain is only going to make matters worse. The loneliness I feel from not talking to Jesse cannot to be solved with eating. He was the main person I would talk to about my struggles. He understood and made me feel beautiful and strong for getting through it. He was proud of me just as I know my family and friends are as well.
The truth is I have gained about seven pounds since being away which is okay. I probably needed it to be honest. Before I left I was incredibly thin, losing more weight even after Jesse left this beautiful Earth.
So what does one do when a huge part about traveling to India is trying all the delicious dishes?
Focus on moderation. Don’t be afraid to try things because they are unhealthy, just don’t have too much of it. I realized that my fear of gaining weight was a potential characteristic of an eating disorder, but then again you rarely hear, “I want to gain weight.” I was focusing too much on it and I needed to just let it go.
Try to make it a point to do some physical activity every day... Stretching, hiking, yoga, walking, running, anything to create those good feeling endorphins that our brains and bodies rely on so heavily. This will help with moods.
Most importantly, stop stressing about it. Stop overthinking things and write it down or talk to someone about it. If you are constantly thinking about food or obsessing about your weight then you are likely to fall back into the eating disorder behaviors. I needed to remind myself that life will go on and I will be okay. When I’m feeling sad or lonely do not turn to eating, pick up a pen and start writing instead. Jesse, as well as my family and loved ones, need me to stay strong and honest with myself. Being able to share this with you makes me proud because if it was three years ago I’d be hiding all my feelings in fear of seeming weak.
I make it a point to share all my food experiences with others in India, splitting dishes and enjoying the company. The food in this country is too incredible to not indulge. Let the flavors of India add to your travels without letting them take over!