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Vacations and Time Travelers

Please note: this is a series of blogs around restaurants, vacations, relationships, road trips, etc. If you have specific questions in this area, please comment, or call or email me and I will discuss them next week.

How can you travel across time zones and stay abstinent?

How do vacations compromise your abstinence??

How can you take a week at a tropical isle and not mess up your food??

What about a trip to Disney world?

Let’s talk first about some principles for eating while traveling, then we will apply them to different situations.

1. The goal is for you to maintain abstinence and still enjoy the trip or do what needs to be done during this time.

2. The body needs to be fed every three to five hours while awake.

3. The mind and spirit need more support than they normally have.

First, reevaluate your abstinence.  How stable are you?  Have you been comfortably abstinent for a while or are you on shaky ground? What are the essential components of your abstinence?   Obviously, you do not want to return to compulsive eating behaviors, but there may be some components of your usual abstinence which must or could be shifted or adjusted for the time period.

Vacations from work or your usual life responsibilities do not change your body’s tolerances. Your eating disorder stays with you wherever you go; it never takes a vacation.  Your plans for travel need to include plans for managing your food needs and for having fun in addition.

There may be some components of your usual food pattern that need to be tightened up or made more restrictive to keep you safe. You may need to be really, really clear with yourself, and those you travel with, and perhaps your sponsor, what is acceptable and what is not; what you will tolerate or accommodate and what you will not, and exactly how you will keep yourself safe, sane, and happy on this trip.

On airline trips that cross time zones there are a few simple rules:  eat every three to five hours while awake; eat the food the people who live there are eating, and sleep when they sleep.  Carry extra food with you to accommodate for time delays.  Some easy choices for carryon items are:

  • almonds, peanuts or soynuts
  • cheese sticks
  • rice cakes or Mary’s Gone Crackers, in the sealed package
  • raisins, again, sealed
  • banana
  • apple
  • orange

The TSA changes the rules about these items regularly, so be sure to check their website for this week’s info. ( Pay attention to which foods or beverages you are allowed to carry through security and on the plane.  Pay even more careful attention to what foods and beverages you are allowed to take into the port or country of your destination.

Carry extra meal or snack foods in case you need them. Clearly, do not carry foods to which you are sensitive.  But some of the time, if a food is premeasured and no extras are available, foods that are difficult at home may be possible while traveling.  If you regularly eat a starch serving, you may want to carry a few extras, as appropriate starches are the hardest to find.

Expect delays and cancellations of your flights.  Check with the airport website about what foods are available in the airport; most large airports have concession stands which sell salads with protein on them; you can go through security carrying only your starch, and get the salad and fruit in the airport before your flight.

Often meals are available for sale on the plane, but there is little in terms of appropriate choices. Some of us have found them dangerous because of the presence of inappropriate foods in the package.  And supplies sometimes run out; if you are seated in the rear of the plane, there may be no appropriate food available to you when the hostess gets to your seat. On longer flights, you may be able to pre-order a special needs meal; this is often, still not food you want to eat, so be sure to check the menu carefully.

Most seasoned travelers tell me they just plan to arrive at the airport early enough to buy a meal for the plane trip.  A tenet of self-care is to allow enough time to get to the “good food aisle” before boarding the plane.   And considering the prevalence of delays and cancellations, it is really safer to plan ahead for your own food.

One client says, “I did fine with the food stuff on the trip itself.  I arrived at 4:30 PM and ate dinner with the family.  But I had missed a meal; I was hungry, so I ate an appropriate snack before bed.”

When you travel east to west, the time zones make it earlier.  If you skip a meal, the body will be hungry.  You may need that extra snack.  If you are traveling west to east, lunch will be three hours late. This gets confusing because, as well as being hungry; you may also be tired, stressed, worried, and nervous. That is just too hard for the body to handle.  Either have an extra meal, repeat a smaller meal like breakfast, or add a metabolic.  The next day follow your regular meal schedule, keeping to the tenets of new time zone.

For example, if you leave the west coast at 9 am, you may arrive on the east coast at 6 pm. That is actually 3 pm on west coast time.  So, you would have lunch on the plane, at 12 west coast time, then you may want a metabolic at 3 pm, your arrival time; then eat dinner as soon as it is comfortable, and have your bed time food an hour or two later.

The reverse happens when you travel east to west; if you leave at 9 am, you will arrive at 2 pm east coast time.  You will have lunch on the plane, but it will be 11 am on the west coast.  So, you would need a second lunch, and then you would follow your usual food plan in that time zone.

This is confusing.  Follow the principle:  eat every three to five hours while awake; eat the meal the people who live there are eating and you may need an extra meal or snack.

First, talk with your support people and arrange times when they can be available to take a call from you.  In a place from your childhood, many memories, both good and bad, can be triggered.  It is helpful to have people available who know you well and believe in you.  These daily touchstones can be extremely helpful in keeping you on track.

Absolutely keep up with daily calls to your sponsor and other support people.  You will find this behavior balances you better than anything you have imagined.

Take with you the information for phone and on-line meetings you do regularly; even part of a phone or zoom meeting can be reassuring!

Find locations of meetings in the new place.  Use convenient meetings of any other twelve-step program if they are more available. Look them up, check them out, and try to fit a few in. A Twelve Step meeting in a new space is a really unique experience. Don’t miss it!

Others may make comments about your eating. Take them lightly; make a non-committal answer – This is just the crazy stuff I do to stay sane – share the truth only with people who really want to know.

This is a stressful situation.  What do you need to do to give yourself the strength to stay in your adult?  Control where you stay and how the food is handled, and plan to give yourself a break from the chaos. Ask about food stores or restaurants close by, or check out room service.

You are not required to eat what everyone else is eating if that does not work for you. People vary widely in their food choices and you are not required to adopt anyone else’s choices.

I hope this blog finds you traveling to a beautiful location for a long-awaited vacation! Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy! Love the warmth and sunshine and new places to visit! Relax and let the reasons you chose this place be fulfilled! Let these new experiences become your focus!


You may need to plan an extra day at home – preferably alone – to organize your self – to deal with the laundry, the mail and other family issues.

Try to get someone to pick up some prepared salads and other essential foods before you arrive home; it will make the first day home much easier. “I underestimated the impact of this trip on me emotionally. It took me nearly a week to readjust to my family life, especially the noise and confusion generated by my children!”

You need time to get back into your routine; call your sponsor; get someone to come and take you to a favorite meeting; speak or chair if that is possible. Ask your Higher Power to set you on firm spiritual ground again.

Taking time to recover from a vacation is essential to your self-care program.  Give yourself space to get over the jet lag, process your feelings, and move onto solid recovery ground again.

Blessings to you,


2 Responses to Vacations and Time Travelers

  1. Kathy Schalk-Greene June 15, 2021 at 2:18 pm #

    Very timely and practical advice. Thank you!

    • H. Theresa Wright June 21, 2021 at 11:27 pm #

      Yuo are welcome! So glad to hear from you! I hope all is going well.

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