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What Europe taught me about my relationship with food

Two women eating pizza

What am I going to eat? This was the question I asked myself over and over again in the time before my Contiki tour through Europe.

What type of food will they serve? What if I can’t find anything I like? What if people judge what I eat or the way I eat?

Pre-trip worries

I’ve struggled with food for years. I developed an eating disorder during my teenage years, resulting in a lengthy battle with food. I became focused on how eating would impact my body – from weight gain to the unpleasant bloating sensation – and I’d be unreasonably pedantic about how certain food was cooked and served.

Food was definitely my main concern when travelling with strangers through foreign countries.

Finding the courage

Then something brilliant happened. Within days of starting my 45-day Contiki trip (the Ultimate European + Egypt), I gradually started to feel more comfortable trying different dishes. I wasn’t afraid to try foods with foreign names.

Don’t get me wrong, there were some places I struggled with more than others. But even then, I found the courage within myself to send food back until it was cooked right for me.

For the most part though, I somehow managed to let my fears go. Trying new foods became part of the adventure.

I ate a lot more than I expected. One of the boys on my tour even commented, “You’d put most men to shame!” in reference to the night when I ate three servings of lasagne. Want good food? Go to Italy!

From toast to tzatziki

Instead of dwelling on these comments, I embraced them. I strayed from my regular serving of toast for breakfast, lunch and dinner – turning instead to Nutella crepes, stews, tzatziki, gelato and even egg plant.

The curiosity I once had for exploring different dishes suddenly returned. I was able to overcome the discomfort that came with being full and instead enjoy eating plates of pasta.

A full stomach suddenly became an achievement for me. And this, as bizarre as it might sound, filled me with more joy than I ever thought. I had this amazing freedom to eat whatever and however much I wanted, without all the fears that had held me down for years.

The freedom of travel

Being away made me realise that perhaps the stresses and anxieties of everyday life were fuelling my unhealthy relationship with food. With my irregular and inconsistent working hours and overly pedantic eating habits, I found it easier to neglect a regular meal plan and instead let my body manage on as little food as possible.

Neglecting the time to eat on my Contiki however just wasn’t an option. I wanted to participate in all the activities and party as much as I could! I wanted to see and learn as much as possible about the places I was travelling to.

I learnt to appreciate the strength and energy that every meal offered. With a full stomach, I avoided the nausea and lethargy I often felt at home, and I was able to enjoy every opportunity presented to me.

Food became one of my favourite parts of my Contiki tour. I learnt to appreciate meal time and eat for enjoyment. I found that I could reclaim control over food if I allowed myself to.

And I felt even more joy knowing that I’d carry this newfound love for food when it came to return home. Eat up!

A woman exploring her relationship with food while eating spaghetti and wearing a beanie.

Image source:Jess Borten

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