Guest Post Mental Health Wanderlust

How Travel Helped Me to Recover From an Eating Disorder

Rhiannon’s dream was to travel to New York City. This dream helped her recover from an eating disorder and make her dreams come true. She made it to NYC and continues to travel despite residual anxiety. Here’s her story.

Guest Post by Rhiannon Flatman

It all started when I was around 18 years old. I had just graduated from high school, after having quite an awful schooling experience. I was bullied from an early age, my shyness and fear of being myself, caused this to continue into high school.

After starting on the contraceptive pill for the first time, I began to gain weight. Then, after a comment or two from some people close to me, this started what would be the most horrible and paralysing 5 years of my life. I had developed anorexia, and I would be in for a world of mental pain.

I spent far too much time being trapped in my own head. Too scared to eat. Terrified I would gain the smallest amount of weight and irrationally thinking that if I did, my life would end. This might all sound quite dramatic, but an eating disorder isn’t rational. It also cannot be turned off with the flick of a switch.

recover from an eating disorder

© Rhiannon Flatman

What does it mean to have an eating disorder?

While I was in the depths of my anorexia, I noticed that there was quite a bit of confusion and judgment around eating disorders. I’ve watched a lot of movies and TV shows that make jokes about anorexia and bulimia. People don’t understand just how life-threatening and paralysing eating disorders can be. Sometimes physically paralysing, always mentally and emotionally paralysing.

For me personally, I was afraid of all food. I would exercise until I couldn’t breathe. I would scrutinise every inch of my body until I was obsessively picking apart every freckle on my face wishing they weren’t there.

I would skip every meal except breakfast, weigh myself multiple times per day and hate every inch of myself. I had many breakdowns over food and lied to my family more than I like to admit.

Given that I wasn’t eating, I was becoming more and more irritable each day. I would lock myself in my bedroom and only come out to use the toilet or get a drink of water. Shutting out my family became the norm, and I didn’t have any friends.

Health issues were an everyday occurrence, and I had more blood tests and doctors appointments than I can even remember. I was forced to see a psychologist, but after a dozen or so appointments, I decided to stop going.

Having an eating disorder isn’t glamorous. It isn’t something that should be joked about on TV or in movies, and it definitely needs to be talked about more often in order to raise awareness and help those who are struggling.

What made me ready to begin recovery?

Travel. I had dreamt of travelling my entire life. New York City had been my ultimate dream and goal, and I didn’t want my life to end without making it there. I knew I was in a downward spiral and I had to do something to get my life back. So I got my shit together. I started eating, I stopped exercising and I tried my best to shut out the voices in my head. I was determined to see the world.

Finally, in June 2015 I set off on my very first solo trip and first time travelling since I had started my recovery. A few months prior, I booked a Contiki Tour which would take me to New York City, where I would finally live the dream I’d had since I was a kid.

From there, the travel bug grew stronger. I was hooked and would do everything in my power to remain healthy and happy in order to see more of this incredible world we live in.

Read more: How Travel Forces Me to Face My Fears

recover from an eating disorder

© Rhiannon Flatman

Why I’ve decided to start sharing my story

I kept quiet about my eating disorder for a long time when it first started. I didn’t even admit there was anything wrong for the first few months that I was struggling. But after a while, and after opening up to my family about it, I decided to start sharing my journey with people on Instagram.

I created a profile dedicated to my journey and my recovery and started noticing a huge spike in followers. I had people messaging me asking me for advice, dozens of comments on each photo that I uploaded and a lot more support than I was ever expecting. It seemed that I was helping a lot of people, and I wanted to continue doing so.

I first shared my eating disorder on my travel blog last month and was surprised to see how much support I received. I want to help people. I want others who are struggling, to know that it’s okay. That there is always somebody who they can talk to.

What I’ve learned from the past few years

Although I’m technically recovered from my eating disorder, it can still be difficult some days. I still struggle with anxiety, which developed while I was living with anorexia. This can make aspects of travel quite hard. I’ve had to learn to relax a little when it comes to things going wrong, and I try to not let the unknown worry me.

I try to be as carefree as I can, but some days, that’s not easy. Combine anxiety with PMS, and I’m quite a headache to live with, especially while travelling. But I’m learning to be spontaneous and enjoy every minute I have the privilege of travelling around this beautiful world we live in.

Living with an eating disorder was life-changing. It made me realise how short life really is, and that I wanted to spend my time on Earth seeing the world. Travel helped me gain my life back. I’m thankful every day for the strength I had, in order to book that first solo trip after recovering from the worst 5 years of my life.

Read more: How I Overcame Panic Attacks to Travel the World

recover from an eating disorder

© Rhiannon Flatman

About the author

Rhiannon is a part-time travel blogger from Australia. She travels with her partner and loves making new memories together. Rhiannon loves to write as much as possible, and one day hopes to be able to do so full time. So far, Rhiannon’s favourite countries and/or cities are Japan, New York City and Australia as a whole. Being born and raised in Adelaide, South Australia, Rhiannon has a deep love for her home city and is grateful every day to live in such a wonderful country. Rhiannon loves to share her travels with readers, and will continue to do so for as long as possible!

Read more from Rhiannon on her blog Rhiannon Travels.

Follow her on: Facebook // Twitter // Instagram // Pinterest

Be a guest writer for Transformed Thru Travel

If you’re a traveler with stories related to mental health & wellness and you want to share them here, take a look at my Guest Post Guidelines. Or join the growing Transformed Thru Travel Community on Facebook. It’s an encouraging and kind community for anyone who struggles with mental health issues but desperately wants to travel, and those who travel despite mental health issues. Let’s help each other travel more, with a purpose – to be transformed thru travel.

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  • Reply
    November 25, 2017 at 4:28 PM

    Such an inspiring story… I think a lot of us can relate to wanting to stay healthy so we can travel the world as much as we want, so thanks for putting that feeling into such concise words. 🙂

    • Reply
      Brittany Quaglieri
      November 27, 2017 at 4:28 PM

      I agree. Rhiannon’s story is relatable on many levels. Thanks for reading!

  • Reply
    November 26, 2017 at 2:39 PM

    This is such an inspirational post, Rhiannon! It’s so wonderful to hear how travel helped you overcome that. I never experienced anything close to what you have, but travel has helped me overcome my own fears. My feelings that I’m not good enough or smart enough to handle myself, that I can’t deal with stressful situations, etc. Once I started traveling it empowered me and I realized I was capable of more than I thought. Such a great post and so happy to hear how healthy you are!

    • Reply
      Brittany Quaglieri
      November 27, 2017 at 4:27 PM

      It’s amazing what traveling can reveal about your inner self and our unknown strengths. Thank you for reading, Hannah!

  • Reply
    December 5, 2017 at 5:46 PM

    Rhiannon, you are simply amazing. I used to teach and eating disorders are still huge within schools (I was in primary and worked with children as young as 4 who had issues with food) and it is people like you – honest, open, and raw – that help show that there is light, and that it is absolutely a huge and very real issue. But that it is possible to beat it.
    You got this girl, for you are incredible.

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