Why can we eat “freely” when we’re on holidays, but not in everyday life?

by Eat, Health

When you go travelling (back in the days when it wasn’t near impossible to do so!), do you find it easier to turn down the volume on the disordered voice in your head? Do you allow yourself to eat “fear foods”, break your own rules, and really make the most of the experience? Do you give yourself some well-deserved time out from your regular exercise and food routines, and embrace the different culture you’re surrounded by?

While this may not be the case for everyone, so many of us find it easier to push aside disordered thoughts around eating, exercise and body image while we’re travelling. So why is this? And what can we learn from this shift in mindset?

1. You shift your focus.

When you’re on holiday, you’re immersed in the excitement of being somewhere new, different. There’s so much to explore, see and do, and the allure of experiencing a new culture or city is all consuming.

Holidays represent a time out, an opportunity for rest and relaxation that you simply don’t allow yourself in regular life. The idea of being somewhere entirely different, and experiencing new things, acts as permission to expand your mind beyond the narrow world it normally exists in; one where exercise and food take up the majority of your mental space and time.

This expansion of your world offers you the chance to get out of your head, and into the present moment. Instead of obsessing over your next meal, you can marvel at new scenery. Instead of hitting the gym religiously, you can spend time exploring a new place. For once, you can be in the here and now.

This shift in focus is so powerful when it comes to quieting the voice in the back of your head, telling you what you can and can’t eat, how you should and shouldn’t behave in order to prioritise your health. It gives you a new perspective on what’s really important – albeit a temporary one – and this can have a profound impact on your ability to eat that slice of cake you’d normally recoil from, and skip that workout you’d never have missed in your “normal” life.

2. It feels temporary.

This leads into the second reason for this shift: the feeling of the experience being temporary. The fact you’re both physically and mentally distanced from your everyday reality creates a feeling of needing to “make the most” of the time you’re on holidays for. 

Suddenly, you’re more able to put things into perspective and make decisions aligned with the life you want to live. Instead of shying away from dessert after dinner, you can ask yourself “Will I regret not trying the specialty Italian cannoli when I get home?” And when the answer is yes, you’re more able to give yourself permission to enjoy these foods which you’d never allow yourself to eat at home.

This idea of spending your vacation enjoying your time with no regrets further quietens the voice telling you to avoid or restrict certain foods and activities – because you’re in the here and now, and this present moment is all that matters. The feeling of “limited time” can actually help you be stronger than that disordered voice.

3. Your everyday “routine” is already disrupted.

In recovery, and in eating disorders, many people cling to a strict, ordered and controlled routine. To stray from that routine feels scary, threatening and often overwhelming.

Yet when you’re on holidays, this routine is already thrown out the window, leaving space and room to create a new (temporary) way of going about your days. This means, instead of reverting to the same meal you always have for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and doing the same workout every morning, the world is suddenly your oyster!

You have choices, and you can try new things. Your routine doesn’t keep you stuck in the same patterns, “existing” rather than truly living. You’re able to check in with yourself, see what you feel like doing or eating in the moment, rather than pre-planning every decision throughout the day and executing them on autopilot.

While this can be scary, it can also be really liberating and exciting if you choose to lean into the world of opportunity and options that await you in the absence of your rigid routine.

4. You have to be more flexible.

Similarly, when you’re away in a foreign or unknown place, you simply don’t have the same opportunity to enforce your food rules and other restrictions which you live by in your home environment. Often, your access to certain foods, gyms, etc, is not the same as you’ve grown used to back home. You simply have to be more flexible, and release a little of the control you cling to normally.

Think about it… If pasta and pizza are fear foods for you, but you find yourself in Italy at a restaurant with only these options on the menu, what are you going to do? You can either challenge yourself and face your fears, or you can go without. You don’t have the same level of control over where and what you’ll eat while you’re in a new environment, so you have to be able to adapt and try new things – even if that involves confronting your fears to do so.

The surprising thing is, a lot of the time you’ll realise these “fears” really aren’t as scary as you believed them to be… And in giving yourself permission to enjoy all foods as you like, you just might be able to introduce some of this flexibility back into your regular life, recognising it’s not as overwhelming as you once believed.


So what can we take away from this?

The mentality of “making the most” of a limited amount of time can be applied to your life in general. Do you really want your days to be governed by thoughts of food and exercise and similar topics? Or do you want to lean into life, make the most of every day, and eat the damn cannoli (since we seem to be running with the Italian theme)?!

The joy of holidays is that they encourage you to make the most of every moment, and to truly be present. This means you’re more likely and able to make decisions in alignment with the life you want to live, rather than the autopilot choices and routines you normally adhere to in your everyday life. If you want to live without regrets, you do all the things on holidays, knowing you may not get to try the same things tomorrow. But in your normal life, it’s easier to put off recovery and challenging your fears because you’ll have the same opportunity to do so tomorrow.

But let’s ditch that mentality! Let’s realise that TODAY is the time to change. To fight back against that little voice in your head and take control. To overcome and face your fears, disrupt your carefully curated routine, and truly start living your life with freedom and joy.

The main takeaway from “holiday” you vs “normal” you is that you CAN enact change. You CAN face your fears, and be stronger than the disordered habits you’ve created. You CAN live life to the fullest, and make the most of every day. If you can do it on holidays, you can choose to do it at home too. All you need to do is make the choice…

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Sarah King

Sarah King

Hi future friends, I’m Sarah King, an Accredited Exercise Physiologist and health coach.

Science, not trends is the foundation of my approach. By nourishing the body and mind with scientific facts we can build foundations for a life of realness, not just wellness.