How Travel Saved My Life: An Eating Disorder Survival Story

How Travel Saved My Life: An Eating Disorder Survival Story

Today I’m sharing something a little bit different. I don’t talk about this very often on Rhiannon Travels, in fact, I’m not even sure I’ve mentioned it at all. But a few years ago, I suffered with an eating disorder. Anorexia, to be more specific. To put it bluntly, it was the most awful five years of my life. It not only changed my life, it also changed the lives of the people around me.

I’ve decided to share my eating disorder survival story with anybody who chooses to listen. I’m sharing this, because I know for a fact there are people out there who are too scared to ask for help. Too scared to reach out and admit that they are struggling. Trust me, I understand the feeling. I understand the feeling of denial, when you’re trying to convince yourself and your family there’s nothing wrong. I understand the confusion of not knowing what your mind is doing. But there IS a way out. For me, that was travel.

Please Note: This post does contain details about an eating disorder. If you are easily triggered or feel uncomfortable reading about this topic, please stop here. It is definitely not my intention to upset anybody, so if you think you may feel that way whilst reading my personal story, feel free to exit out. There are photos in this post, that may make somebody who is currently struggling with an eating disorder, feel triggered. Please continue reading, only if you are comfortable doing so.

How Travel Saved My Life: An Eating Disorder Survival Story

How My Eating Disorder Started

I’ll be honest: my heart is pounding while writing this. There are people in my life, that I’m fairly certain don’t know that I’ve struggled with an eating disorder. There are also people who may not understand why I’m even writing about it and shining a light on the topic. But that’s okay. I don’t need everybody to understand, I just need the right people to understand.

I can’t remember exactly when all of this started, I do remember why and how though. Roughly the year after I graduated high school (2009), I started taking the contraceptive pill. One of the initial side effects of going on the pill, is weight gain. This side effect, combined with the fact that I enjoyed scoffing my face with entire bags of chips and a LOT of ice cream, resulted in me gaining quite a bit of weight. I didn’t really notice at first, until somebody in my life made a comment about my weight – then it was all I could think about.

At first, I decided to start exercising a little. Nothing too intense. I simply used the stationery bike in our house a few times a week. Eventually, this turned into a few times a day. Along with the excessive exercise, I also cut back a lot on what I was eating. It started with eating healthier. Next, I’d cut out a lunch or dinner here and there. Just like exercise, eventually this turned into a flat out fear of food.

How Travel Saved My Life: An Eating Disorder Survival Story

I would have anxiety and panic attacks when it came to meal time. I’d study nutritional labels like they were going out of style. If something wasn’t X calories or less, I wouldn’t eat it. If I didn’t have a choice, such as having to attend a family gathering, I would immediately come home and use our exercise bike until I couldn’t breathe. This happened daily, and although I was both mentally and physically exhausted, I was so far gone, I couldn’t see a way out. So I kept going. I kept falling deeper and deeper into my eating disorder.

After a large amount of doctor’s appointments, psychologist sessions, blood tests, nights crying myself to sleep, intense mood swings, arguments with family, health issues, panic attacks, depression and living in genuine fear of food – I eventually knew it was time to get my life back on track. The only problem was: I didn’t know how to do that.

How Things Got Better

In 2012, my family and I took a trip to America. My mum, her husband and my sister hopped on a plane, and 14 hours later we landed at Los Angeles International Airport. I was scared. I knew I’d be in for a world of anxiety. I mean, let’s be honest. American’s love their large serving sizes and delicious baked goods. But in a strange way, I was ready. At least I thought I was.

We spent the first couple of weeks in Anaheim. I can’t even remember how many times I had a wave of anger, fear or depression over food. I was irritable. I wished I was back in the safety of Australia, where I could skip meals as I pleased and knew exactly what I was eating. But I was on holiday. I was mad at myself for acting the way I was, but I couldn’t stop.

The most ironic part of this whole situation, was that I knew I had a LOT of weight to gain. I don’t want to use numbers in this post, because for somebody who is currently struggling, that could make things worse. But let’s just say I didn’t recognise myself. Neither did anyone else in my life. I had dissolved into almost nothing. I had no energy, and to this day, I’m not quite sure how I survived as long as I did.

As for how things got better, well that’s a pretty funny story. My aunty and uncle (my mum’s sister) live in California. So when our time in Anaheim was up, we spent some time with them. A road-trip to Las Vegas had been planned, and I was both excited and nervous. Excited, because hello, Las Vegas. But nervous because I was in for five hours of sitting in a car, not being able to do any form of exercise.

How Travel Saved My Life: An Eating Disorder Survival Story

This is one photo that I cringe, looking back on. I wasn’t healthy in the slightest. I was always cold, always tired, grumpy and irritable.

We made a few stops along the way for snacks. Of course I studied the packaging carefully, being sure to only choose something that was X amount of calories, and wouldn’t cause too much mind-numbing guilt. Well, it turns out the snack I opted for, would be the snack that snapped me back to reality.

I genuinely can’t tell you what happened, or why it happened, but I made a decision then and there, that I wanted my life back. I don’t remember if I shared this decision with anybody in the car (I think I may have), but from that moment on, I knew things had to change. If I wanted to continue exploring the world, see new places and have incredible memories, I had to get better.

I’ve always loved the concept of travel. Before I finally got my shit together and started to see the world for myself, I had severe wanderlust. I wanted to see as much as possible. I wanted to see the Northern Lights and live my dream of visiting New York City (which I finally ended up doing in 2015!). But until that could happen, I needed to get better.

The Road to Recovery

I’ll be honest: it wasn’t easy. Even the remainder of this USA trip, I had my moments. An eating disorder (like other mental illnesses) isn’t something that can be turned off with the flick of a switch. But the most important part of the process had begun: accepting that things needed to change. I needed to change. Not only for myself, but for the people in my life who were dying a little inside, watching me put myself through hell.

How Travel Saved My Life: An Eating Disorder Survival Story

There were days when I honestly didn’t believe I could do it. I was constantly asking myself whether it was even worth getting better. At times, it all seemed too difficult. Too painful, upsetting and difficult. But I did it. With a lot of help from a few close family members, I got my shit together.

Where I Am Now: Did I Reach My Travel Goal?

I still have my off days. I still think I’m ‘fat’ sometimes (this generally happens when I start PMSing. Go figure!). I still worry a little about what I’m eating, and if I’m eating too much. I still focus a little too much on the way I look, when in reality, it doesn’t matter. Due to my eating disorder, I have developed anxiety. This is something that I actively struggle with, and will probably have to live with for the rest of my life. But it’s a lot easier to manage than a crippling fear of food.

I’m now living my dream of being able to travel and see the world. Not only am I doing that, but I’m travelling with the person I love, making memories that will last a life time. If you had asked me back when I was in the depth of my struggles, if I would ever spend a month exploring Japan, I would have laughed. Travel was always a dream of mine. But during my eating disorder days, it was a pipe dream. Something so out of reach, I didn’t think I’d ever step foot on a plane again.

How Travel Saved My Life: An Eating Disorder Survival Story How Travel Saved My Life: An Eating Disorder Survival Story

The photos above: The left hand side was myself on the border between Nevada and Arizona, at Hoover Dam back in 2013. That was probably close to the smallest I got, at least that I have photos of. The right hand side is this past March (2017) in Hiroshima, Japan. I was happy, healthy, and had just eaten McDonalds and smashed out a few glasses of wine! (I’m not really a great advocate for being healthy, while on holiday….)

But here I am. Publishing posts on a travel blog that I created all on my own, over a year ago. Visiting different places and having experiences that I never thought was possible. No, I’m not a full-time backpacker, carrying everything I own with me across the world. But I do work a normal job in order for me (and my partner Russell) to live our dreams of adventuring and seeing this incredible world we all live in.

Throughout all of the ups and downs over the past 10 years, I’m finally at a point where I can be proud of where I am in life. Travel has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember. It may have taken a lot longer to achieve than most people, and I have had to overcome a great deal in order to get here. But the point is: I made it. And you know what? It’s a great feeling. A fucking incredible feeling, to be honest. Please excuse the French.

Why I Decided to Share My Eating Disorder Survival Story

Why did I decide to share my eating disorder story? To put it simply: I want to help people. I’m sure there is at least one person reading this, who is nodding slightly to themselves. Somebody who may be struggling with an eating disorder, and is having trouble finding their way out. Well, if you’ve found something that you love, use that as your way out.

I know it’s not that simple, and as tough as this is for parents and family members to hear, you have to be ready. You have to be ready and prepared for things to change. It’s a hard road ahead, and once that horrible mindset has formed, it’s extremely hard to break. I still struggle sometimes, and I’ve been ‘recovered’ for years now. But it is possible.

How Travel Saved My Life: An Eating Disorder Survival Story

The most current photo of me, taken in October 2017. Healthy, comfortable enough with my weight to be able to walk around a water park, in just a bikini!

It’s possible to not only live a normal life – it’s also possible to live your dream. I’m a good example of that. Having grown up as a shy, quiet and quite loser-ish person, I’ve turned into the confident, happy and outgoing person that I am today. A lot of that is because I managed to do the impossible: pulling myself from the depths of an eating disorder. It took an army to get here, but hey – I made it! I’m living my dream of seeing the world. I’m crossing cities and countries off my bucket list. I know the excitement of planning that next big adventure, knowing I can eat all of the pizza and ALL of the baked goods and fries that my heart desires.

So, if you are reading this and feel like you may need some advice or support: please talk to somebody you trust. Be honest, as scary as that will be. If you’re ready for things to change (or even if you’re not quite there yet) seek help. I’m sure there is somebody in your life who you are comfortable talking to, and if not, talk to me.

How Travel Saved My Life: An Eating Disorder Survival Story

Me at the bottom of the Grand Canyon in 2015. This was my first solo trip, after beginning my recovery from my anorexia. A few years prior, I never would have thought I’d be able to travel solo!

I don’t focus on this part of my life anymore, because it’s not who I am. At least not anymore. There will be people who don’t understand, even people who you thought loved you. Not everyone understands what it’s like to be held captive by an eating disorder. But that’s okay. For every person who doesn’t understand, there will be somebody who does.

In a world that is obsessed with uploading the perfect Instagram photo and having the newest and best outfit, it can be hard to remember that these things don’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you gained a bit of weight while travelling, that’s proof that you had a great time. Don’t focus too much on the little things. If like me, travel is your dream, enjoy every minute of it. Don’t hold back from eating that scoop of Ben & Jerry’s. Ice cream deserves to be eaten. Unless of course you’re lactose intolerant. In that case, don’t listen to me.

Remember, there is always someone out there who can help. When you’ve decided that you’re ready, reach out and seek the help you deserve. Whether that’s from a doctor, psychologist, family member, friend or somebody who has been there before like I have. Don’t try and get better on your own. You’ll need an army of supportive people around you. But once you’ve achieved that goal of recovery, the world is your oyster!

Pin it for later!

How Travel Saved My Life: An Eating Disorder Survival Story How Travel Saved My Life: An Eating Disorder Survival Story

Note: Please remember that this is my own personal story. Everybody is different, has different experiences and coping mechanisms. If you are struggling with an eating disorder, what worked for me, may not work for you. Travel is what changed my life and made me realise that I needed and wanted to get better. Find something that works for you, and remember that everybody’s stories and journeys are different.

One Year Blogiversary: A Recap of My First 12 Months Travel Blogging!

One Year Blogiversary: A Recap of My First 12 Months Travel Blogging!

On this day, one year ago, I finally decided to start a travel blog. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, and I took the whole thing pretty lightly. I didn’t think I would stick to it, let alone actually consider it my second (unpaid) job. When I’m not working at my part time, retail job, I’m blogging. When I’m not blogging, I’m probably thinking about what I can blog about next, or how I can improve my writing and social media game. One year ago, I had no idea this is what my life would be like!

One Year Blogiversary: A Recap of My First 12 Months Travel Blogging!

I had no idea that the free account I created with Wix way back in September of 2016, would turn into a self-hosted, secure, dot com travel blog. I had no idea I would spend 8 or more hours, a few days a week, creating new content and interacting with fellow travel bloggers from all over the world. I also had no idea that I would be able to share my own experiences, with such a large amount of people!

I’m sure you’re wondering why I decided to start a travel blog? Well there are a few answers to that question:

1. I’ve always loved to write
Back in high school, English was my favourite subject. I loved having the chance to write about something that I was more often than not, actually interested in, and be graded on it.

Note: in Australia, English isn’t a class in which we learn how to speak English. Obviously. It more so consists of essay writing, book reviews, oral presentations and creative writing. We would watch movies or read books, then write about that movie or book in essay form. Basically, it was the only class I actually looked forward to and was good at!

2. Writing helps to combat my anxiety
Throughout my life, I have turned to writing when I needed an escape from reality. Most of you probably wouldn’t know that for 5 years, I struggled with an eating disorder. For 5 years, back in my late teens through early twenties, I felt more alone than I ever had in my life. I lived off a bowl of cereal and a small plate of fruit, almost everyday for far too long.

Over the years, due to my eating disorder and everything that comes with such a horrible mental illness, I developed anxiety. Over the past couple of years in particular (not so much back then, as I didn’t have motivation or passion for anything), I’ve turned to writing to combat it. Whenever my anxiety creeps back into my life (when it does, it comes with full, debilitating force), writing acts as a wonderful distraction. I’m able to put my real life thoughts aside, and write about something I’m passionate about.

One Year Blogiversary: A Recap of My First 12 Months Travel Blogging!

3. I love to travel, and wanted to share my experiences with the world
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the most well-travelled person out there. I’m definitely not the most well-travelled travel blogger. For quite a while, that bothered me. I felt like I needed to be one of those quit-my-job-sell-my-shit-and-travel-the-world young people, to be taken seriously in this industry. I’ve realised, however, I can be successful without traveling to every country in the world. I can be successful, even though I haven’t yet been to Europe. I’m sure there are some people out there who disagree with me on that, but that’s okay! Each to their own. I’m proud of where I’ve been, and I’m excited about where I’m yet to visit! I love the fact that I’m able to share my experiences with so many people, from so many places in this incredible world we live in.

What I’ve learnt during my first year as a travel blogger:

I’m a lot more motivated than I thought I was
Like most peeps my age (25), I had a Tumblr back in the day. It lasted about 5 minutes, before I got bored and totally forgot it existed. I would mindlessly share images that didn’t even mean anything to me. The mere fact that they looked pretty, was enough for me to click that re-post button. But when I decided to start taking Rhiannon Travels more seriously, it was pretty surprising to see just how motivated I could be, when it comes to something I am truly passionate about.

As I mentioned earlier, when I’m not at my part-time retail job, I’m spending 8 or more hours blogging. Whether that’s writing new content, updating old content or keeping up with social media, I’m always doing my best to improve and grow with my blog. There have been very few days over the past year, where I haven’t worked on Rhiannon Travels.

I actually love to learn
The thing I probably regret most about this past year, was not doing more research before my blog went live. Recently I’ve started to update all of my old blog posts. Let me just tell you, this is a cringeworthy task. My old content is so horrid, I am embarrassed that I thought it was good enough to hit publish!

If it weren’t for the wonderful women in the most incredible Facebook group I have ever been part of (Female Travel Bloggers), I would still be that newbie blogger, with 300 word articles and no knowledge whatsoever. I love researching new ways to improve on my writing, SEO or social media platforms. It’s like school, but actually enjoyable!

Note: If you are a travel blogger, a female and want to learn everything you need to know to become successful, request to join Female Travel Bloggers. It’s an incredible community, with wonderful women, that I’m proud to be part of. To join, you’ll need to have your travel blog visible on your private Facebook account.

I have a lot to say, and I tend to say it all and more
If you’re a regular reader of Rhiannon Travels, you’ll know I tend to ramble a lot. 98% of it is information you can actually use, but I tend to throw in a couple of jokes here and there to keep things light and less school-like. Most of my posts are more than 2,000 words. Back when I first started this blog, I was writing less than 500 words per post. It’s pretty amazing to see how far I’ve come, and how much my writing has changed over the past year!

Where have I been, and what’s next on the travel itinerary?

Back in October of 2016, my partner Russell and I moved from Adelaide to Alice Springs for work. We both work in the liquor industry, and they needed some help up there. So we packed up our entire lives, all of our belongings and our cat Hermione, and moved to the desert. In total, we spent around 7 months living and working in Alice Springs. Before Russell was even offered the position, we had booked and planned a month long trip to Japan!

So in March 2017, 4 months after moving to Alice Springs, we packed up our suitcases and Hermione and flew back to Adelaide. My mum and her husband were kind enough to look after Hermione for the month while we were in Japan. You can read all about our incredible four months in Japan here. Now, I’ve never actually traveled to every single country in the world, but I can pretty safely say that Japan is one of the most amazing countries you’ll ever visit.

One Year Blogiversary: A Recap of My First 12 Months Travel Blogging!

Due to it being such a busy year with work and moving interstate (we’re not full time travelers!), we didn’t get to go on too many trips this year. However, we will be spending two weeks in October of this year (one month from today, actually!) in Queensland. So you can expect a TON of posts about the Sunshine Coast, the Gold Coast and everything in between! I haven’t been to Queensland since 2010, so it’s exciting to go back and have the chance to write about one of the most popular places in Australia!

After Queensland, our travel plans are wide open. We are trying to decide between heading off on another long adventure, or planning a few smaller trips over the next 12 months. Time will tell what we decide to do! If you’ve got any suggestions on where we should go on our next adventure, leave them in the comments below!

Here are some tips for new travel bloggers – Things I Wish I Had Known:

1. Do a LOT of research before you create a blog

This is probably the most important tip I can give. I didn’t really do too much research before I started, and I definitely regret it. There is so much you need to consider when it comes to blogging, as simply writing a post and hoping it will do well, isn’t gonna cut it. Which brings me to the next tip…

2. Start off with a self-hosted WordPress account

I made the mistake of creating my blog with Wix. Now, there isn’t anything wrong with Wix, but it’s more made for visually creative people (i.e photographers). Given that a travel blog requires a lot of work in order for it to be found easily on Google, you’ll need a blogging platform that will do well with SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). Essentially, the better your SEO skills are, the easier your posts will be found organically when people search something in Google.

Let me break this down: Whenever you open up Google and search for something, the results that come up are from people just like you and me, who create blogs or websites filled with information. The articles that appear on page one, have a better SEO ranking than those that appear on page five. That’s why the most important step in creating your blog, is deciding on your host and platform!

Personally, I use a self-hosted WordPress account through Siteground. They were absolutely incredible in helping me switch from Wix to WordPress earlier this year, and I definitely couldn’t have done it without the 24/7 customer service. If you start off on the right foot, you’ll be successful much earlier than most of us bloggers were when our blogs went live!

3. Post frequently, but only post top-notch, quality content

Not only does Google favour posts that rank well with SEO, you’ll also be a lot more organically successful if you post quality content. There’s no point publishing one post a week, if they are poorly written and aren’t optimised for SEO. Take your time, research your topic and write from the heart. You’ll be surprised at how well your posts will do, if they’re top quality!

One Year Blogiversary: A Recap of My First 12 Months Travel Blogging!

4. Pinterest is key for blog traffic

It took me a while to understand Pinterest and jump on the bandwagon, but I’m finally realising that Pinterest is probably the best way to gain constant, regular traffic to your blog. Think of Pinterest as a visual search engine (which technically, it is!). If you’ve visited say, New York City recently, create an eye-catching image (I recommend Canva) and upload it to Pinterest (or you can share it directly from your blog post. See examples at the bottom of this post). When somebody searches for New York City information on Pinterest, they will come across your very own pin and share it with their followers. This obviously means you’ll continue to gain more and more readers, the more your pins are shared! The power of Pinterest is no joke!

5. Be patient

When I first started my blog, I was naive in thinking I’d hit the big time straight away. I saw so many successful bloggers (both travel and non-travel) and I wanted more than anything, to be one of those success stories! But what I didn’t know at the start of this blogging journey, was that it takes time and a LOT of dedication. I spend every single day off from my part time job, working on my blog. It’s been a full year now, but I’m still no where near where I want to be. So be patient! Work hard and stay motivated.

6. Join Facebook groups

Something I wish I had known right from the get go, was the fact that there are Facebook groups dedicated to travel bloggers. These Facebook groups have been my lifesaver. Everything I know about blogging, I’ve learnt from these groups. My absolute favourite, is Female Travel Bloggers. Obviously, you must be a female with an active travel blog to have access to the group. With 4,000+ incredible members from all over the world, it’s such a wonderful community to be apart of. Some other great travel/blog related Facebook groups are Girls LOVE Travel and Pinterest For Travel Bloggers. Make sure to read the rules before joining any Facebook group!

It’s been an amazing, busy, overwhelming and exciting year. I still cannot believe I’ve stuck with this blogging thing for a full 12 months, and have actually made quite a bit of progress! I’ve seen some wonderful places, made some incredible memories and met some awesome people. I can’t wait to see what the next year brings, and I especially can’t wait to continue to travel the world with my partner Russell!

One Year Blogiversary: A Recap of My First 12 Months Travel Blogging! One Year Blogiversary: A Recap of My First 12 Months Travel Blogging!