As a bowl of transparent liquid was placed in front of me, a curious island floating in the middle of it, which I would later discover to be a crouton, I felt my stomach drop. It was my third night in the town of Bad Hofgastein in Austria, where I was staying with my parents. A family holiday was not exactly what I had in mind when I had envisaged myself at the age of 22, but this is where I was.
Not much of this holiday was to my taste (excuse the pun), in particular, the set dinner menu at the hotel. One reason being that I personally prefer to dine in a variety of places, when experiencing another culture but mostly, because the idea of the food I must eat being chosen for me fills me with dread. Combine this with a country in which the staple foods are meat and dumplings and you have yourself a recipe for disaster, in my eyes.
Eating in a foreign country, where not much English is spoken can be a struggle for even the healthiest, most open-minded, tourist but battling this and the voices of an eating disorder is almost too overwhelming. However, instead of retreating into my Ana-riddled comfort zone, I vowed to see this experience as a challenge and an opportunity rather than the nightmare it promised to be. When recovering from an eating disorder, trying new foods that you would never dreamed of eating before, can be a daunting step, but it is a step which has extremely positive outcomes. Once you combat the unhelpful thoughts and initial fear, you are left with an incredible range of tastes and experiences that were cut off from you previously, but everyone else has been enjoying. You are left with choice.
That is not to say that you will enjoy every new thing that you try, I tried many meals that week which I am glad I won’t have to eat again, dumplings and pumpkin seed dessert being examples, but the importance is just that, I tried. Choosing the vegetarian option most nights – to play it a little bit safer – I ate foods, such as cottage cheese parcels, French onion soup, gnocci with spinach and I even dabbled with dessert, a complete stranger to me. I ate and surprisingly enjoyed the cherry strudel with custard and some form of sponge with apricot filling – to this day I could not tell you what it is.
Eating food which you are not familiar with, and in some cases not even sure what it is, can be one of the hardest parts of recovery, but the fear of the unknown is definitely worth overcoming.
Apologies for my photography skills on this one!