Germany Changed My Life

It’s 3am. I haven’t even been back in the United States for 12 hours but my jet lag decided to say ‘hello’ at 2am. Now is a better time than any to write, right?

I have quite the track record of controlling my days to allow time for the foods I want to make and eat. It was a little excessive for longer than I’m proud of, for a while I was planning my days around food rather than recognizing food to be the energy that made my days matter. Living to eat and eating to live were two concepts I found myself learning to grapple.

Me? Oh yeah, big Yelp gal. Formerly a huge Yelp gal. I love finding gems wherever I’m at to ensure that whatever meal is next, it’s gonna be a good one… a healthy one. Sure, this little joy of mine, searching for healthy restaurants and nailing to a T what I would order before even stepping foot in the place, ended with a lot of empty plates and happy tummies. But there was too much pressure placed on eating well by a girl who genuinely feared eating things that weren’t great—in regards to both taste and health. It got old.

A couple of months back, when I was still playing the game of typing “Healthy Restaurants” into the search bar and those results being the only places I was comfortable with going, I did the most spontaneous thing I had ever done before. I’ve always had a heart for adventure, insofar as wherever I was headed, an airplane wasn’t in the picture. I was terrified of planes. But one day back in August of last year, after conversing with my cousins who I could stay with, I booked a trip to Germany for the coming March.

I can’t even tell you how little I spoke of this journey leading up to takeoff. To avoid letting my fear curb my ambitions, I didn’t even think much about it. The brief moments where I did attempt to build an itinerary, I was kindly halted by Yelp’s lack of popularity in Germany. Excuse me, global food lovers??? Where are all of your photos and reviews of the “healthy food” in Deutschland? I kid you not, it is nearly impossible to locate a promising food stop by means of social media… at least for where I was in Europe.

What a serious blessing I couldn’t have seen coming. I’ve been praying for over a year and a half that God would intervene into the battle that I was so honestly losing on my own. Little did I know that the healing that I’ve been so desperately asking for would start finding its way to me through something I didn’t initially peg as a problem.

The past two weeks have been composed of long days of traveling; two 11 hour long haul flights with layovers in Paris and Oslo, days resulting in walking 25k steps that were fueled by not much more than a few hours of sleep, and plenty of —trust me, PLENTY of— the best food I’ve ever eaten.

Within the final week leading up to my trip, I decided to prepare myself. Not physically, of course. I didn’t start packing until the day before. I decided to mental prepare myself for the biggest journey I had yet to face. Mental preparation was vital and could not be procrastinated until the last second like shoving a couple outfits and snacks into my backpack could. I began mapping out what I wanted my trip to look like and how I wanted to ensure that my experience traveling across the globe could champion my growth as a person.

I have been actively pursuing personal edification ever since I came face to face with my humanity and the inevitability of self-destruction had I continued down the path I was on. I wanted this trip to grow me in ways that I had been so desperately praying for. I needed to prepare myself to fight any opponent that would stop me from experiencing that. More than anything, I was scared out of my mind picturing myself eating gelato, bread, fries, and drinking wines and champagnes… What an awfully sad expectation for a trip.

I made a vow to myself: that I would leave Germany having left no part of the culture untouched or untasted—especially if my reasoning behind not experiencing or not tasting something was out of an old habit of fear. I spoke this wish out loud to the people who I knew would stand behind me in support and accountability. By voicing to them my promise of choosing to try all the foods that Germans love despite how it might affect my self-perception over choosing to play it safe, I also chose to be a victor over being a coward.

Yeah, yeah. It sounds intense to you. And that’s because it was intense. Leaving my home for longer than I’ve ever done and facing so many of my fears was the most intense, extraordinary thing I have accomplished to date. I would have been a bona fide fool had I not expected this trip to leave me changed. I was facing my Goliath.

My 19 hour day of traveling across the pond was comprised of experiences such as: getting my first passport stamp, speaking a rusty and rather embarrassing version French to navigate my way through the airport, eating airport food, and reminding my shoulders that in a short time the backpack would be off and they could have a break. This day was victorious in two respects. Firstly, airports in France are a different breed. Not entirely sure if its some European-esque norm or if they just genuinely enjoy providing their travelers with fresh breads and juice bars and macarons. Either way, win. Secondly, I used to be extremely afraid of eating out because I could only be so sure of how healthy the ingredients were. Despite that fear, I recognize that its probably doing my body more harm to stress and not eat rather than maaaaybe eating something not so high quality… so, I ate airport food. Major win.

I used to think that in order to stay as healthy as possible, I needed to eat three meals a day with two snacks in between, that I had to eat every 2-3 hours. On many occasions I heard that eating consistently throughout the day like this encouraged stable blood sugar and energy levels. I would get anxious if I didn't have a snack packed with me or have access to food 2-3 hours after the last time I ate. I don’t even know if eating this way actually helps me or if I have just been doing it so long that the idea of breaking that norm scares the ground out from under my feet.

My cousins all have such liberal relationships with eating. When I arrived at their house, I quickly came to realize that they are the most intuitive eaters I have ever seen. Breakfast wasn’t a have-to and dessert wasn’t an only-if. I have to eat breakfast to make sure I have energy for the day, to make sure my metabolism keeps quick. I can only have dessert if the snacks I had weren’t higher in sugar, if I hadn’t had too much junk food today. How did I enable my subconscious to plant these rules in my head that made me doubt my intuition? When did my desire for a seconds, for two bananas with breakfast, or for ice cream at the end of the day become untrustworthy?

Seeing my cousins demonstrate the trust they had in their hunger and fullness cues sparked a desire in me to relearn to trust mine. Meal time then became a response to my body’s indication of hunger rather than a sheepish pursuit of what others said it should be. The intrinsic value of hearing my inner voice and responding to it became my new normal. I learned that breakfast doesn’t need to be an 8am on the dot, 7 days a week ritual. It can be a 6:32am ordeal if that’s what the Tuesday version of me wants it to be. And if the weekday me wants dessert before dinner, that’s justified just the same. Learning to hear myself took a weight off my yoke and released a stress I didn’t even realize was unnecessary until it was gone. There no longer is a need to permit myself a certain food or eating at a certain time. The only justification I need to eat whatever whenever is the fact that I respect myself enough to listen to me.

We spent so many of our days together walking through the most charming towns and castle gardens. I found myself fully submerged into the slow local lifestyle and felt my heart tying little strings to each place we went. I was so unbelievably present in spending time with the people I loved that there wasn’t much room to dwell on anything. Life was too good to beat myself up over the fact that for lunch I ate a big soft pretzel. Life was too good to try and plan a workout to combat the total amount of gelato I’d eaten. And I’m now aware that life at home is still too good to dismiss for the sake of over-analyzing my fitness routine and eating habits. I found a healthier version of myself when I stopped focusing on what I was eating, when I was eating, how active I was being and focused on enjoying life.

I kept the promise I made to myself. Tasted all the food, had the absolute best time of my life, and now have plans of moving overseas one day. All in real light, this trip changed me. I’m in a really good place right now. I owe it all to my cousins who gave me such a raw insight into their lives and taught me how to focus the things worth focusing on.

Not once did I find myself saying no to something I wanted because it wasn’t “healthy,” nor did I find myself regretting the things I did eat. I saw myself having such a normal relationship to eating and drinking. It was a kind of freedom that I wanted to bring back home with me. I never could have guessed that traveling would impact me so greatly.

Thank God I got on that airplane.