The Surprise in a Diet
You went on a diet just before tackling the most physically grueling six months of your life? Aren’t’cha gonna lose weight on the trail? Don’t you need a little extra, for security?
Well …. yes, no, and no, I dont’ think so.
As part of preparing for my thru-hike, I just finished a three-week diet-and-exercise program (Beachbody’s 21 Day Fix, if you’re interested). I did it for one very big, main reason: to protect my knees. I’ve been a runner for a couple of decades, and my knees do not thank me for it. Salsa dancing and regular high-heel wearing have done their part, too. Before I start hauling 25-30 pounds up and down mountains, I wanted to both strengthen my knees and reduce the amount of weight they would have to bear.
I started with a BMI of 23.5 (toward the high end of “normal” according to the tables), so not technically overweight, but with all the backpack ounce-shaving, gear-lightening talk out there, I figured why not reduce my booty burden? I lost about 10 pounds; my BMI is now 21.9 (closer to the middle of “normal”).
The results make me happy; I’m proud of myself for being disciplined on a tough calorie restriction and I’m proud of myself for doing the workouts every single day. I’m leaner, stronger, and more flexible. Without question, I’m less likely to be injured and forced off the trail, and that is an amazingly happy accomplishment.
It’s also given me confidence; sticking with such a tough program has reinforced my idea of myself as someone who CAN DO stuff.
It was simple—i.e. straightforward—but I’m not going to lie: the last three weeks have been unequivocally tough, and maybe not in the way you’re thinking.
This particular program, like any program that works, feeds you a lot of vegetables and protein and next to no carbs. No sugar, and no more than two alcoholic drinks per week. A severe calorie deficit combines with high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts, 30 minutes a day every day for two weeks and then twice a day at separate times for the last week. This revs up your metabolism to prevent your body from going into starvation mode and storing up fat.
It worked. I knew my metabolism wasn’t shutting off because I was hungry a good portion of the time. Not miserable hungry, not hangry (at least not too often), but definitely hungry.
But here was the biggest kicker and something I was totally unprepared for: it left me emotionally raw. Stripped of my usual comforts—the numbing pleasures of carbs, sugar, and alcohol—I felt defenseless.
Defenseless against what, you might ask. I’m about to quit my job for six months in which I’ll hardly ever have to adult. I’ll get to hike and camp and eat and sleep and watch gorgeous sunrises and sunsets and meet amazing new friends and see remarkable new places. It’s a true bucket-list experience that many people dream of but very few get the privilege to do. From what could I possibly need protection?
Without going into details (apologies to any prurient people out there), I’ll just say some relationships in my life aren’t based on an entirely firm foundation; their rocky beginnings yielded what are now shaky middles. These are important relationships, relationships I don’t want to fuck around with or lose.
One theory is that my diet-induced sharp edges made it impossible for me to keep ignoring the shakiness. Without extra padding, wobbling became falling.
Of course the diet is probably not the only provoking factor in my realizing these relationships need work; I’m sure major life changes might just be playing a tiny role.
Here’s the thing. In life, when you decide to do something big, whether it’s move across country or lose 10 pounds, the thing you decide to do isn’t the only thing affected.
When I hired a life coach a few months back to help me decide whether to take this journey and what work might make me come alive when I finish it, something that came up early and often was the idea of honesty, of authenticity. “I just want to have truth everywhere, all the time,” I told my coach.
The implication, of course, is that in some areas of my life, there isn’t now truth all the time.
It’s powerful to set such intentions in motion, to speak them aloud. It’s easy for me to see how removing the truth-obscuring influence of overeating is all part of my realizing this desire to be more authentic everywhere. Easy to see and hard to do.
It’s a painful, unpredictable, ugly, sometimes heroic-feeling process, and I’m so, so glad and terrified to be in the middle of it.
Kind of what I imagine hiking the AT will be like.
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