Disordered Eating and Weight on the Trail


By January 2018 I was happy with my weight. The happiest I’ve yet been. Happier even than when I’d been lighter. That number on the scale is practically meaningless; the social and emotional baggage is what really weighs me down. Disordered eating is more mental health than physical health.

It took a lot of work to untie my self-worth from arbitrary numbers and morphing body image.

Then I Left for Trail

“Oh wow, you’re going to be so skinny when you finish!” said a friend. Several times. Even after I asked her to stop. Even after I explained that I’d once teetered on the edge of disordered eating disaster and that her comments threatened to push me back toward that.

Why I’m Writing

Friends and loved ones don’t even understand how they wound me, how their comments threaten to re-trigger my disordered eating. How can I expect to explain it to the internet?

Maybe I won’t.

Maybe I’ll just explain it to myself.

Hiker Hunger

By the end of 2018 I was not the svelte, skinny thing my friend seemed to expect. In fact I’d gained about 50 pounds. 

I gained five pounds of muscle in the first 400 miles of my hike, but then I sprained my ankle nearly 600 miles later. As an interrupted hike slowly revealed itself to be a completely ended one, my hiker hunger betrayed me. 

Thinking I’d be back on trail in four days, a week, two weeks, I took advantage of the readily available food and ate to my heart’s content. I figured it couldn’t hurt since I’d be back on trail soon. In fact I figured it’d help when I got back on trail; if I pulled my body out of starvation mode I’d have more energy to burn on my hike.

But I never got back on trail. And as that became my clear trajectory I fell into a depressive slump. Eating for the hike turned into eating to self-soothe. I foolishly re-exposed myself to a family member who’d been teaching me those habits all my life. 


Binge eating had always existed in my household, and I’m not proud of it, but I learned it too. I was terrified of gaining the kind of weight I saw carried around, so often when I found myself binging I followed it up with some purging.

I was ashamed of the binging and ashamed of the purging, and didn’t think any of it counted as a real eating disorder because after all, I didn’t even lose any weight. I was ashamed of my shortcomings and wished I had the willpower to just starve myself.

I’d be “good” for a week or two, sticking to my glass of milk for breakfast, glass of milk and an orange for lunch, and chicken broth for dinner. But then I got sad about something at school or stressed about something at home and shoved a bunch of chocolate in my face. 

The Ongoing Dangers of Disordered Eating

Even writing about this is dangerous because I feel the same shame coming upon me, and with it the all-too-familiar nausea. I’ve long since moved past the need to stick anything down my throat to trigger a gag reflex.

The emotions and self-destructive urges are more useful than any mere physiological responses ever were. The nausea is all in my head, until everything from my stomach ends up in the toilet bowl. 


It’s now January 24, 2020, and I weigh more than I ever have. The weight did balance out by the end of 2018 and has remained stable, but I haven’t gotten back to where I was pre-trail. I tried to diet, wanted to return to the weight I was last time I hit the trail, but it was too triggering. I’m healthier like this than I would be in a diet gone wrong. 

Better to hit the trail with a few extra nutrients to burn than not enough. 

This Isn’t Failure

I have to remind myself of that constantly. My brain knows that my weight doesn’t disqualify me for hiking, knows that I consistently outpace many of my thinner friends on day hikes.

But there’s still some voice in the back of my head telling me that I won’t be as good of a hiker this year because of the weight. And there’s a fear of what others will say either to my face or behind my back.


Because there’s a greater societal narrative that fat people can’t also be fit. Society tells me that because I’m fat I can’t do sports. Hell, I’m right on the edge right now where athletic wear is starting to become hard to find. 

The whole thing about disordered eating is that I’ve internalized all these fat-phobic societal narratives. I wish I could write a piece here that was more body positive, but I’m not yet in a headspace where that’s possible. All I can do is share my own deeply personal experience with weight and disordered eating.


Will I be thinner if/when I make it to Canada?

I mean, yeah, almost certainly. But is that why I’m hiking?

Hell Fucking No.

Weight Loss Hiker

I am NOT a “weight loss hiker.” I’m just a hiker like any other. I’m just as prepared as anyone else. In fact, more prepared than I was two years ago when I looked more like an average hiker. 

Why I Write

I write this to process my feelings and to reassure myself that the fat-phobic narratives I’d bought into once upon a time are wrong. I write this to remind myself that it’s OK to weigh what I weigh and to remind myself that starving myself is the opposite of helpful as I prepare to walk to Canada again.

But most importantly, I write this to entreat you to not be like that friend from 2018. Do not comment on my weight now, the weight you imagine I might lose, or the weight that I am in the end. Do not focus on my weight. Don’t give my eating disorder license to focus on my weight again.

My health is nobody’s responsibility but my own. I simply entreat you not to do something that might push me down a dark rabbit hole again.

If You Need Help

There is an eating disorder helpline at (800) 931-2237. Find more information here.

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Comments 3

  • Morgan : Jan 29th

    Thank you for sharing this part of your story. I know first hand the frustrations of society’s focus on weight. I am a proponent of health at every size and intuitive eating. For some of us, the healthy option is to focus on eating the nutrients our bodies need to stay in homeostasis and moving in a way that feels good. That is what is sustainable and puts less stress on our bodies and minds.

  • Maura : Jan 29th

    Thank you so much for this. I’m nearly 50 and still stuck in this loop of emotional eating, self-hatred, emotional eating to deaden the feelings of self-hatred, repeat, repeat, repeat. It is REALLY, really hard. I spent a few decades in the high 200’s in weight, trying to believe my words about Health at Every Size, trying to project body positivity, but it really was just all so, so jumbled in a maelstrom of self-hatred and attempts at self-acceptance.

    A few years ago, I was able to get far enough out of a depression that for the first time in my adult life, I could see through to a health priority, which was preventing diabetes in order to prevent diabetes-related dementia, which killed my mother way too young. So I started to do intermittent fasting and a keto diet (very hard b/c my whole diet was pretty much carbs and I have major anxiety about foods). And I lost 70 pounds in about a year. All of a sudden, EVERYONE WAS COMMENTING ON MY BODY. It was a total shock to go from feeling mostly invisible in the world (other than when I’d get nasty catcalls for being fat while riding my bike) to getting multiple comments a day on my size. They were meant to be compliments, I’m sure, but they did NOT feel good. They only emphasized my body dysmorphia. I felt just as fat as I always did, but all the compliments I was getting only made me hate my fatter self even more. And triggered a LOT more unhealthy bingeing followed by longer fasts.

    I regained 50 of those pounds. Still trying to get my head straight since that. I know that intermittent fasting and keto were really good for all my metabolic and inflammatory markers, and I definitely appreciated having a smaller body, how much less i hurt, and all the possibilities that opened up to me when suddenly I could shop among normal sizes. But I HATED the scrutiny on my smaller body. I hated the attention and praise for it. (Why should I be PRAISED for my body size?) And I hated that I became a stereotype of weight loss/weight regain, after having been at least a stable weight for a couple of decades.

    It was the compliments that messed me up more than anything. I don’t want my identity to be my weight. I don’t want to be noticed for that. And the fact that all of a sudden everyone was noticing that made me feel, perversely, more of an outsider. Like, I didn’t really realize how much fat me was an outsider until everyone heaped praise on me for being less fat.

    Thanks for your honesty. Rooting for you on the trail!

  • Julia : Feb 6th

    Thank you for sharing your story!!!! I also have had many of these thoughts that you have expressed. I have learned not to comment on anybody’s weight, no matter their size. It’s none of my business and we don’t know the impact any kind of comments (even compliments) can cause. Good luck on your hike! Enjoy your strong and fit body no matter what your “size”!


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