Never Too Fat to Hike

My friend ED (eating disorder)

I developed bulimia as a 120-pound 11 year old. Being fat meant being undesirable, socially ostracized, judged, and stereotyped as a glutton by society. I thought I was headed in that direction, so I starved and I puked my way through middle school and high school. Now fully recovered, my worst fear has come true. I am fat. Only now it’s not so scary. I am happier than I ever could have been in the ‘normal-sized body’ I was struggling to maintain.

It is very common for people to have co-occurring eating disorders. Now that I work as a counselor in an eating disorder recovery facility, I know that one of the eating disorders I had is called Atypical Anorexia Nervosa. There is really nothing atypical about it. It is very common among people with eating disorders to weigh in the healthy range of the BMI scale while malnourishing themselves to maintain it.

Nowadays, if a doctor would look at everything but my obese BMI, they would say I was perfectly healthy. I bike to work an hour each day, hike on weekends, and eat in a well-rounded way. More importantly than any number on a scale is that I feel healthy both physically and mentally. Despite my recovery, I still have to stay vigilant to protect myself from relapse. This means redirecting self-deprecating thoughts and controlling my environment to promote resiliency.

showing off my mad hoola hoop skills

One Opinion too Many

While researching gear, around every internet corner was something I didn’t want to see. Like reddit threads debating whether it’s a good idea for a fat person to hike and conversations about if one should lose or gain weight for the trail. I try to control my environment so that I see mostly body neutral or positive media, but it is impossible to avoid diet talk or weight loss discussions.

In-person opinions sting a bit worse. A couple nights ago, I complained to my roommate about how it seems ‘everyone’s’ thought when seeing a fat person hiking is that they must be trying to lose weight. Low and behold, that night she went to dinner with her mom who said, “It’s so great that Lucia will be losing weight by hiking the PCT.”

Me lifting my pct partner Adrienne

If I listened to the opinions of others here are some things I might believe:

1. Every pound lost is a pound I’m not carrying

While this fact is indisputably true, what I also know is that intentionally losing weight is miserable. If I try to lose weight before the trail, I will possibly go down an eating disorder relapse rabbit hole. I might continue to under eat on the trail, leading to fatigue and weight loss that is too rapid. Plus, the point is mute given that 95% of diets fail resulting in weight being gained back. Though I wouldn’t be carrying the weight of as much fat, I would be carrying the weight of overthinking about my body image. This would be far more miserable baggage.

2. I won’t be able to keep up

Everyone has a different pace, and the fact is I have no idea how my pace will compare to those around me. In the past, I’ve hiked slower than my hiking partners but had more will to hike longer and take shorter breaks. In the end, it all evened out. I can easily hike 10 miles in a day, a distance many people start out at on the PCT. Though I’m by no means a fast hiker, if I had never heard that fat folks are slow, I would not think that of myself.

3. I will have a lower chance of success due to my size

This one is silly because success is relative and arbitrary. The success of completing the trail is completely unlikely due to how I’ll need to leave the trail after 3.5 months to go to graduate school. I am redefining success for myself to not hinge on weight lost on the trail but how well I take care of my body. Success to me means being kind to others, not pushing my body into overuse, and feeding myself well.

4. It will be wonderful when I transform my body on the trail

I have no idea how my body will change when I’m hiking. Chances are I will lose some weight. However, it is important that I don’t focus on this on trail. As soon as weight loss becomes the goal, hiking could become significantly less enjoyable to me. If I do lose weight and become fixated on the idea I could lose more, a relapse could be triggered.

5. My joints will suffer

Is a medical problem that I’ve never had really a reason not to hike? Stopping at the slightest hint of a problem will be crucial to treat and assess any on trail injury. I have also been doing strength training routines posted by blaze physio. In addition to this I found an article on exercises to protect and strengthen knees which I will give a try.

I’m posing for the camera all cute like

I’m hiking, extra 60 pounds and all

In the end I will try to not let any ideas about what it means to be a fat hiker that are not my own follow me onto the trail. I know my body and its capabilities better than any internet strangers! No matter the weight, our bodies are capable of wonderful things. Mine fights infection, carries me miles, allows me to exist and experience the world, and so much more. My fat is an adaptation that protects me against starvation, keeps me warm, and makes it easier for me to float in water. It may even protect me if I accidentally under nourish myself on the trail. I am so grateful that my body will be embarking with me on this crazy journey.


As I was writing this article, I found myself deleting the first paragraph over and over again. How do I talk about body fat in this world where accepting having a fat body is so controversial? And how do I expose one of my deepest vulnerabilities and strengths here, to strangers? I had the urge to rattle off about my opinions rather to avoid this vulnerability. In the end, the truest information I have to give is my experience being a fat hiker recovered from an eating disorder. Let me know in the comments what you are grateful for that your body does for you!

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Comments 12

  • Gabby White : Mar 12th

    I’m grateful to have a body that is able to experience being outside. It’s the small things like feeling the sun or wind on my skin or the sensation of feeling leaves and bark against my hands. I like that you’re not allowing the thoughts of strangers to manifest your hiking journey.

  • Oliver : Mar 13th

    As older hikers my wife and I are accepting that this is the shape we are and have been working on strengthening our muscles underneath the fat. Like you we are probably 50lbs over what the world considers “desired weight”. Is it extra to carry? Yeah. But we are going to go and hike our own hikes and see what happens to our bodies. We expect that going from 9k steps per day winters (on good days) to 20k minimum days will result on a caloric deficit, but it will be fun! Limiting food by how much you want to carry is much more fun than abstaining from what’s heaped in your fridge!

  • Hannah Provost : Mar 13th

    Thank you so much for sharing this – as a fellow fat hiker, I hope that the biggest takeaway is that people should mind their own business and hike their own hike 🙂

    Will be cheering you on!

    • Lucia Elder : Mar 13th

      Haha, agreed! And thank you.

  • Kirsten Liske : Mar 13th

    Lucia this is so great to illuminate and elevate body positivity, a question about what is “normal/desired/better” and healthy. I did lose a lot of weight on the trail and stayed at that new weight for a decade. Mostly I loved that I came back so strong ! Here journeying through menopause, societal crisis and aging parents I am back to the weight I was before the trail- 20 pounds heavier – and it seems to be hanging around. I definitely am struggling with that, but your post and the Slow AF Running club on Facebook are encouraging me to just keep moving and celebrate feeling stronger through the movement and shift my internal talk and viewpoint. Thank you!

    Also, I found on the trail there were times my knees hurt, but I would track for serious injury, and not seeing it proceed, taking extra care about stretching etc. Then it would fade and another niggly issue would pop up somewhere else in the body, and same process. You will likely have many conversations with different parts that are talking – I wish for you that they all can resolve and keep you hiking your whole target distance.

    Cheering you on!

    • Lucia Elder : Mar 13th

      YES QUEEN! I’m so glad you are working on focusing on how your body feels instead of what size it ‘should be’ how you feel is such a better measure of health and happiness! Thank you for your well wishes.

  • Jim : Mar 13th

    I wouldn’t say I’m fat and I wouldn’t say I’m thin. What I am is happy every time I tighten my walking boots and head out. I wanted to comment though because this is one of the best blogs I’ve read on here. Reading between the lines, what I’m seeing is embrace who you are and head out for a great adventure. Without a doubt that’s the message we all need to promote. Looking forward to following your journey from the other side of the Atlantic.

    • Lucia Elder : Mar 17th

      I touches me that my writing touched you.

  • Nature Boy : Mar 17th

    Lucia – fantastic that you are part of the tiny number of people attracted to backpacking! And it’s extraordinary that you have managed to work AND study AND prepare for a 3.5 cruise out in the REAL WORLD! I hope that it will be a wonderful mental and physical break from the crap dumped on us by dealing with human society. Stick to it, adapt to and enjoy what being out in the REAL WORLD can give you. All the best to you out there, and drop us notes along the way!

  • Dianna Austin : Mar 19th

    I am 72 and been fat all my life. I never let it stop me and whatever you do I will be rooting for you. Keeping good thoughts and hoping you love every step.

  • David O. : Mar 21st

    I think you’re going to do very well, because you love the world and yourself in it. How beautiful you are! I am beautiful too though often ashamed of being fat. I love how my body explores the woods, sings, and is present in the world. Enjoy your hike! I hope to hear more about it from you!

  • John Rutkowski III : Mar 22nd

    Go for it. As I got older and I saw pictures of myself I would think “who is that fat dude?”

    Eventually we find a way, and I dropped 25 in the last year by being mindful, and I only eat on a schedule.

    I’m off to Spain for 300km of walking, which the intention of dropping another 15 at least.

    I’m “Tercius”, ,70 years old and enjoying life while hiking.


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