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Backpacker Magazine – March 2011

Lighten Up: Losing Weight by Hiking

Make one simple resolution–to hike more –and we guarantee you'll lose that spare tire around the middle. Here's the proof, the plan, and the inspiration.

by: Jim Gorman, Photos by Tomas Zuccareno

Hike it off: Jeff Belanger Leads the Pack in Big Bend.
Hike it off: Jeff Belanger Leads the Pack in Big Bend.
Silberberg (left) promotes healthy eating, not deprivation.
Silberberg (left) promotes healthy eating, not deprivation.

AFTER BURN: THE WEEKLY PLAN
Learn how to keep off what you've hiked off with this weekly plan.

THE BIGGEST WINNER: HOW BACKPACKING BURNS FAT
Your body is an engine. It runs on a mix of carbohydrates, fats, and a very small amount of protein

Size matters to Dan Shattuck. “I’m a big guy,” he says. “I’m built to carry heavy stuff and do hard work.” For the stocky 44-year-old with close-cropped hair and a ready supply of wisecracks delivered in a Minnesota lilt, physical size equals readiness. “Being big isn’t a point of pride, and I don’t lift weights, but my muscle mass allows me to be prepared if things come up,” he explains. Like removing window air conditioners at the 110-unit apartment complex he owns in Brandenton, Florida.
In Dan’s mind, there’s a line between big and fat, and he hasn’t crossed it. Not yet at least. “I’m not as fit as I should be, but I don’t consider myself fat,” he says. “I’m just a little heavy.”
Dan’s goal is to shed 20 pounds, an amount that has proven stubborn for good reason: He hates gyms and loves dining out. It’s not unusual for Dan and his wife to eat out five times a week. For a guy whose idea of a perfect workout is heavy exertion that yields a tangible result, the prospect of losing weight while backpacking with Silberberg sounded like just the ticket. “I get to see new things and tough it out?” he recalls thinking. “Sign me up.”

During a break at the South Rim, justly famous for a view that encompasses entire mountain ranges, the arc of the Rio Grande River, and a vast expanse of Mexican desert, Dan relates to me his personal history in pounds. Like many of us, he started out fit and slowly, ever so slowly, acquired more fat than is healthy or comfortable. In college, Dan was carrying 145 pounds on his 5’8” frame. When he entered the U.S. Army shortly after, he’d reached 160, a healthy weight for someone his height, according to the body mass index chart. “What’s crazy is I’m almost gaunt at that weight,” he says. (Since muscle is denser and heavier than fat, BMI numbers can be misleadingly high for fit athletes.) That wouldn’t be a problem for long. Too many MREs and not enough exercise while biding time in the Saudi Arabian desert caused an upward spike, to 175. “I actually gained weight during Desert Storm,” he says.

Back in civilian life, Dan continued  to put on weight, but then resolved to reverse course. “I really started dieting. I was single and looking to date more. I got down to 165 pounds,” he says. He met his wife during this period (mission accomplished), made a killing in real estate, and watched the pounds creep back on. When he hit 206 last year, he started Googling for an adult fat camp.  
As the waning sunlight streaks across the vast tableau at our feet, Dan pauses in his tale and seems caught in reverie. Perhaps a confession about using self-deprecating humor as a shield? Or a profound thought about the frustrations of finding a happy medium between prescribed and natural body weight?
“Man, a gin and tonic would be good right now, wouldn’t it?” he says.


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READERS COMMENTS

Sam Iwamoto
Apr 22, 2012

You are not eating enough.....your body shuts down when it doesn't get enough food to calories burnt. I had a hard time learning this when my exercise coach increased my calories.....I was sure I could only loose weight at 1200.....my weigh fell off fast! Make sure you factor in your burnt calories and add it to the calories recommended for your daily intake. Try looking over the Livestrong.org site....it was an eye opener to me.

Catch
Jan 22, 2012

Question, EVERY time I go on hiking camping trips, anywhere from a weekend to 2 weeks, I always come back weighing about 5 lbs more. I don't eat that much, and always eat healthy meals. I drink adequate water, and hike an average of about 12 miles per day. If car camping I may have 1-2 beers at night. Is this just water weight because I'm not eating enough?

Mitch
Jul 26, 2011

I really enjoyed this article. I am currently at 250 lbs and 5'9". I am trying to get in shape but the gym doesn't hold my attention. After reading this article I feel the desire to get outdoors and appreciate life. I know if I don't do something soon about my health, I won't have much of a life to appreciate.

Leonard
Mar 27, 2011

A thru hike on the AT is not a good solution for you if you're a new hiker and are not in shape. You need to do more to prepare for a physical activity like that.

Dan K
Mar 25, 2011

I don't think dieting while backpacking is a long-term solution to over-eating - or even a good short-term way to lose weight. You NEED lots of calories on long hikes.

Over the last 4 years, I lost 80 pounds with lots of exercise - day hikes 2 to 4 times a week, and neighborhood walks just about every other day - and by eating better - make better decisions about what to eat and what not to eat. Eating healthy while hiking doesn't prepare you for eating well at home and at work. I will admit I had the time for lots of exercise - and I discovered something I loved - hiking - definitely NOT working out in a gym.

Like Jake, hiking (probably - hopefully!) saved my life.

Fred
Mar 25, 2011

Wow, I am glad you have learned the benefits of seeing the outdoors with your feet and not the car.

seamus
Mar 25, 2011

Good article. Could have delved into Silberberg's recipes.
Kudos to the hikers and to John T and Jake.
As a neophyte backpacker I'm attempting a thru hike of the AT starting April 3 for just the reasons cited in the article.
Thanks BP

John T
Mar 20, 2011

Really good article. I have sent it to my entire family and my "hiking buddies." I have lost 40 pounds hiking in the hills behind my house here in CA; at 68 years old.

Jake (TheTaoistHiker)
Mar 14, 2011

As a testimony to hiking's fat burning powers: in the summer of 2009 I started at the approach trail of the Appalachian Trail on June 1, weighing in at 210lbs. I'm 5'5 and I have a medium build. At that time I was (by the BMI scale) clinically obese. On October 1 when I got off the trail in Connecticut at Cornwall bridge I weighed 143lbs of lean mean muscle. I gained weight over the time I came back up to a more balanced 150lbs, and then a little more over the long winter. But by summer I was back in hiking shape and stayed healthy ever since. I've found a 3-4 days of overnight hiking/camping will help clear your system and regain a healthy weight just through a more controlled diet and water intake. Honestly folks, hiking has saved my life.

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