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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

Our first day on the trail delivers us into the sandstone core of Big Bend National Park. The six-mile hike from the trailhead at Chisos Mountain Lodge to our camp at Laguna Meadow was neither long nor especially difficult. All the same, a group decision to skip lunch on the trail after a giant breakfast means we’re keenly focused on dinner preparations.
“No meat?” asks Dan as he hovers over Silberberg, who is busy mincing and dicing ingredients for supper.

“Nope. Meat doesn’t keep, and I haven’t found a dehydrated version that’s any good,” says Silberberg.
“So that’s the secret agenda?” Dan asks. “We’re veggie-packing?”

Potential mutiny evaporates when Silberberg dishes out a delicious stir-fry of tofu, carrots, snow peas, broccoli, and garlic over brown rice. Surprising ingredients, eye-opening flavors, yet small portions. With the guac and chips to start and hot tea to follow, I’m full. Not stuff-my-face gorged, as I usually aim for when backpacking, but content. We’ll see how long this lasts.
“I guess this means we aren’t getting dessert, huh?” Susan mutters.

After dinner, Hennes goes from tent to tent gathering everyone’s trail mix, ostensibly for safekeeping in a steel bear box. During the day, we’re encouraged to munch from our personalized stores of nuts, dried fruits, sesame sticks, and assorted goodies provided by Silberberg (“Keeps your energy level constant,” he says), but it looks like midnight snacking is out of the question.

“Do you lock that thing at night to keep us fatties out?” asks Dan.


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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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