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Lighten Up: Losing Weight by Hiking

Make one simple resolution–to hike more in 2011–and we guarantee you'll lose that spare tire around the middle. Here's the proof, the plan, and the inspiration.

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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