Flying with the Falcon

Why Diet Is Key for Getting in Shape for Summer Hiking

*Photo taken from Congress Trail at Sequoia National Park. 

Even if you aren’t a hiker, I still believe we all need to take good care of our bodies, inside and out. If we want to live our best lives, we need to be healthy and to have energy. It’s not enough to go on a diet to lose weight, or to hit the gym once in a while. We need to look at the entire quotient of the cycle of our eating, sleeping, and exercise routines, because within that system is the secret to why you might not feel as good as you should. If you struggle with time, money, or what to tackle, let me assure you those are only excuses helping to keep you trapped in your unhealthy lifestyle. You can end the imprisonment by making a few choices that will not be easy, but they will alter your life. In my post “Failure to Climb” I shared the story of my failed attempt to climb Mount Monadnock during a recent visit to New Hampshire. It was frustrating to get on that mountainside and be defeated by a hike that should have been achievable, but after that hike I decided to train so I could be ready for Adirondack hiking this summer. For anyone else hoping to get out there on trails, I thought I would share how I am choosing to get my body prepped for the trail, but this post is for anyone who wants to feel better, to lose weight, or to change their thinking about their body image.

First, I am not a dietary expert, and I encourage you to research anything I say here for yourself. I discovered the means for eating a better diet by doing a ton of research on new science about the best diet for helping to heal my body from injury, to help curb the effect of hormones on my middle-aged systems, and then I also combined that with learning how to shift my thinking. It didn’t happen overnight. It requires my daily attention and focus, and I made exercise and eating better non-negotiable in my mind. Not everyone is ready for this kind of dedication to self, but some people may have reached the conclusion that being depressed and sick all the time are enough reason to start making changes. Seriously, eating foods that contribute to being overweight do more than just make you tired. The imbalance of extra weight can also cause a lot of other issues, like joint pain, depression, anxiety, lack of energy, poor sleep, and more serious issues like high blood pressure and susceptibility to heart disease. What is most damaging is how you feel about yourself. If you feel defeated, you probably eat for comfort, which only makes you feel worse. I used to do this to myself, and still have to catch myself doing it on occasion, but it is possible to stop this madness. Before I share my exercise routine, let me plug the dietary needs first. It’s hard to get out there to exercise if you feel lethargic.

In my not-so-expert opinion, one of the best choices I made was to stop eating refined foods full of sugar, preservatives, and lord-only-knows-what-else. Seriously, this is not rocket science. When you eat Frankenfood, you are going to feel crappy. How is this not already clicking for people? Nothing at a fast food restaurant, not even salad, is going to be good for you. Stop going to those places. Stop buying junk from the freezer section at the store. If it’s prepared for you, it probably has a bunch of mystery ingredients that will make you feel like crap. Rarely I will buy prepared foods from the freezer section, but I read those ingredients to make sure they are all digestible. If you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it. If an ingredient list is a huge paragraph, it’s probably not good for you. I know it takes more time to prepare your meals if you have to actually cook the food yourself, but if you’re too busy to make a bowl of oatmeal instead of dumping cereal in a bowl (or eating a granola bar full of sugar), then maybe you haven’t yet reached the point where you’re ready to embrace a healthier lifestyle. You have to make the choice to make the time for cooking good food. Real food. Like vegetables and fruits in a rainbow of variety. Whole grains with all the vitamins and minerals still intact. Proteins like poultry, nuts, tofu, eggs, beans, and occasional beef (like once or twice a month). It’s not hard to figure out a diet that’s good for you, it’s just hard to resist all the garbage you see every time you go to the store or go out to eat.

This is where you have to make the choice to see that eating better is what’s good for you, not that momentary gratification of eating a donut because you want it right now. You think you want it, but your body really doesn’t. Nothing in a donut makes you feel good. It makes you happy for as long as you are eating it, and then it floods your body with trash. That donut lives in your cells as something to be isolated like a virus, and your body must insulate your cells from the damage it does by making fat cells. That’s what fat is for: to protect you from the poison you ingest. If you look at that donut and instead see it for what it is—poison—you won’t want to eat it anymore. It’s actually easy to stop eating foods you use as a crutch when you really let yourself dwell on what that food is doing to your body. Imagine how those bites of food are turning into fat cells in your body, think about how disgusting it is to have those fat cells multiplying, how it is creating cholesterol clogging your arteries, and you won’t want to eat the donut. That’s the real issue. Your thinking about dessert is skewed because you associate it with pleasure. If you switch to thinking about strawberries in the same way, you’ll be deliriously happy to buy a container of strawberries instead of the donut. You can also learn healthy options for making your own desserts that don’t have all the garbage in them, and then offer yourself a cheat day so you can have your donuts once in a while. Again, if you alter your thinking, that’s really key.

When you want to start training your body for hiking, if you start with the fuel first it will be easier to get off the couch and get outside. I exercise almost every day of the week, and have done so for most of my adult life. The exercise wasn’t enough by itself. I worked hard to make sure I walked for at least a couple of miles a day, and then I also tried a bunch of other things like kickboxing, yoga, dance, cycling, and numerous other activities. I still gained weight and struggled with energy because I was still feeding myself refined foods with too much sugar and empty calories. Eventually I shifted my diet and added weight-lifting to my weekly routine, and everything changed. I lost 25 pounds without starving myself or working like a maniac. I stopped getting sick every time a virus came around at the schools where I worked at the time. I stopped having back pain from sciatica for the first time in two decades because I strengthened my core and back with weight training. When you give your body fuel it can use, it has what it needs to start repairing damage to your tissues. Cool, huh? This is really life-changing stuff.

What I do now to prep for the trail is to get out and walk every day. I have dogs, so they give me the mopey eyes if I get lazy, which helps make sure I get out of the house every day. To build the legs, I also climb uphill. This is key to getting your legs ready for mountains. Long stretches of uphill climbing are necessary to push those muscles for growth. You need to make it hard, so a hill that makes you work to climb for at least 20 minutes is what you want, and then having to go down for that same amount of time is also important. Uphill is good, but your legs need to build strength in the knees by going downhill, too. If you forget that part, you’re going to struggle when coming down from the mountain during longer hikes, especially if you’re carrying a heavy pack. To be really ready, you could climb uphill every day, but even once or twice a week is going to help. I also work out with weights every other day, and I focus on specific muscle groups each time. Arms, legs, abs and shoulders, and chest and back. Each day I focus on one set of muscles, and I have a specific routine I follow. For a long time I was using Daily Burn, which is an online program that tailors your exercise to your time and ability. If you haven’t heard of it, I recommend this program. My body has never been more muscular since I used Daily Burn. You can stream the videos in your own schedule, and it also offers nutrition advice which is actually realistic (along with recipes and daily menus). It’s the best program I’ve ever found for exercise that helps strengthen your body while also protecting it from injury with before and after stretching. Go check it out: Recently I also discovered a yoga program called “Fit and Fierce over 40” by Sadie Nardini. It’s available on Daily Ohm if you’re interested in checking it out. I’m still working through the program which is available for a single donation of your choice, and it’s 21 days long. I’ll let you know if I like it when I’m finished, but for the moment I can say it’s been good in terms of positive messages, 20-minute workouts, and dietary advice that’s based in healthy options.

I learned a lot about diet and a healthier lifestyle from a movie that recently came out on Netflix, titled Hungry for Change. If you’re interested in reasons to shift away from junk food and getting in better shape, this movie will motivate you. Over the last several years I have been studying what successful people do in their daily lives, and without exception almost all of them live an active life and they eat healthy diets. You don’t have to be wealthy to eat well, either. When you cut the junk from your diet and you instead buy a head of broccoli, a bag of brown rice, and a can of Goya pinto beans, you have yourself a healthy meal that costs very little. Since I cut the refined sugar from my diet, I only eat two meals a day because I only eat when I’m hungry. With my food being so good at keeping my glycemic index low, I don’t burn through my fuel so fast. My meals usually last for at least six hours now, even when I exercise a lot. I never starve myself, either. When I eat a meal, I eat until I’m satisfied, and I eat as much as I want. It’s okay to eat all you like when you’re eating well.

When you want to start making this kind of shift, you may need to involve someone who can do it with you, but it can’t be someone who may also drag you backward. It needs to be a person who is already dedicated to this lifestyle, otherwise you and your best friend who so happily goes out to get dessert with you may end up helping you to crawl back to the local coffee shop for treats to avoid the trip to the gym. Find groups of people who already exercise regularly, and who are positive about how they encourage you to stick with it. Look for online groups that share menus of healthy recipes using whole foods. (I discovered an app called Yummly which is full of great recipes for all types of diets.) Share your progress daily on social media to keep yourself honest, or if you can afford a coach to keep you on track, do it. Your body has what it needs to heal a lot of damage done from eating badly, even after decades of bad eating, but you have to give it the right fuel. It might take years to undo what you’ve done, but eventually the body does heal. Get enough sleep, too. That’s another thing we love to skimp on in the rat race, and then we wonder why we feel so awful. Sleep is the time when your brain flushes out the chemicals built up over the day, and it’s the only time it can do that. Without enough sleep, your brain keeps building up the chemicals it needs to flush. Get sleep. Your body also heals during sleep. Get sleep. Most people need between 7-8 hours a night. Get sleep.

Is this picture clearer now? Eat whole foods. Exercise every day. Get 7-8 hours of sleep every night. This is an easy prescription to understand, but the thinking is where most people lose ground. When you think about eating healthy, you have to focus on how yucky the junk food is, and how fabulous you will feel when eating the good stuff. To get yourself out to exercise, you have to think about how wonderful it will feel to have muscles, and remind yourself how much you hate being overweight and tired. To get yourself in the habit of sleeping enough, realize how wonderful it will feel to be able to get up in the morning and feel rested and ready to tackle your day with gusto, and remind yourself how lousy it is to walk around like a zombie all the time. Focus on the good things you get out of doing what your body needs, see yourself healthy and happy, and keep yourself honest with help from people who will support you. This kind of life change will probably spill over into a lot of other things you might be doing, too, like how you earn money, the people you spend time with, and where you live. You might be surprised by how differently you view the world when you start taking better care of yourself. Stop using money and time as an excuse. The rat race does not care if you feel better. Stop giving the rat race control over your life. You deserve to be happy, to feel good about yourself, and to enjoy your life. Start today by eating a healthy dinner, take your kids for a bike ride, organize a game of kickball, or plan to go to bed at the hour you need for a full night’s sleep. You do have time. In fact, time will become a thing you have in abundance when you really look at your schedule and discover how many things you do to work against your own health. Make your health a priority before all other things in your day, and it will become a habit as natural as brushing your teeth. Get out there and make yourself beautiful. You deserve it.


Need meal ideas you can afford on a budget?

-Tofu or chicken stir-fry with brown rice

-Chicken sautéed with garlic and tossed with quinoa and zucchini

-Beans and rice with broccoli and cheese

-Pulled pork over polenta with wilted greens

-Any meat with baked sweet potato and a green veggie

These are just a few thoughts, but eating well does not have to be expensive. If you stop buying the junk food, or limit the junk to one or two days a week, it makes affording the good food a lot easier.

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