Post-Hike Thoughts: Weight Loss

145 days of hiking the AT, 36 pounds lost

I’ve missed writing my blog, so as I finalize my plans to go back to the AT and hike the NJ/NY section in the next few weeks, I thought I’d publish a couple short post-hike reflection and realizations thoughts to keep me busy. First up … physical transformation.

Going into the hike, I read many first-hand accounts of hikers losing significant weight while on the Appalachian Trail. I even discussed my expectations early on in this meal planning post. Using the science and math outlined there, I expected to lose weight, and in the comments conversation with my friend Jeff, I had hoped to keep my total weight loss at 10-15 pounds … spoiler alert, nope.

The Process:  On average, it is expected that male thruhikers can lose up to 20% of their body mass by the time they finish. Although a thruhike is not a good weight-loss strategy, the science doesn’t lie. Because men tend to carry excess bodyweight in their torso, and a thruhike is basically just 150 “leg days” in a row … the upper body withers away while your lower body becomes a lean muscular machine. Women tend to carry more weight in their lower body on average, so this statistic is different for female thruhikers, most of which actually end up gaining weight. I’m not a dietician nor physical trainer, but in chatting on the trail, many women I hiked with validated this fact being true for them.

The Result:  Although I tried to plan for minimal weight loss, I knew it was coming and therefore “let myself go” a bit in the 6 months prior to my departure. When I took the before pictures above on February 28, I weighed 189 pounds. I never did a BMI measurement, but I expect it was disgustingly high at that point. Then it was hike hike hike hike. When I returned home and stepped back on the scale on July 24th, I weighed 153 pounds.  Whoa. After 145 days hiking the Appalachian Trail, I lost 36 pounds (or 19% of my entire body mass). Looking at the after pics, I am all muscle, skin, and bones. Can a BMI measurement go negative? I think mine would be.

Side note, I kept tabs in my blog posts throughout the hike, and recall most of the weight understandably coming off in the first half of the trip. By the time I reached the middle of Virginia, I lost 15 pounds and my waist size dropped from a 33 to a 30 (forcing me to buy a new backpack).

The Aftermath: It is generally understood that the weight lost on a hike comes back twice as fast. Unfortunately for me, my “hiker hunger’ only hit in the last couple weeks of the hike and it is painfully obvious now. Even without hiking at all, I am insatiably hungry.  ALL THE TIME!  I am trying to maintain a healthy diet and exercise regiment, but my 5-day drive across America did not help with this goal (oddly, there are no fast food salad restaurants along I-40). Now that I am stationed comfortably in the DC metro area, I am running a few times a week and desperately trying to hold off my desire to eat constantly. It’s nice to at least have healthy snack options now though (mmm, fresh produce…).

The Conclusion:  Looking at the “before” photo now disgusts me, as its the most I’ve ever weighed by far. Since college, I typically work out 3-4 times a week and weigh between 170-175 pounds. But knowing the hike was coming, I subconsciously decided to not care and let my fat reserves store up like a hibernating bear or an OCD chipmunk. #winteriscoming.  However, at 153 pounds, the after is also too skinny. This is unhealthy and unrealistic for me. Plus, none of my clothes fit! Seriously, future thruhikers should plan post-hike budgets for new clothes.

In retrospect, I had planned/hoped to not lose too much weight, but it was inevitable. And now I realize the hike provided a nice “reset” of my body, giving me the opportunity to get back to a more comfortable shape. I’ve always believed in a healthy lifestyle and diet, but damnit if I don’t still want pizza, burgers, and beer every single day. Sort of tough to justify a high-calorie diet when you sit on a couch all day catching up on all the Netflix shows you missed.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

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