Lighten your pack, and your body
Jul 17, 2019 at 8:40 am #3602257
Companion forum thread to: Lighten your pack, and your body
I’d like to address what I do in each of these areas at some point in the future, but for now, I want to expand on why I believe a lean body weight – in addition to carrying less weight in your pack – is really important for a backpacking lifestyle.Jul 17, 2019 at 10:38 am #3602261James MarcoBPL Member
@jamesdmarcoLocale: Finger Lakes
Good thoughts on keto and any other “diets.” While you may tend to move towards these in actual usage, going on any one “diet” is asking for trouble. I don’t agree with terminology, mostly because people confuse “diet” (an intentional rule set to consume foods) with diet (anything you eat becomes part of your diet.)Jul 17, 2019 at 2:30 pm #3602272
Jordan – the benefits of keeping your body lean for health and for hiking go without saying. But it’s something I’ve failed to achieve for some years now, and the trend is up. Knowing that 95% of “diets” fail and damage your metabolism, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and research about how to sort this out once and for all. Sorry for the long post, but this is an opportunity to try and draw my own thoughts together and hopefully someone will find it helpful.
The current trend is to blame obesity on refined carbs, and your recommendations reflect this. But I’ve always been uneasy about the science behind the theory, and outcome research for low-carb diets isn’t demonstrating good results either – even a recent study funded by Gary Taubes himself.
Most people are aware of the Blue Zones – areas where people living a traditional lifestyle enjoy exceptional health and longevity. We now have a number of Super Blue Zones, where research has shown that people also enjoy exceptional mental health and longevity, with significantly lower rates of dementia.
The inconvenient truth is that in all these zones, without exception, people are ingesting around 50% of their calories from refined carbs. These are generally low GI carbs with significant levels of resistant starch (like long-grained rice or semolina pasta), but it’s a pretty strong indication that there’s something wrong with the carb/insulin theory of obesity. And once you start digging into the biochemistry, the doubts continue to mount. The increasing balance of the evidence suggests that it’s obesity that’s causing the insulin disorder, and not the other way around. So you can enjoy a large subset of the wonderful cuisines of areas like Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Japan and Costa Rica without fear or guilt, provided you know how to prepare them properly. See “The Mindspan Diet” by Harvard gerontologist Preston Estep for some fascinating insights into why this way of eating is so healthy. And for most people it will be much more sustainable than any ultra low-carb diet – a way of eating that is entirely alien to the Blue Zone cultures.
So what does the research show actually works?
First, avoiding unnaturally intense flavours. People in food and drink labs around the world are cynically researching ways to addict you to their products. Research clearly shows that these intense flavours disorder the taste-centers in the brain and unleash cravings. Some of the most successful fat loss programs start with a week or two on very bland food and drink to allow the taste centers to recover their normal functioning, after which you can move on to any dishes made from natural ingredients simply prepared. And if you have a trigger food, you need to eliminate it or figure out a way to keep it under control.
A related issue is avoiding excessive variety. If you eat a simple meal, the taste centres lose interest quite quickly and we feel full and satisfied. But add a new flavour, such as a sweet desert, and suddenly we are hungry again. In the Blue Zone areas, treats and deserts are generally restricted to festivals and celebrations.
Second, reducing or eliminating on-the-hoof food choices. Research shows clearly that willpower is a finite resource. When you are tired or stressed or ill your willpower will be low and you won’t make good food choices. So develop solid habits and routines that eliminate discretion. When it comes to what and how much you are going to eat on any particular day, have a plan and stick to it. In the Blue Zones eating is usually social and ritualised, and greed is unacceptable. If we eat alone, we need to develop our own rituals. The Bright Lines programme is built on this principle and is achieving long-term results that are literally an order of magnitude better than conventional programmes like Weight Watchers. While Bright Lines itself may be too hard-core for most of us, we can all learn from the general principle.
Third, eliminating snacking. Unless you have some kind of genuine (ie not self-diagnosed) metabolic issue, it’s simply not needed, and the extra calories are more than enough to account for the boom in obesity. Just look at the snack and soft drink sections in your local supermarket – there’s a multi-billion industry based on pushing this destructive habit. The snacking habit simply didn’t exist on the same scale when I was a kid in the ’50s. There were 600 pupils in my high school and only 2 or 3 were obese. I think these two facts are related. In countries like Japan and France where people are much leaner than the UK or the US, adults don’t snack. The Japanese regard lack of control in this area as a grave character flaw, to the point that it will affect your ability to find a mate or a job. It has to be a key reason why they are so lean, along with their rice-based diet.
Fourth, intermittent fasting can be helpful when done properly:
But it’s certainly no cure-all, as I know from personal experience. If you enjoy it, add it to your regime. If you find it hard, don’t force yourself – it’s an optional extra.
And finally, the single most important research finding is the central role of developing a regime that you, personally, can sustain long-term. Thinking in terms of time-limited dieting has proved a catastrophic failure, damaging the metabolism of countless millions as their set-points increase after every failed attempt. I think that the principles above are, on current knowledge, the best foundation for sustained weight loss. But the practical implementation will vary from person to person based on your own metabolism and preferences. All the current evidence suggests that it’s destructive to set out on any regime that you’re not confident you can sustain for life. In particular, if it’s based on deprivation it simply won’t work. You need to work out something practical, affordable and enjoyable that won’t cut you off from your social life (or destroy the planet like some of the trendy so-called Paleo diets). The real Mediterranean Diet (based on refined carb staples) is a great starting point for many.
So there’s no magic bullet, and we all have to find our own way. But as I’ve said, I do think that there are solid foundations we can build on, that are in line with common-sense, traditional wisdom and the best of the current science.Jul 17, 2019 at 4:17 pm #3602281
It’s hard to communicate nuances in a short blog post!
But I agree that there is a place and some utility for more refined carbs.
I eat pasta, potatoes, and rice cakes.
Pasta usually as a post-training meal after a long, hard aerobic workout for glycogen replenishment.
Potatoes or rice cakes, often an hour before a big meal, so I can trigger an insulin spike after a fasting period, which then keeps cumulative insulin lower following a bigger meal.
My goal is to manage insulin, not keep it low all the time as in keto. Too many long term health risks with keto/Ferris-style insulin management for me, and you’re right – it’s not sustainable.
For me, fasting every other day is wildly more sustainable that several days in a row. That choice for me is motivated almost entirely by my own behavioral and lifestyle limitations. Behavior is big.
A Mediterranean eating style is a fantastic starting point.Jul 17, 2019 at 5:01 pm #3602289Jon Fong / Flat Cat GearBPL Member
@jonfongLocale: FLAT CAT GEAR
I agree that keeping your body weight down has great benefits across the board. Managing insulin is a bit trickier, particularly as there are a number of factors impacting insulin responses with genetics being a significant factor. Additionally, your body will naturally produce insulin (in most people, about 2/3) somewhat independent on diet. Lowering carbs will reduce your insulin response, but insulin is also produced from protein as well. Take a look at the Insulin Index and you will see that lean meat and white fish also produce insulin, though not as much as carbs/sugars. Whey protein will also cause insulin spikes which is why people who work out us it as a workout recovery methodology.
A significant aspect of managing insulin resistance is increasing your metabolic rate. This is all good for active backpackers: drop a little weight get more exercise. This is a win-win scenario. My 2 cents.Jul 17, 2019 at 5:22 pm #3602298
Jordan – thanks for the response. I always enjoy your posts!
I’m not really one to preach – you’ve found something that works for you and are lean, and it sounds as though you’re avoiding the extremism that you find in the much of the low carb world. My ideas are just a theory at present, and I’m far from lean. But I do think they are well founded.
As you say, no-one’s ever really eaten the hard-core low-carb way in human history – it’s a new-fangled fad and the long-term health implications are unknown. While we have well-studied traditional diets where the long-term health benefits are proven. I know which horse I’ll be backing personally. But it’s also interesting that virtually everyone who has written on the Blue Zones has misrepresented the actual role of refined carbs in those traditional diets, because it doesn’t fit in with the current nutritional orthodoxy.
Here’s a fun, if somewhat over-polemical read on the whole-grain vs refined-grain controversy. Given that most cultures have chosen to refine their carbs for thousands of years, its somewhat comforting to discover that research indicates there may be some wisdom behind these food traditions:Jul 17, 2019 at 5:48 pm #3602301BlackHatGuySpectator
@sleepingLocale: The Cascades
“As you say, no-one’s ever really eaten the hard-core low-carb way in human history – it’s a new-fangled fad and the long-term health implications are unknown.”
Keto isn’t really some new-fangled fad, it’s been around since the ’20s. I guess new-fangled, perhaps, in that a wider audience is now using it for weight loss/maintenance, but the ‘diet’ itself is anything but new.
I went keto after Thanksgiving, and have not only lost 30 pounds, but for the first time in my life I’ve kept it off without issue/difficulty. I’m not sure why people keep saying it’s not a sustainable diet, I don’t find it all that hard to continue eating keto. Who knows, in 20 years I might find that it has affected my overall health in a negative way, but in 20 years I’ll be pretty old and not that far from death, methinks, so I’m okay with it.Jul 17, 2019 at 7:33 pm #3602323
Doug – if keto is working for you I’ve no quarrel with that. We’re all different. But statistically speaking you are in a minority.
Keto is being promoted with almost religious fervour by many of its adherents as the one true way to fat loss (just try questioning their beliefs online and you’ll discover the true meaning of abuse). But the more serious outcome research shows just the same lamentable results as conventional dieting. If it really was the breakthrough its proponents claim, we’d surely know by now.
As you say, small numbers of people have used the keto diet for some time, but no traditional culture eats that way, so the long-term implications aren’t understood. If you read the book I mentioned – The Mindspan Diet – you will discover that some versions of the low carb diet might greatly increase the risk of dementia as you age – something I for one am very keen to avoid.
Many adherents are eating huge amounts of animal products, which isn’t sustainable for the planet, and millions are adopting an extreme way of eating when there isn’t any evidence that it’s more effective than more moderate approaches. I tend to be wary of anything extreme, particularly when it is the polar opposite of the way the most healthy people in the world are eating.
The main point of my excruciatingly long post above is that most people are looking in the wrong place in their search for fat loss. There really isn’t any robust evidence that macro-nutrient balance is a significant cause of obesity. As I wrote, the main suspects are:
- The addictive hyper-palatability of modern food products
- The loss of structured family eating rituals that help regulate overeating through social pressure
- The explosion of snacking.
None of these are addressed by low-carb eating. The lesson of the few fat loss programmes that actually work long-term is that we should focus on:
- Returning to simple, natural, home-prepared food with traditional levels of palatability
- Developing strong food habits and rituals that minimise stressful hour-by-hour food decisions
- Cutting out snacking, restricting eating to two or three planned meals per day.
And within these guidelines, finding something that is sustainable for you, long-term.
Programmes based on these principles are achieving FAR better results than anything in the low-carb world – literally ten times better.Jul 17, 2019 at 8:29 pm #3602330James MarcoBPL Member
@jamesdmarcoLocale: Finger Lakes
The only way to a leaner body (fat loss) is through eating less calories. Garbage in garbage out… It applies to food calories, exactly. I have seen well over a hundred people complaining their diet doesn’t work. Too many calories, not enough activity, result is adding weight…a very simple equation. I for one, am always watching what I eat. I am prone to being overweight (some studies indicate this pattern is set before age 5.) Out hiking, I burn a lot of my excess calories off. Fat is simple storage. You can live off it for quite a while without doing any damage. You can add it on just as easy. Even though I only eat once in the morning and once at night, and, about the same number of calories out hiking as around the house, my weight goes up and down.
I believe any cravings are the result of nutritional needs, pay attention to what tastes good, but this will change every week or so. I get sick of fish and want beef, for example. Next week I want beans and rice. Next week I want chicken and dumplings. Pork and potatoes. And, always a lot of green stuff, usually fried with garlic, often fresh. Out hiking I’ll need salt and salty foods taste really good. At home, I never use salt and potato chips are too salty for me. Your taste changes with your needs.Jul 17, 2019 at 10:04 pm #3602355Tom KBPL Member
“For me, fasting every other day is wildly more sustainable that several days in a row. ”
There is a lot of talk currently about the benefits of fasting for less than a day to give your digestive system a rest. I find that easiest of all, because our daily routine is to have an early dinner, 5-6 PM, and then have breakfast around 8-9 AM the next day. This has the benefit of avoiding nighttime reflux issues and also allowing the stomach to clear its contents and remain quiescent for ~12 hours. The logic behind this approach is explained in the news article below, but there is a lot of other information out there for those interested. I found it intriguing, especially since we have been eating this way for years with no clue as to its potential benefits.Jul 18, 2019 at 2:59 am #3602387Rick MBPL Member
A “backpacking” lifetstyle!? My grandparents might say that’s the Hobo’s life, ha ha!
Seriously though, I haven’t met a 30-50-something trekking/climbing/mountain professional yet that did not suffer from multiple chronic joint, bone and soft tissue injuries. Are they lean, aerobically fit and most importantly, having fun? Most certainly, but they all have been pretty beat up and seemed to keep an orthopaedics on retainer!
That said, if one wants to be a faster hiker and have more fun, turn off the computer/TV, put down the fork and get out and walk. Don’t overthink this. Walk more everyday, eat only when hungry (not out of stress/boredom/habit), and fitness will follow. Make a game of endurance training to keep it interesting and fun, thus sustainable over the long term. With a good base of endurance fitness, pack weight is less important to enjoying your walking adventure.Jul 18, 2019 at 1:54 pm #3602439Mike HBPL Member
I agree with the point that being leaner is easier on your joints then being heavier. The way to get there is too easy for most people to accept.
The way to lose weight is to be in a caloric deficit. No diet (keto, paleo, high fat, low fat, high carb, low carb, fasting etc) has been shown to be better than another in weight loss…. WHEN CALORIES ARE EQUATED
Now, that being said, if eating a Keto diet helps you lose weight, then do it. But, except maybe in the short period of when you first switch diets, you’re losing weight because you’re in a caloric deficit, not because it’s “keto”.
When low carb diets first came out, people were amazed they lost weight. Yes, it’s amazing what happens when you eliminate 40% of your diet.
Additionally, generally speaking, I don’t believe insulin is something most people should be concerned with. Eat healthy because of the nutrients you get from the food, not because you’re worried about your insulin levels.
While it’s true that insulin “spikes” when eating high glycemic foods, that spike is short lived. i.e. the “crash” occurs. Yes, low glycemic foods raise insulin levels more slowly, but the release lasts longer. The net overall release of insulin is probably about even.
Take in less calories than you burn and you will lose weight. BUT you will need to constantly reduce your calories as your weight decreases since you will have a lower energy output with lower weight. This may be every week, 2 weeks, every month etc, but you will need reduce your calories over the course of a diet.Jul 20, 2019 at 9:29 pm #3602742Kevin RBPL Member
Ryan- it would be great to hear more about your exercise habits to maintain conditioning. I’m not one for working out in the gym, but I found myself living in flatlands last year with little opportunities for hiking. I took up rucking and found that I could turn shorter periods of walking (4-5 miles, ~1 hour) into a relatively beneficial workout. Plus, when I did get into the mountains and put my ultralight backpack on, I barely even noticed it. Currently, I have opportunities to do a lot more work in the woods/yard, so I’ve been using that for exercise.Jul 20, 2019 at 10:58 pm #3602754ArthurBPL Member
Geoff That is the most intelligent post I have ever read on this forum. Well done. In support of your three statements about obesity, this problem is only a very recent occurrence in this country. My grandkids and I were watching old concert videos (Woodstock type) in the 70’s. They spontaneously said “Wow, there are no fat people at those concerts.” This was before all the keto, lo carb, Adkins, whatever the fad of the year might be. They all seem to be efforts to maintain weight so that we can ignore the 3 statements below.
Jul 20, 2019 at 11:54 pm #3602762
- The addictive hyper-palatability of modern food products
- The loss of structured family eating rituals that help regulate overeating through social pressure
- The explosion of snacking.
Calorie balance is important, certainly – eat fewer calories than you burn, that’s good.
But don’t ignore insulin management – it has a pretty significant effect on both basal metabolic rate and lipid oxidation rates. Lots of studies support this, start here.
Combine the two, and you get a 1-2 punch that makes it pretty easy to manage your weight and get lean(er).
I tend to fast every other day.
On fasting days, I’m fasting for 20 hours, eating in a 3 or 4 hour window. I’m consuming about 1500 Cal on fasting days, and burning about 3000 Cal or more, because those days are also days where I (try) to do a 90 minute strength workout. I may also do an easy hour of aerobic, like a leisurely bike ride with my wife, on those days. Today was a fasting day for me. I did a hard, 90-minute core and strength workout in a fasted state, and then broke my fast with a meal of 4 oz of lean fish and 4 oz of red potatoes. An hour later I ate 2 oz of nuts. Two hours later I had tacos: sprouted grain tortillas, steamed lentils, cabbage, tomatoes, salsa, guacamole, and some veggies on the side. After dinner we went on an easy low-aerobic 45 minute bike ride.
On non-fasting days, I consume about 2500 (or more) Cal, for a couple of reasons. First, it keeps my metabolism primed. Fasting every day, or running at a caloric deficit every day isn’t a great way to engineer a fat-adapted and healthy metabolism that can handle whatever you throw at it (chips are my vice). Eventually, your body will enter a pseudo-starvation mode and you’ll have a harder time preserving or developing muscle mass. The other reason I increase my caloric intake on (some) non-fasting days is that I’m performing a high-output aerobic workout near my aerobic threshold for several (2-4) hours, and simply need the energy to maintain high output, and I need a big old plate of carbs to replenish my glycogen reserves quickly afterward.Jul 21, 2019 at 3:39 pm #3602817Hanz BBPL Member
@tundra-thrasher-ouch-man-2Jul 21, 2019 at 4:19 pm #3602820
I have friends that try to lose weight, very difficult, no easy solution
Another factor is microorganisms in your digestive system. Good ones will help you get healthy weight, bad ones will help you to become obese.
To get good microorganisms, eat lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grain, nuts,… To get bad ones eat lots of sugar. A “Mediterranean diet” is good. Maybe eating yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi,… would help get good microorganisms into you.
The microorganism theory leads you to the same diet as the sugar/insulin theory, or low carb diets. And the Mediterranean diet was conceived of after observing that people along the Mediterranean were healthier, so they looked at what they ate that could explain it.
The importance of microorganisms is becoming better understood, lots of recent research, lots of new conclusions.Jul 21, 2019 at 7:50 pm #3602846
Another way to a similar conclusion is Michael Pollan
“Eat food, mostly plants, not too much”
“Probably the first two words are most important. “Eat food” means to eat real food — vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and, yes, fish and meat — and to avoid what Pollan calls “edible food-like substances.””Jul 21, 2019 at 7:53 pm #3602847
Please check my posts above – the real Mediterranean diet is a high carb diet. The people in the Blue Zones of Spain, France, Italy and Greece are typically getting around 50% of their calories from low GI refined carbs like long-grain rice, semolina pasta and barley. The food police are misrepresenting the facts because they don’t fit the current trendy theories that demonise refined carbs.
The reasons why this diet is so healthy for both mind and body aren’t fully understood, but these carbs are high in resistant starches which are increasingly viewed as an important prebiotic which will help support healthy bowel flora.
The Blue Zone diets are also very low in iron, and as I’ve said, iron is being increasingly implicated in cardiac disease, dementia and a range of other issues.Jul 21, 2019 at 9:30 pm #3602866
I wasn’t disagreeing with you, just discussing. What you said was good. And others.
The term “Mediterranean Diet” is loosely based on what people in the Mediterranean eat. And it’s not specific, a lot of different diets could be called Mediterranean.
The refined carb that is probably bad for you is sugar. And high fructose corn syrup which is similar, but cheaper and added to lots of manufactured “foods”. Especially when you eat it by itself, like in soda.
Eating pasta or rice or barley with vegetables is fine? If you just ate pasta by itself that might be almost as bad as sugar? The Irish ate almost totally potatoes and that wasn’t healthy.
There are many recent studies that condemn “processed foods” but it isn’t clear exactly what the problem is – extra sugar? preservatives? extra salt? extra fat?
“The reasons why this diet is so healthy for both mind and body aren’t fully understood…”
excellent point. It’s difficult to figure out because studies rely on what people say they eat. And there are no randomized controlled studies – difficult to make it ethical and something humans would put up with. And studies are more focused on what some company can make money on like a new drug.
I think some of my tax dollars should fund a lot of studies to figure this out. We have an obesity epidemic that is causing bad health and depressing the economy as a result. And making it more difficult for backpackers.Jul 21, 2019 at 9:59 pm #3602870
I did not know that iron is implicated in dementia
I don’t know if this is a legitimate source of information
“There is considerable scientific evidence that healthy dietary patterns such as the Mediterranean diet are associated with lower Alzheimer’s risk and slower cognitive decline.
The Mediterranean diet* is high in vegetables, beans, fruit, and nuts, and low in meat and dairy. But what are the protective components in the diet? Looking at the research, the important dietary differences seem to be the high plant consumption and the lower fat consumption.”
another one that turned up googling blue zone diet, I’ve heard about this before
“Okinawan cuisine consists of smaller meal portions of green and yellow vegetables, fish, relativity smaller amounts of rice compared to mainland Japan, as well as pork, soy and other legumes. Pork and fish are often served in broth with a variety of ingredients and herbs. The center of the Okinawa diet is the Satsuma sweet potato.”
similar to Mediterranean diet, and “eat food, mostly plants, not too much”
it’s not clear whether anything like the Satsuma sweet potato is key to healthfulness, or could just as easily be substituted with other vegetables.
googling “iron dementia” – they say iron is implicated inside the brain in causing dementia, but it’s not clear you should eat less. Maybe this is another reason you shouldn’t eat a lot of meat that contains a lot of iron.
I’m borderline anemic. I don’t eat a lot of meat. The doctor said I was low in iron. I’ve been taking this pill that has 26 mg (144% DV) of iron. On one blood test my anemia improved slightly, but not statistically significant. The doctor said the anemia was barely within normal range so probably don’t need to worry about it. I’ll have to look at another blood test result and decide whether to continue taking the iron pill. It also has B12 and folate. Other people genetically related to me had dementia.Jul 21, 2019 at 10:18 pm #3602873ArthurBPL Member
I read this someplace and i cannot remember where. A Frenchman said “You Americans treat food like medicine. Just enjoy it in the right amounts without guilt.”
No culture on earth studies it so heavily with such poor results.Jul 22, 2019 at 2:08 pm #3602950Swampfox OutdoorsBPL Member
Excellent article Ryan and a very informative discussion in the comments. Personally, Ryan, you described my eating philosophy very well. I am a lifetime member of Weightwatchers and have been at my goal weight (45 lbs lighter) for over two years. My “Why” for losing weight was backpacking. I wanted to kick myself as I struggled up and down trails, knowing for months in advance that this was coming and still hitting the trail too heavy. Now, I eat mostly lean protein, complex carb veggies, fruit and nuts. I’m careful with simple carbs like bread, rice, and potatoes, but nothing is off limits, even pizza and fried chicken. I just can’t have them often. I avoid fast food like the plague. I added intermittent fasting to my weight control toolkit 6 months ago and was really surprised that it was possible to delay my first meal until 11-2:00.
Someone said earlier that you have to find something you can do long term. That is spot on. You can’t look at weight loss as a journey to a destination and then you can quit. It has to be a lifestyle. Following a healthy meal plan and walking has been very successful for me. I plan to continue to dance with the one that brought me here.Jul 22, 2019 at 2:30 pm #3602952
does weightwatchers include talking to other people for encouragement?
it seems like that could be an important component to getting healthy weight
I have never had a weight problem, although my weight has crept up above the healthy range just slightly into the overweight range. I weigh myself occasionally. When I get to 200 pounds I focus a little on eating less deserts, more vegetables. I made a soup with cauliflower, onion, carrot, celery, potato, vegetable broth, V8. I really like that better than fast food.Jul 22, 2019 at 10:35 pm #3603030Swampfox OutdoorsBPL Member
There are several ways to follow the WW program. You can to it entirely on line and never talk to anyone in real life.
I prefer to attend the weekly workshops with a coach and like minded people and get the encouragement and help you refer to. I think it greatly improves your chances of getting the weight off and more importantly, keeping it off.
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