Hiking for Fitness and Weightloss

If there’s one blog post that I’ve been putting off writing, it’s this one. It probably sounds strange, but as someone who has had a lifelong battle with their weight, to start talking about fitness and weightloss in such a public space as this, makes me feel pretty vulnerable and exposed.

You know that one super bad photo that everyone has of their past? This could be mine!
You know that super bad photo that everyone has from their past? This could be mine from 1990.
My first overseas adventure! At the airport to head to PNG in 1991.
My first overseas adventure. At the airport heading to PNG in 1991.
Auntie Photo
Needless to say, I love dining out just like I did with my awesome Auntie in 1997!

You see, if you never knew me in my childhood, through those awkward teenage years and into my mid 20s, you would have no idea that back then I was not only the fat kid, I was the overweight teenager and the weight-obsessed 20 something adult.

It wasn’t just how I was on the outside, on the inside I was overweight with this heaviness, guilt and self-loathing that came from seriously hating how I looked. For anyone who has their own journey with weight, you’ll know all too well the tears and angst that no-one ever sees. The avoidance of clothes shopping in the knowledge that nothing off the rack will fit and the memory of childhood taunts. Sure, looking at these photos it’s easy to think that I wasn’t THAT heavy and comparatively, you’re right. There are a lot of people who carry a lot more weight than I did – but for anyone who’s been there, you’ll know that comparatively doesn’t matter. You’re the one who isn’t comfortable in your own skin and the only one who knows what that feels like.

Do I look like I'm deep in thought? This was the start of a whole new life for me (with massive thanks to Stephen Klemich in the background!)
The start of it all. Deep in contemplation on a 4 day corporate experiential outdoor leadership course  (with massive thanks to Stephen Klemich who is snoozing in the background). Dark Brothers Cave, Budawangs NP, NSW.

When people ask me why I started this blog, the short answer is that “Hiking changed my life – I found my thing.” The long answer is that it changed my life in many ways, only ONE of which was discovering a form of exercise that I enjoyed and as a result, I shed over 20kgs (45lbs). Through this blog, I hope to encourage people, through tips and what I’ve learnt along the way, to give hiking a try and maybe they’ll find that it’s their thing too, not necessarily the healthy body stuff, but all the other benefits that come from spending time in the outdoors.

Horizontal on log
Completely exhausted on the outdoor corporate training course. That’s me on the right… there had to be a better way.

I’m no nutritionist, exercise physiologist or personal trainer, but what I can tell you is that weightloss and fitness is generally all about maths. (Which incidentally, was also something that I struggled with as a kid!).

Calories IN vs. Calories OUT

As much as we all want the magic pill or the quick fix, unfortunately there is no such thing. It comes down to 3 things:

  1. Food
  2. Exercise
  3. Mindset

I think that because of my weight I was never into sport at school and yep, I was always the last picked on the netball team… then again, maybe I was just un-co :-). If I was ever going to do exercise, I was going to have to find something that worked for me and with a history like that, team sports were never going to cut it.

As with every message I have in the videos or the blog, it’s about finding what works for you and as exercise is such a vital key in weighty issues, I was never going to get my health in order until I found something that worked for me and importantly… that I loved!

For my tag line, I use the term “unexpected outdoors chick” and it’s for a very good reason. My family never went camping and our bushwalking or outdoors experience was limited to our annual wander along a local bush trail to walk off Christmas lunch.

So, if I was ever going to find hiking, it had to be through something unexpected. That came when I had the opportunity to go on one of those outdoor experiential corporate leadership training type weekends. It was to be 4 days, deep in the Budawang National Park, 4 hrs south of Sydney, sleeping in a cave overhang and carrying a full pack. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I’m so glad that I did.

The team headed for our prize.
The team headed for our prize – a tiny gold rock sitting on the outcrop. That’s me second from the right. Budawang NP, NSW.

These four days opened my mind to what wilderness is and showed me that these places exist. Not only that, but as a complete novice, feeling completely out of my depth, I was guided by a leader who looked completely at ease in the environment, like he lived there. I was envious for that feeling.

So although I lacked all skill and knowledge, what I did have was a vivid imagination and a newly discovered adventure gland.

Woman mountain Hiker
Stock Images libraries don’t always tell the truth… (Pic: iStock)

In the early 90’s, I was working in an office which had a collection of stock image catalogues. Just to show my age, this was long before the internet where stock image libraries now showcase their wares. These glossy magazine catalogues had page after page of images that could be purchased and used for commercial purposes. I remember flicking through them one day whilst I was meant to be filing them, and saw a shot of a woman. If it was an online stock catalogue today, the keywords would be:

  • Woman
  • Hiking
  • Backpack
  • Bandana
  • Wilderness
  • National park
  • Outdoors
  • Adventure

I remember looking at this girl and thinking how happy she looked. How content, how at peace… and how fit!

From my overweight self, I wished I was that girl. I wished I could throw on a backpack and hike up those mountains, experience that freedom and fresh air, without the extra weight I carried around everyday.

HIker girl bandana stockphoto 8tj3
… but sometimes they tell a different truth or an undiscovered truth (Pic: Stockphoto.com)

And there, in that photo above, you learn why you’ll often see me wearing a bandana around my head when I’m hiking. Sure, it’s incredibly practical at keeping hair and sweat out of my eyes, but at a very personal level, it’s a nod to the girl in that photo all that time ago and the life that I longed to have… That I feel is now mine.

There’s been a massive journey between then and now and I only have the awesome Sydney Bush Walkers Club to thank for it, especially the dedicated leaders who were so patient with me. If you’re serious about getting into the outdoors and getting fit, the best advice I can give is to check out the local hiking clubs (or those in the areas you want to hike!) and give them a go. In NSW, Bushwalking NSW (the peak body of bushwalking in the state), have just launched a great new site with links to lots of different types of clubs.

Now, don’t think for a moment that I’m now this bandana girl and my weight and fitness isn’t a constant thing for me, because that isn’t the case. The fact is, I love food and I love wine… Oh, and beer too, which means that if I’m wanting to remain healthy and happy within my healthy weight range I need to be smart and keep my eyes open to the maths.

Yep, I still feel like this sometime! After an off-track 400m ascent, "Rabid Chihuahua", Wild Dog Mts, Blue Mountains NP, NSW.
Yep, I still feel like this sometimes! After a 400m ascent, “Rabid Chihuahua”, Wild Dog Mts, Blue Mountains NP, NSW.

Over the last few years I’ve really enjoyed following Michelle Bridges 12WBT program, which essentially provides shopping lists and yummy recipes for 1200 calorie/days worth of food, teamed with an hour of exercise 6 days per week (that’s the pretty full on part) and importantly, mindset lessons and support to help work on the internal stuff. This program really taught me a lot about the maths and also helped set really good habits in place to keep going. When it’s easy to burn 1500 calories in a day of tough Blue Mountains up and down hiking (Perrys Lookdown/Lockleys Pylon yo-yo anyone?), the sums suddenly start to get a whole lot easier when you’re doing exercise that you love and that also fires off the adventure gland.

Sept 2014 - Jumping for joy on the Larapinta Track. West McDonnell Ranges, Northern Territory, Australia.
Sept 2014 – Jumping for joy on the Larapinta Track. West McDonnell Ranges, Northern Territory, Australia.

There’s some great blogs out there from people who’ve also followed the hiking track into new found fitness and weightloss. I enjoy following hiking to healthy blog and have recently discovered Contemplative Hiking and My Year(s) of sweat.

The truth is that I go hiking for many reasons:

  • Fitness and weight control
  • Spirituality
  • Sociability with like minded friends
  • Finding quiet in the rush of life
  • Simplification and reducing clutter in my life
  • Satisfying a need for adventure and discovery
  • Exercising my enjoyment of problem solving through navigation
  • Training me to be a finisher/completer in life

… And in all these things (and much more) I found my thing.

Q: What are the reasons you go hiking? What is it about the outdoors that has made it your thing?

Writer, producer and content creator by trade, search and rescue volunteer by passion, Caro Ryan started LotsaFreshAir.com to inspire, teach and encourage people to get into hiking and the outdoors safely.

It’s all about connecting people to wild places in meaningful ways, so they can look after themselves, their mates and these precious places we visit.

She teaches wilderness navigation, authored the book, ‘How to Navigate’ and hosts, ‘Rescued - an Outdoor Podcast for Hikers and Adventurers.

In the bottom of her pack you'll find coffee grounds, instant noodles past their used by date and an insatiable curiosity.

Bushwalking & Hiking Tips from an Unexpected Outdoors Chick

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