And then the hunger hit.
Suddenly, I just couldn't get enough calories in my mouth to satisfy my screaming stomach. My plans for healthy eating disappeared faster than a Little Debbie snack cake in a trail magic cooler. The entire way I had thought about food for my entire adult life got turned completely upside down. I now was reading labels and looking for foods that had the highest number of calories and the greatest amount of fat grams. I actually started talking aloud in grocery stores: "One hundred and thirty calories? DON'T WASTE MY TIME! I need AT LEAST 250 calories!" And if I could get those high calorie, fat laden foods in the smallest package possible, that was even better.
What is the most fat and calorie dense food? Why junk food, of course! I ate junk food like a 15 year old boy trying to make the football team.
And meat. I ate bacon double cheeseburgers, sausage biscuits, barbecue sandwiches, and entire chickens in one sitting.
Still, I lost weight. A surprising amount of weight. Despite my insane eating habits, I dropped 22 pounds in 6 weeks. I looked and felt awful.
Once, in an interview, I heard Vince Vaughn joking talk about his method of dropping weight for movie roles. "I try to make sure I lose weight, but add absolutely no muscle tone whatsoever," he said. "It's an art really, that so few can master: becoming both skinny and flabby." I was doing things the Vince Vaughn way.
More accurately, I looked like a Who from down in Whoville -- skinny arms and legs with a pooch and a spare tire. (I also had the hairy ankles from not shaving, but that's a subject for a different post) I had started to just accept the fact that my new physique was going to be that of a cartoon. It's just the way hikers look, I guess.
Then a weird thing started to happen: I started to get cravings not for ice cream and snickers and sodas, but for spinach. For tomatoes. For squash. For apples and bananas. Other hikers did too. I know because that's pretty much all we talked about: food. Everyone else was craving fruits and veggies, as well.
As I pondered this phenomenon, I started to notice something else. There were actually a handful of hikers out there who weren't adopting the Vince Vaughn body sculpting school. They weren't dropping weight as rapidly. They still had muscle tone. And their skin looked a lot better, too! Earth Balance, RIversong, Big Spoon. The one thing they had in common? They were all vegetarian or vegan.
Then came the day we hiked to McAfee's Knob. We went by a gas station .3 miles off the trail that served food. (I hope I'm never that excited for gas station food again) Round one: 2 giant slices of pepperoni pizza a 20 oz coke, and an ice-cream cookie sandwich. Round two: a bacon double cheeseburger, another 20 oz coke, and another ice-cream cookie sandwich. Then a snickers bar. (Plus, I packed out another snickers and coke for later) Then it was back to the trail.
Four hours later, we came to this:
What did I do when we reached this gorgeous spot? Did I stand in awe? Did I run over to get my picture taken in the famous spot? Did I cry tears of elation?
No, I sat down and ate. I was SO HUNGRY that I could not even appreciate the view until I got something in my stomach. Only after I devoured some crackers, cheese, pepperoni, and that coke that I had packed out could I take in the view.
Later that night, I thought about it. Obviously, I had eaten enough at the gas station to sustain me for 4 hours of hiking. I had consumed more than enough calories. Why was I so ridiculously hungry after four hours?
Then it hit me: my body wasn't craving CALORIES, my body was craving NUTRIENTS! That's why I had been fantasizing about kale. That's why the vegetarians and vegans weren't as emaciated as the rest of us. That's why I was almost delirious with hunger four hours after a food orgy at a gas station.
That's why I had taken on the Who-ish physique, too. My body wanted nutrients but I was just giving it empty calories. And since our bodies are smart, it knew exactly how to get the nutrients it was craving-- by breaking down muscle tissue. My body was smart, but my head was too dumb to listen.
After this, we started packing out apples and oranges after resupplies. (They are really heavy, but totally worth it) When we went to restaurants in towns, the first thing we ordered was giant salads. And we started keeping orange juice and smoothies in the hotel rooms to drink instead of soda.
I'm happy to report that this did the trick. Within 2 weeks of adding more fruits and veggies into our diets, my arms stopped resembling tooth picks and that spare tire around my gut disappeared. Don't get me wrong; I didn't eliminated junk food from my diet. I was still eating just as much junk food and just as many (or more) calories. I was just supplementing it with nice healthy produce!
It's amazing what just a little healthy food will do!