True confessions of Mallory Moskowitz: At age 23, after my long distance hike on the Appalachian Trail, I started to gain weight. Quite a bit of weight. During my hike, between carrying a giant ass pack on my back up and over mountains every day and then getting Giardia and basically not keeping food in me for a couple weeks, I was at my lowest body weight of adulthood at about 115-120 pounds.
I had always been really active so just assumed that when I returned to the real world after my long hike I would just keep hiking, walking, working out and everything would be fine. Well that didn’t work!
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Despite my best efforts to stay active, work out both in the gym and out, and eat relatively well, I quickly gained weight after my hike was over and continued to slowly pack on the pounds year after year through out most of my twenties. Yikes!
Especially later on, once I turned 25, then 26, I started to feel old. I was achy and sore all the time, my joints hurt, I was so tired, hardly any of my clothes fit any more, and I actually believed that that was all just part of aging and getting older. I thought my body finally was just changing and growing out of young adult/college body stage of life, because that’s a thing, right?
Our society also led me to believe that some women were just meant to be extra curvy, that you could be “healthy” and be overweight at the same time, that my giant hips and thighs were just genetically destined to be. So I just kept on keeping on and put my weight and food and exercise to the back of my mind.
Until later in my twenties I could tell my health was getting worse, on top of the slow weight gain, I was having crazy sugar swings, crashes and frequently felt faint, the way my mom, who has diabetes, always said she felt when her sugar was dropping dangerously low. I could tell my hormones and PMS symptoms were going totally haywire and had also gotten progressively worse over time and I always wanted to sleep. I wasn’t a night owl or an early bird, I just wanted to go to bed early and felt like I could sleep away the day.
Obviously I had heard about keto before, but always read it was a fad diet to lose weight super fast. Meh. I thought it was just another Atkins or Weight Watchers or South Beach, I didn’t actually look into that much until friends and people I actually knew were getting on the keto train and sharing more of the science behind it and the countless health benefits it can bring. Weight loss is just a lucky side effect 😉
Which brings up another good point, that weight gain is also a side effect of either your lifestyle or some other dysfunction in your body – like hormonal imbalances, issues in the gut, toxins in the body, etc. It isn’t something that just happens to you or something just happens to us as we age.
What is keto?
Okay, first thing I want to clear up is that keto is short for ketosis – not ketoacidosis – those are two totally different things! Being in ketosis simply means your body (your liver to be exact) has started to produce ketones for fuel in lieu of sugars and carbohydrates. Ketoacidosis is a very dangerous state to be in and is more likely to happen to alcoholics or diabetics – ketoacidosis is very rare in people who are generally healthy and have a normally functioning liver, of the cases that occur, most of them are in people who are also type 1 diabetic.
Keto, in a nutshell, turns your body from a sugar addict into a fat burning machine. Chances are that right now your body is using sugar and carbohydrates for energy. Let’s say you eat some oatmeal or a granola bar that has sugar and carbs in it, and your body burns through that very quickly if you’re backpacking and you will start to feel a desperate need for more sugar and carbs as soon as the energy from that granola bar is depleted (sometimes referred to as ‘bonking,’ meaning your body’s done, there’s no more energy, no more climbing, no more positive attitude, you get the idea.)
If you’re not hiking or exercising that day, any sugar and carbs that the body doesn’t need right away gets stored as fat – which is a problem because as a sugar addict, your body doesn’t know how to use fat for fuel. So you search and search for more sugary food to keep you going and continue to save any excess sugar and carbohydrates as fat on your body. Sound familiar?
I was stuck in that cycle for years and didn’t. even. realize. it!
As soon as I broke that cycle of eating sugar, quickly burning through it, and hangrily craving more sugar, my extra fat weighing me down came right off, plus many more benefits that we’ll talk about in a minute.
If you’re worried even a little bit about ketoacidosis, or are at risk for ketoacidosis – please work closely with your doctor through your keto and health journey! If you’re not necessarily at risk for ketoacidosis but just paranoid by people constantly trying to tell you how dangerous keto is, just get a ketone blood meter. Monitor your ketones and know that anywhere between 0.5-3.0 mmol/L is considered nutritional ketosis and generally not harmful for people with no other underlying health conditions. If your ketones start to jump up and over 5.0 mmol/L that’s when I would start to worry and possibly see a doctor.
Benefits of keto
Keto became ‘famous’ for being an effective weight loss technique, but it’s much more than that. After reading more and more about keto and what it actually does to our bodies, I was sold and had to at least try it. Eating clean, keto friendly foods and being in ketosis can begin to undo virtually all the damage caused by the Standard American Diet.
Following a keto way of eating can help:
- Reduce inflammation in the body and joints
- Balance hormones
- Improve gut health
- Lower and stabilize blood sugars
- Lower cholesterol
- Lower blood pressure
- Improve and maintain brain function
When combined with intermittent fasting, most of those benefits listed exponentially increase, you’ll see even better results, faster. Intermittent fasting can also help induce cellular repair through out the body and speed up weight loss 😉
I have personally experienced almost all those benefits which is why I choose to stick to the keto way of eating long term. But it’s also drastically changed the way I feel on the trail.
One of the first obvious changes I noticed was when I went to hike a short, but very steep mountain near my house. I had hiked it before, but each time that trail would kick my butt. My legs would get all burny and a little shaky, I would have to take tons of breaks and breathers, I would be huffing and puffing the whole way up and feel like I could just about die at the top, only to collapse for a while and drink some water and have some snacks, then wobble back down to the trailhead.
Then I hiked that same trail after being keto for several months. It was like night and day. That steep hike actually felt, dare I say, easy. I bounced right on up the trail, hardly any breaks at all, not a lot of difficulty breathing, my muscles felt good like they were grateful for me to be finally using them and building them up. I even had enough energy to thoroughly explore the summit, I didn’t need or want to stop hiking!
I couldn’t believe it. And trust me, I used to have a serious reputation for being a hobbit hiker! I had to stop and snack at every possible opportunity, it seemed I just ate and grazed all day and if I didn’t, I pity the other hikers who were on my path because I would get intolerably irritable!
Now, the sugar crashes, cravings and hangry outbursts have totally disappeared. I feel better, stronger and can hike longer while eating less over all. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t eat fewer calories – just eat less frequently. Plus, fat packs in almost twice as many calories per gram compared to carbohydrates or protein which makes for ultralight, high calorie backpacking snacks and meals.
Overall, keto has helped me hike faster, even up hills, given me more energy throughout the entire day, no more bonking or sugar crashes, and prevented me from needing to take so many breaks all the time.
How to start keto
Here’s how I started eating keto:
I mentioned to my husband that I wanted to try it and he jumped on board! Which was amazing and I do feel lucky to not only have his support of me doing keto, but also have him eating keto with me. If you live with any other people, I would encourage you to really talk to them about why you want to eat keto and even if they don’t want to eat keto, hopefully they can be a little understanding and support you through this journey.
Next, we totally purged the house. I know it might not seem like it, but I actually have zero self control. If there’s junk in the house I will devour it all within hours. Since both the husband and I were on the keto train, we cleaned out the fridge, freezer and every single cabinet. Anything that we could give away to neighbors and coworkers we did and threw away the rest. I think I even had one last bake off to use up our flour and sugar and brought the baked goods to my husbands office – anything to just get that stuff out of the house and make room for our new keto staples.
We didn’t eat out for quite a long time after initially starting keto. It’s totally possible to eat out and stay keto, but in the beginning I just couldn’t wrap my head around it so just cooked all our food at home and slowly added in a bit more variety and ventured out into the world a little more as time went on.
Get more details on starting keto from Healthy With Jamie.
Easy keto snacks for hiking and camping
Some of the easiest ‘grab and go’ keto snacks for hiking are:
- Nuts (I go for pecans, almonds, cashews and pistachios)
- Nut butters (make sure there’s no added sugars or sweeteners like honey or maple syrup)
- Cheese sticks or hard cheeses
- Meat sticks like Tillamook or Duke’s (again make sure there’s no added sugar or crazy ingredients you can’t pronounce)
- Single serve olives
- Whisps or moon cheese
- Fbombs fat bombs
- Keto bars or Slimfast brand keto bars
- Quest bars
Just be careful of that last one, or any protein based bars, as too much protein can be turned into glucose in the liver and basically negate ketosis and it’s benefits. I usually try to stick with bars that have more fat than protein in them
Dehydrated keto meals
Here are a few keto backpacking meal ideas to get you started:
If you’re really in a pinch and don’t have to time to dehydrate or prepare too much food ahead of time, you could always get tuna/salmon/chicken packets, a packet of cauliflower or broccoli/cauliflower rice (this is near the instant rice sides in my grocery store) and some cheese to throw together on your stove for a kind of keto tuna casserole.
Let me know your favorite keto hiking snacks or meals in the comments below!
For more keto hiking and backpacking meal ideas, check out these posts: