Hiking at a BMI of 38

In college, I dated a couple of Eagle Scouts. They introduced me to the world of hiking in the nearby Shenandoah National Park. While our relationships didn’t last, my love of the activity did. I was never “good” at hiking, if you can be good at something as straightforward as walking uphill. I would warn friends before going out that I was slow–both uphill and downhill.

My first hike with Chris and Robbie in 2006.

During the two years I spent at UVA, I organized some hiking outings with friends: some in better shape than I, and others who joked that they needed to lay down. I took the slow and steady approach, as my endurance has always outlasted my speed. Sometimes I’d have a group to go with, and other times I’d find one free friend or classmate and take off to the mountains, lunches and nalgenes packed.

A cold hike with Brantley in 2009. All downhill to the falls, then all uphill on the return.

I weighed between 150 and 160 lbs at the time. My BMI was around 27. Still overweight, but decidedly healthy. I was also running and playing volleyball, and my diet was relatively healthy for a college student. I went to a couple of doctors who were confused by my excellent bloodwork as compared to my weight. Thankfully, my primary care physician thought my weight was fine as long as I remained active and ate well.

BMI (body mass index) is a complicated measure of health given its simplicity: it is determined by your height and weight. Gender is not considered, nor is muscle mass. I’ve known bulky men who fit squarely in the “overweight” range because of it. But for someone like me, with more fat than muscle, I have no trouble referring to it when looking at my overall health relative to my weight.

Matt and a couple of friends planned a hike for yesterday. It was originally intended as a guys’ day out, as the three of them prefer more strenuous hikes than do their female partners. After looking at the hike, Jacob’s girlfriend decided to join them, and Matt said I was welcome to come along.

But he looked hesitant. And I felt hesitant.

We have been hiking at my current weight of 220 lbs, and it’s a slow affair. I love being outside, and I still love hiking, but I am lugging around 60 more pounds of fat than I am used to, and I’ve likely lost a fair amount of muscle. Was I willing to embarrass myself (and Matt) in front of my group of fit friends? Could I physically do this hike?

I told Matt to go ahead and have fun, that I would be fine at home, but I had tears in my eyes. He offered to stay home and I told him to go. So he left, and I cried.

I’ve had a rough week with my depression. With chronic illnesses, you never truly defeat them, you just get better at managing. And while I’m managing the binge eating disorder that (mostly) got me to this weight, it appears to be at the cost of managing my depression. Food has been my major coping mechanism, and I’m doing my best to not turn to it in sadness. So I get sadder.

While the depression itself spawned the crying, part of my sadness came from not being able to do something I enjoy because of my size. If I were this weight and still able to comfortably do all the activities I used to do, I would probably be fine. But I can’t. I can’t run right now, because I hurt my knees, so I’m stuck walking, which doesn’t soothe the running desire. To become a better runner, you need to run. So how am I supposed to get back into running when I can only walk?

It appears I need to lose weight. I’m aware of this, of course. It’s difficult when my binge eating disorder kicks in at the thought of a diet, and when my OCD takes over and says “keep walking or don’t walk at all” when I try to start an exercise regimen again. I’m fighting through it with therapy, workbooks, and medication. But it’s taking time, and it’s a frustratingly slow process.

All this flashed through my mind as I sat on the couch, crying. Not thinking completely clearly, I texted Matt: Have you left yet? I kinda want to join….

Matt called me. He could tell I was crying. He told me to meet them at Jason’s place. They would wait.

He forwarded me the planned hike. 7 miles. 5.5 hours. 2500 feet elevation change. Shit.

I drove to the meeting spot, took a deep breath, put on a smile, and walked over to join my friends who had waited for me. This was going to be rough.

On the way there we chatted about some hikes the group had done before. Jen started to explain the (somewhat technical/long) Old Rag hike to me. Matt interrupted: “Mallie has actually done that hike. At midnight.”

On top of Old Rag, awaiting sunrise. It was super cold.

Only Matt and Jacob knew me at my college weight, so the group seemed somewhat surprised. I was happy to relate my accomplishment, but I was sad that it was so unexpected. It’s a similar reaction to what I get from people when I tell them I completed a half marathon two years ago. Sure, it took me 3 hours and 20 minutes, but I did it.

The hike was difficult for me. Matt didn’t break a sweat the entire hike. At some point the group decided to stop following the switchbacks and instead take the path straight up the mountain. That was my breaking point. I explained it to Matt as follows: imagine you planned to go out for a 15 mile jog, and planned your pace accordingly. Three miles in, someone decides you should sprint the distance instead. My body couldn’t handle it.

I’ve been keeping track of my pulse while doing cardio lately. Mostly because I’m noticing that little exertion leads to lots of sweating and heartbeats. Even with running/walking intervals on the treadmill, my pulse often hits ~170-180 bpm. On the hike, I estimated that I was sitting around 175-200 bpm for most of the 3 hour hike.

Long story shorter, we only managed to do a 4 mile hike, reaching the ridge but not the view given the new, earlier sunset time. As usual, I was also slow going back down the rocky, leaf-covered mountain. My knees hurt today from the downhill, but overall my muscles are handling the recovery period better than I expected.

Matt and company looking confident upon our return down the mountain at Buzzard Rock.

We got back to my car and Jason, Jacob, and Jen unpacked their belongings in the trunk while Matt and I got in the front seats. He gave me a kiss, “Good job, dear.” I thanked him. “It’s gotten to the point where my weight is affecting our lifestyle, isn’t it?” Matt nodded. “I wasn’t going to say anything, but I was thinking that when you decided not to come this morning.” He paused, tiptoeing an emotional line, “I want you to get back in shape so we can keep doing things like this without you having difficulty.”

I do too.

4 thoughts on “Hiking at a BMI of 38”

  1. *hugs*

    “So how am I supposed to get back into running when I can only walk?”

    I felt like that when doing my only bike ride since moving to State College. Our condo sits in a saddle point, so the road away from home is literally “uphill, both ways.” I managed only a couple of miles of repeated attempts to crest one hill or the other, but never got off my own damn street.

    I honestly don’t care what the scale says my weight is, and I’ll reserve comments on BMI since it does mean something for you. Sure, there is the physics of moving a heavier body, but I want to be in better shape, no matter what my weight is, and now that we’re into November and my respiratory system is suffering from its usual fall maladies, I think the bike is done for the year (I would need new cold weather riding gear that fits, anyway).

    People finding out about my century ride these days seem as surprised as your fellow hikers were to your half marathon. That’s OK IMHO. Let them be surprised.

    Sorry – I think my comment turned into being all about me, but my primary intention was to say that I think I can relate. 🙂

    1. Thanks for sharing, Dan. I think your century ride is an excellent comparison. The main reason I titled with BMI over my weight is that it is much easier for comparison’s sake than saying I’m 220 lbs. That’s a perfectly “normal” weight for someone. I’m also only 5’4″. A lot of people know their BMI, even if they don’t agree with the system, so the title has more immediate meaning to them and they can put my size into perspective.

      I should also emphasize that I believe in body acceptance and health at any size. This size is just not my personal healthy.

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