What’s the Hardest Thing You’ve Done? | Healthy Aging Series: Season 9, Episode 7

What’s the Hardest Thing You’ve Done?

Seven days. Six nights. 17000+/- ft. of elevation. 41 miles. 45 lbs. Minus 2 toenails. One of the hardest things I’ve done. The Grand Canyon.

I wanted to test myself. What a better place to do that than the Grand Canyon. It was 2009. I was 52 years old, and I’d been backpacking for four years and had gone down and come out of the Canyon four times. 

Nothing is easy about doing the canyon. If you think hiking down into the Grand Canyon is easy, you’d would be wrong. Think about walking down stairs for 8 to 10 miles. With 45 lbs. on your back.

You have to prepare by putting on a backpack and putting in the mileage with 30-40 lbs. in that pack.  

The Canyon is one of my favorite places on the earth. I love walking up to the edge of the South Rim at Grand Canyon Village, after being away for a year, and feeling overwhelmed by the view. You can see nearly 20 miles from the South Rim to the North Rim, almost forever. It’s most beautiful when it’s just snowed and it’s cloudy. Especially in January and February when the clouds are hanging around.

I planned a 7 day, 6 night solo backpacking trip. All by myself.

Day One: 5-mile hike down to Havasu Campground and the loss of 3000 feet. 

On one of my trips to the Canyon one of the regulars that I backpack with had invited a friend to “do the canyon.” This was the year my son was graduating from high school, and he was invited. They were 15 of us. A ritual was to weigh our packs at Babbage’s, the outfitting store. My pack weighed 42 pounds and my son’s was 30 pounds. We had both trained hard for this trip. 

The new invitee was 50+ years old and had just quit smoking the year before and was celebrating it with the backpacking trip into the Grand Canyon. Her pack weighed 45 pounds. I glanced at my son, and we both had that, “She’s not gonna make it,“ look.  And in fact, she arrived at Havasu Garden Campground without a pack. She said her legs had turned to rubber. She had dropped her pack halfway down. The next day she and her husband chose to hike out and hired a teenager to haul her pack back up to the South Rim. The Canyon is unforgiving.
I arrived at Havasu Garden CG on this trip in 3 hours, set up my camp, and slept well.

Day Two: Eleven miles on the Tonto West trail to Monument Creek CG.

This is a long 11-mile hike because you were hiking in an out of side canyons. Easily a six- or seven-hour hike. Total exposure to the sun. Day two ends at Monument Creek Campground, which is the payoff for the long hike. The bathroom is three wooden walls. No ceiling. One beautiful view.

Day Three: Nine miles. 4000 feet of elevation gain on the Hermit’s Rest Trail.

It was grueling. Remember my pack was 40+ pounds.

I had planned to hike back 11 miles to Havasu Garden Campground but changed my mind and decided to hike out the Hermit’s Rest Trail back to the South Rim. The problem was that I was going to have to walk 10 miles back to the trailhead and to my car. When I arrived at the rim, I was absolutely, exhausted. Remember I had hiked 25 miles in the past three days. I was lucky to meet a man who agreed to take me back to the trailhead but made me agree to listen to his story about going through a divorce, and how he was traveling from city to city in an RV looking for a new city to live in and call home. You can’t make something like this up. So, I listened.  I stayed at the Bright Angel Lodge, took a shower, and slept in a bed.

Day Four: I hiked down the Kaibab Trail to Phantom Ranch.

8 miles. 5200 feet of elevation loss. The good news: I was fresh and rested. The bad news: I was wearing new boots that rubbed the top of my toenails and remember it was 8 miles of descent, and it resulted in blisters under my toenails. That’s right blisters, not on my toes, but under my toenails
I set up my camp at Bright Angel Campground at the bottom of the Canyon and went to bed.

Day Five and Six: My plan was to hike out to Ribbon Falls (13 miles round trip)

Instead, I popped the blisters under my toenails and laid around for two days.

The thing about the Canyon is, if you go down into the Canyon, you have to get yourself up out of the Canyon. There are mules. There are helicopters. But unless you’re almost dying, you have to get yourself out. So, I cut the toes out of my new boots and hiked 8 miles and 5200 feet up out of the Canyon.

Seven days. Six nights. 17000+/- ft. 41 miles. 45 lbs. Minus 2 toenails. One of the hardest things I’ve done.

“All Bets Are Off”

Betsy Hartley‘s book, “All Bets Are Off,” has a grueling story in it. Don’t let me confuse you here. She ran a 100-mile race in under 30 hours. I didn’t do that. 

I’ve done a couple marathons. And all the training to prepare for them, but not 100 miles. 

I was exhausted after reading about this race. Geez! It was one of the most grueling accounts of a race that I’ve ever read. But this is not the real story of her book. 

Her story is about losing 220 pounds. Not an easy feat. 

Her plan: Eat less, move more. 

She started this plan in July 2011. Five years later, 220 lbs. lighter. 

That was the most grueling thing she did. Imagine. Five years. 44 pounds per year. Then run 100 miles in 30 hours. 

Honestly, one of the most impressive things I’ve heard or seen was she broke up with food and stayed broke up. That’s what this season of Healthy Aging is about. How to break up with food… How to change your relationship with food. 

What was the turning point in her life? What were her agents of change? 

What Didn’t Help?

Hartley spent 40 years of her life living with obesity, and with the “well-meaning” comments from family and friends. People were concerned for her health and safety, but no matter how tactful, and no matter how loving the comments about her weight, none of them helped. It only made her feel more ashamed. 

Shame is not a good change agent! 

Here’s why: shame makes you want to eat more, because food has become your drug of choice to address your shame, your guilt, and your depression. We feel bad, we eat, we feel better. It’s a never-ending cycle of “food comforting negative feelings!!!!” 

Stop and read this again!

What Did Help?

If it wasn’t all the noise in her environment about her weight, then what changed her? It was that still small voice that came from within her consciousness, her shadow, her true self, and her authentic self, that evoked the change to lose weight and begin living.

The Push and the Pull

Betsy’s willingness to listen to the still small voice from within helped her decided that she had had enough. That was the push in her life and the pull was that she wanted a life without diabetes, a life of mobility, and a life of running. 

It takes a push and a pull to change. Change comes when you take some time and listen to the voice within. “The biggest mystery for me,” she writes, “in my whole crazy adventure is why I finally chose to listen to that little voice, which I smothered for so long. And I work every day on making that voice, stronger and louder.”  

The Still Small Voice

There are a lot of takeaways from her book, but the still small voice struck a chord with me. The voice was saying to her, “It’s time to love yourself. It’s time to lose some weight and begin caring for yourself. It’s time to become something else, a more authentic something else.”

What helped her stay broke up was not the love of running, but what running represented. Running represented her domination over her appetites and over her body. Running, summiting Mount Sherman in Colorado, doing the Grand Canyon, cycling across Indiana, or anything else you do is telling your body, “Eff you! You’re gonna do what I tell you to do!”

That’s what I was doing in 2009 on my Solo Backpacking Trip. 

It’s more than that. It’s the beauty and majesty of all you see and experience while dominating your body.

But that its core it’s about telling your body it’s going to do what you tell it to do and not the other way around.

It’s the process of total domination as Nandor from “What We Do in the Shadows,” says to the zoning commission on Staten Island. The total domination, not of you, but of your body! That’s what we admire about athletes. They have worked their bodies into almost complete domination.

We regular people, like Betsy Hartley, fall short of total domination, but attempting feats of strength is our way of joining the fray. This next weekend I’m headed to the Smoky Mountains to do Mount Sterling. It’s not for the faint hearted. Three days. Two nights. 18 miles. 7000+ minus feet of elevation, hopefully not losing my toenails. Not the Canyon but a challenge. The second day will be grueling. I do it in part because I can but also do it because I want to send a clear message to my body that it will do as it’s told. I struggle every day for total domination and to stay broke-up with food. Hartley is a wonderful example of the person who wrestled with obesity for 50+ years and continues to work toward total domination of her body.

Those are my takeaways from her book. Breaking up is all about listening to that still small voice and staying broke up is all about taking charge of your body and telling it what it’s going to do. It is a wonderful challenge and a wonderful strategy in life.

How about you? Are you a Betsy Hartley?

I have a hard time finding people to Backpack with me, especially as I get older. It’s rare for me to find people that are up to the challenge. But I keep pushing on, and I keep dominating my body, and I work very diligently at staying broke up with food. 

How about you?

To read more entries in the Healthy Aging series, click here.

To purchase or view “All Bets are Off,” By Betsy Hartley at Carmichael’s Book Store, click here

All Bets Are Off: My journey of losing 200 pounds, a showdown with diabetes, and falling in love with running (Paperback)

Why it’s so Difficult Breaking up with Food (Part Two) | Healthy Aging Series: Season 9, Episode 6

Keep It Simple Stupid

“What has been will be again. What has been done will be done again. There is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9

How many diets are there? Lots! Wikipedia has a page entitled, List of Diets.

 There are belief-based diets. Buddhist diet. Jain diet. Islamic diet. Kosher diet. 70 Adventist diet.
There are low-calorie diet. Time Restricted Eating. Cookie Diet. Nutrisystem’s. Weight Watchers.

Very low-calorie diets. The Last Chance Diet, I love that. Tongue patch diet.

Low fat diet. McDougall Starch Diet.

Crash diets. Beverly Hills Diet. Cabbage Soup Diet. New Trophic diets. Subway Diet.

Detox diets. Juice Diet, Master Cleanse Diet.

Geez. I could go on and on.

Four or five years ago, I read 75 to 100 books on nutrition, but really they were all about diets. 

I haven’t even mentioned, Paleo, Carnivore, Whole Food Diet, Keto, or Dash Diets. After reading many, many books on most of the diets that are out there, what did I learn? 

Two things: They all work and none of them work

Most of them have some truth, some effectiveness. Most of them help you lose weight. But all of them fail to help you sustain your weight loss. In other words, they help you break up with food, but failed to help you maintain that break up.

Honestly, the Diet Industrial Complex has confused the hell out of me and I’m sure you too.

Take eggs. I am so confused about eggs. Should I eat them? Should I avoid them? Thing is, eggs have almost every macro and micronutrient you need. 

That leads to the question about foods high in saturated fats like red meat. Eat, or avoid, or as some would say, limit red meat.

And there is a question about grains. Can I eat any kind of whole grain? Should I avoid them?

How about simplicity? I was reading an email from AllTrails about Global Dog Day. Who knew? It was entitled, Trails and Tails Belong Together.

They gave what they called petiqutte.

Three simple guidelines. 

1. Respect leashing rules for everyone’s safety. 2. Leave no trace means scoop that poop. (This reminds me of my hikes in Broad Run Park where I walk past flowerbeds and it smells like a dog toilet.) 3. Don’t forget to bring water for your dog. I’ve seen people break this rule when they’ve been attempting to climb The Incline in Manitou Springs, Colorado. It’s a 1-mile trail that gains 2000 feet of elevation. I would shake my head wondering what people were thinking when they brought their dog and no water.

What’s a simple way of looking at nutrition? Michael Pollan gives three rules that I think help simplify the matter. His rules are: 

Eat real food. Mostly plants. Not too much.

This past week I read, “Nature Wants Us to be Fat,” by Richard Johnson, MD.

Honestly, it had some good stuff, but it was a convoluted mess. In the interest of simplicity, I’ll share two takeaways.
Both takeaways are important in understanding why it’s difficult to break up with food, and stay broke up.

Just a reminder, this is part two of “Why is Breaking up with Food so Hard to Do?”

Here is my first take away in Johnson’s book:

The reason why it is so difficult to break up and stay, broke up with food is because we are genetically engineered as a species, to easily and quickly put on weight. And we are genetically designed to keep that weight on.
Imagine if that weren’t true. Humans would be extinct.

We had to be able to put on adipose tissue, which is fat, easily and keep it on during those times of famine or lack of food.

The human species spent six months a year putting on weight by seeking out calorie dense, rich food, which included fat and sugar in the form of fruit. This genetic predisposition also included having an appetite for those calorie dense foods.

Our bodies have a regulatory system comprised mainly of hormones. That system worked very well with our early ancestors. Today it is a curse!

Almost no civilization today in the modern world has to deal with famines. But because food is abundant year-round, it’s as if the “weight gaining function” of our survival system is stuck in the on position.

The survival system is so strong that most of us could put on 10 pounds in two weeks. It is so strong that it will overwhelm your willpower, your reason, and your moral values. Richard Johnson is right, we have a difficult time breaking up with food, and staying broke up because every part of your genetic engineering and evolutionary make up is working against us. “It wants us fat,” as Johnson states in his book,  “and it wants us to stay fat.”
That’s my first take away from Johnson’s book which he takes three chapters to describe.

My second take away: Johnson tells us to stop eating sugar

I’ve written a lot about sugar and all its forms, to include added sugar, in several blogs 3-4 years ago. I could not agree more with Dr. Johnson. If there is a culprit in the awful history of obesity, it’s sugar. Johnson traces the increased manufacture and consumption of sugar and its associated increase in obesity.

If our history was from The Lord of the Rings, sugar would be Sauron. Sauron is the stuff of nightmares throughout that trilogy.
Sugar is our Darth Vader, except sugar will never come back to the side of the Force like Vader did.
Sugar is the Anton Chigurh in “No Country for Old Men.” I cringed when I think of him.
Sugar is the Voldemort from the Harry Potter series. Voldemort’s command of dark magic is so complete he can fly without a broom. A bad dude.


Back in my Air Force days the acronym KISS came up a lot. There are several versions of what this acronym expresses. Maybe it’s not PC to express it in the USAF way, but it communicates well.

Keep it Simple Stupid

And so, here is my KISS diet, which could be stated in more simple terms, “Eat Real Food.”

1. Quit eating sugar in all its forms, except for fruit
2. Eat fruits, and vegetables. This is where we get micro-nutrients or vitamins and fiber. How much should we eat? I don’t think anyone gets enough, so eat as much as you want. How simple is that?
3. Easy lean protein. What kind of protein? Lean protein (Pork, chicken, beef, or plant-based). Most people don’t get enough protein. You should be getting .36 g for every pound. I weigh 195 pounds. That means I should be getting at least 70 g of protein. Keep it simple. Eat lean protein.
4. Get plenty of omega-3 fats. In other words, stay away from vegetable oils.
5. Stay away from processed food. All of it!

No sugar. Fruits and vegetables. Lean proteins. Omega-3 fatty acids.

Keep it Simple Stupid.

That’s the KISS Diet. It’s free. It’s been around for centuries and millennia.  You can tweak your diet with time-restricted eating. You can abstain from alcohol. You can do all kinds of things that you want to do to make your diet work, but keep it simple stupid!

Honestly, Johnson has a plan in his book that is very similar to the plan that I’ve just mentioned. It just took 270 pages to explain it. And $26.95.

It looks a lot like the Mediterranean diet. Check it out.

There is so much background noise and confusion out there about nutrition, and I believe Johnson contributes a little bit to that background noise.

One of the reasons we have a difficult time breaking up with food is all the noise and over-complication that’s been created because of peoples need for notoriety.

Everyone wants attention so they come up with a new diet.
Everyone wants a click or “like” so they come up with a novel nutritional idea and post it.
Everyone wants to make a buck so they write a book.
Everyone wants to be in the spotlight so they create a fine point that frustrates everyone, like telling you to not skip breakfast!

If you want to break up with food, and stay broke up, my recommendation is KISS!

Keep it Simple Stupid!

To read more entries in the Healthy Aging series, click here.

To purchase or view “Nature Wants Us to be Fat” by Richard J Johnson, MD at Carmichael’s Book Store, click here.

The Best “Breakup Strategy” You’ll Ever Use: The Push and Pull Principle! | Healthy Aging Series: Season 9, Episode 5

Why is Breaking Up with Food so Hard to Do? (Part One)

I confess. I love the series, The Office. In the past, Rommie (my wife) and I would start watching it on December 21, the first day of winter and try to stretch it out throughout the winter until March 21. We hated the dark winter and I’m sure experience, SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder. The office was the Sun that we needed to survive the dark evenings.

Jim and Pam. That’s the series in a nutshell. But before there was Jim and Pam, there was Pam and Roy. For the first three seasons, Pam and Roy were on again, off again. Pam and Jim finally kissed in season 2 episode 22. I’m sure that the whole country was cheering on February 9, 2005 when they kissed, but it takes another complete season for Pam to break up with Roy.

The Push and Pull Principle

I want to introduce you to a concept that I learned 40+ years ago from a wizened professor at the college I attended, which is now Multnomah University in Portland, Oregon. I was having a difficult time leaving a church that I was attending. I was a pastoral student and the church I was attending just wasn’t nurturing me. My Professor’s advice: seek out new opportunities to serve throughout the city. He said you’ve experienced a push, but you don’t have a pull. I sought out new opportunities and found a church that was more suited to my spiritual needs.

Push and Pull with Pam and Roy. 

What were the things that pushed and pulled Pam into finally breaking up with Roy:

The Push: Roy’s mockery of her desire to go to art school. His failure to encourage her to have other relationships. And ultimately his aggression.
The Pulls: Living her dream, being independent, and being free to pursue healthy relationships.

Breaking up with people, places, and things is difficult because it takes time, energy, self-awareness, and experience to recognize the pushes in the pulls, the dysfunction versus the well-being.

I want to focus on the push of breaking up with food in this blog. Why is it so difficult to break up and change your relationships with food? It’s because our relationship with food is at times, dysfunctional and difficult to change and sometimes it’s difficult to see that dysfunction.

When we have a clear picture of the push, then we are able to respond to the pulls of a healthy lifestyle.

Here are some of my thoughts about why it’s so difficult to break up with food and recognize that dysfunction.

1. Food is everywhere. It’s everywhere and it’s abundant. For most people reading this, food is on the feast side of the feast/famine, continuum. And it’s cheap. Especially food that is full of sugar because sugar is cheap to raise.

Food is at most social functions. We are having a 10th anniversary of our company, Sage Support Services, and guess what? There will be food at the reception. Food is at weddings, birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, family, reunions, company trainings, wakes, baptisms, baby showers, and I can go on and on. It’s like you break up with your partner and see them everywhere you go, every day. That’s why it’s so hard to break up with food.

2. It’s hard to break up with food because food is engineered to taste so damn good. Sugar, salt, fat. If you add one or all of these three ingredients to food, it is irresistible. The food industry knows this. Maybe you’re one of those people that doesn’t like fast food. I don’t eat it because I know it’s a trap. I love eating out but limit how often I eat out because I would weigh a ton after six months. I love restaurant food. I love Panera breakfast sandwiches. I love McDonald’s sausage biscuit with egg. I love microwave popcorn. I love chocolate candy bars. Which one? All of them! The reason that food is hard to break up with is because it taste so damn good. Maybe there was that boyfriend or girlfriend that you had a really big crush on when you were young. Being with them was an adrenaline rush . But you broke up and you were tempted to call them and get back together 1000 times. Food is that person.

3. Why is it so hard to break up with food? Partly because it requires willpower and believe it or not, you have a limited supply willpower. I wrote about it in a blog in October 2019, entitled, Seduced by Sugar. Read it here.

I share a couple of books on willpower in that blog, and here are my takeaways.

Willpower is more affective if you’re not tempted by the presence of sugar. This is the Out of sight Out of mind principle.

Willpower is less effective when working on more than one task. Willpower over food is weakened because you have a life. Duh!

There is a reservoir of willpower, but it usually it’s exhausted by the end of the day when you need it the most.

Dieting can affect your blood sugar levels which lower your willpower. How ironic. Trying to display willpower over food will make it more difficult to break up with food.

4. It’s hard to break up with food because of our emotional connections with food. Food is a mood stabilizer. Food comforts us. That’s why we call some food, comfort food. Food makes us happy. We eat when we are bored, when we are anxious, when we are lonely. And it makes us feel better. It’s hard to break up with food because food is like our BFF. No one breaks up easily with their BFF.

5. The fifth reason why it’s difficult to break up with food is because of the delayed negative results of being in a toxic relationship with the thing we eat. In other words, just like with cigarettes, there is no immediate punishment for our over consumption of food. It takes months and years to develop a weight issue. My son and I were out hiking in the Jefferson Memorial Forest this past week and we both think we could put on 10 pounds in a week if we weren’t careful. I’m going to have a separate blog on this topic based on the book, “Nature Wants Us to be Fat.”

But that’s still a week delay in the consequence of overeating. If you consume 500 extra calories during on a given day, guess what? No punishment. Nada. Nothing. We probably won’t even feel guilty, which would be a form of punishment. 

I’m guessing that if you felt pretty bad, I mean “Covid Bad” or death-of-a-pet-bad every time you over consumed food, or ate sugar, you would, or might cut back, or eliminate sugar all together.

 Because the negative consequences are delayed, 2 to 3 pounds a turns into 20 or 30 in a decade, and because the positive consequences are immediate, as in it taste so damn good, it makes breaking up with the food very difficult.

So what’s one to do? Being overweight is very prevalent in our North American culture, but not everyone is overweight, in fact, many people have escaped their dysfunctional or toxic relationship with food and maintained a healthy weight.

I’ll be sharing eight or 10 strategies in an upcoming blog.

But first, there is a part two to this blog entitled: Keep it Simple Stupid

To read more entries in the Healthy Aging series, click here.