Introspection On A Hiking Trail

To say that I’ve had an unhealthy relationship with food for the majority of my life would be quite an understatement. Weighing 313 pounds at one point, I was the kind of person you could tell just by looking at was someone who knew their way around a buffet table. I was big, and I was always eating. Worst of all, I just didn’t care about that fact.

To get to such an unhealthy point I fell into all of the classic traps like late night snacking, ordering in fattening meals from restaurants, and drinking lots of unhealthy sodas. Just to illustrate how bad I was, often I would go to Dunkin’ Doughnuts for lunch and order two egg and cheese croissants, a bagel with cream cheese (or tuna if I was trying to be healthy ¯\_()_/¯), and a milkshake. I would be able to eat all of that in one sitting and still have room for snacks. In other situations I would order from restaurants multiple servings of large french fries and just eat them all by myself in my room with the door closed. Whenever I was binging or eating unhealthily I would always have to do it alone. In front of people I would eat normal portions, then scurry back to seclusion concealing food that I would eat there. It was really pitiful and depressing.

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Along with my overeating came the obesity. Going into college, I had resigned myself to my inevitable fate that this was just how things were going to be for me. I just accepted that I was never going to be thin or have muscles and that I just wasn’t meant to be that kind of person. To my peers, I was always going to be “the fat guy.” Every group nowadays seems to have one. Through my experiences however, I have come to realize that there in an unspoken rule among popular fat people, and that’s that if you aren’t thin, you need to be funny. Though I often wish I could deliver epic sarcasm like my sister and father, except for rare occasions humor generally isn’t my strong suit. Sitting and writing for a blog where I have time to try and think cleverly is one thing, but in person I lack the quick thinking that humor requires. Oftentimes minutes after a conversation I will walk away kicking myself at a missed opportunity for a funny retort. If being obese was the first strike against me, my lack of comedic ability was the second one.

Progressing through college, my apathetic approach to losing weight hit a turning point in 2014 when I was privileged with the opportunity to go on Birthright-Israel. For the uninitiated, Birthright is an incredible program that brings together an assortment of different people and takes them on a once in a lifetime trip to Israel. When I went I had no idea what to expect, but I had an absolute blast and don’t have a single negative thing to say about the program.

However, while I had a lot of fun, I had no idea that Birthright would involve lots of hiking. Israel is a very mountainous region with incredible sights, but the problem is that it takes a lot of walking to get to them. Now imagine you’re me for a second: You’re obese, in a foreign country with a group of strangers you met just a few days ago, and you’ve just been dropped off in the middle of a desert and told to start hiking. Things don’t look so promising, but at least the trip did include a stop at a winery, that made the situation a little bit better.

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I know this may be a shock, but I don’t enjoy hiking. Never have, never will. As my favorite comedian John Pinette explains perfectly, horrible stories always seem to start with “well we were hiking.” You’ll almost never see an obese person hiking, mostly because they know their limits, but also because they are smart enough to realize that they shouldn’t be hiking in the first place. I share similar sentiments, except I like to hike for a single minute, then reward myself with ice cream for being so brave.

Moving past my hatred for the sport and going back to my Birthright trip, a few days into the program we had our first hike, which was in the Golan Heights. If you want to experience what I went through on that day, grab a bag, fill it with rocks and sand, and beat yourself over the head with it. Never in my life had a hike been so tolling and emotionally draining. When I first saw the trail we would be going on, I realized the day was about to go south when the first part involved walking down steep steps. I haven’t gone on many hikes in my life, for obvious reasons, but I know that steep steps are a bad sign right there. Regardless, since the entire group was heading out on this trail, I bit my tongue and started walking.

The hike started off okay. Though I was by far the most out of shape person in the group, I managed to be keeping up pretty well. However, about twenty minutes in, the hike became increasingly strenuous and my stamina started to wane. Slowly, I began to fall to the back of the group. Another couple of minutes later we thankfully stopped for a water break and I took this opportunity to bear crawl over to a Birthright staff member and ask him how much longer until this horror story was over. Incredulously, I was then told that the “adventure” wasn’t even halfway over and we still had quite a ways to go.

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The hike’s destination was supposedly a beautiful waterfall. I say “supposedly” because I never actually managed to get to see it. By the time my group had reached the waterfall, I had been unable to keep up with them and had fallen so far behind that I couldn’t even see them in the distance. A Birthright staff member stayed behind with me as I struggled on, trying desperately to catch up. Eventually, my psyche began unraveling to the point where I was reduced to such a helpless state that I gave up on ever reaching the waterfall, and instead began asking for a nonexistent shortcut. Reduced to my worst possible state, something deep in my brain clicked and for the first time in my life I began trembling with the realization that this was all my fault.

Looking back, what always stood out for me during that hiking trip was how everyone else in my group was so cheerful. For the most part, they were getting along with the trail so easily and I just couldn’t understand how they weren’t struggling like I was. Contrasting our experiences, the true lesson I learned that day was that the hike wasn’t the problem, I was. I had no one to blame for the situation I was in but myself. My lack of care and poor health choices had all lead up to this moment and now I was publicly suffering the consequences that I would have to endure for the rest of my likely short life.

As these thoughts crisscrossed through my brain, they all climaxed in a final reasoning of: well there’s nothing I can do about it now. Despite everything I had been through, I still couldn’t muster up a resolution that no, it’s not to late to change things. I saw myself to far down the rabbit hole at this point to fix things and went back to the continual resignation that this was just how my life was going to be. There was no coming back for me. Resolute acceptance of my situation was my third and final strike. It was all over now.

Sitting numbly against a rock during my umpteenth break thinking these thoughts, the Birthright staffer I was with wandered a few feet off to use his phone and call the rest of the group to tell them I had given up and I wasn’t going to make it to the waterfall. As he did so, a group of British school children began passing by. With my staffer a few paces away speaking hebrew, the kids likely assumed I didn’t speak english, and they began mumbling some really hurtful things about me. For the first few moments, I accepted their harsh words. They were right after all, my stupid brain reasoned.

Then, something inside me snapped. Some force deep within me had enough. I wasn’t going to let these brats think they were better than me.

Looking one of the kids dead in the eyes I said (to myself obviously, I’m not that brave): “Go ahead and judge me. Anything you say I’ve already said ten times worse to myself.”

From there, the tiniest ounce of defiance began to develop.

Nothing they said could hurt me, I started to realize. Even though they were saying horrible things about me, a shield of numbness made their words completely ineffective. I had reached such a low point that somehow I became untouchable. In that moment a switch turned and I broke through my apathy. I could still make a a change. I didn’t have to just accept the harsh things people said about me, and I could still make things better for myself. Not only that, but I could make these kids look like such idiots by proving them wrong about me.

With a strength I didn’t know I still had, I pushed off the rock and began marching forward down the path towards the waterfall. I was going to do this. I was going to break my chains and get healthy and this would be that first major step I would take.

Unfortunately, about five seconds into my purposeful march I almost collided with a member of my Birthright group, as they had finished their time at the waterfall and were already heading back. While my epic moment was short lived, those few seconds were the most badass I’ve ever felt in my life.

The rest of the trail finished with a final hike up a mountain. Though I still needed to take breaks every couple of moments, I progressed forward with a renewed sense of purpose in my steps as I knew that things in my life had changed forever. When I got to the top of the mountain, another Birthright staffer was taking pictures of everyone as they completed the hike. While I was the last one of my group to complete the trail and have my picture taken, that image they took is likely the most epic one that will ever be taken of me. I went down that trail one person and came out of it another. I had conquered the impossible.

So here we are now, three years and 120 pounds later. I fulfilled every goal I set out to accomplish when I was sitting by that rock and had my breakthrough. I now workout regularly and have completely reversed every negative aspect of my relationship with food. My shirt size has now gone from a triple XL to a regular L and I can run at 8 miles an hour for a couple of minutes. Having it originally take me over 25 minutes to walk a mile, one of my personal greatest triumphs was when I managed to complete one in 10. I’m still a couple of pounds away from my goal weight, but when I hit it I can thank that one wretched day where I was miserable on a hiking trail and decided to finally do something to fix my problems.

I know it’s a little weird to put dedications at the end of a story, but I’m going to make an exception just this one time.

For those British kids I saw in Israel on a hiking trail once. 

In your face, assholes!

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