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It's Not About Earning the Right to Eat

Do you ever feel like you’ve done so much activity that you’ve earned the right to eat anything you want? This is something I’ve struggled with often, especially with my annual trip to Baxter State Park.

Even in the years when I don’t hike (or even try to hike) Mt. Katahdin, if I do anything outside my normal activity level, I feel that siren pull of throwing mindfulness to the wind and eating whatever I want. It probably doesn’t help that I only generally eat certain foods when I’m camping, like smores, potato chips, and hot chocolate – so that can encourage the attitude of “I better eat them while I can”.

The result has often been that I eat far more than I need, which then means I become uncomfortable and sleepy – not really what I’m looking for when I’m out in my few precious days away from the rest of the world to enjoy nature.

So this year I made a deliberate effort to remain mindful. Even though I wasn’t planning on climbing Katahdin, I did want to get up South Turner Mountain, which I mostly did – my friend and I got to the treeline and decided it was too cold and windy for the last 0.2 miles. But we had some gorgeous views:

Setting my intention and paying attention started with breakfast. I wanted to eat enough to carry me through the hike (or at least a good chunk of it), but not have so much that I would be uncomfortably full for mountain climbing. I did that, and given how short the hike is (2 miles each way, with an elevation gain of around 1500 feet), I didn’t need anything else except water until we returned a little before noon.

This was when I knew I had to pay the closest attention. I had just walked 13,000 steps, going up the equivalent of 89 flights of stairs – information courtesy of my phone, which I brought to take pictures. Surely I had earned the right to eat a lot. Hadn’t I?

I reminded myself that it wasn’t about earning the right to eat. Instead, I needed to focus on how my body felt after all this activity, and if I was hungrier than normal. When I checked in, I discovered that yes, I was hungrier than normal, but not ravenous. This helped me stop eating before I got too full, even though the tacos, chips, grapes, sugar snap peas, and chocolate chip cookies all tasted wonderful.

I repeated this at dinner, which required a slightly different intention because I knew we would be toasting marshmallows and making smores for dessert. Part of my mind still tried to convince me to go crazy with eating, but I managed to listen to my body instead. I finished dinner when I had some room left, then had a couple of smores. I noticed I still felt a bit hungry, but my body didn’t want anything else sweet, so I had a few more chips and an apple, and then I wasn’t hungry anymore.

The result this time was feeling alert, satisfied both mentally and physically, and ready to spend my energy enjoying the beauty of the park. And I have to say, I liked that outcome much better.

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