Fat and unfit in Fiordland (and Westland)
Musing from the last two summer holidays.
For the last 16 years, The Engineer and I have spent some time in the great New Zealand wilderness away from civilisation and things like wifi and electricity. We have had some amazing 10 day tramps where we have had to carry all of our own gear including tents, cooker and food.
Under the old days of low fat high carb meals, this wasn’t too much of a problem as we would be living off rolled oats, rice and pasta with just enough protein and fat (and for me, chocolate and sugar) to stay healthy.
Having gone low-carb, high fat, this caused major changes. Instead of taking 100g rice or pasta for our evening meals, we now take 50g Ghee or Beef dripping.
So with the change to high fat meals in the outdoors, what have we noticed?
- I better appreciated the environment. On a high-carb diet, my brain was often starving for fuel. You don’t enjoy the scenery beyond “oh – pretty” at this point.Now I can notice many more subtle things and take a keener interest in where I am.
- We don’t have to stop. This is a two-edged sword. There are certainly times when stopping is a bad idea, such as when you have a long stretch prone to avalanches, or the weather is unpleasant. However, when you are unfit, it is not just your muscles that need strengthening. Tendons, ligaments and other connective type tissues take longer to strengthen and due to a lack of nerves, you may not know that you are damaging them until it is too late. Rest breaks are still good, but you don’t have to eat.
- We didn’t have any food cravings at the end of ten days. On other long trips we have come out of the hills and headed straight to the pub for a good steak. Both of us have thought we were protein starved. This time, we didn’t, even though our protein intake was only slightly increased. Maybe it was actually the fat we wanted, because, in retrospect, I always wanted a fatty cut of meat.
- Our packs are lighter. It’s not just food. Previously we had to cook rice or pasta. This means that we had to boil the water for longer. We came out of our ten day trip with lots of fuel leftover and quite a few snacks. (Yes – ultra-dark chocolate leftover!) Now we know not to take quite so much. Lighter packs mean happier trampers.
- I don’t react as badly to sunburn or to sandfly bites. New Zealand is unique in many ways, but our lack of ozone means that we have really strong UV and I can burn easily. I still burn, but not as easily, and the burns don’t seem to be as severe. (More research is needed, I’m not leaving my 30+ sunscreen at home yet.)
- Sandflies. Maori legend has it that sandflies were created to keep humans out of the most beautiful parts of New Zealand. Previously, I would be bitten, and welt up and itch and live off antihistamines and still itch. These last two trips, I’m still being bitten, but maybe not as much, and certainly I’m not reacting as before. People have tried all sorts of things to reduce sandfly bites, eating yeast extracts, taking Vitamin B1, bathing in Dettol, plus insect repellents of all types. Nothing really works. The joke used to be that I was The Engineer’s best insect repellent. Well neither of us were badly affected these last two years. Again – more experiments needed, and we still need to see what happens with the Auckland mosquito.
Will we keep going with LCHF when in the wilderness? Absolutely. We are happier, healthier, and can appreciate where we are more. We just need to remember to take better rest breaks.