Thursday 8 December 2016

'I'm getting in shape to walk the Camino'

Andrea Smith says her self-esteem isn't bound up in her appearance, and she's never tried to lose weight. But now, at 19 stone, she's embarking on an adventure of a lifetime - and that's just the diet...

Published 21/07/2015 | 02:30

Andrea Smith is embarking on a healthy eating and walking programme.
Andrea Smith is embarking on a healthy eating and walking programme.

I truly must have been out of my mind. I can't think what came over me when I agreed to spend six days in September hauling my fat arse over 115km of the Camino Way in northern Spain, because as a fully paid up member of the couch-potato club, the nearest I get to walking is a gentle dawdle around the park with my dogs.

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Maybe this is my midlife crisis, although if that's the case, I would have much preferred to go the cougar route rather than the bloody pilgrim one.

I'm particularly astonished because one of my favourite pastimes is mocking the fit brigade. I've always felt that life is too short to spiralise a zucchini, and have never seen the inside of a gym in my 46 years on the planet. Fitspo schmitspo, like, because all that malarkey about clean eating, Hell and Backs and strong being the new skinny bores me into a coma.

Until now. Maybe it was the fact that at 19 stone, my hip was seizing up a bit that did it. I'm never sick and call myself a "fit fatty", due to the aforementioned dog walking, but the dicky hip suggests that my luck is possibly running out. Plus, given that my father had a triple heart bypass at 47, there's every chance that I will drop dead without warning one day from a massive heart attack caused by my fuzzy arteries.

Or perhaps it was singer Frances Black's subtle powers of persuasion, as she piqued my interest by describing how amazing it is to take part in this once-in-a-lifetime adventure. All the lies that she told me? Time will tell. Either way, my heart was low as I signed up to do it, knowing that I have a mere 10 weeks to get myself into some sort of reasonable shape.

Frances has gathered a group of 30 people to raise money for her charity, The Rise Foundation, which helps families who have loved ones in addiction. We'll spend six days walking 15 to 20km per day along the the Way of St James, a 1,000-year-old heritage trail, with the help of Dublin-based experts, Follow the Camino.

We're doing the final 115km of the entire 780km trail, joining the ranks of the thousands who walk this route annually, all for different reasons.

The bit that greatly appeals to me is that she has promised we'll enjoy warm evenings of good food, fun, laughter, friendship and maybe even a couple of songs, as we nurse our poor, beleaguered feet.

The Camino is the most famous pilgrimage in the world, and each year, thousands of people trek across one of the various routes from Spain, France and Portugal to visit the relics of the Apostle James, interred in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Even though I'm not one bit religious, you don't have to be to get value from the experience, apparently. Most people insist there's a spiritual dimension to the walk, and in the process of undertaking it, you get to ask, and hopefully answer, a few important questions about yourself.

And that bit kind of appeals to me, because as a freelance journalist who is always worrying about where the next commission is coming from, I never really have the luxury of taking time out to think or take stock. The truth is that this is a great opportunity for me to do something different, and shake myself out of my predictable routine, because I never really challenge myself at all, either mentally or physically.

I just kind of plod along. I also like the idea of raising some money for charity as I plod along for real.

I have walked the mini marathon on three occasions over the years, although there was one memorable occasion where my friend and I were actually among the last five people to arrive back. The ambulance was driving slowly behind us as we strolled up Leeson Street, and every time we passed by a junction, the police removed the barriers and opened up the roads to traffic again. The funniest part was that they had packed the medals away into the van by the time we straggled in, and someone had to climb in and fish two of them out for us.

So, given that walking the Camino is the equivalent of two mini marathons a day, some of it over hills, I need to get my arse in gear pretty pronto. Hopefully, the beautiful Galician scenery will go a long way towards making up for all the exertion.

I genuinely couldn't care less about being fat, and am one of the lucky people whose self-esteem isn't bound up in my appearance, but I guess it will be easier to walk for miles every day if I have a couple of stones less to haul along with me.

I don't mind cutting down for that purpose, but the problem with embarking on a weight-loss programme is that I'm the worst person in the world to try to engage in conversation about diets. The whole subject bores me rigid, and I glaze over when people start talking about pounds lost or gained, calories, points, recipes, what you can or can't eat and all the rest of it.

I always think that we've lost the plot when it comes to the subject of weight and appearance, and it would be far healthier if we focused more on what's going on inside our heads rather than how much cellulite is on our thighs.

None of my close friends have weight problems and dieting is not a topic that we discuss, which makes us fairly unusual among women.

Back in the 90s, in the days before workplace bullying was deemed unacceptable, I temporarily worked in an office where one manager regularly announced to her department of glamorous young girls that they, and she, were "all on diets".

She marched them around the streets of Dublin at lunch time and recorded their weight-loss on a chart on the wall. The girls, none of whom were actually fat, spent the freezing winter picking miserably at fruit bowls over lunch, and it confirmed to me that the subject of weight can make even the sanest women go mad.

Nonetheless, given that it's obvious that I would be better off being lighter for this challenge, I'm embarking on a healthy eating and walking programme from this week. I've written enough diet features over the years to know all of the theory behind effective weight loss, so here comes my opportunity to put it into practice.

I'll talk to a couple of nutritionists along the way, as the whole area of eating food as fuel for exercise is alien to me. And I'll be asking some personal trainers and wellness gurus for their tips to turn me from Waynetta Slob to Sonia O'Sullivan. In 10 weeks...

* Tune in next week to see if I'm still alive, and of any of you fancy doing the Camino with us, there are a couple of places still available. See therisefoundation.ie

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