I love camping and I don’t mean glorified camping or glamping where furniture is put under a large air-conditioned tent and every creature comfort is supplied for you. I mean old-fashioned, set-up-your-own tent, bring your own food in coolers camping.
There is nothing like traditional tent camping to test your ability to plan, organize, simplify and if all else fails, be resilient. When you do the first three right, camping is a gift of living in the moment, enjoying nature, disconnecting from the daily grind and reconnecting with each other. My family and I had our travel vacations, but each one of them would tell you, the best memories were created while camping.
We were “state park” people – Mt Blue and Lily Bay were our favorites. We’d always go for at least 3 nights, but more often, for four. My husband and I always found it took a couple of days for our kids to adjust to the slower rhythm of hiking, foraging for wood, evening fires, cooking, and playing games like “and then”, cards or Monopoly, but by the end of day 2 they were in sync.
We always had a list of what to take, a meal plan that we always followed and the goal to not go to the store for anything – other than ice once the two frozen gallons of water in the cooler had thawed (frozen water gallons work better than ice – less liquid in the cooler that can ruin bread and other things not in waterproof packaging). This required serious planning, prepping and freezing.
Camping meant simplification – only bringing what you needed. There wasn’t enough room in the van for extras once the tents, sleeping bags, cooler, gas stove, one large pot, one large pan, pillows, bedding and food were loaded. That meant bringing one towel per person, wearing shorts or pants more than once – more like the whole time, and bringing just enough food that could fit in a few bags. And no electronics – loved not having any electricity at the sites.
Camping and living a healthy life are a lot alike
The qualities it takes to go off the grid and into nature for four days are the same qualities it takes to live a healthy life – planning, organizing, simplifying and being resilient when something changes the plans.
Camping is like a proficiency test of those qualities while enjoying nature.
Once you’ve made the decision to eliminate some unhealthy habits, make a plan to address the crux of the unhealthy habit, and then organize steps to reinforce the new habit.
For instance, let’s say binging on ice cream or chips in the evening is a pretty common occurrence. If it’s half a bag, at 150 calories an ounce that could be 750 calories or a large bowl of ice cream could be 500 calories – a huge opportunity to rein in some calories.
Night snacking often happens because dinner was not balanced right. Usually it’s either inadequate protein and too many carbs – like spaghetti with just tomato sauce or Ramen noodles – which lead to an insulin spike and hunger cravings later. Or there are not enough non-starchy vegetables to provide fiber and volume to fill up your stomach without all the calories.
Find the source of the unhealthy habit. In the situation above, fixing the dinner can reduce the cravings at night.
I had another client who struggled with late afternoon snacking – from 4 to 6 was the danger zone. The root of her snacking boiled down to having an imbalanced small lunch and struggles with a family member. Late afternoon was idle time and eating was a way of self-soothing.
Emotions drive most of our behaviors. Unplanned time, strong emotions and a loaded kitchen are a recipe for disaster. The solution for my client was more complex. It started with eating a more balanced lunch – even if it meant taking a peanut butter sandwich on the road while running errands. Then it meant finding an activity to fill the late afternoon time. And finally, it meant addressing the struggle with the family member.
Cutting out the clutter of life can create space and energy to move towards a healthier life. Removing clutter starts with cleaning out the house of unneeded things and ends with divesting of emotional clutter that gets in the way of positive, purposeful living. It comes down to expectations.
I’m in the process of physically decluttering my house as I prepare for a move. So many things I had held onto, expecting that my kids might want them, or they might have a purpose in the future I gave to Goodwill. I’ve thrown out lots of travel memorabilia, books I realized I would never read, clothing that was “special” and I knew I would never wear, wedding china and silver that couldn’t go in the dishwasher – even the dining room table, are all gone. Each expectation at a time replaced with practicality, and life became simpler by letting go.
And it’s not just material things, it’s expectations of life that can clutter our minds and take space and energy away from making lifestyle changes. Simplifying could mean just looking at your daily routine and being open to explore ways to make it more efficient.
I had a client who always did certain household chores on the weekend. When we explored other windows of time she realized that evenings were a great time to wash and dry things like bedding and towels and they could be folded when she had small windows of time the next day. It could also mean doing things at unusual times, like getting dinner ready in the crock-pot the night before or cleaning the house while talking on the phone. Just being open to changing routines can simplify and allow for more fun time on the weekends.
Simplifying can also be much deeper. Loneliness, being a caregiver or having a difficult relationship with a family member can be energy-sapping and be the root to many unhealthy behaviors. Just finding support and friendship and bringing positive energy into each day can lighten the burden.
And probably the biggest emotional decluttering a parent could make, is to choose not to try to relive their own life through their children. Don’t own your child’s successes as Kahlil Gibran writes so eloquently in the The Prophet:
You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You can strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you…You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
Life, like camping, takes resiliency
I remember a time many years ago when my resiliency was tested. My family and I had just returned from a long hike around Moosehead lake and torrential rains were on the way. We could have packed up and gone home but we figured we should learn to deal with what life gives us. Besides, we were still early in our vacation.
We had casually covered our tent with a large 16 by 24-foot tarp but I knew it was not strategically angled and anchored. I was the “tarp queen”.
My family thought I was absurd as I anchored the ropes attached to the corners of the tarp to different tree’s positioning the tarp so most of the rain would run down the slope of the camp site. I placed a 6’ heavy limb covered with a towel at one end under the tarp and rested the other on the table to create a tent-like space to keep the tent and picnic table dry. Being confined to just a tent with a family of five takes a much stronger resiliency and mine doesn’t go that far, lol!
The rain had interfered with our afternoon swim plans but we made the most of it by playing a lively game of Monopoly under the tarp. But at least we stayed dry!
I’ll never forget a patient I worked with who had recently been diagnosed with diabetes with an A1c over a 11. An A1c or Hemoglobin A1c, is a blood test for diabetes that reflects blood glucose level over several months’ time. An A1c of 11 corresponds to an estimated average blood glucose of 270, well over the normal range of 140 mg/dL. This particular patient came in with his wife and met with me 3 times. He did not have insurance and could not afford to go through a diabetes program. I gave him many handouts, internet links, strategies for bringing his blood sugars down and encouragement.
He remained engaged, accepting, and encouraged as his blood sugars started to drop. He checked his blood sugars with a glucometer before and after many meals to learn about the results of his food choices and radically changed his diet. Six months after working with him, his wife reached out to let me know he had brought his A1c down to 5.6 – the estimated average of about 120! She said he was doing well, felt great and was motivated to continue.
Many people are initially overwhelmed and angry when they are first diagnosed with diabetes. But this individual met the challenge, adapted, and stayed positive – he was the definition of resiliency.
Go camping to prime your life for health
If you can tent camp, you can live a healthy lifestyle. The number one quality it takes to live a healthy life is planning. Planning puts you in control of your life instead of letting life just happen and control you. A life without a plan is like travelling without a map.
If you can get off the grid for four days and bring everything you need, your reward will be living in the moment, listening to nature, having time to declutter your brain and bringing all these skills to the rest of your life when you come home. Tent camping is the pause in life that recalibrates our thinking. No glamping for me.
Barbara specializes in helping people lose weight and improve their blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please “share” her articles and “like” her facebook page to help spread the word!