How Hiking Made Me Love My Body (More)
Hiking has changed my relationship with my body – as you can probably guess, for the better.
It‘s hard to imagine anyone coming back from a hike and talking their body down instead of raving about the views.
Hiking is a magical thing. It makes you feel strong. And it can turn around the way you view your body completely.
If you‘re looking to change the relationship with your body and create a more positive body image, hiking could be a life-saver for you.
It certainly was for me.
My hiking story – a path to personal growth
I was born right at the foot of the Bavarian Alps in Germany. A natural-born hiker, one would think.
On the contrary! Of course, hikes were a big part of my childhood but all I ever remember feeling was resistance.
My parents had to bribe me with gummy bears to keep me going. I felt equally unmotivated for any other kind of exercise.
Fast forward to 2017, when I was feeling rather depressed after a break-up. As one does, I asked Google for help – how can I feel better again? Exercise popped up again and again as an answer, promising sweet, sweet endorphins.
Since scientific benefits can convince me better than anything, I was sold – and I finally worked on overcoming my inner resistance to movement.
This is when I went on my first voluntary hikes. By 2018, I was hooked.
What followed: The Spanish Camino, countless day hikes, started backpacking – and every hike made me feel a little bit stronger. I was hiking up mountains, but I was also conquering myself.
Especially in 2020, when I realized I am strong enough to survive alone in the mountains for days, I started noticing how hiking had changed not only my mindset but also my body image.
As you can guess I wouldn‘t be writing this blog post if I had always had a positive body image.
It‘s been a struggle since my early teen years – learning to love my body has been quite a journey, but a worthwhile one.
How hiking can foster self-love and a positive body image
Hiking shifts your focus
When it comes to your relationship with the body, a major change that happens through hiking is a simple, yet powerful shift in focus.
Climbing mountains makes you focus much more on what your body can do than what it looks like.
And that is an incredibly important mindset shift to overcome body issues.
While hiking, you can feel every second what your body is doing for you.
It moves you uphill. Carries your gear. Catches you when you slip. Brings you, safely, all the way down again.
Hiking provides a space for cultivating gratitude and appreciation for your body‘s abilities.
When outdoors, away from cities and people, you start focusing on what really matters.
It can be a very primal experience – you realize that many of your day-to-day worries do not matter out there.
What matters is your strength, your fighter spirit to keep going, basic necessities like food and shelter.
The mountain does not care how you look. Neither will you when you reach the peak after a challenging climb.
You embrace the joy of having persevered. You get to enjoy the views. And you get to say ‚well done, body, we made it.‘
And – just as a side note – hiking is not about reaching the peak or a certain goal. Even if some days you don‘t make it to the top, you can celebrate how far your body has brought you.
You learn to trust your body
In the mountains, trusting your body and knowing its abilities is quite literally essential for survival.
Especially when tired, you need to know which movements are still safe for you to do and when you‘re putting yourself at risk.
You need to learn how to listen to your body.
While hiking, your body works tirelessly at keeping you safe, tells you when to take breaks, and helps you through the most challenging situations.
It can be incredibly empowering to feel the stored capacities your body holds.
If you need to get back down that mountain, need to make it through that thunderstorm, or climb that obstacle, your body does everything in its power to make it possible.
After hiking for a while, you most certainly (re)gain trust in your body. Because it shows you again and again that it won‘t let you down.
It‘s time to start viewing you and your body as a team, not enemies.
And if the mountains taught me one lesson, it‘s this one: You are so much stronger than you think you are.
Hiking builds mindfulness
One step at a time. Inhale. Exhale.
(Actually, even now, let‘s all take a deep breath.)
Being immersed in nature, possibly even all by yourself, you can‘t help but build a certain mindfulness.
I‘m definitely not the only hiker who will confirm that hiking kind of is like meditation. No other activity leaves me feeling so deeply connected to myself.
Hiking truly makes you arrive in the moment. And presence is definitely needed, after all, you need to pay attention to where you‘re stepping. And notice all the beauty around you.
Mindfulness is such an important skill for developing body acceptance.
When hiking, you get used to checking in regularly with your body. You observe how you feel in your body. And your tumultuous mind calms down a little.
If you are disconnected from your body, you can‘t heal your relationship with it.
And, just as a warning, don‘t use hiking as a dieting program. If your focus lies on weight loss, your body image won‘t change one bit.
Make it about the activity itself. Make it about spending time with yourself. And speak to your body kindly.
Hiking makes you grow bigger
…not literally though, sorry to all short people. 😉
However, taking up hiking can trigger so many good changes within yourself that can eventually also lead to a more positive relationship with the body.
The mental challenge will make you more resilient. You get to connect with nature and ease the turmoil of your thoughts.
It‘s easy to feel you‘re doing something good for your body when outdoors.
And when you feel good about what you‘re doing, you feel good in your body.
You will fall into your bed (or tent) and feel damn great. Possibly exhausted, but great.
Beyond that, hiking can also grow your confidence drastically.
In the outdoors, you will quickly learn that you can do much more than you think you can.
Yes, you will also feel your limitations but every time you push your limits you will grow a little bit bigger.
And with that comes a self-confidence that has little to do with how your body looks. It is rooted in a deep sense of self-worth.
Does hiking change your relationship with food?
Lastly, hiking can affect the way you view food. It‘s just a wild guess, but if you‘re struggling with your body image, you may also be struggling with your relationship with food a little?
Here‘s the thing that happens when you hike.
Your body needs energy. Especially on long hikes, food becomes what it essentially is meant to be: Fuel.
Hiking can give you a new level of appreciation of food, and to me, it took a lot of thoughts about restricting food (which is never a good idea) away.
My body demanded fuel and it was my job to feed my body so it could deal with the challenges of the hike.
Now, again a disclaimer. Hiking, especially thru-hiking, can quite mess with your relationship with food as well.
After 2-3 weeks of hiking all day, every day, the so-called hiker hunger kicks in. You burn so much energy that it‘s almost impossible to eat enough and you could literally eat endlessly.
This leads many hikers (including myself) to switch to rather unhealthy diets, consisting of high-energy foods.
After a while, I could really feel how reaching for sugar as one of my main energy sources left me feeling drained and I didn‘t recover as well as I could have on a more nourishing diet.
Adjusting to a normal eating pattern after hiking for 2 months was quite honestly tough – I was stuck in my sugar addiction which ultimately left me feeling worse in my body than before.
So, let me just say, hiking does not automatically fix your relationship with food (it didn‘t for me, at least).
But, certain mindfulness provided, it can certainly attune you to the needs of your body better and change how you view food in a positive way.
Hiking made me love my body (and self) more
Before I had started hiking, I had already found a lot of acceptance for my body.
But hiking let me go beyond that – and develop a sense of gratitude for my body‘s abilities that I did not have before.
I have become more fearless and convinced that I, too, can move mountains.
And whenever I feel a little bit low, I know I‘m only one hike away from a better mood and feeling connected to my body and self again.
Whether you‘re a first-time hiker or someone who just needs a little reminder to go out there, I am here cheering you on.
It may be hard to convince yourself to get out there, especially if you are feeling inadequate, but showing up is the hardest part.
Hiking is for everyone. The outdoors are waiting for you. And we are all welcome to grow and learn and enjoy there.