Food for thought

It might be best to stay out of the chip aisle before a trip to the alpine

By Jeff Lund

For the Juneau Empire

One of the least-discussed issues during the pandemic has been the state of our national health, and what we, as individuals can do about it.

The healthier we are when confronted with the need to combat illness, the more likely we are to have positive outcomes. Plus, there’s the added bonus of feeling better when not battling a virus.

So, I’ve been running more than I have since I half-trained for my last marathon over a decade ago. As much as I dislike running, I hate the thought of being unable to run even more. My girlfriend and I ate the elk she shot last fall and the greens she grew in her garden for most of the summer so I hadn’t felt so healthy and ready in a long time. Not that I had let myself go, but I felt like I had reached a new level for myself and felt great about it.

It was a bit of a surprise then, when upon returning to the boat after hiking off the mountain with a deer split between our two packs, Abby and I had a dinner of Cheetos. Yes, the entire bag, after a 6-mile hike up and down the alpine mountain ridge from camp, then 6 more miles down an old logging road on mountain bikes to the boat. Cheetos.

If I’ve learned anything from being an adult, it’s that there is no escape from the inevitability of hypocrisy so it’s not surprising that after months of considering diet and exercise more carefully, I’d go off the rails. What is surprising is that people can be so unwaveringly convinced in their ways because it only invites the perfect argument against your world-view – or temptation for your eating habits. Of course, if you make yourself immune to reason, you don’t have to listen to people with whom you disagree, even if it is yourself.

[Tales from 2 trails and some bird stories]

Anyway, back to the 1,440 empty calories we shoveled into our famished mouths. Hunting season brings out the snacker in me. You get strange cravings after a few days of oatmeal, bars, trail mix and dehydrated meals. You’ve burned so many calories hiking and hauling, you just want a vacation in Tasteville, and Cheetos, though trashy, are tasty. But you know it’s trouble when there’s so much residue on your fingertips you have to nibble it off.

Health apps might ask with digital passive-aggressiveness “How does this food fit into your daily fitness goals?” but the first problem is that it’s not a food. Food occurs in nature. There is no Cheetos tree, and if you have to point to more than two locations to find the ingredients, you’re dealing more with science than nature. Second, it doesn’t fit.

The problem with validating a treat binge is that it makes it seem okay. It’s not okay that Abby and I crushed a bag of Cheetos even after an alpine hunt. But I don’t feel so ashamed that I wouldn’t admit it or that I’ll throw all caution to the wind going forward. A diet rich in rules and “no” is a diet that will be resented and inevitably fail, but the more frequently I say “yes” to shady snacks, the worse off I’ll be. I know this. It’s not the fault of the Frito-Lay company. We know what we did and feel the motivating shame, not the self-worth crippling shame.

I’ll eat Cheetos again, but just to make sure it doesn’t happen like that, I’ll stay out of the chip aisle when shopping for this weekend’s trip to the alpine.

Probably.

• Jeff Lund is a writer and teacher based in Ketchikan. “I Went To The Woods,” a reference to Henry David Thoreau, appears in Outdoors twice a month.

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