As recently as yesterday, someone asked me:
Did you lose weight on the camino?
(As if my reason for walking 500 miles in the sweltering sun was to get in shape for the Christmas party season!) I know it’s a logical question to ask – after all, you do a lot of exercise and you lose a lot of weight – that’s how it works, right?
I’ve been asked this question almost as much as “How long did it take you?” and the two questions often go together. I don’t mean to sound like a snob but my camino experience was *so* much more than a fitness program.
You want to know how much weight I lost?
You’re kind of missing the point.
And yet, I understand that most people don’t want to get into a deep conversation about something that is kind of abstract.
I get it.
In the years before my camino, I remember meeting people who’d already walked. I often asked them:
How was it?
And they often replied with something along the lines of:
Amazing! But tough!…But amazing!…And tough…
And then they’d kind of trail off and I’d stand beside them feeling confused.
Their response told me nothing and I didn’t really know where to go from there. No doubt, I asked about the cheap wine and the weather, and eventually changed the conversation to something more tangible. It was easier than trying to understand the hazy lightness in their eyes, or trying to figure out what exactly was so amazing and what exactly was so tough. I didn’t understand that contradiction and I didn’t know how to ask for more specifics.
After *I* came home, I experienced that conversation from the other side as everyone asked me:
How was it?
And you know what? I found myself saying:
Amazing! But tough! …But amazing!…But tough!…and then I’d kind of trail off in a nondescript way.
And I watched *their* eyes glaze over, just like mine had done years before! 😀
I can only assume that they struggled to find a way in to my vague reply and didn’t know how to direct the conversation. Invariably, they picked out the things they felt most comfortable chatting about: the weather, their surprise at how I walked it alone, and the names of people they’d known to walk some/all of it before – people I’d never met but with whom I had something in common. I sometimes feel that people ask about my camino experience as a way of cataloguing me rather than trying to understand me.
A lot of the time, people have a vague and passing interest in this camino thing and it’s just a piece of news that gets passed around without a lot of substance. The questions are brief and light. There’s very little probing. We talk around the subject but often don’t get into the meaty parts of my experience.
This happens on camino as well as off camino:
When I was on my last week of walking between Sarria and Santiago, I met a couple who walked roughly the same pace as me. We crossed paths several times over the course of a few days so we had lots of opportunity for small talk and chatter. Walking camino was their first-ever holiday alone as a couple. They’d left their 3 teenage children at home and spent 10 days walking together, relishing the freedom and the friendly community around them. By then, I’d been walking for 4-5 weeks and I was a transformed person. Those weeks and miles had changed me on a fundamental level, even though I was only beginning to articulate those changes. I assumed everyone around me had also been transformed on a fundamental level. I assumed this couple had experienced some sort of revelation about themselves or their life – after all, it was their first holiday alone and they’d chosen to walk instead of sit on a beach – that’s got to have an impact, right?
Over lunch I asked them: So how has the camino changed you?
They looked at me with panic in their eyes. They glanced sideways at each other and shifted uncomfortably in their seats. They wanted to talk about cheap wine and the friendly pilgrims but I’d upset that easygoing balance by asking such a loaded question.
They looked *so* uncomfortable, I may as well have asked them their favourite sexual position!
They stumbled, they stuttered, and eventually came back with a well-worn platitude as a response. They didn’t really have a transformative experience and looked truly distressed by my question.
I came to realize that most people don’t really want to talk about the nature of spiritual wellbeing after walking 500 miles. Largely, they want anecdotes and details they can relay to someone else. They don’t really care whether I feel more comfortable in my own skin and am more content in myself as a result of camino. They also don’t care that I gently, unexpectedly, stopped stressing and fretting over things that had dogged me for most of my life.
So, they ask me about my weight loss program instead.
The funny thing about being asked this question is that most of the time, people have a sort of breathless anticipation as they wait for my reply. There’s a lightness to their expectation. Their heads lift a little higher as they wait for my response. They really want to know if I lost some extraordinary amount of weight while also having fun and being on vacation.
That’s the dream scenario, right?!
And I wonder, if I told them that I did lose some extraordinary amount of weight in such a short amount of time, would they consider walking camino for themselves? Would the great tales of weight loss seduce them into doing something they’d never otherwise pursue?
I’m amused by the question for all sorts of reasons and I always answer it the same way:
I weighed exactly the same after camino as I did before camino.
I stood on the bathroom scales out of curiosity and was genuinely surprised I weighed exactly the same – pound for pound.
So, I can’t claim to have experienced a Camino Slim-Fast Plan!
But I did notice that my body shape changed a lot. My clothes fit me differently and sat differently on my frame. My body toned up. I guess I probably did lose weight but gained muscle mass. And one day, very close to the end, I recall looking down at my legs and actually failing to recognize them. After nearly 6 weeks of walking, they looked like they came from someone else’s body instead of my own. That was the strangest moment of all – literally not recognizing myself.
I came home feeling more fit and toned than I’d ever felt in my adult life. I’m not a runner but I felt like I could take up sprinting, I was that fit. I didn’t run, though, and within a few weeks my body shape returned to its former self. I missed that wirey strength and energy in my body but at the same time, my feet were too sore for walking such long distances every day. And anyway, it was autumn by then and I wanted to curl up beside a warm fire and hibernate.
But next time, I’m totally going to lose an extraordinary amount of weight and get a Slimmer of the Year award! 😀
Did you lose weight on camino or get asked the same questions I did? Are your loved ones as fascinated with weight loss or is it just me?!