Losing weight on the Camino is a goal of many pilgrims, though few would admit it. The tricky part is that you do not necessarily lose weight just because you cover a decent mileage day after day, as you progress towards Santiago de Compostela. Some people lose weight, others gain weight, and some end up surprised when they see exactly the same number on the scales as they saw before they embarked on a one month long pilgrimage in Spain. So what is the secret?
No doubt the topic of losing weight on the Camino is complex, and many things come into play (your genetic predispositions, the way your metabolism works, how many miles you actually walk in the day, how often you eat, etc). Having said that, without a doubt the factor you can control the most is what you eat, and how often you eat on the Camino. And that’s what we will look at right now: food you should eat (or avoid eating) as you try to lose weight on the Camino.
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Typical Camino diet is not your friend
When we look at typical pilgrim menu in restaurants and bars along the Camino, we will see some patterns: Lot of white bread (Spanish staple food), french fries, and greasy meat or fish. I think it won’t come as a surprise to you that such menu won’t help you losing weight on the Camino. Of course, you need to replenish your reserves. You are walking after all, burning calories, feeling exhausted. But the basics of weight loss is always the same: You need to burn more calories than you intake. If you stick to the pilgrims menu and drink coca cola with your meals (or beer, which also has a lot of calories), the weight loss just won’t happen, unless you walk 25 miles or more on each day.
Of course, it doesn’t mean that you have to avoid restaurants and eat only stuff you buy at the shops. But you should opt for less caloric choices from the menu, or take just a salad, or simply eat just half of the food. Avoiding desserts is also a good idea. Desert typically comes free of charge in Spanish places, so you can either refuse it, or you can donate it to some slim pilgrim that can afford eating it :).
– A typical pilgrim meal, or one of the options you can have on most Caminos – bread, meat, french fries, and negligible amount of vegetables. Needless to say, you cannot eat that daily if you hope to lose weight on the Camino.
If you have a lot of fat to burn, your body can accustom to eating little on the Camino
Our body is incredibly clever. If you eat little food, and the body feels a deficit, it will simply start metabolizing fat from your belly or legs, and get the necessary energy in this way. That’s exactly how we are getting slimmer–the body consuming our own fats instead of fats we eat as part of our food. Needless to say, if you carry a lot of fat on you, your body has plenty of reserves to take from, and you can eat just minimal quantities of food on the Camino. Such as small breakfast in the morning and vegetable salad in the evening.
It may sound strange to you, and perhaps you doubt your body has such capacity. The key here really is creating the habit of eating little. First few days will be the toughest, but after first week you will barely experience any discomfort, since your body get accustomed to the new routines. The problem is that nine out of ten people will quit before it happens. The tenth one can easily lose 10-20 pounds while walking the Camino. Will it be you?
Eating food with a lot of fiber is the key to weight loss on the Camino
Fiber is your friend when it comes to weight loss. Regardless of how much you eat on the Camino, and what you eat, make sure that fruits and especially vegetables form a part of all your meals. Fruits have more fiber but they are also high on sugars, hence when your goal is weight loss, you will benefit the most from eating veggies as your main food, or with your main food. To make it clear though: The slice of tomato and one leaf of lettuce they give you to your french fries with a piece of meat is not enough. You should take an entire salad, or buy a whole head of lettuce, or at least eat one green apple after the meal.
This isn’t a medical blog, so I am not going to explain what a difference fiber makes in your gut health and how it impacts your appetite. For the purpose of explaining what you should eat on the Camino to lose weight, it is enough saying that you should eat some food with fiber with all meals. Great news is that during the seasons, Spanish vegetables are just amazing. I am not sure if I’ve ever eaten as good tomatoes as I did in Asturias, or a lettuce of the quality you get in Basque country. You can typically get the best produce in smaller places called”Fruterias”, which you will find in virtually all Spanish towns and villages.
– A typical big juicy tomato from the province of Asturias. I remember days when I ate two such tomatoes for lunch (with nothing else) and actually felt pretty good on the Camino!
Buying your food in Spanish supermarkets can help with weight loss
Of course it is more convenient eating in restaurants, sharing meals and stories with other pilgrims. If weight loss is your primary goal on the Camino, however, you should take just unsweetened coffee or mineral water in the restaurants, if you do not take a salad of course (which, by the way, typically has a poor quality in restaurants along the camino, with the majority of ingredients coming from a can).
Good news is that in supermarkets, you will actually get food that will help you with weight loss on the Camino. One of my favorites is Gazpacho in a paper box, which you can get both in normal and bio quality in almost all Spanish supermarkets. It is a vegetable soup, one you eat cold, it hydrates you well, you feel full after drinking the liter of it, but it has very little calories. That’s a perfect combination for weight loss on the Camino.
Needless to say, you can get also wholegrain bread in most supermarkets and bakeries (not in all though), and you can buy amazing fruits and vegetables of all kinds and origins, coming directly from Spanish fields and gardens. Such things, together with moderate quantities of nuts and seeds, and an occasional meal in a restaurant, should form the core of your diet on the Camino. At least as long as you want to lose weight.
Final thoughts on foods to eat on the Camino to lose weight
Losing weight is never easy, and you will have to make some sacrifices. But it doesn’t mean that you will suffer on the Camino, or have to avoid sharing table with other pilgrims in restaurants. The key is eating less, choosing your meals wisely (or avoiding some altogether), eating fiber with each meal, buying healthier stuff in supermarkets and local small shops, and avoiding desserts and sugars in general all the way to Santiago. If you eat in this way, and walk for a few hundred miles at least, no doubt you will like your image in the mirror in Santiago much more than you liked it before you embarked on your pilgrimage… Buen Camino!
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