Henri Craemer | How to Lose weight by Walking the Francigena di San Francesco
How hiking The Way of St Francis helped me to get fit and lose weight. What I learned from the experience regarding body weight, fitness, and health to use in everyday life.
Francigena di San Francesco, The St Francis Way, walking, weight loss, addiction, addiction to codeine, addiction to sugar, body weight, cleansing, sugar, codeine, hiking, overweight, health, healthy living
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The kind of hills and valleys we had to cross, making our way on the Cammino di San Francesco

How to Lose weight by Walking the Francigena di San Francesco

I can strongly recommend walking The St Francis Way from Florence to Rome to lose weight and get fit. However, this recommendation comes with a very serious warning: You could kill yourself in the process. This is especially true if you’re very overweight and don’t have a minimal level of fitness.


The Origin of My Weight Problem

Nearly a year before I set off on the Francigena di San Francesco, I had a number of problems. One of them was an addiction to OTC codeine. I was popping pills to the point where I thought I had contracted liver damage. I rationalized my abuse of codeine on the basis that I had chronic headaches. I was informed that my headaches were a form of codeine withdrawal.

The second was possibly just as serious, but far more insidious: an addiction to sugar. My sugar consumption easily exceeded 50 heaped teaspoons per day. In addition, I would also eat and drink anything sweet.

My favourite fix was codeine, followed by an ultra-sweet hot mug of cocoa – the sweet to wash down the bitter.

Gradually my body weight increased. Where I once was under-weight for my height, I was now well overweight. I weighed myself once only, and I was well over 90 Kg (±200 lbs). Not good, considering the ideal weight for me, a male, 1.8 meters tall, and 63 years old, is around 75 Kg (±165 lbs).

My Initial Solution and Partial Failure

It reached a point where I decided to completely quit my addictions. My intention was not to lose weight, but to cleanse myself. I went on a seventeen day fast. It was sheer hell during the first couple of days. All I could do was lie in a heap, be sick, and feel sorry for myself.

Cleansing certainly happened. Losing weight did too. My weight dropped to about 80 Kg (±176 lbs)

However, my fondness for that famous dark brown soft drink, crisps, chocolate, and anything sweet, meant I gradually put on weight again. All this was supported by a very sedentary lifestyle.

Doing The St Francis Way and Losing Weight

In spite of my efforts to get fit before walking the 550 Km between Florence and Rome, I was still overweight at 84 Kg (±185 lbs).

We started our pilgrimage in the tail-end of an Italian heat wave. For the first ten days of hiking, I went through hell. I sweated like never before. My water intake was unbelievable – on certain days over five litres (±10 pints). In the process, I became truly fit.

After a week I’d lost a lot of weight. Niels, my hiking partner, loved quipping about how I was a mere shadow of my former self. What I thought to be liver damage, had also disappeared miraculously. He thought this was hysterical. “Overweight masquerading as liver damage,” he laughed.


Staying with the Programme

When I got back home, I weighed myself again: 72.2 Kg or ±159 lbs! I thought the scale was faulty, but no, it wasn’t.

I cannot begin to describe how good it feels to be fit and healthy. I’ve decided to do a few simple things to stay this way:

Walking, not strolling: I walk four days per week, at the fastest pace I can manage. As a result of hiking the St Francis Way, I do ±9 Km (±5.6 miles) in under 90 minutes.

No more sugar: On The St Francis Way, I cut my sugar intake to practically zero. I did not deny myself the occasional delights of Italian ice cream, and I won’t do so now either.

Output must justify intake: Use what you eat. I ate very well in Italy  – lots of pasta. That’s OK if you’re walking an average distance of over 20 Km (±12.5 miles) per day at full pace. Since then I’m eating less. My diet is not perfect, but hopefully, I’m getting there.

Stick to it! Now that I know how good it feels, I absolutely never want to go back to what I was. I sweated blood to get where I am, and I’m not going to give it up.


Every person is different. We need to treat our weight as part of our approach to healthy living. Few people are in a position to take the time off to do a Camino, in order to lose weight. Yet a few simple changes can go a long way to improving our health.

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