How to Eliminate Sugar Cravings for Good

wind river hiking

“How do you make desserts all day and not want to eat it all?” Working as a baker and pastry chef over the past handful of years, this is one of the most common questions I’m asked. And to be honest, it used to be a lot more tempting to snack on the sugary treats that were around me all day. However, now that I’ve learned to tame my sugar cravings and rely on fat for fuel, it’s easy to steer clear of sweets. It’s not that I have iron-clad willpower–I just rarely crave sugar anymore.

sugar

Eschewing candy and quick-burning carbs in favor of whole foods provides more consistent energy and endurance. It’s one thing to know this, but when it comes to putting it into practice, it can be a struggle to break the sugar habit and combat cravings.

If you identify yourself in any of these statements, you might be experiencing blood sugar imbalances, and you’ll likely benefit from keeping your sugar cravings in check.

  • You get hungry an hour after eating
  • You’re jittery and light-headed if you miss a meal or snack
  • You crave sweets after a meal
  • You need sugar and/or caffeine for quick energy
  • You get ‘hangry’ and hunger comes on immediately
  • Life without sugar sounds unbearable

Blood sugar swings result in that post-lunch slump and the inability to maintain energy for a long day in the mountains (or at the office). Blood sugar dysregulation can also have a host of other negative physiological consequences, including increased inflammation and oxidative stress, and decreased liver detoxification.

What this means in real life for the endurance athlete is increased fatigue, decreased endurance, slower recovery, and being more prone to injury and illness.

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colorado trail

The key to balanced blood sugar is stepping off the sugar roller-coaster. Here are the primary approaches I’ve used to transition from relying on sugar for quick energy to the ability to go from meal to meal with steady energy.

  • Stay Hydrated

Whether on trail or off, start your day with at least a liter of water. Add sea salt and lemon, if it’s available, for a boost in minerals and energy. Drinking water before eating breakfast or a sugary snack ensures that you’re not confusing hunger for thirst. Staying hydrated also helps you avoid unnecessary blood sugar swings, keeping you from craving more sugar.

  • Get Enough Sleep

The amount and quality of sleep you get directly impacts your hormones. Your hormones impact every system in your body. In terms of blood sugar, a decrease in sleep causes higher cortisol, which results in higher blood sugar, which drives up insulin, which causes cravings for simple carbohydrates. Eating the simple carbs further drives up blood sugar and insulin, which further drives up cortisol, creating a vicious cycle.

journal stress reduction

  • Reduce Stress

Stress can come in many forms and it impacts your body negatively whether it’s real or perceived, physical or emotional. It could be stress from a fight with your partner or stress from walking 20+ miles per day. The result is higher levels of cortisol. As described in the previous tip, higher cortisol leads to higher blood sugar, which leads to higher insulin, which leads to even more cortisol, and round and round it goes. Find stress reduction techniques which work for you, such as meditation or journaling.

  • Eat a High Protein Breakfast

As this study indicates, eating a higher protein breakfast can decrease levels of ghrelin, a hunger-stimulating hormone. It also slows stomach emptying, which means you stay satiated longer and have more consistent energy. This keeps you from reaching for those simple carbs an hour after breakfast. A commonly recommended regimen is 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of waking.

salad

  • Eat Balanced Meals

A balanced meal is one which contains protein, healthy fat, and fiber. This will keep your blood sugar levels and hormones stable. You’ll have consistent energy and stay satiated between meals. Examples of balanced meals on trail include 1) a smoothie with greens powder (fiber), whey powder (protein), and hemp seeds (fat, fiber) or 2) rehydrated black beans (fiber, protein), chicken (protein), and olive oil (fat).

  • Consume Minerals and Electrolytes

Cravings for sugar can be masking mineral deficiencies. Chromium and Vanadium have been shown to affect glucose metabolism and the action of insulin. Magnesium affects the production of insulin, cortisol, adrenaline, and glucagon–hormones which impact blood sugar. Consider a product to add trace minerals to your water. Use an electrolyte replacement powder or make your own. Add pink sea salt, which contains over 80 minerals, to your food and water.

  • Boost Gut Health

This study on how gut microbes influence eating behaviors indicates that supporting a healthy level of microbial diversity can have a plethora of positive results, from decreased cravings to increased immunity and neurotransmitter production. Support your gut by eating more soluble fiber from sources such as legumes, veggies, and nuts. Also eat more probiotic-containing foods, such as yogurt and sauerkraut, or take a high-quality supplement.

Sustainable behavior change and new habits are formed gradually. Incorporate the above suggestions one by one and you’ll notice that your cravings for sugar and other simple carbs are drastically reduced. If you do still find yourself wanting to reach for something sweet, choose natural sources of sugar, such as fruit. The fiber slows digestion and the rise in blood sugar. Pair sweets with protein and fat to buffer the insulin and blood sugar response.

When you’re no longer relying on sugar for quick hits of energy, you’ll find yourself with more consistent energy throughout the day and fewer cravings. You’ll likely consume less food overall, thereby allowing you to carry less food on your adventures. You can miss a meal without becoming jittery, shaky, or angry. Perhaps best of all, you’ll have better metabolic resiliency and improved overall health in the long run.

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Five Natural Sunburn Remedies

sunburn

Ahh, summertime–cookouts, swimming, long days spent outside, and as is often the case, sunburn.

As much as we try to avoid it, most of us are familiar with the red, painful skin of a sunburn. Use the following natural remedies for quick relief!

A limited amount of time in the sun supports vitamin D production and regulates our circadian rhythm. However, too much exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays damages the skin, creating a painful sunburn.

Sunburn symptoms may not appear until up to 24 hours after you’ve been in the sun, so you don’t always know when a burn is happening. While it’s wise to keep the following remedies on hand, it’s even more important to avoid burns in the first place. Sunburns not only lead to pain, inflammation, peeling, and blisters, but they also increase the risk of skin cancer.

To avoid the sun’s harshest, most intense rays, avoid direct exposure between 10am and 4pm. When you are in the sun, cover your skin with light, breathable clothing, and wear a wide-brimmed hat. Consider using a sun umbrella, and apply sunscreen to exposed areas.

When you do your best to avoid a burn, but the sun gets the best of you anyway, use the following remedies for fast relief.

essential oil

Apple Cider Vinegar

ACV soothes burns and speeds healing. The acetic acid in ACV eases itching and inflammation. Add 1-2 cups to tepid bath water and soak for 30 minutes. Alternatively, combine 1 part ACV to 7 parts water and use this mixture for a compress. Apply to burns several times daily. To speed recovery, infuse the vinegar with one of the soothing herbs listed below.

aloe vera

Aloe Vera

The gel of this plant soothes, moisturizes, and heals burned skin. Harvest your own aloe gel from a plant at home or find commercial aloe at any drugstore. Look for one that has only the gel and no additives. Apply several times daily to unbroken skin, allowing it to air dry.

peppermint

Essential Oils

Peppermint essential oil is cooling and analgesic, making it a great choice for painful, burned skin. Lavender essential oil is anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial, and can speed healing. Consider other anti-inflammatory oils such as rose geranium, helichrysum, and chamomile.

Dilute oils prior to application. Consider using aloe gel or creating a spritz by combining 20-40 drops of essential oil with 1 tablespoon ACV and 5 ounces of water in a spray bottle.

bees

Herbs

Soothe sunburn with herbs that are anti-inflammatory, high in tannins, and promote wound healing. Consider green and black tea, plantain, comfrey, calendula, St. John’s wort, witch hazel, chamomile, and lavender. Use these herbs in compresses, sprays, salves, and infused in vinegar.

baths

Baths

Baths with common household ingredients can also alleviate redness and burning. Try an oatmeal bath by placing 1-2 cups finely ground oatmeal into an old sock, tying it off, and soaking with it in tepid bath water for 15-30 minutes. Baking soda is another option. Pour 1-2 cups baking soda into a tepid bath and soak for 30 minutes.

These methods work well alone and in combination. Cold compresses and baths are helpful in the early stages for immediate relief. Once the burn has cooled, salves and lotions can be great for healing skin.

To support healing from the inside out, ease the stress of the burn with adaptogen herbs, such as eleuthero root. Eat plenty of foods high in the antioxidant Vitamin C, such as fruits and veggies, to combat free radical damage. Finally, stay hydrated to replenish lost moisture and support recovery.

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Paleo Granola

trail

This granola is super simple to make. It’s quick (less than an hour including bake time) and the ingredients are easy to find in any supermarket.  A little bit keeps me satisfied and full of energy for a long day in the mountains.

I like to make a batch of this to have on hand as an easy on-the-go snack for long day hikes and backpacking trips. It’s full of healthy fats and protein. It’s free of gluten, grains, dairy, and refined sugar. It’s calorie-dense, healthy, and delicious. Plus, it’s easy to omit or swap out ingredients depending on what’s in your kitchen!

granola

Paleo Granola

*free of gluten, grains, dairy, refined sugar

1 cup (4.5 oz) chopped pecans
3 cups (6 oz) coarse coconut flakes
1.5 ( 6 oz) cups sliced almonds
1 cup (6oz) pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup (4 oz) sesame seeds
1/2 cup (3 oz) sunflower seeds
1/8 cup (0.75 oz) chia seeds
1/4 cup (1 oz) hemp hearts
1 tsp sea salt (Pink Himalayan is my favorite)
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice (blend of nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, cloves)

1/2 cup (4 oz) grass-fed butter (or olive oil or coconut oil)
1/2 cup (6.5 oz) honey

Mix all the dries together. Melt honey and butter, and mix into dries. Spread onto parchment lined cookie sheet.

Bake 25 min at 300 or until lightly golden brown. Be careful not to overbake! This can happen quickly.

Allow granola to cool,  and break into clusters of whatever size you like. Add in dried fruit, such as blueberries or cranberries, if desired.

Store in glass jar at room temp for up to 10 days.

Yum!

granola

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How to Eat Healthy on a Thru-Hike

hiker eating

Of the many tasks hikers must think about before a long distance hike, food is at the top of the list.

Where will you resupply? How much food will you need? What will you eat? How do you choose which food to carry?

Either because they see no other option or because they don’t see the benefits of choosing healthier foods, many hikers settle on the standard diet of highly-processed packaged foods by default.

In this video, I give you a glimpse into what a sample day of eating might look like on trail for hikers who prefer simple to prepare, whole food options for increased energy, faster recovery, and better endurance.

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