Herb Crackers

herb crackers

Easy Herb Crackers

(gluten free, grain free, paleo, vegan, refined sugar free…nothing but the good stuff)

Unless you’re new here, you may know that I have a strong affinity for salty, crunchy snacks. I’m always on the look-out for convenient foods that will make my body function optimally, and of course, snacks should be tasty.

Hit with a crunchy craving recently, I went rummaging through my cupboard and nary was a salty snack to be found. Not feeling like going to the store, it was time to get creative, and thus these Herb Crackers were born. They’re gluten free, grain free, vegan, contain no refined sugar, and are made up of few simple ingredients. They’re also ridiculously simple and result in a house filled with savory scents while they bake.

I’ve had a couple bags of tapioca flour in my freezer that a friend gifted me while I was on the Autoimmune Paleo diet as part of a protocol to heal my adrenal fatigue and hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Prior to these crackers, I hadn’t baked with tapioca flour, so I’d put off using it for over a year. Today was the day.

I searched online to generate ideas and inspiration for the basic cracker process and to see if there was anything special to know about baking with tapioca flour. Tapioca flour is the starch extracted from the cassava root, while cassava flour is the whole root. Generally, tapioca is well-tolerated and avoids causing an immune response, as happens with many other grains. Plus, it’s fairly neutral and lends itself well to taking on any flavor you want. However, it’s still a starch and will therefore raise insulin, so eat in moderation and pair these crackers with a fat and a protein.

These crackers are quick and easy to make, even if you’re not an experienced baker and  have never worked with alternative flours. They only have a handful of ingredients, most of which you likely already have. The tapioca flour could be swapped out for other fours like cassava, almond, or coconut.

In addition to making your house smell glorious, and being able to tailor the herbs to your personal preferences, another benefit of homemade crackers is that you don’t get the myriad of preservatives, food coloring, and additives that are often found in commercial baked goods. That alone makes it worth the little bit of effort it takes to whip up these savory little crunchies.

herb cracker

Easy Herb Crackers (grain free, gluten free, vegan)

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time:  55-60 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1½ cups tapioca flour
  • ½ cup coconut flour
  • ½ teaspoon Himalayan salt
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground fennel seed
  • ½ teaspoon celery seed
  • 2 teaspoon basil
  • 2 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon tomato powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 tablespoons filtered water

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Combine the dries in a mixing bowl. Feel free to use the combination of spices listed above, or create your own concoction. This is just what I had on hand. Add in olive oil and water. Combine thoroughly.

dough

Dough should be a somewhat sticky consistency, but it will stick together in a lump. It won’t be overly loose nor will it be so dry that it doesn’t stick together. You should be able to hold it without it falling through your fingers. Add more flour and/or liquid to adjust consistency as necessary.

crackers

Dump the dough onto a piece of parchment, flatten it into a rough rectangle with your hands, and place another piece of parchment over it. Smooth dough and press into an even 1/4″ rectangle(ish) with a rolling pin. Remove the top piece of parchment and pull the bottom piece onto a baking sheet.

crackers

Bake at 300 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and use a pizza wheel or knife to cut the dough into roughly 1 inch squares. Return squares to baking sheet with some space in between each. Bake another 25-30 minutes until golden brown and lightly crisp.

Cool completely and store in airtight containers. Enjoy with soup, nut butter, hummus, cheese or cured meat. 

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Improve Your Digestion Today with 7 Simple Tips

veggies

“All disease begins in the gut.” This oft-cited quote from Hippocrates still holds quite true, especially in modern times when so many factors are impacting our microbiome, our digestion, and our overall gut health.

Improving and maintaining strong digestion is essential for robust health. Healthy digestion is responsible for optimal nutrient absorption, proper energy production and metabolism, and elimination of toxins and other waste products. A diverse microbiome protects us from infection and supports a healthy mind and mood, among many other things.

Employ the following tips to optimize your gut health and improve digestion immediately.

relax digestion

Relax

Healthy digestion begins in the mind, before food even enters the mouth. Sit down to eat. Take a few deep breaths to relax and feel gratitude for your meal. The sight and smell of food allow the salivary glands to begin to produce the enzymes necessary to initiate the breakdown of food. Eliminate distractions, such as watching television or reading, so you can actually taste your food and sense when you’re full. Slow down and eat mindfully. This allows the nervous system to shift into parasympathetic, aka ‘rest and digest’, mode.

Chew More

The teeth break down food into smaller pieces which make it easier for the digestive system to process. Proper chewing also produces more saliva which contains enzymes that further break down food for increased nutrient absorption.

sauerkraut digestion

Feed the Gut

Creating a healthy microbiome involves nurturing a wide variety of microbes and feeding those microbes what they need to thrive. Inoculate the gut with probiotics through fermented foods, such as sauerkraut and kimchi, and consider high quality supplements with a variety of strains. Nurture healthy gut microbes by eating a diverse range of foods, focusing on whole unprocessed foods, and consuming a lot of fiber. Legumes, whole grains, fruit, and vegetables are all great choices.

For a list of foods I enjoy on trail to maintain a healthy microbiome, download a copy of my healthy hiker grocery guide for FREE here.

Hydrate

Maintaining a steady intake of non-caffeinated beverages throughout the day is important to ensure healthy elimination and avoid constipation. Water is the ideal choice. There are many opinions on how much, but the old 8×8 rule, or eight eight-ounce glasses, is a good place to start. Increase this amount in hot climates or with heavy exercise.

Drop Unhealthy Habits

Eliminate the following activities which have been shown to disrupt digestion and a healthy microbiome: consuming artificial sweeteners and other food additives, drinking alcohol, smoking, over-consuming caffeine, being overly stressed, late night eating, and taking unnecessary pharmaceuticals.

exercise digestion

Exercise

Movement helps food pass through the digestive system. Even a short 15-20 minute walk can improve digestion. Gastrointestinal motility is important not only for physical comfort, but because it helps maintain a healthy bacterial population in the small intestine.

Consume Herbs to Enhance Digestion

Incorporate the following herbs to support liver and gallbladder health, stimulate digestion, and repair the digestive tract: Ginger root, Dandelion root, Peppermint leaf, Milk Thistle seed, and Slippery Elm bark. Use an infusion or decoction to prepare these herbs, depending on the part of the plant with which you’re working.

Incorporate any or all of the above tips to ensure robust digestion and all the benefits that go along with that!

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Oregon Desert Trail Resupply Planning

ODT resupply

Food Resupply Plan for the Oregon Desert Trail

This post details how I planned my food for the Oregon Desert Trail. I’ll post more on general trail information and planning resources in a separate post. This one is all about where, what, and how much I planned for food resupply for the ODT. I’ll do a follow-up post when I return about how this plan worked out.

Grab a cup of coffee. This is a long one, but hopefully you’ll find it’s jam-packed with useful info.

The following table details where I sent each box, the calorie goals for each day, the specific food I sent, and how that broke down in term of macronutrients (percentages of fat, carbs, and protein), as well as total food weight carried.

The calorie goal for each resupply box is in the top left corner of the table for each location. The actual calories in the box are at the bottom of the table for each section, which is also where you’ll find the macro breakdown and the food weight of the box.

ODT resupply

Determining Goal Calorie Intake

I loosely track daily calories and nutrients with the app MyFitnessPal. To create my calorie goals, I used that data of my current intake and expenditure, coupled with knowledge from previous hikes.

The numbers may seem low considering that I’m 5’7″, have a normal BMI, and I’ll be hiking 25-30 miles per day. However, I made them low for a couple reasons:  1) I’m still recovering from a hypo-thyroid issue, and the thyroid is the master regulator of metabolism, so my current basal metabolic rate (BMR) is lower than it has been in the past. I know this because I track my calorie intake and weight. While some might consider the downside of this being that ‘I have to’ eat less food to maintain my weight, the upside of a currently lower BMR is that ‘I get to’ eat less food to maintain my weight. That’s convenient when you’re backpacking and you have to carry it all on your back 🙂 And reason 2) The time frame (30 days) is relatively short, so I won’t get into full on hiker hunger, and if I do go into a calorie deficit, it won’t be for long.  You’ll also notice that in each box I include several hundred additional calories above the goal amount, just in case.

Macronutrient Percentages

Let’s start by saying that I strongly believe in bio-individuality. Every body is different. Figure out what works best for you. I mean that in terms of both what your diet is made up of, as well as in terms of calories and macronutrients, and in terms of specific foods you do or do not tolerate well. Food quality and a focus on whole foods is the constant and the details are variable.

I’ve found that I thrive when I eat a diet higher in healthy fats, moderate in protein, and slightly lower in carbs. The numbers in this chart show my diet as generally being 50-60% fat, 10-20% protein, and 30-40% carbohydrate. Off trail, the fat number tends to be higher and the carbs lower, but this is how it settled out for the trail and I’m comfortable with that. We’ll see how I feel.

Also, I’m aware that in the table, the macro percentages don’t always add up to 100%. In a couple spots they add up to 102 or 105%. I believe this is due to averaging values for different varieties/flavors of granola, bars, etc. While this is not ideal, the data is still accurate enough to give a good reflection of what the nutritional spread looks like.

Food Planning on a ‘Restricted Diet’ while Going Stoveless

All foods in this resupply plan are gluten free and dairy free. This list does also not rely heavily on grains or added sugars, though there are a few in there. The focus is on including real foods with either no ingredient list or very short ingredient lists made up of recognizable foods. To avoid toxin exposure, most of these foods are organic.

I firmly believe in doing the best you can, and not obsessing about being perfect. While I’m all for eating a high-quality diet on trail, don’t let the idea overwhelm you to the point where you give up before you start. Start where you’re at and any small improvements you can make in food choices and quality will translate into feeling better on trail and supporting a cleaner environment.

 

Supplements & Other Items in Each Box

There are a few items that went into each box that aren’t listed in the chart. This includes maps for each section, wet wipes, and supplements. Oh, and resupply baggies of coarse celtic sea salt 🙂

Supplements I’m carrying: Magnesium Citrate Powder to help with muscle relaxation and sleep; Turmeric capsules to reduce overall inflammation; Vitamin C for electrolyte replacement and antioxidants; and probiotics to maintain optimal gut health.  Not a ton, just the basics.

I also have cordyceps mushroom powder in my morning smoothie mix, along with the coconut creamer, collagen, chia, and spices. The cordyceps is for improved oxygen utilization and endurance. The spices, while not necessarily  supplements, serve similar anti inflammatory and medicinal roles.

Need help planning your own resupply? Learn more here.

ODT resupply

Specific Brands I Carried

In the table, I left most food descriptions fairly general because I want to convey that in many instances you don’t have to choose one specific brand, and you can often find healthy substitutions that are either more available to you or suit your preferences better. I want the focus to be on the overall quality of the food and the idea that you can fuel a long distance hike with whole foods, made up of real ingredients.

The following are the specific brands I carried on this hike. While some of this food was donated to me, these are all brands I had tried in advance and approve of the ingredients and nutrition profile. Trust me, I wouldn’t be carrying them if I wasn’t certain they would fuel my hike properly. Having gone through adrenal and thyroid issues in the past, I’m well aware that my energy and my body are my greatest asset on any long distance hike.

It’s worth it to me to be thoughtful in my food choices, as well as in what brands I support. I like to feel aligned with the brands behind the products I consume to the extent that I can. This also goes for the gear I purchase.

Laird Superfood Coconut Creamer

Laird Superfood Hydrate Coconut Water

Vital Proteins Collagen Powder

Amazing Grass Greens Powder

Nutiva Chia Seeds

Trader Joe’s Almond Butter

Trader Joe’s Organic Tortilla Chips

Supernola Granola

Gorilly Goods Trail Mix

Wild Zora Meat & Veggie Bar

Trader Joe’s 85% Cocoa Chocolate

Wild Zora Meals

Sante Fe Dehydrated Beans

Natural Grocers Dehydrated Bulk Veggies

Trader Joe’s Individual Coconut Oil Packets

Kate’s Real Food Bars

Four Points Bars

Trail Nuggets

Cusa Premium Organic Instant Tea

If you want ideas for additional foods on my shopping list beyond what’s listed here, download my free Healthy Hiker Grocery Guide here

Without further ado, the data…

calories/serving fat g/serving carb g/serving protein g/serving weight/ serving (grams) servings taken total calories total fat (g) total protein (g) total carbs (g) total weight (g)
Start/eastern terminus (5 days) @ 2000 cal/day = 10000 cal
coffee/tea 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
laird superfood creamer 75 3 3 0 4 5 375 15 0 15 20
greens powder, cinnamon, ginger, cordyceps 30 5 7 1 10 5 150 25 5 35 50
collagen powder 70 2.5 1 10 15 5 350 12.5 50 5 75
chia seeds (1 tbl) 60 5 5 3 13 5 300 25 15 25 65
almond butter 190 17 7 7 32 14 2660 238 98 98 448
organic corn tortilla chips 140 8 15 2 28 8.5 1190 68 17 127.5 238
trail mix 200 17 6 12 34 6 1200 102 72 36 204
granola 210 16 14 6 42 4 840 64 24 56 168
bars 260 12 31 10 70 4 1040 48 40 124 280
chocolate 250 20 13 4 2.5 625 50 10 32.5 0
jerky 110 6 10 7 31 4 440 24 28 40 124
beans 130 0 24 7 35 6 780 0 42 144 210
mixed veg 30 1 8 3 13 5 150 5 15 40 65
coconut oil 120 14 0 0 15 4 480 56 0 0 60
spices 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
wild zora dinner 310 7 38 35 85 1 310 7 35 38 85
TOTAL 9715 662 381 736 4.20
Calories from F/C/P 5958.00 1524 2944 pounds
Percent of Total 61.33 15.69 30.30
ROME (5.5 days) @ 2200/day =12,000 cal
coffee/tea 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
laird superfood creamer 135 3 3 0 4 5 675 15 0 15 20
chia seeds (1 tbl) 60 5 5 3 13 5 300 25 15 25 65
greens powder, cinnamon, ginger, cordyceps 30 5 7 1 10 5 150 25 5 35 50
collagen powder 70 2.5 1 10 15 5 350 12.5 50 5 75
hydrate mix 40 0 10 0 12 9 360 0 0 90 108
0
almond butter 190 17 7 7 32 14 2660 238 98 98 448
organic corn tortilla chips 140 8 15 2 28 8.6 1204 68.8 17.2 129 240.8
granola 200 16 14 6 42 6 1200 96 36 84 252
jerky 110 6 10 7 31 4 440 24 28 40 124
bars 260 12 31 10 70 8 2080 96 80 248 560
trail mix 210 17 6 12 34 6 1260 102 72 36 204
chocolate 250 20 13 4 2.5 625 50 10 32.5 0
0
wild zora dinner 340 2 32 41 85 1 340 2 41 32 85
beans 130 0 24 7 35 6 780 0 42 144 210
mixed veg 30 1 8 3 13 5 150 5 15 40 65
coconut oil 120 14 0 0 15 4 480 56 0 0 60
spices 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
TOTAL 13054 815.3 509.2 1053.5 5.73
Calories from F/C/P 7337.70 2036.8 4214 pounds
Percent of Total 56.21 15.60 32.28
(MCDERMITT: BUY IN TOWN)
FIELDS (3 days) @ 2500 cal/day =7500 cal
coffee/tea 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
laird superfood creamer 75 3 3 0 4 3 225 9 0 9 12
greens powder, cinnamon, ginger, cordyceps 30 5 7 1 10 3 90 15 3 21 30
collagen powder 70 2.5 1 10 15 3 210 7.5 30 3 45
chia (1 tbl) 60 5 5 3 13 3 180 15 9 15 39
0 0 0 0
almond butter 190 17 7 7 32 14 2660 238 98 98 448
potato chips 140 7 17 2 28 7 980 49 14 119 196
bars 260 12 31 10 70 3 780 36 30 93 210
trail mix 210 17 6 12 34 4 840 68 48 24 136
granola 210 16 14 6 42 2 420 32 12 28 84
jerkey 110 6 10 7 31 3 330 18 21 30 93
0 0 0 0
wild zora meal 310 2 32 41 85 1 310 2 41 32 85
beans 130 0 24 7 35 6 780 0 42 144 210
mixed veg 30 1 8 3 13 5 150 5 15 40 65
coconut oil 120 14 0 0 15 4 480 56 0 0 60
spices 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
TOTAL 8435 550.5 363 656 3.82
Calories from F/C/P 4954.50 1452 2624 pounds
Percent of Total 58.74 17.21 31.11
FRENCHGLEN (4 days) @2500 cal/day =10,000 cal
coffee/tea 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
laird superfood creamer 75 3 3 0 4 5 375 15 0 15 20
greens powder, cinnamon, ginger, cordyceps 30 5 7 1 10 5 150 25 5 35 50
collagen powder 70 2.5 1 10 15 5 350 12.5 50 5 75
chia (1 tbl) 60 5 5 3 13 5 300 25 15 25 65
0 0 0 0
almond butter 190 17 7 7 32 14 2660 238 98 98 448
potato chips 100 7 17 2 28 10 1000 70 20 170 280
trail mix 210 17 6 12 34 5 1050 85 60 30 170
granola 200 16 14 6 42 4 800 64 24 56 168
bars 250 12 31 10 70 8 2000 96 80 248 560
chocolate 250 20 13 4 2.5 625 50 10 32.5 0
jerky 110 6 10 7 31 3 330 18 21 30 93
0 0 0 0
wild zora dinner 370 8 33 36 85 1 370 8 36 33 85
beans 130 0 24 7 35 6 780 0 42 144 210
mixed veg 30 1 8 3 13 5 150 5 15 40 65
coconut oil 120 14 0 0 15 4 480 56 0 0 60
spices 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
TOTAL 11420 767.5 476 961.5 5.24
Calories from F/C/P 6907.50 1904 3846 pounds
Percent of Total 60.49 16.67 33.68
PLUSH (2 days) @ 2500 cal/day = 5000 cal
coffee/tea 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
laird superfood creamer 75 3 3 0 4 5 375 15 0 15 20
greens powder, cinnamon, ginger, cordyceps 30 5 7 1 10 5 150 25 5 35 50
collagen powder 70 2.5 1 10 15 5 350 12.5 50 5 75
chia (1 tbl) 60 5 5 3 13 5 300 25 15 25 65
0 0 0 0
wild zora breakfast 520 36 43 10 92 1 520 36 10 43 92
trail mix 210 17 6 12 34 4 840 68 48 24 136
granola 200 16 14 6 42 4 800 64 24 56 168
bars 250 12 31 10 70 10 2500 120 100 310 700
jerky 110 2 220 0 0 0 0
nut butter 180 14 8 9 32 1 180 14 9 8 32
wild zora dinner 370 8 33 36 85 1 370 8 36 33 85
TOTAL 6605 387.5 297 554 3.18
Calories from F/C/P 3487.50 1188 2216 pounds
Percent of Total 52.80 17.99 33.55
(LAKEVIEW: BUY IN TOWN)
PAISLEY (2 days) @ 2500 cal/day = 5000 cal
coffee/tea 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
laird superfood creamer 75 3 3 0 4 5 375 15 0 15 20
greens powder, cinnamon, ginger, cordyceps 30 5 7 1 10 5 150 25 5 35 50
collagen powder 70 2.5 1 10 15 5 350 12.5 50 5 75
choc coconut creamer 35 1 2 0 3 12 420 12 0 24 36
wild zora breakfast 520 38 40 11 92 1 520 38 11 40 92
trail mix 200 17 6 12 34 4 800 68 48 24 136
granola 200 16 14 6 42 4 800 64 24 56 168
bars 260 12 31 10 70 10 2600 120 100 310 700
jerkey 110 6 10 7 31 2 220 12 14 20 62
wild zora dinner 340 7 38 35 85 1 340 7 35 38 85
TOTAL 6575 373.5 287 567 3.18
Calories from F/C/P 3361.50 1148 2268 pounds
Percent of Total 51.13 17.46 34.49
CHRISTMAS VALLEY (4 days) @ 2500 cal/day=10,000
coffee/tea 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
laird superfood creamer 75 3 3 0 4 5 375 15 0 15 20
greens powder, cinnamon, ginger, cordyceps 30 5 7 1 10 5 150 25 5 35 50
collagen powder 70 2.5 1 10 15 5 350 12.5 50 5 75
choc coconut creamer 35 1 2 0 3 12 420 12 0 24 36
almond butter 190 17 7 7 32 14 2660 238 98 98 448
potato chips 100 7 17 2 28 10 1000 70 20 170 280
trail mix 200 17 6 12 34 6 1200 102 72 36 204
bars 260 12 31 10 70 7 1820 84 70 217 490
chocolate 250 20 13 4 2.5 625 50 10 32.5 0
jerky 110 6 10 7 31 5 550 30 35 50 155
beans 130 0 24 7 35 6 780 0 42 144 210
mixed veg 30 1 8 3 13 5 150 5 15 40 65
coconut oil 120 14 0 0 15 4 480 56 0 0 60
spices 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
TOTAL 9685 647 362 811.5 4.35
Calories from F/C/P 5823.00 1448 3246 pounds
Percent of Total 60.12 14.95 33.52

Despite my best efforts, this chart is a bit difficult to read. For a copy of the chart, as well as a template for your own resupply planning, click here: ODT resupply.

Questions? Post them in the comments below.

Need help planning your own resupply? Learn more here.

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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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Making Progress: Hashimoto’s Update

This is the second post in a series about my journey with the autoimmune condition Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Here’s part 1, in case you missed it. My intention with this series is to share my personal experience so that anyone who recognizes themselves in the symptoms can move forward with healing and know that lifestyle changes can make a HUGE positive impact. 

Contrary to my wildest hopes, my Hashimoto’s and adrenal issues did not spontaneously go into remission as soon as I started targeting them. Unconsciously acting in alignment with the negativity bias, I tend to see how far I still have to go and what’s still wrong more than I focus on how far I’ve come. Can you relate?

However, though I can’t say I feel 100% everyday, when I look back at how I felt 3 years ago, or even just a full year ago, without a doubt, I feel much better.

In this post, I’ll briefly discuss what symptoms have improved for me, what I’m still struggling with, and a brief overview of the protocol.

What has improved for me?

My energy levels throughout the day are much more consistent. I don’t struggle with afternoon fatigue much. I can go running and go to the gym again without feeling completely drained or experiencing the deep muscle fatigue that I couldn’t shake previously.

My hormones are becoming more balanced. I know this because, among other indicators, my monthly cycle is regular again. Also, my sleep cycle has regulated. I feel tired in the evenings and fall asleep easily, I sleep through the night, and I usually wake without an alarm, with plenty of energy to start the day. This also indicates to me that my cortisol level and rhythm is balanced. See this article if you’re curious to learn more about adrenal health, especially as it pertains to endurance athletes.

I no longer struggle with feeling cold as much as I used to, especially in my hands. I used to have constantly cold hands and feet. This was particularly a struggle in shoulder seasons and on winter adventures when my hands would get so cold (even with multiple gloves on) that I would need my adventure buddy to help me with zippers, clasps, and opening food wrappers. This was so frustrating and often unsettling on solo adventures.

My immune system feels strong. Despite several sick coworkers, being out in public places often, and having a very full schedule, I haven’t gotten sick this winter. I never used to get sick much either, but this is also confirmation that my immune system is healthy.

Finally, (and this is huge), I feel like my digestive system is working so much better again. As I mentioned in the previous post, leaky gut is one of the factors which contribute to the expression of autoimmune disorders, so getting my gut health in order is top priority for me. Pardon the graphic nature of this next paragraph, but this is a health website after all, so properly documenting my full experience is important and hopefully helpful to anyone else who is struggling.

How did my gut health change? I started digesting and assimilating my food much better. I know this because my BMs went from not-so-regular and loose to regular and well-formed. This is so important because it was very noticeable evidence that I was healing my leaky gut. Hooray! That translates to less immune system activation (a good thing in this case) because large proteins are no longer permeating the gut lining. Digesting my food properly has also given me more energy.

I didn’t realize my digestion was so out of whack until it got better. I spent several years as a baker and pastry chef. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, and when I would eat bread, it was organic and naturally-leavened (think sourdough), so it’s not like I was going crazy with pastries and bread on the daily. In retrospect though, I now realize that even that small amount of gluten was likely significantly contributing to my poor gut health, and the expression of autoimmune symptoms.

What still needs improvement?

It’s satisfying to reflect on the positive changes that have taken place, because healing any health condition with diet and lifestyle changes takes true dedication and commitment, and it can be challenging.

That being said, many autoimmune conditions can be put into remission, but you can’t expect them to disappear overnight. While I feel significant improvement in many of my thyroid symptoms, there are a couple things I still struggle with.

One is not feeling as resilient as I used to be. For example, if I don’t get the sleep that I need, I really struggle with energy levels the next day. My hope is that as I continue to repair my hormone profile, I’ll be able to bounce back quicker from a night of poor sleep.

Another issue is occasional brain fog. While I feel much more clear and focused and have better memory recall than I did a couple years ago, I still find that some days, I just don’t feel as on point as I know I’m capable of being. This is greatly impacted by diet and sleep.

Finally, and this is a difficult one for anyone athletic, or anyone at all really, is that my body is still holding on to some extra weight despite a clean diet and regular movement practice. This makes sense since the thyroid governs metabolism, but it’s frustrating none-the-less.

What’s the protocol I’ve followed?

I’ll briefly outline the protocol I’ve followed and then will dive in more deeply in a future post.

It was important to me to try as many lifestyle changes as possible to heal my thyroid gland before going on medication, so the protocol I used is based entirely around diet, sleep, stress management, and supplements.

It’s organized in 3 stages, including a liver cleanse, an adrenal reset, and a gut healing phase. Each stage progressively eliminated more trigger foods and focused on key supplements to start taking. Lifestyle practices, such as getting optimal sleep and reducing stress as much as possible, were also emphasized.

I definitely didn’t complete the program perfectly, but the changes I made were enough to elicit big shifts in my health. I understand there’s still a journey ahead, but the progress so far is promising.

Post questions/comments below or reach out to me via my contact form, and keep an eye out for the next installment.

 

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What’s Wrong With Me? (aka My Journey with Hashimoto’s)

summit wellness

It’s been years since I felt as strong as I used to.

Ever since finishing my thru hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, I’d had bouts of extreme fatigue, deep muscle soreness, cold intolerance, mood swings, and hair loss. An assortment of seemingly random symptoms that would come and go, leaving me feeling confused and frustrated.

Many of these symptoms have been present in my life for a long time, but after finishing the PCT, they became much more pronounced. I expected to finish feeling stronger than I’d ever been before. I’d jump right back into trail running and be at a new level of strength and endurance. Instead, I couldn’t run more than a few miles without feeling extreme exhaustion. I was depressed. I wasn’t having my cycle and I often felt sore for no reason.

I’ve always been athletic and health conscious. I was doing everything I knew to do to be healthy. And I still felt horrible. After a few months of rest and experiencing only minimal improvement, I went to see a doctor. I had some blood work done, everything came back “normal”, and I was told that perhaps I needed to improve my diet, exercise more, and that essentially, it was just in my head. This was frustrating, as I was a health conscious vegetarian who exercised daily, and I knew my body well enough to know something was not right.

At this point, it became clear I’d have to find my own answers. Due to a background in biochemistry and decades of reading health publications, I had a good foundation to start from. I read and listened to anything I could find having to do with adrenal and mitochondrial health. I sought out mentors, I interned under wellness practitioners, and I completed a Botanical Medicine Certification to understand what would truly support my body rather than cover up symptoms. I studied functional nutrition and began a certification to become a Holistic Nutritionist.

I experimented with different diets, training protocols, and supplements. Symptoms would come and go. I was continuing to train for ultra marathons and my performance would come in waves. Sometimes I’d feel great and run for hours with no problem.  Other times, I was weak, tired, and lacked the stamina needed for long runs. Despite the times when I didn’t feel well, I continued to push myself to run daily.

I’d built an identity around being athletic, outdoorsy, and tough, and pushing through is what you did whether you felt like it or not. While this mentality has served me well in several endeavors, including long distance hiking, I was causing my body to be further depleted without even realizing it.

Eventually, I found my way to a functional medicine practitioner who did an extensive intake, including a full thyroid panel. It was then that I discovered I had Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks it’s own thyroid gland.  The thyroid gland produces thyroid hormones, which have wide-ranging functions in the body, including regulation of metabolism, growth and development, and temperature control.

When I finally received the diagnosis, it was somewhat of a relief. I’d been struggling with an array of unexplained symptoms for quite some time. Despite all the research and self-experimentation I’d done, I still had no real answers up until this point.

My reaction came in waves. At first, I was glad to have something to target. I knew my direction. I could make a plan. Next came the frustration of knowing that autoimmune conditions are hard to treat and something you manage for the rest of your life. My identity as a long distance hiker and ultra runner was in peril. What if I never fully recovered? What if I had to give up long treks in the wilderness–the activity that filled my soul the most?

And during all this time, I was in denial of the heaviness, the seriousness of what this meant for me. I thought I would remove trigger foods from my diet, take a break from training, and be back to 100% in no time, right? Not quite.

I realized this is a pattern for me. I tend not to acknowledge the heaviness of an event or situation. I put blinders on and convince myself that everything will turn out fine. This lens of optimism and guaranteed triumph over hardship has served me well in life. I often push forward instead of letting fear get in my way. But it finally came crashing down on me that this tendency has also kept me from fully experiencing life and fully feeling my own struggle and that of my loved ones. Not fully feeling kept me from being as empathetic and present as is necessary to process and move through hardship.

There are many factors that go into developing an autoimmune condition, including a genetic predisposition, a trigger (or several), and gut impermeability. It’s hard to know the trigger for sure, but for me, I believe it was a rattlesnake bite and brown recluse bite in the year before I hiked the PCT, coupled with the stress of the trail and a significant break-up that caused Hashimoto’s to surface for me.

Autoimmune conditions are not an easy fix. You don’t take a pill and get cured. In the conventional medical model, those with Hashimoto’s take thyroid medications for the rest of their lives. These provide synthetic thyroid hormones to manage symptoms, but taking the medications don’t actually get to the root cause to stop the body’s immune attack on it’s own thyroid gland.

I’ve always avoided pharmaceuticals when possible, opting to focus on the root cause of the problem and restoring the body to balance, rather than suppressing symptoms. My approach to Hashimoto’s is no different. I found experts who had put the condition into remission through changes in diet and lifestyle. The science and evidence was there to support this approach so I would try that before considering medications.

It’s been about 6 months since learning about the condition and I’ve been on a protocol that supports my liver, adrenals, and gut health. While my symptoms have improved dramatically, I still struggle occasionally.

However, I’ve learned an incredible amount about autoimmunity and health through my journey. I’m far enough on the path to have learned how to deal with the condition, what exacerbates symptoms, and what relieves them.

pct hiking sierras

I have high hopes for big adventures in 2018. I’ve felt so deeply the struggle of not being outside doing what I love because of how terrible I’ve felt. It motivates me to get well, learn as much as I can, and to guide others who get sustenance from being in the outdoors, but who struggle with their health.

I’ll post more on the protocol I’ve followed and on my journey with Hashimoto’s in a future article, but if you have questions, please don’t hesitate to post a comment below or use the contact form to reach out. I read every response.

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