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Episode 168: Control Your Blood Sugar, Control Your Weight?

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Do you ever experience any of these symptoms? (I'm willing to place a large wager that your answer will be yes.)

  • Headaches
  • Brain fog

  • Fatigue

  • Sugar/Carb cravings

  • PMS

  • Waking throughout the night

  • Frequent infections

  • Shakiness

  • Nausea 

  • Irritability or anxiety

  • Stubborn weight

Borderline seems like an I'm-just-getting-older checklist, doesn't it? But just because an ailment is common or normal for you, doesn't mean it's actually normal. 

So what do all of these symptoms have in common? They all are symptoms of unbalanced blood sugar. 

Now I know the second I say the words blood sugar, people get very gung-ho about cutting carbs to stave off the negative effects of blood sugar spikes and drops. 

But before you grab your knives and pitchforks to fight against the evil Insulin, let's have a little science lesson.

When glucose enters the bloodstream after a meal, it signals your pancreas to release insulin which tells the liver, muscles, and fat cells to take the glucose out of the blood and either use it or (if there's more than is needed) store it as energy. This is a perfectly healthy, normal process.

In fact, without insulin your cells would be starved for energy and would be forced to find alternative sources of fuel which can lead to your cells not functioning as well.

And without insulin, your blood glucose levels would stay elevated for far too long, potentially leading to nerve damage, kidney damage, eye issues, and even life threatening complications.

So insulin itself is not the enemy. It actually helps us utilize our food for energy, it supports our brain, heart, and nerve function, it can improve your workouts by increasing blood flow to the muscles, and it may increase the activity of osteoblasts (bone building cells). 

The problem is when your blood sugar spikes too high, too often and the body doesn't have enough uses for the sugar, so insulin signals for it to get stored as fat. 

Adding insult to injury, insulin doesn't only signal excess glucose to be stored as fat, it actually makes it more difficult for the body to burn fat as fuel by inhibiting lipolysis, the process where your body moves stored fatty acids out of your fat cells so they can be used for energy (fat burning). 

Though it is important to note, the inhibition of lipolysis (fat loss) and the activation of lipogenesis (fat storage) only happens when there is a surplus of both carbs and calories. 

So honestly, I'm less concerned about the fat storage effects of insulin and am much more concerned with the behavioral affects of blood sugar swings as well as the behaviors that cause blood sugar swings. 

When your blood sugar is on that rollercoaster, it can quickly lead to low energy, stress, sugar or processed carb cravings, and greater hunger.

This leads you to not only reach for the foods that will spike your blood sugar but it also leads you to overeat those foods, and that in combination with insulin spikes is what causes that weight gain you don't want. 

So, I think we've dug deep enough into the science.

Now let's talk about what we can do to balance out your blood sugar to make weight loss and healthy eating easier. 

1. Food choice. 

Foods like processed carbs, added sugar, and many processed foods in general are going to spike your blood sugar much more than protein, healthy fat, and whole food carbs. 

Which brings me to a side note: the glycemic index (a measure of the body's blood sugar response to different foods).

This is the chart that has made people terrified to eat carrots and bananas because it's high on the glycemic index. But this chart is bullshit.

The glycemic index doesn't take into account the other components of the food (for example watermelon has a high glycemic index, but its glycemic load is very low because it has so much water in it).

Plus the glycemic index of a food is hugely impacted by our gut microbiome, the food we eat in combination with that food, the ripeness of the food, how the food is cooked, the temperature of the food (for example when you cool rice or potatoes they have a lower glycemic index than when freshly cooked), and even the time of day you eat that food. 

2. Food combination.

For example, when you eat protein, fat, and fiber with carbs, your blood sugar is going to stay much more stable than if you ate the carbs alone.

3. Timing of meals. 

When you skip a meal or place your meals too far apart you can experience big dips in blood sugar, which leads you to get very hungry, likely overeat, and then experience big spikes in blood sugar.

To keep your blood sugar levels even space your meals about 3-4 hours apart and for the love of God don't skip meals. 

And for those who are going to scream 'Intermittent fasting!' first of all you don't have to skip any meals to experience the benefits of intermittent fasting.

Let's say you do a full 16 hour fast, you can finish dinner by 6 pm and have breakfast by 10 am.

Also, for women in their reproductive years, intermittent fasting actually has the opposite effects on our insulin sensitivity and makes it WORSE! (For more info on this, check out this episode all about intermittent fasting.)

4. Gut microbiome.

The make up of our gut has a huge impact on how we process, absorb, and respond to different foods, including our blood sugar response. 

"In an absolutely fascinating study, adult men with insulin resistance received a fecal transplant from a lean donor. This led to a change in their gut microbiota associated with improvement in insulin sensitivity and a lowering of their blood sugar." -Dr. Will Bulsiewicz

If you want help on this important front, click here for more info and to apply for the next round of Follow Your Gut!

5. Muscle mass.

The more muscle mass you have, the better your insulin sensitivity will be because your muscle will uptake the glucose in your blood helping to stabilize blood sugar levels without it being stored as fat. 

6. Exercise.

Remember how I said your insulin will either tell your body to utilize your blood sugar for energy or store it as fat? Well when you exercise, it's going to be shuttling that glucose off to be used as energy for your workouts. 

7. Sleep.

Lack of sleep is stressful to the body. So when we're low on sleep our body produces the stress hormone cortisol, which in turn increases your blood sugar, which in turn increases your insulin production.

8. Body fat.

Generally, the leaner the person the more insulin sensitive they are. In other words they need less insulin to lower their blood sugar. Meanwhile, people who are obese tend toward insulin resistance where they need more insulin to lower their blood sugar. 

The takeaways??

  • High carb diets alone won't make you gain weight, there does need to be an excess of calories. 
  • Unbalanced blood sugar can lead to behaviors that cause you to put on unwanted weight. 
  • If you want to balance your blood sugar to reduce cravings, improve your energy, and make it easier to lose weight: prioritize a whole food diet, combine carbs with protein, fat, and fiber, get enough sleep, exercise, don't skip meals, and support a healthy gut microbiome.  

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