Why Balancing Your Blood Sugar Is Foundational to Good Health: Part 2
Now that we know how our body manages blood sugar and that eating excessive amounts of fast-acting or simple carbohydrates can wreak all sorts of havoc on our body, let’s work towards bringing our blood sugar into balance. Throughout this post, we’ll dive into various lifestyle factors that will help you begin to bring your blood sugar into balance. If you currently take medication for your blood sugar, such as insulin, and are interested in implementing these lifestyle changes below, please contact your practitioner so they can help you incorporate these practices and adjust your medication(s) accordingly if needed. Now let’s balance some blood sugar!
Oh, sweet, sweet sleep. It is crucial to our health and sanity. This is the time our body works hard doing all sorts of physical and mental repair. However, if we aren’t sleeping, we’re usually doing something and that something probably requires light. Light is wonderful, except when it’s close to bedtime. During the day, light signals to our body to produce cortisol, which is the stress hormone we discussed last week. It’s normal and good to have certain amounts of cortisol cruising through our body. It starts highest in the morning with the rising sun and gradually decreases throughout the day as the sun goes down. Unfortunately, at night when we have artificial lights on, including our screens, our body keeps churning out cortisol as opposed to decreasing it with the setting sun. As we learned last week, this continuous cortisol production tells our body to keep more blood sugar in the bloodstream. Not cool. We have choices though, either continue what we’re doing (because our sleep habits may be stellar) or make a few helpful tweaks to our nighttime routine. Choose one idea below and build from there. One to two hours before bed:
Dim the lights, if possible. You can also switch out light bulbs in your lamps for red light ones to reduce blue light exposure (which may cause eyestrain and disrupt sleep).
Put on your blue light-blocking glasses. I also wear these during the day when I’m on the computer to reduce eyestrain and headaches. It’s super helpful. Some brands to check out are Spektrum Prospek, Felix Gray, or BLUblox.
Say adios to your screens or at least wear blue light-blocking glasses while watching them. If you choose to watch TV, opt for something a bit more funny and a lot less murdery.
Do something calming like reading, taking a bath, talking to family or friends, and the like.
Lots of carb confusion exists depending on our food beliefs or which social influencer we follow. To be clear, we’re talking about balancing blood sugar here, not eliminating carbs. In order to do this, we’ll crowd out simple, fast-acting carbs with complex, slow-acting carbs, which will keep our blood sugar a steady Betty (or Bernie). How do we do this? I’m so glad you asked. First, take a piece of paper and draw a line down the center (or make two columns in a word document, but you know I love me some pen and paper). On the left column, make a list of the simple, fast-acting carbs you eat throughout the day. This includes any food or drink that contains sugar (including fruit juice, soda, sport drinks, and alcohol) and refined grains (bread, pasta, tortillas, cookies, crackers, etc.). This can be hard, because there are a lot of things we don’t even realize that contain sugar like condiments, sauces, and dried fruits. Plus, sugar has a ton of different names (60+ in fact—that ain’t sweet). In the right column, list complex, slow-acting carbs. Think whole food, non-processed carbs such as starchy vegetables (winter squashes, peas, sweet potatoes, etc.), beans, fruit, whole grains (oatmeal, barley, etc.), and pseudo-grains (wild rice, quinoa). Now, draw a line from an item in the left column to an item in the right column you could use to replace it. For example, instead of using lasagna noodles in your lasagna, you could use sliced zucchini, butternut squash, or sweet potatoes. Or, instead of a bowl of cereal in the morning, you could do oatmeal, adding fresh berries, nuts, and cinnamon for flavor. Slowly implement these exchanges into your daily routine and you’ll start to notice some big changes over time. Does this mean you can never enjoy pasta or a cookie? Absolutely not! Every food fits and it’s about finding what works for you.
One quick note. You may have noticed I didn’t mention non-starchy vegetables, only starchy ones. Non-starchy vegetables are a carb too; however, they contain so much fiber that they pretty much have no effect on blood sugar levels. They contain a lot of bang for your health buck, so add 1-2 cups at every meal (or at least 2 of 3 meals). Remember, they do contain a lot of fiber, so eating excessive amounts can be hard on digestion too. You gotta find flow with everything.
What about meal timing or snacks? If your blood sugar is pretty imbalanced, you might want to try eating every 3 hours until your blood sugar starts to even out. Choose fat or protein sources to snack on between meals, such as carrots dipped in guacamole or a handful of almonds. After doing that for a few weeks, then try going 4-5 hours between meals. It’s important to listen to your body. It will tell you if it’s not feeling good. Once you’ve finished eating for the night, try to go about 12 hours before eating again in the morning. This will give your body a break while you sleep, and allow the migrating motor complex to do its thing (imagine a street sweeper for your gut—awesome in every way). Everyone is different and it takes some experimenting to find what works for you and your lifestyle. If you’d like some guidance on how to adjust your nutrition to meet your specific needs, please contact me. It’s my jam and I love talking food.
Since muscle can store extra glucose as glycogen, it’s pretty helpful in restoring blood sugar balance. The kicker is that once glucose is stored there, it can only be used to supply that muscle. So how do we burn that stored glucose in order to uptake more glucose? We use our muscles! It doesn’t matter if you like to walk, lift weights, bike, dance, yoga, or Jiu Jitsu—move your body in a way that feels good to you and incorporate it into your daily life. If you’ve never worked out before or it’s been awhile, you’ll probably want to start slow and get the A-Okay from your doctor. Start with one or two days a week for 15 minutes and build from there. If you currently exercise, that’s wonderful! Keep moving your body. And remember, rest is important for everyone and more isn’t always better… sometimes it’s just more. If you’d like some guidance on how to incorporate more movement into your day in a safe and effective way, let me know. I got your back (and glutes and abs and…).
Basically, this is all about finding ways to reduce and move through our stressors. For many of us, this process is our Achilles’ Heel. Not because we don’t think it’s important, but because it is so dang hard to navigate. Here are some ideas to help you find more flow in your life. Think about a few of your biggest stressors and ask yourself one or more of these questions to start:
Do you need to do that? For example, maybe you are stressed because you have multiple meetings to attend throughout the week. Are each one of these meetings truly necessary? Do you really need to serve on these boards or partake in these organizations? Do they bring you joy or resentment?
Can you say “no” to that? This is a tough one for me, because I’m an excellent people-pleaser. However, when we say “yes” to things that we truly don’t want to do or can’t make time for, the other person can feel it. They can tell you don’t want to be there or that your mind is elsewhere. That isn’t fair to them and it isn’t fair to you. Do things for others because you want to do them, not because you’re hoping they’ll like you better.
What is in your control? For example, maybe you are in a relationship that causes you stress because you want the other person to act differently. You know you can’t change them, but what can you do? Can you share with them what is causing you stress, or set boundaries to protect your energy?
Remember, we don’t need to dive deep and explore these questions on our own. Having a therapist by your side to navigate these tricky stressors and utilizing a life coach to take action are both comforting and powerful.
Dang. That was a lot of information. No need to make a bunch of changes at once. Take it one step at a time, building confidence and momentum. Better yet, hop on over to thewellnesscommon.com and sign-up for the free 10-Day Blood Sugar Balance Challenge. You got this and I’m cheering for you!
I’d love to hear from you, what was most helpful about this blog? What is one thing you will do today to work towards balancing your blood sugar?
If you felt this post was helpful and informative, please like it and share it with your friends and family.
With love, Steph