In last week’s blog post about fertility, I mentioned how important it was for me to regulate my blood sugar to support my hormones. This is essential because the organs that support blood sugar regulation steal nutrients away from other endocrine organs that support processes like fertility. We could spend some time going over this concept but what I think is more important is to understand signs and symptoms of blood sugar dysregulation (without a blood test) and ways to support healthy blood sugar regulation.
So what are signs that your body is struggling to regulate blood sugar?
- Increased cravings for sugar and carbs
- Insatiable hunger
- ‘Crashing’ between meals (particularly mid afternoon)
- Experiencing “hanger” by missing meals
- Wake up either without an appetite or only craving sugar and carbs
- Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
- Change in energy levels after meals
This list is just the tip of the iceberg, but most of them are areas that I just were assumed a part of ‘adulthood’ or parenting. Once I worked to regulate my own blood sugar, nearly all of these symptoms disappeared. So what can you do to support better regulation of blood sugar? Teach your body to be more efficient at burning fat for energy. Doesn’t that sound great!? So how do we do that?
- Limit/Cut out processed and added sugar.
- Processed and added sugars make it really easy to take in a lot of simple carbohydrates in a short period of time. For the body, it’s significantly more simple to process these carbs for energy and they get burned through quickly. Think about lighting a fire: it isn’t difficult to light ‘kindling’ and once aflame, it can be gone in an instant. By focusing on real, whole, foods you avoid unnecessary added sugar and can focus on getting carbohydrates from more natural sources like fruits, vegetables, legume, and grains (if you tolerate them).
- Choose your carbs wisely.
- Our body still requires carbohydrates. Our brain thrives off of them. However, certain carbohydrates are better for some people compared to other people. This is when you have to start listening to your body. How do you feel after eating vegetables versus fruit versus potatoes versus rice? Are there certain fruits that work better for you? For me, bananas are fairly detrimental. I can have a banana in the afternoon when I combine it with fat (like nut butters) but every time I try to have a banana with a well-balanced breakfast I feel extremely fatigued 1-2 hours later. Play around with different sources of carbs to choose which ones work best for your body. (If you want to learn more about testing your body’s carb tolerance, this book is fantastic!)
- Combine carbohydrates and fats together.
- As I mentioned with bananas for myself, don’t eat carbohydrates by themselves. Combine them with nice healthy sources fat. For instance: combine apples and nut butter, potatoes with real butter, tortilla chips with guacamole, etc. This way your body not only has the quick burning energy, but also the fuel to sustain long-term satiety.
- Increase fat and protein at breakfast.
- Just like sugar and carbohydrates are the kindling on a fire, fat are the larger logs. They may be harder to light, but once you get them burning, one log will last you quite awhile. I believe that ‘breakfast’ is the most important meal of the day. This doesn’t mean that you have to eat first thing in the morning, however, it is extremely important to be mindful of what you first fuel your body with. Overnight during our longest stretch of ‘fasting’ in a 24 hour period, our body has the ability to pull from fuel stores to allow basic functions to occur while we sleep. Struggling to pull from those stores is often what wakes us up at night. It’s important to remind the body how to continue to use sources like fat when we first ‘break the fast’ to continue to encourage efficient fat burning all day long.
- Support your gall bladder.
- While I would love to say that just adding more fat into your diet is what you need to teach your body to burn fat, it isn’t that easy. Many of us have dabbled in low-fat diets in the past or fell into the ‘margarine is better than butter’ camp at some point in our lives. Both of these wreak havoc on our gall bladder efficiency. Why is the gall bladder important? It produces bile which is essential to digesting fat (versus it just coming out the other end). When we don’t eat fat, our gall bladder doesn’t have to do anything and it becomes stale and stagnant. When we eat highly processed fats (like trans fats/margarine/etc) our gall bladder realizes it needs to do something but it produces this thick and sticky bile which is extremely inefficient and can causes blockages.
- So to support your gall bladder you need healthy fats – like olives/olive oil, avocados, coconut oil, butter, whole milk dairy, and animal fats. Along with that there are some foods/nutrients that can support the gall bladder directly. Eating beets regularly (or taking shots of beet juice if you’re not a beet fan) can support your gall bladder’s natural function. Radishes and dandelion roots are also great in supporting the flow of bile from the gall bladder but seem less popular in today’s society.
- If you no longer have a gall bladder, find a practitioner to help you find a good bile supplement that I would encourage to eat with the majority of meals (since I hope that most of them contain fat)
- Chew your food.
- The smaller we get our food in our mouth, the less work the rest of our digestive track has to do. Additionally, our saliva contains enzymes that start breaking down carbohydrates. If our food doesn’t get broken down enough in our mouths, our stomach can only do so much to take up the slack. If the fats we are eating don’t get broken down enough, then they often just travel right on through and we don’t get to use them for energy.
- Eat mindfully.
- This may be most important. We need to listen to our body and what it is telling us. Unfortunately, when our blood sugar isn’t well-regulated, it may be telling us that it needs more carbohydrate/sugar than it truly does. Over time, as we support fat digestion, chew our food, and take in plenty of healthy fats we can pay attention to what we really need. When our body says I want ‘potato chips’ maybe it’s asking for the minerals from the salt, or the fat from the potato chips – try some other options and see if your body can be satisfied eating food you feel good about (which may be the potato chips!). If you want a cookie – maybe you’re body just needs carbs – so choose carefully how you want to get them.
- Don’t just grab a bag of pretzels and sit on the couch and watch a movie – because although your body may need the carbs, you’re so distracted that before you know it, you’ll be scraping the bottom of the bag. Being distracted while eating causes us to ignore typically satiety signals.
- I want to say it one more time for impact: choose food YOU feel good about. You don’t have to eat what I eat or like what I like. You need to be happy with your choices.
To conclude, in order to support healthy blood sugar regulation, you need to eat healthy fats (especially when eating carbohydrates, support your gall bladder, and be mindful of how food makes you feel and adjust accordingly. So what do you think? Do you think you struggle with blood sugar dysregulation? Do you think these strategies could work for you? I hope so, but let me know if you have any other tips and tricks!