Do you ever find yourself saying any of the following?
- “I can’t stop snacking!”
- “I get shaky, weak, and irritable if meals are skipped or delayed”
- “I’m always thinking about the next time I can eat”
- “I get really sleep after meals”
- “I feel like I am addicted to sugar”
- “I crave sugar and coffee, especially in the afternoon”
- “I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep”
- “I’m thirsty… ALL the time”
These are all signs that your blood sugar may be dysregulated. But why is this important? Blood glucose levels actually need to be kept within a relatively tight controlled range. They are supposed to rise after eating, but not excessively. And they shouldn’t drop excessively either. Here’s a quick summary of how blood sugar works:
- We eat food
- Blood glucose rises
- Insulin is released and helps to store unused glucose away in the liver, adipose tissue, and skeletal muscles for later use
- We should be able to go a minimum of 4-5 hours without needing to eat again. When we do get hungry, it shouldn’t be severe hunger.
- We eat again and the cycle repeats. If you are looking at the image below, blood glucose should stay in the green range.
But if you are one of the many Americans eating the Standard American Diet (which is made up mostly of refined carbohydrates, sugar, & poor quality fats), you are likely experiencing what I like to refer to as the blood sugar rollercoaster. It’s a wild ride, but not the fun kind! Basically you are riding the crazy waves of blood sugar spikes and crashes. Both the spikes and crashes are experienced by your body as a state of emergency. In the picture above, this is landing in the highs and lows of the red range. When you eat a meal that is made up of mostly refined carbohydrates (or is simply lacking in enough quality protein or healthy fat) your blood glucose levels will rise more than they should. Insulin kicks in to do its job, but can sometimes overcorrect. Your adrenal glands release cortisol (your primary stress hormone), and stored glucose is released to bring glucose levels back up. Because you are hungry and irritable, or craving carbohydrates, you likely grab another snack or meal that is high in carbohydrates, and the cycle repeats. Over time, your body becomes resistant to insulin, and your glucose levels remain high all the time, contributing to systemic inflammation.
How stress impacts your blood sugar
Did you know that stress directly impacts your blood sugar levels? Your brain communicates with your adrenal glands and your liver. As a result, a variety of hormones are released. Your adrenal glands release epinephrine and cortisol, and your liver releases glucagon. This is what our bodies are wired to do. Stored glucose is freed up to help us flee from a stressful situation. But, we are no longer running from saber tooth tigers. Instead, we are stuck in traffic, unhappy with our boss, or worried about how we are going to pay the mortgage. In other words, stress is more chronic. Chronic stress results in consistently more elevated blood sugar levels (which can plays a role in systemic inflammation as mentioned above). While we are not able to control every stressor in our lives here are some things that you can do to minimize your stress levels: Practice deep breathing, implement an daily mindfulness practice, go for a walk or run, reinforce and maintain your boundaries, or seek professional help.
The Role of Blood Sugar Dysregulation and Mental Health
Have you ever noticed how when you are down and out, you seek out sugar? Sugar does a number on us! I’m not talking about healthy whole food sources of sugar, such as fruit or raw honey. I am talking about refined sugar here. We already talked about how sugar is a pro-inflammatory food. This inflammation disrupts cytokines and immune function, and depletes the body of serotonin and other key neurotransmitters. Sugar also depletes the body of vitamins and minerals; Specifically, B vitamins (which are crucial to neurological function) and zinc (which supports the immune system and so much more). Low levels of serotonin play a key role in the development of depression and anxiety. With the massive amount of sugar consumed in the standard American diet, it is no wonder that we are seeing more prevalent rates of these mental health conditions (depression is now the number one cause of disability in America). Sugar also lights up the pleasure center of the brain, in turn creating a negative feedback loop that leaves us craving more. And the downward spiral continues.
Blood sugar dysregulation can also contribute to non-diagnostic mood imbalances. You may find yourself irritable, fatigued, susceptible to mood swings and emotional outbursts, and/or in a state of brain fog when your blood glucose is low. This is crucial to keep in mind with your children too. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 9.5 tsp of sugar per day. The average American adult consumes 22tsp of sugar a day, but children consume 32 tsp per day! Sugary foods are marketed to children. I would not be surprised if you kids’ emotional meltdowns and inability to focus have something to do with riding this rollercoaster.
So how do you stop the sugar addiction?
Here are some take away tips for keeping your blood sugar in the green:
- Focus on incorporating plenty of quality proteins and healthy fats at meal and snack times. This will leave you feeling more satiated, and will help to stabilize your mood and energy.
- Make sure you are getting plenty of fiber. This will leave you feeling fuller, longer.
- Fill up on veggies… no need to go hungry!
- Avoid refined carbohydrates, and instead choose complex, whole food, nutrient-dense carbs.
- Regularly space apart your meals… do not skip meals.
- Schedule regular movement into your day. Research shows that walking after meals helps to reduce blood glucose levels.
- Implement stress management techniques
- Make sure you are getting a full night’s sleep…. Poor sleep also contributes to elevated blood glucose levels.
- Seek out individualized support, or enroll in one of my RESTART or Finally Free classes
For more targeted and individualized support, please reach out for a FREE discovery call today!