People are starting to understand that their weight and energy isn’t a simple equation of calories in, calories out—it’s a lot more nuanced than that. Understanding the role of blood sugar and how certain foods and activities affect your body goes a long way toward achieving your goals.
More and more, we’re seeing non-diabetics wear continuous glucose monitors to give them information about how different health practices affect their blood sugar, and in turn, how their blood sugar affects their mood and energy levels.
But, is continuous glucose monitoring worth it? Here’s what we know so far.
How blood sugar and insulin work
Your body breaks down the food you eat into nutrients and glucose, or blood sugar. When your body senses glucose in your bloodstream, it signals insulin release so that your cells can use it for energy.
So, your blood sugar rises and falls depending on what you eat and do throughout the day. A balanced breakfast that contains carbohydrates, protein, healthy fat, and fiber should cause your blood sugar to increase gradually, as your food breaks down into glucose slowly. If you have a healthy, functioning metabolism, your blood sugar will stay fairly steady for a few hours until it’s time for the next meal.
If you have sugary donuts for breakfast, your blood sugar might rise steeply. Your body responds to a steep rise in glucose with a flood of insulin to get it out of your bloodstream and into your cells for energy.
If your cells have enough energy for now, your body stores glucose in your muscles and liver as glycogen. And once those tanks are full, any excess is stored as body fat. A lot of us are trying to avoid getting to that point.
Activity affects blood sugar
Glucose gets a bad rap, but it’s the necessary energy we need to do our day-to-day activities. Whether you’re giving a presentation, moving furniture, or writing up an expense report, you’re using glucose for energy—in different amounts, of course. As you might expect, lying in your bed reading uses less glucose than shoveling snow would.
The thing is, what your activity level does to your blood sugar isn’t always as obvious as the example above. Giving a presentation can make your blood sugar rise, as stress signals the release of glycogen, the storage form of sugar. Weight training might make it fall, as you’re using glucose to fuel your lifts.
However, it’s individual. What makes blood sugar go in one direction for you might make it go in another direction for your spouse. If it were the same for everyone, there would be a precise weight loss formula that would work for everyone—and we all know that that’s not how it works.
Glucose monitors tell you what your blood sugar is doing
If you wear a glucose monitor, you get almost instant feedback on what your blood sugar is doing. Some factors that may cause fluctuations include:
- Food. Some people can go higher carb without a huge spike. Others are more carb sensitive and will see a bump in glucose after consuming a smaller amount. Some people may be sensitive to certain types of foods and not others, and they may see fluctuations regardless of carb or sugar content.
- Activity. Some people will see a drop in blood sugar after a sweat session. Others might fluctuate differently. Intense activity might cause a rise before a fall because of the stress surge, while gentle activity may keep your blood sugar more steady. It’s all individual.
- Stress. If you track your blood sugar, you might start to notice a pattern of rising blood sugar during times of stress. You can either avoid stressors when you can, or work on stress management techniques to see if it helps keep your blood sugar more level.
- Sleep. It’s well-established that poor sleep affects blood sugar, so a monitor can give you real-time feedback on how you’re doing there.
Continuous glucose monitors clue you in on how different factors affect your body so that you can have a better idea of what to reign in and what factors you don’t need to worry about. For some people, it’s key information about their metabolism that helps them understand how to eat, what exercise works with their biology instead of against it, when to squash stress, and whether they should work on sleep hygiene. Other people are in tune with their bodies and can sense how their behaviors and environment affect them, without any data.
The data you can get from a continuous glucose monitor is just a small piece of information in the grand scheme of the intricate system that is your individual biology. If it seems like it would be useful to you, you may want to look into continuous glucose monitors and see if getting a device makes sense for you.
Spiegel K, Knutson K, Leproult R, Tasali E, Van Cauter E. Sleep loss: a novel risk factor for insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2005;99(5):2008-2019. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00660.2005