Last Updated on August 6, 2023 by Kayla
Do you feel fatigued, anxious, or have intense food cravings? Perhaps you’re doing ‘all the things,’ yet struggle to lose a pound? If so, you may be experiencing some of the many symptoms of metabolic dysfunction including blood sugar imbalance and insulin resistance.
Nowadays, blood sugar balance takes a backseat to life’s many demands. Eating highly-processed convenience foods and skipping workouts becomes the norm. While blood sugar management isn’t a terribly sexy topic, it’s an important one.
Making time to learn about blood sugar balance is a gift that keeps on giving; it’s an investment. Learning what and how to eat goes far beyond your metabolism and influences your life as a whole.
With just a few tweaks, you can improve your blood sugar balance and enjoy improved metabolic health and sustainable weight loss without sacrificing foods you know and love.
Why bother with blood sugar?
For most people, the terms “blood sugar balance” and “metabolic health” seem ambiguous and meaningless. You see these words in the news or media, yet think that because you don’t have diabetes, it’s not of concern for you.
You’re not alone, and it’s obvious that metabolic wellness is far from top-of-mind for the average American. For example, one study from 2018 found that only 12% of Americans were metabolically healthy.
A more recent study showed even more worrisome results with less than 7% of Americans meeting five criteria for cardiometabolic health. This included markers such as blood pressure, blood sugar, blood cholesterol, weight, and history of heart attack and stroke.
To make matters worse, the US medical system is focused on ‘cures’ and treatments over prevention. Considering that up to 60% of premature deaths can be delayed with healthy lifestyle changes, we have to stop being ignorant and start taking charge.
As a Registered Dietitian, it’s my mission to emphasize the importance of metabolic wellness, starting with blood sugar balance. We must be proactive in regard to health and quality of life. It’s up to us to stack the odds in our favor.
In this post, you’ll learn about common symptoms of blood sugar imbalance and why reversing metabolic dysfunction, including insulin resistance, is the key to living your best – inside and out.
What is metabolic wellness?
Metabolism is a process in which food, or nutrients, are broken down and utilized in the body. Imagine following your breakfast of scrambled eggs through your digestive tract as it’s broken down into various vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
Once broken down, these nutrients travel where they’re needed, facilitating muscle repair and providing energy and essential vitamins and minerals the body cannot make on its own. When you’re metabolically healthy, nutrients are sent to their proper destinations.
On the other hand, when your metabolism isn’t working correctly, the fate of your scrambled eggs is diverted, and nutrients don’t make it where they’re needed most. Nutrients get stuck or stashed away in the wrong place.
One hormone, in particular, that is responsible for shuttling nutrients where they’re needed is insulin. When insulin signaling isn’t working properly, a cascade of unfortunate events occurs such as weight changes and inflammation which are key indicators of insulin resistance and metabolic dysfunction.
Insulin is a hormone that helps regulate the amount of sugar in your bloodstream. When blood sugar rises, such as after a meal, the pancreas responds by releasing insulin.
Insulin’s job is to move glucose from the bloodstream into the body cells, where it can be used for energy. Without insulin, blood sugar remains high.
For most individuals, though, the problem isn’t low insulin. In fact, the opposite is true. Too much insulin in the bloodstream leads to insulin resistance – the beginning of metabolic dysfunction.
When blood sugar is chronically elevated, body cells stop responding to insulin’s signals. Similarly to how you build tolerance with caffeine, more insulin is required over time to get the same net effect.
In today’s world, which is brimming with highly processed foods and chronic stress (both of which increase blood sugar and thus insulin), too high blood sugar and too much insulin create the perfect storm for metabolic dysfunction.
Side effects such as difficulty losing weight or weight gain, especially in the abdomen, can indicate insulin resistance. Because insulin is a “storage” hormone, weight loss is virtually impossible when insulin is always present in the bloodstream.
By understanding the importance of insulin and how it works in the body, we can build better habits regarding blood sugar balance and avoid insulin resistance to facilitate weight loss and optimal metabolic health.
Benefits of balanced blood sugar
In the long term, learning how to balance blood sugar and avoid insulin resistance pays off in several ways. Many researchers argue that insulin resistance is the cornerstone of metabolic dysfunction and increases the risk for many chronic diseases.
For instance, some studies show that insulin resistance increases the risk for two of the leading causes of death – heart disease by a rate of six times, and cancer by twelvefold. More than any other hormone, insulin plays a central role in health and longevity.
By correcting blood sugar imbalance, and thus insulin resistance, you not only delay or prevent many devastating diseases, but you also experience several short-term benefits.
For instance, when your internal systems are running smoothly and blood sugar is well-managed, you might notice improvements such as:
- More energy
- Less cravings
- Weight loss
- Better sleep
- Fewer mood swings
- Clearer skin
As you can see, blood sugar control is important for everyone – not just people with diabetes – for preventing chronic diseases and increasing quality of life. You can experience short- and long-term benefits by prioritizing blood sugar balance in your health and weight loss goals.
Defining blood sugar imbalance
Blood sugar imbalance occurs when blood sugar, or blood glucose, is too low or too high. Many factors impact blood sugar, including meal timing and composition (i.e., the ratio of macronutrients), physical activity, stress, medications, and more.
The “normal” range for blood glucose is 70 to 140 mg/dL depending on when food was last consumed. For example, a normal fasting glucose (readings taken in the morning or before a meal) is less than 100 mg/dL. After a meal and under ideal circumstances, blood glucose does not exceed 140 mg/dL.
Another standard measure of blood sugar imbalance is the hemoglobin A1c test (HbA1c) which estimates your average blood glucose over three months. Normal HbA1c is less than 5.7%, and values over 6.5% indicate diabetes.
Outside of blood markers, symptoms of blood sugar imbalance shows up in a variety of ways negatively impacting activities of daily life.
Symptoms of blood sugar imbalance
Remember that blood sugar imbalance occurs when blood sugar is too low or too high. The primary focus of this post is to emphasize the impact of high blood sugar and insulin resistance, although we’ll briefly review signs of low blood sugar.
Symptoms of high blood sugar
Elevated blood sugar, or hyperglycemia, is defined by a fasting blood glucose greater than 100 mg/dL and post-meal blood sugar greater than 140 mg/dL.
Symptoms of hyperglycemia may include:
- Feeling thirsty
- Frequent urination
- Weight changes
- Increased cravings & hunger
In more extreme cases, unexplained weight loss, blurred vision, and poor wound healing may indicate high blood sugar. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, consult your doctor right away.
Symptoms of low blood sugar
Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, is a blood glucose of less than 70 mg/dL. Symptoms of hypoglycemia range depending on the individual and may include:
- Shakiness or trembling
- Difficulty concentrating
- Confusion, irritability, or anxiety
- Sweating and chills
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Elevated heart rate
- Intense hunger
This list is not all-inclusive since symptoms can range from person to person. Always check with your primary physician for further testing if you experience any of these symptoms.
Managing blood sugar imbalance with nutrition and movement
Choosing the right foods and regular exercise drastically impact metabolic wellness and improve blood sugar balance.
In terms of diet, it’s important to (1) focus on nutrient-dense whole foods and (2) avoid sugary or highly-processed foods that spike your blood sugar.
For more guidance, download my blood sugar-friendly grocery list, which includes a mini-email series about balancing blood sugar for weight loss.
Another excellent resource is Glucose Revolution by Jessie Inchauspé. This book provides a thorough, yet easy-to-understand explanation of blood sugar balance and simple tactics for managing glucose spikes.
Aside from food, physical activity provides another method for reversing insulin resistance and correcting blood sugar imbalance. In addition, movement helps improve mood which can help reduce emotional eating and stress-related weight gain.
Other lifestyle factors including sleep and stress management help induce or alleviate insulin resistance. For these reasons, it’s important to take a holistic approach to achieving optimal metabolic wellness.
Start with small changes, and over time, you’ll notice many benefits including weight loss and increased energy. Progress over perfection!
Many factors impact blood sugar balance, and appreciating the role of insulin in metabolic wellness and blood sugar management is crucial for sustaining long-term metabolic health.
The good news is you can be proactive and do something about it. Lifestyle changes such as eating healthy, engaging in regular exercise, sleeping well, and managing stress influence your metabolic wellness.
By engaging in these behaviors, you’ll lose weight more easily and have more energy to do activities you enjoy with the people you love the most.
If you’re still unsure how or where to begin, message me, and we can chat about next steps for optimizing your health and well-being. I specialize in helping women after bariatric surgery lose weight and keep it off.
Apply today to learn more about my coaching program with CGM. Using CGM for weight loss is a powerful, personalized tool to help you achieve and sustain your weight loss goals – for good!
Metabolic wellness begins on the inside and has less to do with weight – or what’s on the outside – than you might think. That’s because not everyone with a “normal” BMI is healthy.
Believe it or not, some studies estimate that up to 40% of non-obese individuals (those who are “normal” or “overweight” according to BMI) are metabolically unhealthy.
On the contrary, about 1/3 of people who are categorized as “obese” are, in fact, metabolically healthy. Obesity may be a symptom of metabolic dysfunction, but it’s not the cause.
So before you judge a book by its cover, make sure you thumb through the pages or observe a day in the life before you make assumptions regarding someone else’s health.
Helping women after bariatric surgery lose weight without eating “perfect.” Learn how to balance blood sugar & optimize your “tool” today! Apply to learn more!
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