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September 22, 2020 / Diana Gariglio-Clelland

How Do Blood Sugar Levels Affect Weight?

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It goes without saying that there are many factors that influence a person’s weight. While some of these factors are more well-known, like eating habits, physical activity and certain health conditions, others may be a little less obvious. One of the less obvious things that may silently be affecting your weight are your blood sugar levels. Learning how blood sugar levels play a role in your body’s weight regulation can help you be more aware of your body and make more informed decisions to promote your health and wellness.

Understanding How Blood Sugar Levels Affect Weight

Our cells rely on blood glucose to provide the energy necessary for sustaining bodily functions. Sugar enters the body via our diet, and carbohydrate foods (often just called “carbs”) have the biggest impact on blood sugar levels. Carbohydrate foods include grains, legumes, fruit, vegetables, milk, and yogurt. Simple sugars like table sugar, corn syrup, and honey are also carbohydrates.

Once in the body, sugar is metabolized and stored so that it can be utilized later when our body needs it, such as when we’re fasting or without food for prolonged periods of time.

Blood sugar enters our body's cells to be stored with the help of a hormone called insulin. Insulin is often referred to as a fat storage hormone because it also promotes storing excess energy as fat, which can result in weight gain or difficulty losing weight.

When the body is constantly trying to lower blood sugar levels, circulating insulin remains high, and this is referred to as insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is often associated with higher body weight and increased body fat, since the body is pumping out more of this fat-storage hormone than normal.

Being aware of blood sugar levels can provide much-needed insight to your overall health. Avoiding extreme highs and lows, and striving for balanced blood sugars is the ultimate goal, and may even affect your weight.

What Are Ideal Blood Sugar Levels?

A normal blood sugar range for someone who hasn’t eaten or drank anything besides water (also known as the "fasted state") is below 100 mg/dL. Anything at or above 100 mg/dL is considered borderline high, and a fasting blood sugar of 126 mg/dL or higher is often indicative of diabetes.

In a non-fasted state, blood sugar should be between 70-130 mg/dL, and should fall below 140 mg/dL two hours after eating a meal.

Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, occurs when blood sugar levels fall below 70 mg/dL, and any blood sugar level over 200 mg/dL is considered very high, regardless of the time or respect to eating.

Many factors influence blood sugar levels. The benefits of healthy eating and exercise are well-established, and are often the first line of defense to work on when blood sugar levels are found to be high. Eating a diet high in refined carbohydrates and sugar raises blood sugar and insulin levels. Added sugar is a big culprit for raising blood sugar because these types of sugars are rapidly digested and converted to glucose in our body.

Adopting a diet that is rich in fiber and low in refined carbohydrates and sugar can promote healthy blood sugar levels. Following a consistent low carbohydrate meal plan (30-50 grams per meal), can help promote balanced blood sugar. Many people find that avoiding high-carbohydrate foods can help with weight loss. The important thing to remember is to not be overly restrictive, since diet changes should be realistic and sustainable to provide long-term health benefits.

Being physically active also helps to reduce insulin resistance and lower blood sugar. Muscles use up extra blood glucose during exercise, which is why resistance training and promoting muscle mass is beneficial in addition to cardiovascular exercises. In addition to working out, never underestimate the health benefits of walking everyday, as this has benefits for both mental and physical health. Aiming for 150 minutes of activity per week can help promote healthy blood sugar levels.

Genetics also play a role in blood sugar levels. People with a family history of prediabetes or diabetes are at higher risk of having high blood sugar. Besides family history, some risk factors for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes include:

How to Monitor Your Blood Sugar Levels

Monitoring your blood sugar is the best way to gain insight into how different lifestyle habits influence your blood sugar levels. For instance, you may notice that your blood sugar levels are higher after eating a breakfast of pancakes than when you have an omelette with a side of toast. People who check their blood sugar tend to make healthier choices to promote healthier blood sugar levels, such as being more active and avoiding sugary drinks.

One of the most common ways to monitor blood sugar is using a home glucometer kit. These are available over the counter without a prescription, but you can also have one prescribed if you have a history of high blood sugar. A glucometer kit uses a small drop of blood from a fingerstick to analyze the current blood sugar level. People often check their blood sugar with a glucometer kit when they wake up, before and after meals, and at bedtime to gauge their normal patterns.

For a more in-depth picture of blood sugar fluctuations, a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) is a great tool. A CGM uses a sensor worn under the skin 24/7 and continuously displays blood sugar levels throughout the day. The CGM can also alert the user when blood sugar levels fall outside a normal range, such as for hypoglycemia or blood sugar levels above 200 mg/dL. CGMs are often used by people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes, but can also be used by people who are wanting to gain a detailed picture of their blood glucose metabolism.

How Balancing Your Blood Sugar May Impact Weight

Monitoring blood sugar can be a great tool for people to learn how their lifestyle impacts their health. In fact, studies have found that people who check blood sugar levels on a regular basis tend to have higher rates of weight loss and improved blood sugar control.

High blood sugar usually doesn’t have any symptoms until it’s too late and a diagnosis of diabetes is made; which is why checking blood sugar before getting to that point is so critical. When people begin to notice how certain foods affect their blood glucose, they can make adjustments to their diet and lifestyle. These changes may include reducing added sugar, eating more vegetables, and being more active – which in turn, may help assist with weight loss.

Even small changes can make a big difference: try eating a balanced breakfast of protein and healthy fats instead of sugary cereal; and reduce consumption of refined carbs like white bread and pasta. Utilizing healthy meals and snacks that are balanced in nutrients and not overly carbohydrate-based can help regulate blood sugar, which in turn has benefits for overall health and wellness.

Following a personalized meal plan is a great way to learn how to eat in a way that will promote healthy blood sugar levels, which may help with weight loss. PlateJoy offers customized plans that are designed to fit your budget and health goals, without the expense of meal delivery or being overly-restrictive.

The Takeaway

Knowledge is power, which is why being aware of your blood glucose levels and making adjustments to your lifestyle habits and healthy meal planning is so powerful. Without knowing what’s going on in your body, it’s easy to continue making choices that may silently be harming your health. Gaining insight into your metabolism and making sustainable lifestyle changes can not only improve your health, but it can also have an influence on your weight loss goals.

Diana Gariglio-Clelland
Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator

Diana Gariglio-Clelland is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator with years of experience counseling patients in the hospital, community, and primary care health settings. She became interested in nutrition after struggling with her own misconceptions about health and nutrition during her early college years. Combining her own personal experiences and innate passion for helping others, she finds joy in helping her clients work towards achieving peace with their bodies by creating health-promoting, sustainable lifestyle habits.

Diana is currently working as a freelance dietitian since entering her newest role as stay-at-home mom to her little girl. She enjoys running and training for half marathons, and has been an avid equestrian for over half of her life.

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