Blood sugar is a common topic when it comes to health and wellness, and one I frequently bring up myself. Be it constant cravings, low energy, or mood swings, blood sugar plays a role in many common day-to-day issues we all deal with. Although many of them are considered “normal” occurrences they are in fact not normal at all and are often triggered by disrupted blood sugar. So here are 8 signs your blood sugar is out of whack and some simple tips to help get it back to balanced.
What is blood sugar anyway?
First things first, let’s get the boring stuff out of the way; what is blood sugar anyway? The term “sugar” in blood sugar doesn’t refer to actual sugar. Rather, biologically our bodies function on sugar, also known as glucose. If you think of the body like a car, glucose acts like gas for our gas tanks, giving us the energy for our day. Blood sugar is the sugar the bloodstream carries to all cells in the body to supply us with energy, and this comes from the food we eat. Different types of foods, specifically carbohydrates, contain natural sugars that will break down into glucose in the human body once digested which will then enter our bloodstream (becoming blood sugar) to serve as a source of energy. So, “blood sugar” simply refers to the amount of sugar (or glucose) in your blood at a given time.
Why does blood sugar matter?
Every time you eat a meal, the sugars in each of the foods you eat raise the level of sugar in your blood. Since you only need a certain amount of sugar in the bloodstream at one given time (i.e. – you only need so much energy at one given time) your body will regulate your level of blood sugar by storing excess in the cells for a later time.
In a balanced state, blood sugar is automatically regulated; you eat some carbs, and insulin (the hormone that manages blood sugar) lowers blood sugar levels by increasing the rate at which glucose is taken up by cells throughout the body. Insulin is essentially the traffic controller of our bloodstream, determining how much sugar is needed in the bloodstream at one given time. When blood sugar is well balanced, you’ll have stable energy, feel happy, be productive and experience good sleep.
Some of the signs your blood sugar is out of whack have become so common they are considered “normal” when, in reality, they are not normal at all.
However, if you are not eating the right balance of foods, or indulging a little too frequently in sweets or starchy carbohydrates, you can easily throw your blood sugar out of whack. A constant influx of carbohydrates or sugar to the bloodstream means insulin is constantly at work to manage the constant supply of sugar to the bloodstream. Over time, insulin will get “tired” or become resistant to this influx of sugar. It is at this point where problems begin to arise; craving increases and fatigue sets in. Although you might be constantly ingesting carbohydrates or sugars for energy, that energy is not actually making its way to the cells (where the energy is actually needed) since insulin is no longer well managing the balance of sugar in your bloodstream. Over time it means your body will ask for more and more energy (i.e. – sugar and carb cravings) to fuel the cells given it is not all making its way into them properly.
Signs Your Blood Sugar is Disrupted
Problems with blood sugar regulation have become incredibly widespread. In fact, some issues have almost become so common they are considered “normal” when in reality they are not normal at all. So here are some of the most common signs your blood sugar is out of whack and some simple tips to help bring it back to balanced.
1. You constantly crave sweets.
Think about it. If your body is constantly craving sweets it is constantly craving sugar because it is in constant need of energy. Sugary treats are made of simple carbohydrates and therefore the quickest source of energy for the brain and body. Therefore every time your blood sugar levels begin to drop, and your body cannot easily access stored glucose, your cravings for sweets will increase. However, continuously consuming these sweet treats will only perpetuate the roller coaster cycle of high and low blood sugar.
2. You feel irritable if a meal is missed.
If you can’t go without a meal, or can’t go too long without eating, this is a good sign your blood sugar is out of whack. I often tell clients they should be able to (easily) go 4 or more hours without eating. Although glucose is our primary source of fuel, fat is our backup fuel and your body should be able to go back and forth between glucose and fat for energy. However, if your body is too dependent on carbohydrates for the energy you will likely get ‘hangry‘ or irritable when a meal is missed, as fat cannot easily be accessed for energy.
3. You experience frequent brain fog.
Similar to the cells in your body, the cells in your brain need glucose for energy. Therefore, if the brain is not getting fuel, it cannot function efficiently. If your blood sugar is low it will be difficult for your brain, and you, to function optimally. If you often have trouble concentrating, feel spacy or disconnected it is one of the good signs your blood sugar is out of whack.
4. You wake up during the night.
Poor sleep or waking up frequently during the night has become a common occurrence for people, however, it is not a normal or good thing. Although there can be many reasons for interrupted sleep, disrupted blood sugar is one of them. Humans are designed to burn fat for energy through the night because it burns long and slow, in contrast to sugar and carbs, which burn quickly. However because today so many people deal with blood sugar imbalance, they have trouble using fat for fuel while they sleep and therefore their sleep becomes interrupted as their body tries to burn carbohydrates for energy as it did during the day. Moreover, when your blood sugar is really high, your kidneys will try to get rid of it by removing it from the body via urine, which may cause people to wake up during the night to pee.
5. You have difficulty losing weight.
Insulin resistance is a common cause of weight gain, especially in the stomach area. An increase in insulin levels due to the inability to process carbohydrates can lead to the creation of excess fat. If you’ve tried all of the diets and tactics out there without any success, and you are dealing with some of the other signs your blood sugar is out of whack, it is something to consider.
6. You constantly feel hungry.
Constantly feeling like you can eat and are hungry is one of the common signs your blood sugar is out of whack. If you are constantly ingesting energy (i.e. food), but never feel satisfied, it is a good indication the fuel you are ingesting is not actually making it to your cells, and therefore they are leading you to eat more food. It is the resistance of insulin, and a frequent over-intake of carbohydrates, that can lead to this feeling of always being hungry.
7. You feel sleepy in the afternoon.
Fatigue is another signal that your blood sugar isn’t under control. When sugar is staying in your bloodstream instead of being diverted to your body’s cells, your muscles don’t get enough fuel to use for energy. Additionally, if you kick your morning off with an overly sweet or sugary breakfast (cereal, muffins, granola bar, etc..) the overproduction of insulin in the morning can lead to extreme periods of fatigue in the afternoon.
8. You get anxious for no apparent reason.
In the constant rollercoaster of low and high blood sugar, the lows can be a trigger for symptoms of anxiety. As blood sugar declines, the adrenal glands secrete epinephrine (also called adrenaline), causing the liver to convert stored glycogen to glucose and release it, raising blood glucose. This also speeds up the brain when released often enough. Therefore if there is a constant release of adrenaline to the brain you can end up feeling anxious, and when happening in conjunction with these other symptoms it can be one of the signs your blood sugar is out of whack.
So, what can you do about it?
Albeit there are many signs your blood sugar is out of whack, there are also many ways you can help balance your blood sugar. So here are some simple tips and additional information on how you can balance your blood sugar.
- Focus on eating whole foods in their whole format.
- Add protein and fat to every meal.
- Limit simple refined carbohydrates.
- Include a source of fibrous vegetables in all your meals.
- Learn to sweeten food without added sugar.
- Avoid skipping meals.
- Keep snacking to a minimum.
- Eat regularly, not all of the time.