As a functional nutritionist, I help women to identify and address the root causes of their hormone and digestive symptoms. Say goodbye to fad diets, my mission is to empower you in your health and create change that sustains.
10 Strategies to Balance Blood Sugar & Improve Your Relationship with Food
March 22, 2023
Food Relationship Focus
The topic of body image and your relationship with food are SO incredibly important when talking about nutrition, yet not always discussed!
With the changing of the seasons, I always feel like this is a fantastic time to refresh self care strategies, but I also find that this can be a time of heightened body awareness as we emerge from the coziness of the winter into spring.
With this shift, sometimes negative self-talk can more easily arise around the body and body image… and this directly impacts your relationship with food
Your body image, relationship with food, and food choices are ALL interconnected.
NOTE: the conversation around body image in itself is highly important and there can be a lot to unpack here (ie. family upbringing, diet culture, limiting beliefs from childhood, and personal stories about yourself in the environment), it is important to know that your relationship with your body has a lot to do with your relationship with yourself! But in this newsletter, I wanted to prioritize how we can strengthen your relationship with your body and your relationship with food through awareness and empowered choices.
Let’s dig into it!
The cool thing about your relationship with food is that it is influenced both by the food choices you make and also how you think about food.
So what do I mean by this?
On one hand, if you eat in a way that negatively influences your mood, leaves you feeling hungry, or makes you feel sick – the symptoms that result might make you feel emotionally frustrated, overwhelmed, or discouraged. For example you might be busy in your day and skip meals, snack all day long out of convenience, or feel bloated and overly full after eating too quickly. These unintentional habits can create symptoms that IMPACT your emotions thus can influence your relationship with food!
On the other hand, if you have been a yo-yo dieter, feel challenged with negative body image thoughts, or grew up always being told to “eat this” or “avoid that,” the general eating experience could be very emotionally loaded and then influence HOW you choose to eat.
For example, you might limit foods or food groups in your eating, your might unintentionally under eat because you fear you are eating too much, or you might, experience more restrictive and binge type of eating behaviors
In our practice we talk about creating a healthy relationship with food by creating balance between these two important angles of looking at food. I call this “inner wisdom” and “outer wisdom”. When we lean too hard to one side or the other, this creates a disconnect and increases pressure and strain on your food relationship.
“Inner Wisdom” calls on your food beliefs, hunger and fullness cues, food preferences, emotional history with food, and present thoughts and emotions around food.
“Outer Wisdom” calls on nutrition knowledge and the science behind supporting your individual bodys’ needs. Outer wisdom can be incredibly supportive to your relationship with food as it can provide education to work with your body and meet its needs to reduce physical triggers that can then influence your emotional feelings. Outer wisdom is so important and something we are going to shed more light on here today, but I do have to shed light on its low vibe. Diet culture – what we are told to eat through the media, friends, magazines, fear focused IG, Tik Tok or FB accounts can add a confusing veil to the outer wisdom space. Here I find that with too much focus on what we think we “should” do – our relationship with food can further get challenged!
Here is a graphic I created to better describe these two categories.
So where do we start?
When I work with clients, one of the first places we start on this journey of balancing inner and outer wisdom is establishing blood sugar balance practices. MUCH of what I see in diet culture counteracts the benefit of blood sugar stability by pushing practices like intermittent fasting, low calorie weight loss plans, keto, and low carb eating. Many of my clients who have been stuck in the vicious cycle of trying on new practices for support – come to me in a depleted hypo-metabolic space. They feel frustrated with their body, unsure of what to eat, and then find themselves more aggressively leaning into diet culture strategies to try to get “better and faster” results. I regularly hear from clients that they feel “out of control” with food.
One of the first activations here to start to change the game is blood sugar balance!
When our blood sugars are unstable we might feel:
irritated, tearful, or moody
fast or pounding heartbeat (palpitations)
hungry or nauseous
inability to focus
When blood sugar is low we also have an increased platform to experience:
Increased preoccupation around food
Feeling more anxious about food
Faster eating at meal times
Overeating or eating more than you would like to at meal times because you get too hungry
NOTE: All of these can increase feelings of not being in control with food.
You see here? In getting behind blood sugar balance practices we can directly improve the foundation for some of your food relationship challenges. Of course this doesn’t mean there still won’t be work to do around your inner wisdom with food, but I find that for most individuals, starting with this foundational outer wisdom pillar, we can start to shift the environment in a positive direction!
1. Eat breakfast within one hour of waking up.
This is one of the most important steps in blood sugar balance. Upon waking, blood sugar is low and the body is in a catabolic state. Eating a protein-rich breakfast, combined with a carbohydrate ensures that the body does not need to produce stress hormones for energy. Many women note that intermittent fasting helps them feel more energized, but unfortunately, they do not know that this is a result of increased adrenaline. Keep stress hormones down, by eating breakfast. This also helps the body maintain adequate energy throughout the day!
2. Eat a meal or snack every 3-4 hours.
Eating often leads to a high metabolism and prevents dips in blood sugar. Supplying your body with adequate nutrients throughout the day promotes the production of thyroid hormone (which is extremely important for a high metabolism) and progesterone (an extremely soothing, protective hormone). Again, this creates “safety in the body” and prevents the need for the production of stress hormones.
3. Build a balanced plate and consider mindful meal ordering!:
At every meal, combine protein, fat, fiber, and carbohydrates. At mealtimes, aim to eat some of your vegetable or fiber first, followed by protein, before digging into your carbohydrates. Protein, fat, and fiber have been shown to decrease the rate of glucose absorption into the bloodstream, preventing large blood sugar spikes. This also helps to improve satiation, which prevents you from overeating!
4. Go for a walk or use your muscles for 10 minutes after eating.
Studies indicate that using your muscles for only 10 minutes can prevent blood sugar spikes after a meal. This is because movement facilitates glucose uptake into cells. This can look like going for a quick walk, doing some squats, dancing, cleaning dishes, or however else you like to move!
5. Reduce stress.
The body’s natural response to stress is to raise blood glucose levels through adrenaline and cortisol. This is an evolutionary response! For example, you can imagine our ancestors needing lots of energy as they run from a sabertooth tiger during periods of high stress. The body releases stored glucose to sustain energy during the period of stress. Unfortunately, in today’s modern world, we get stuck in states of high stress for prolonged periods of time, meaning our blood sugars can stay chronically high. Reducing stress can reduce blood sugar dysregulation. Finding ways to relax can only benefit your hormonal health! Try ways to boost stress resilience (your body’s response to stress) such as meditation, deep breathing, massages, getting daily sunlight, spending time with friends, you can find more in the stress support article here.
6. Improve mineral status to assist in glucose metabolism.
Minerals such as potassium, sodium, and magnesium have been shown to play a large role in glucose metabolism and insulin response. It’s important to maintain a good mineral status in the body, especially during periods of high stress–the body burns through sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, etc very quickly. Some ideas to help you replenish minerals include: eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, remineralizing your water (trace minerals, sea salt), trying an adrenal cocktail recipe, incorporating dairy into your diet, etc!
7. Include high-fiber carbohydrates in meals.
As mentioned above, fiber slows the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream, so including fiber will prevent large blood sugar spikes. Fiber is also an important component of gut health as it helps improve digestion and intestinal motility, and feeds the gut microbiome–all important aspects of metabolic health!
8. Aim for 20-35g of protein at each meal.
Protein is extremely important for satiety. When adequate protein is consumed, the body’s fullness cues last longer and this prevents overeating, especially an hour or two following a meal. Protein also slows glucose absorption. It is important to note that consuming large amounts of protein alone can cause insulin to spike due to dietary protein’s insulinotropic effect. Because of this, be sure to consume protein along with quality carbohydrates to prevent insulin resistance.
9. Be sure to get 8 to 9 hours of sleep each night.
Adequate sleep is important for all biological processes. It helps minimize stress, promotes a healthy immune and digestive system, and promotes insulin sensitivity. Be sure to prioritize 8 to 9 hours of restful sleep each night to ensure healthy glucose metabolism.
10. Exercise regularly to support a healthy insulin response.
Finally, exercise assists in insulin sensitivity and healthy blood sugar levels. As previously mentioned, exercise shortly following a meal can decrease blood sugar spikes. Increasing muscle mass also assists in a healthy metabolism by increasing your basal metabolic rate. Exercise routines do not have to be rigid or overcomplicated! Find something you enjoy doing and aim for exercise or movement 3-4 times a week. Some ideas include walking, pilates, yoga, dancing, hiking, skiing, paddle boarding, weight training, or anything else you enjoy doing!