While it’s important to understand what to eat, when to eat, and the why behind eating habits, it’s also necessary to be able to consistently apply this knowledge on regularly to achieve long-term success. As you likely are already aware, there are an almost infinite number of challenges that you may face each day that can get in the way of this. Taking some time to understand what your biggest challenges are can be the first step toward putting together an action plan to make positive, lasting change.
Having a Plan
With any sort of challenge, understanding what specific barrier you’re facing and coming up with a plan may be the single most important part of overcoming that barrier! As the saying goes, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” Spending some time each week or every few days thinking about your meals can pay dividends when it comes to helping you stick to your health and nutrition goals.
Social Cues and Triggers
As humans, gathering around food and beverages is essential for so many of us. It’s a way to socialize, celebrate, mourn, bond, express love, etc. This can make sticking to your healthy eating goals difficult when it comes to eating out, holidays, and other social situations where we may feel pressure to indulge in ways that don’t serve our health goals. Food choices are often less in our control in these moments or may feel as such if we don’t have a plan in place. Going to bars, restaurants, and even movie theaters can all be triggers for us to overindulge in a way that we wouldn’t if we were eating at home.
For many of us, the workplace can also be another trigger. Maybe your office stocks up on chips, candy, sodas, and other high-carb snacks. Or maybe your coworkers are always bringing in treats or asking you out to lunch where options are limited.
Read on for more tips on how to manage some of these triggers.
For many people, eating out is a part of our normal lives, and that’s okay! Eating out can be convenient, a way to socialize, or an opportunity to enjoy new foods that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to have.
Food prepared away from home can be tricky, though. As you may already know, many of these foods are typically high in sodium and unhealthy fats and are also offered in really large serving sizes (particularly with those higher-carb foods like potatoes, fries, and bread!) compared to what you’d prepare at home.
Read on to learn some simple tips that can help you to be able to enjoy eating out while still sticking to your health goals:
Plan ahead. This may be the most important part of avoiding glucose spikes when eating out! Take a few minutes to look ahead at the menu online before you go so you can plan out your meal in advance. It can be so tempting to throw our nutrition goals out the window when we get to a restaurant and are inundated with the smells, sounds, and sights of delicious food! Having a plan can help you stick with your goals.
Whenever possible, choose restaurants that offer a variety of foods and have the option of making some modifications to your meals if necessary
Some modifications to consider asking for include: double the veggies, half the starch, dressing on the side
Be mindful of portion size. Request half portions, order off the kids’ menu, split a meal with a friend, or take half of your meal home for later
Limit things that are “fried”, “battered”, “creamed”, and “breaded” and instead look for things that are “grilled”, “baked”, “roasted”, “poached”, or “steamed”
Consider doing some meal sequencing and eating your veggies or protein first and enjoy the carb foods at the end of the meal
If you know you’re eating out, add in a workout earlier in the day to help clear out your glycogen stores and enhance insulin sensitivity
Go for a walk after your meal to use up some of that extra glucose
Always opt for water or other no-sugar beverages whenever possible rather than choosing sugary drinks with your meal
If you’re someone who regularly relies on fast food for convenience, travel, or another reason, this blog article offers up some more glucose-friendly options to consider. In general, limiting fast food is often going to be a good idea for blood sugar optimization, but for those times when it’s not a realistic option, knowing what healthier options to choose from can be a great skill to have!
Holidays and Special Occasions
Just as with eating out, holidays or other special occasions like weddings or birthdays can be important times for socializing and relaxing, but may also present some particular challenges in terms of regulating glucose values.
For many people, it’s human nature for food to be a central part of celebrations and holidays, and this can lead to a lot of different emotions before, during, and after a big event. This includes feelings of anxiety or fear around being faced with holiday eating, excitement about having foods that aren’t typically offered at other times of the year, and guilt and shame if someone feels like they were “bad” and now need to “start over.”
Doing some mindset work can help to manage these feelings and allow you to be able to enjoy the special event without having all of these emotions tied to food. First and foremost, it can be helpful to take the focus off of the food. That doesn’t mean not appreciating the special indulgences that are offered on this occasion, but instead, try to focus on your friends and family and enjoying this special time together (with the food being a yummy bonus).
Try to ignore the temptation to treat this meal as something you’ll never have again and that you’ll be “starting over” the following day. This type of scarcity mindset can lead us to eat as much as possible for fear that we won’t be able to enjoy these items again. Simply permit yourself to enjoy the food and the occasion to counteract this urge and avoid those feelings of guilt and shame associated with a holiday binge.
Keep your eye on the big picture. What you ate over the course of the entire day, week, or month matters much more than any one single meal, so keep in mind that no one single meal is going to “ruin” your diet!
In addition to this type of mindset work, some more tangible tips to navigate holiday eating are to:
Add a workout before the celebration to benefit from the enhanced insulin sensitivity and cleared out glucose storage space
Avoid eating carbs first and instead, get a good base of protein and/or fiber from non-starchy veggies first
Consider experimenting with 1-2 tablespoons of vinegar before the meal. A great way to do this is to add it to your salad dressing! Vinegar can help to optimize glycemic responses for many people
Eat earlier in the day whenever possible. Since our insulin sensitivity declines as the day goes on, you’ll likely tolerate a larger holiday meal for lunch better than for dinner
Include your friends and family in an after meal walk if they’re open to it
Listen to your body’s natural fullness cues and aim to stop eating when you begin to feel those early signs of satisfaction
Impact of Alcohol on Glucose Values
Does alcohol really have that big of an impact on blood sugars?
The short answer is yes! Alcohol comes in at 7 calories per gram, which compares to 9 calories per gram for fat and 4 calories per gram for protein and carbs, so it can potentially add significant calories. Depending on the type of alcohol, it can also add significant carbs. Sugary mixed drinks and beer often have the biggest immediate glucose response based on their carb content, but all types of alcohol can impact glucose values.
We absorb alcohol through the stomach lining and small intestine directly into the bloodstream, and the body will use this energy first and may also convert some to stored energy. The body will always prioritize breaking down alcohol before fat, carbs, and protein, and the liver isn’t able to release or break down glucose as well when its busy processing alcohol.
You’ll see this represented in your glucose data in a variety of different ways. As mentioned above, those carb-containing drinks (sugary cocktails and beer) will often cause an immediate spike, but lower-carb items like liquor or dry wine may lead to an initial dip in glucose. You may think that this drop in glucose is a good thing, but we actually see this come back to get us later on. Typically, you’ll notice higher overnight values and even higher fasting glucose values the following day after consuming alcohol.
Since alcohol can lead to an initial dip in glucose, it’s also important to watch for hypoglycemia after drinking. Part of the reason you may see this is that the liver has that reduced ability to release stored glucose to help keep blood sugars steady, as well as the fact that alcohol intake can lead to an increase in insulin secretion and a reduction in intestinal glucose absorption. Keeping track of any hypoglycemic symptoms or sleep disruptions after drinking can help you to better understand your own response to alcohol. Additionally, if you are taking medications, it’s a good idea to consult with your doctor before drinking alcohol to discuss how your blood sugars may be impacted.
Another thing to keep in mind is that alcohol can lower inhibitions when it comes to making food choices. For some, this can lead to more processed, higher-carb food choices or even eating when you wouldn’t typically be hungry. If you’ve ever reached for that bag of chips or ordered late-night takeout after a night of drinking, this likely isn’t too surprising!
That doesn’t mean that you can never enjoy a glass of your alcoholic beverage of choice, but there are some things to know that can help to maximize your tolerance:
Try to avoid drinking on an empty stomach
Some people find that eating a small amount of protein before drinking leads to a better response compared to only eating carbs
Avoid late night drinking. Since insulin sensitivity is lower later in the evening, you may see a bigger response if you’re drinking late at night compared to having a glass of wine with dinner
Stick to 1-2 servings and avoid over-consuming alcohol all at once
Avoid overly sugary beverages like liquor mixed with juice or regular soda
As discussed in Section 4 - When You Eat, circadian rhythms play an essential role in metabolism and glucose regulation. Since shift work often leads to misaligned eating from that natural daily cycle, this can pose some additional challenges when it comes to working overnight, split, or late evening shifts. It may be that you’ll always experience somewhat higher glucose values during this time, but some things can be done to limit the damage as much as possible.
If possible, one of the best ways to combat the damage from shift work is to try to keep a normal eating schedule as much as possible. Utilizing some intermittent fasting can be a way to help with this. For example, you may eat your first meal before going into your shift, fast for all or the majority of your shift, and then break that fast once your shift is over early the following morning. Since our hormones, especially insulin, work on that circadian rhythm, this way of eating will help to minimize the unnecessary glucose spikes related to that misalignment of food intake and the body’s internal cues.
Fasting during an overnight shift may not be a realistic option for everyone, however. If you need to eat during your shift, aim to stick to very low-carb foods and smaller meals or snacks to help minimize a potential glucose spike. Meals to focus on include protein, healthy fats, and non-starchy veggies. Try to limit or avoid grains, starchy veggies, fruits, sugary beverages, and refined sugar in general, but if you do have them, aim to eat them during daylight hours.
When in the midst of a busy shift and hunger cravings hit, it can be so easy to reach something higher in carbs, so doing some meal planning and having some high protein, low carb options on hand may be a good idea.
The last thing that can be really beneficial with shift work is movement. We know that moving helps to optimize insulin sensitivity and also uses up extra glucose, so incorporating more movement during an overnight shift is a great tool to use to combat higher glucose values related to shift work. Walking, stair climbing, yoga, or even a quick HIIT workout are all awesome options to consider!
You don’t need to prep and portion out out a full week of meals and snacks that you plan to eat in order to have a successful meal plan. Having a rough outline of some meals that you plan to have over the week and also incorporating some convenience items that can be mixed and matched to quickly throw together a glucose-friendly meal can be a great way to ease into meal planning.
One strategy to choose meals that support healthy blood sugars is to combine a low-carb veggie with a source of protein and some fat. Consider mixing and matching from the following list based on your preferences:
Vegetables - broccoli, cauliflower, greens, celery, asparagus, cucumber, peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, mushrooms, and onions. You can eat these raw, roasted, boiled, steamed, or lightly pan-seared.
Protein - chicken, beef, tofu, fish, seafood, organ meats, eggs, pork turkey, duck, wild game
Fat - avocado, olives, vegetable oils (coconut, olive, avocado), butter, pesto
Don’t forget to add seasoning to your liking! In addition to being nutritious and helping support balanced blood sugars, it’s important that you enjoy what you’re eating. This is a great guide to check out for more information.
While having a plan for your meals can be a great tool, there are always going to be days when things don’t go according to plan, having some go-to convenience staples on hand can make a huge difference for your blood sugar. Here are some glucose-friendly items to try to keep on hand when you need to throw together a quick, nutritious meal:
Bagged salad mix - Just top with protein, nuts, and your favorite dressing (aim for lower carb dressing options or stick with a smaller serving size)
Hard-boiled eggs - These are great to make a big batch to start the week, and you can also buy these pre-made ones now! Pair with some fiber, like a piece of fruit or some veggies, and you’re good to go
Cottage cheese - Great to pair with some tomatoes or alongside some salad
Frozen edamame - Easy to prepare in the microwave (or thaw overnight in the fridge if you prefer). Toss with salt and you’ve got protein, fiber, and fats all in one
Pre-chopped veggies - These are great for when you’re short on time. Pair with hummus or some Greek yogurt ranch (plain Greek yogurt + ranch seasoning) for a quick snack
Frozen veggies - Frozen can be just as good as fresh, and keeping a supply of frozen veggies on hand is a great way to make sure you’ve always got a good veggie side available
Nuts + fruit - The fats from the nuts help to blunt the carbs from the fruit
Rotisserie chicken - A great way to have some easy protein on hand at all times! Toss it in a salad or use it as a base for taco meat, soups, or stir fries
Pre-cooked shrimp - Another great protein option to keep on hand to quickly toss on salads or into another meal throughout the week
Keep in mind that there’s no one ‘right’ way to do this. Consider each week an experiment and reflect on what things did or didn’t work for you. Then continue to tweak and customize until you get into a rhythm that suits you. Reach out to your NutriSense nutritionist for more recipe tips and tricks!
Once you’ve got your meals planned, it’s time to go shopping. Grocery shopping seems to be one of those things that you either love or hate. If it’s not something you love, it can end up being a significant barrier to healthier eating. Even if you do enjoy grocery shopping, it can be difficult to know what choices are the best for you and your unique needs, and it can also be difficult to avoid the temptation of certain items at the grocery store! Those candy bars, chips, and other processed snacks always seem to be perfectly placed to draw you in to make an impulse purchase.
Making a plan before you even enter the store is one way to hold yourself accountable and avoid some of those impulse purchases. Plan out your days for the week (or even a few days at a time, whatever works best for you), make your list, and stick to it! Consider using a grocery pick up option where you shop online ahead of time and have your groceries loaded directly into your vehicle if you struggle sticking to a list. It’s also a great way to save time!
It’s also a good idea to avoid shopping on an empty stomach. Being hungry makes us much more prone to reach for those impulse purchases that we may not grab otherwise.
Next: Goal Setting