Written by Kara Collier
Food choices, meal timing, physical activity, and stress are the primary drivers of glucose variability.
Food choices have the largest impact on your glucose levels and should be addressed first.
Physical activity is essential for maintaining insulin sensitivity, which in turn improves glucose control.
Fasting incorporates restricting your eating window or decreasing the number of times you eat per day.
Stress can be mental, physical or emotional. Limited or poor quality sleep is a physical stressor and can exacerbate other types of stress.
In previous articles, we discussed how to interpret your glucose values. Now, we will shift our focus to developing a personalized plan designed to optimize your overall health. We will start by addressing what we call “The Big Four” - Food choices, meal timing, physical activity, and stress. There are other factors which may influence glucose and health, and we will mention them throughout the program, but today we will focus on these four.
The food you choose to eat will have the largest impact on your glucose levels and overall health. People estimate that they make around 15 food and beverage related decisions per day, but research has shown that the true number lies north of 200. Decisions about food quality, portion size, and timing all contribute to the physiological impact of the foods we eat. This program will be about discovering which types and combinations of foods will help you reach your personal health goals.
We will take a deeper dive into some of the key aspects of nutrition in future lessons; however, understanding the importance of dietary choices is critical to building your unique health plan. There is no “perfect” way to eat and there are many eating patterns that fit a healthy lifestyle. We can all start by avoiding the “Standard American Diet,” which is full of processed and refined foods.
Regular exercise and body movement (as simple as taking the stairs or a leisurely walk) can make a profound impact on glucose values and other markers of health. Challenging yourself is also great as long as you have first mastered stability and mobility to prevent injury. It is important to consider your physical limitations before you start regular exercise.
Consider incorporating different types of exercise into your routine. Aerobic, weight training, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), sports, and yoga all have different benefits. Whatever you are into, it is important to remember that consistency will always win over novelty, so focus on doing at least one type of exercise every day. Life is a marathon, not a sprint.
Meal Timing (and Fasting)
There are many stigmas associated with fasting and its efficacy. The nice thing is that it comes with a price tag of $0 and requires you to do nothing (literally). You can always try it and see how well it works for you. As we will discuss in another section, there are different approaches to fasting. Fasting can involve not eating for an entire day, or simply decreasing the number of times per day we are actively consuming food.
Regardless of the type of fasting you want to try, current science tells us that fasting can be an excellent way to allow your body to rest and repair between meals. It can give your body adequate time to properly metabolize the food that we eat, thus leading to improved glucose and insulin responses.
Our body can experience stress in many different ways. We can experience physical, mental or emotional stress. Inadequate and/or poor-quality sleep is a major contributor and can disrupt our natural rhythm and hormone cycle, leading to downstream effects on our mood and metabolism. Our physical and social relationships influence our stress levels as well. A lack of healthy relationships can increase our emotional stress and have negative mental and physical repercussions if left unchecked.
Managing these four pillars can serve as the foundation of proper health and glucose control. We will be helping you put together all the pieces necessary to create a plan designed specifically for you. A great way to start understanding the relationship between these four factors is by logging your "activities" and "notes" in the NutriSense app each time you workout, break a fast, go to sleep, wake up, or have an unusually stressful event. Make sure you are also logging all your meals and beverages in the “meals” selection too!
Are you feeling lost or confused about what is influencing your glucose? Please feel free to reach out to your dietitian in the app or get started on dietitian support! They are happy to help!