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How Glucose Tracking Can Effectively Manage Your Weight

May 14, 2021
Written by
Team NutriSense
Reviewed by
a person choosing a health food

If you only remember one point from this article, let it be this: being a healthy weight helps us live longer, happier lives. Losing extra weight is proven to reduce cancer and heart disease risk. It increases focus and energy. Though we often take up weight loss for surface reasons (who doesn’t want to look better?) it’s long-term wellness that keeps us going. Being a healthy weight feels good. Thankfully, we now have a tool to help cut through the confusion built-in to various weight loss plans. Better than even calorie counting, a Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) draws us a roadmap so we can choose the best path to weight loss.

How do people gain and lose weight in the first place?

Think of our bodies as self-regenerating candles. We burn glucose at the wick. Extra energy gets stored as wax. By eating, we give our wicks the glucose to burn bright. If we eat too much, though, or if we eat too much of the wrong foods, our wicks can’t burn glucose fast enough. We store the extra energy as wax (fat) and we gain weight. Conversely, if we restrict what we eat or burn brighter through exercise, our wicks quickly exhaust our glucose energy. This forces our candles to burn wax reserves and we lose weight

This burning candle metaphor forms the basis of many diets. It’s often referred to as the “Calories in, calories out” (CICO) model. Count the calories taken in through food and subtract the calories burned through exercise. As long as the resulting CICO number is negative—if we use more calories than we take in—we lose weight, right? 

Well, not always.

a scale, a tape measure, dumbbells and a bowl of green veggies and fruits

Though CICO works well for many people, our bodies aren’t candles. Bodies are complicated, y’all. Metabolism—the rate at which our candles burn energy—depends on a host of factors. Reducing calories also triggers our bodies to slow metabolism. For our ancestors, restricted calories meant an unsuccessful hunt or a failed crop. Evolutionarily, our bodies reduce metabolism to stay alive. 

Also, consider those with metabolic disorders or insulin resistance. The overwhelming majority of people have “less than optimal” metabolic function. For these large swaths of the population, CICO simply can’t provide enough data to facilitate weight loss. Calories do matter. But to lose weight and increase our overall health, we need to know how our hormones affect metabolism. When we look only at calories, we are missing the bigger picture. The key hormone in our metabolic systems that we need to most pay attention to is insulin.

What role does insulin play in weight loss?

Insulin is the captain controlling our metabolism. It’s what we call an “anabolic” hormone, meaning it contributes to our bodies’ growth. You may recall disgraced athletes caught using “anabolic” steroids to “grow” muscle. Eating prompts the pancreas to release insulin into our bloodstreams. Once released, insulin starts barking orders. It tells our bodies to burn glucose (blood sugar). It shifts our metabolism away from burning fat and toward storing fat.

For a person with a healthy metabolism, say someone eating nutritious foods a few times a day, these insulin releases work perfectly. Their body metabolizes blood sugar and stores just enough fat. But like we’ve said, many people suffer abnormal metabolism. We don’t live in the hunter-gatherer environment of our ancestors. We live in a world with 24-hour fast food on every corner and store shelves lined with processed sugars designed to remain edible even after a nuclear apocalypse.

blood cells under a microscope

When we snack and eat these hyper-palatable processed foods (because, listen, sometimes we have to grab whatever food is available between back-to-back meetings), our bodies release too much insulin too often. Our metabolic captain starts barking more orders. It’s voice gets louder. And what does a team do when the captain starts yelling and cussing? They stop paying attention. Too much snacking and low-quality food increases our bodies’ resistance to insulin. The next time insulin asks our bodies to burn blood sugar, our metabolism doesn’t listen. This makes weight loss very difficult.

Keeping a close track on insulin and this metabolic system, then, is a great way to facilitate weight loss.

How does glucose influence our weight?

Glucose is our bodies’ main energy source. Whenever our glucose levels rise, this triggers the release of insulin. We know insulin levels are an excellent metabolic indicator and a key tool in facilitating weight loss. Measuring insulin levels, however, can be difficult. Thankfully, because a rise in glucose stimulates the release of insulin, we can use our blood glucose levels as a proxy. Data from a blood glucose monitor will show us our approximate insulin levels.

a person weighing themselves on a scale

Our blood glucose (and in turn, our insulin levels) fluctuate for a host of reasons. When we eat, obviously, our glucose rises. Eating sweet foods high in processed carbohydrates increases that rise. But stress can also trigger increased blood sugar. Not sleeping, for example, increases our stress responses and elevates blood sugar. A lack of exercise sees a similar result. For this reason, we need data beyond just post-meal glucose levels. We need a CGM’s stream of data. That continuous access to data shows us exactly how our glucose levels affect our metabolism, and greatly aids our ability to achieve effective and lasting weight loss.

Foods play an integral role, but which ones?

Different diets tell you to eat different foods. Further, diets often say the foods promoted by other diets are bad for you. Remember, these “diets” are often tied to expensive cookbooks and membership programs; food confusion isn’t a bug in the system, it’s a feature.

To cut through the (sometimes intentional) confusion, scientists created a tool called the glycemic index. The glycemic index assigns foods a value from 0-100, depending on how quickly they increase glucose. The lower the value, the better. An apple, for example, has a glycemic index score of 36. White bread, on the other hand, scores 75. Watermelon is 76. As far as blood sugar goes, apples are better for you than white bread and watermelon. I know, I know, I can hear you from here: “well, duh.”

a person holding a plate of cake with one hand, and a bowl of a salad with another

But the devil is in the details. As we’ve learned time and time again, every body is different. The beautiful, sometimes frustrating part of good science is how it constantly improves. As we gather more data, we’ve come to realize the glycemic index isn’t a universal score. One person can metabolize a PB&J on white bread with barely a blip, but that same meal can send the next person into a Mt. Everest-sized glucose spike. More data, therefore, is better data; and the more personalized the data, the more useful it becomes.

How does glucose tracking help manage weight?

CICO and glycemic index scores provide a starting foundation for building healthy eating habits. For real, lasting weight loss, though, for lifelong health, we need personalized data. That’s where glucose tracking, especially with something like a CGM is key. Even for a nondiabetic, knowledge is power. Knowing exactly how much glucose is in our blood tells us approximately how much insulin is in our blood. Knowing how much insulin is in our body indicates how efficiently our candles are burning.

Even discounting food, our glucose levels change over the course of the day in response to our bodies’ internal clocks. Getting good data is essential. Because we can’t always take traditional blood sugar samples—while we’re sleeping, for example—a CGM is key. A CGM gives you that continual stream of data. It shows blood glucose levels while we’re awake and after we eat. It tells us our actual blood sugar levels when we’re feeling hungry. It also gives data while we’re asleep or while we’re exercising.

Your baseline, fasting blood sugar is the bedrock on which to build your healthy diet. Someone with a relatively healthy metabolism may have a fasting blood sugar level of 90 milligrams of glucose per deciliter of blood (mg/dl). For diabetics, a “normal” baseline blood sugar reading may be 130 mg/dl. With our personal baseline number firmly established, we can drill down and see how our food affects our blood sugar. This data lets us maximize our metabolism and improve weight loss.

a person using finger prick method to test their glucose level

Imagine an otherwise healthy nondiabetic who exercises, yet still puts on weight. Their CGM shows a baseline of 90 mg/dl. After eating lunch, however, their CGM shows blood sugar spikes up to 140. As a general rule, we don’t want our blood sugar to spike more than 30 points after eating, especially if your goal is weight loss. Armed with their body’s own data, our metabolically normal person can see how their lunch habits are causing an unhealthy blood sugar spike. Continuous CGM data lets them fine-tune their eating habits to push that post-meal blood sugar spike closer to 30 mg/dl, helping them lose weight and feel healthier.

Data from a CGM can also clue us into habits we didn’t even know we had. Imagine a diabetic who eats well. They use their CGM data to flatten blood sugar spikes to only 30 mg/dl. But even with moderate exercise, they struggle with weight and feeling healthy. Looking at the data from their CGM, they see the culprit: snacking. Though their glucose spikes are small, they aren’t spacing their meals far enough apart to allow their blood sugar to drop to its fasting value. Even with small spikes, if we’re constantly pulsing blood sugar through our bodies, elevated insulin levels will keep our body in building and storage mode. This means our diabetic, despite eating well, will struggle with health.

In any case, diabetic or nondiabetic, the data from a CGM is a powerful tool for creating accountability. We are more likely to act when we have real-time data at our fingertips. As we stated before, diets and meal plans can be confusing, sometimes deliberately so. And even when a specific diet is unambiguous, bodies differ in how they digest foods. A CGM gives you clear, actionable data to back your own insights. “Of course I feel hungry,” the data says, “my fasting blood sugar has dipped below its baseline.”

Why is it important to monitor your weight?

Again, this sometimes feels like a “well, duh,” discussion. Of course we need to watch our weight, right? But we need to watch our weight for reasons beyond the obvious. Discussions around weight loss often pivot around our looks. Losing weight is so much more than looking good. What good is looking good if we feel awful? The real benefit of watching our weight comes with how it makes us feel. Obesity and elevated blood sugar can trigger a host of diseases and chronic illnesses. Heart disease, stroke, cancer, high blood pressure, kidney disease, and others have all been linked to being overweight.

Losing weight makes us feel better. Losing weight gives us more energy. Losing weight adds healthy, productive years to our lives. Armed with good, actionable data and even better habits, we can keep a trained eye on our weight and live our healthiest, happiest lives.

Engage with Your Blood Glucose Levels with Nutrisense

Your blood sugar levels can significantly impact how your body feels and functions. That’s why stable blood glucose levels can be an important factor in supporting overall wellbeing.

With Nutrisense, you’ll be able to track your blood glucose levels over time using a CGM, so you can make lifestyle choices that support healthy living.

When you join the program, our team of credentialed dietitians and nutritionists are available for additional support and guidance to help you reach your goals.

Ready to take the first step? Start with our quiz to see how Nutrisense can support your health.

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How Glucose Tracking Can Effectively Manage Your Weight
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Tips for a Healthy, Happy Purim
Tips for a Healthy, Happy Purim

Purim, a joyous occasion celebrated around March or April every year, is just around the corner! Read on to learn more about the holiday and the delicious foods that accompany it.

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Thoughtful Valentine's Day Gift Ideas from NutriSense Dietitians
Thoughtful Valentine's Day Gift Ideas from NutriSense Dietitians

Still haven't settled on the perfect gift for your Valentine this year? Take a look at our Nutrition Team's favorites for some thoughtful ideas.

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The Warning Signs of Nerve Damage You Should Watch Out For
The Warning Signs of Nerve Damage You Should Watch Out For

Because nerve damage can have many silent symptoms, it often goes undiagnosed in the early stages. Read on to learn more about what causes nerve damage and some warning signs to watch out for.

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The Ultimate Guide to Fiber and its Effect on Metabolic Health
The Ultimate Guide to Fiber and its Effect on Metabolic Health

Ready to learn all about fiber beyond just the basics? In this post, we dive deep into the different kinds of fiber and health benefits of each. From functional fiber to fermentation, we break down all the jargon into a layman's language.

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The Relationship Between Cardio and Blood Sugar
The Relationship Between Cardio and Blood Sugar

Did you know that cardio can help you lose weight as well as optimize your health and blood glucose? Here's everything you need to know about cardio and its relationship with blood sugar.

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The Side Effects of Unhealthy Weight Loss
The Side Effects of Unhealthy Weight Loss

Find out what unhealthy weight loss is and learn more about its side effects and what you can do to prevent them.

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The Relationship Between Low Blood Sugar and High Blood Pressure
The Relationship Between Low Blood Sugar and High Blood Pressure

Learn about the warning signs of low blood sugar and the relationship it has on blood pressure.

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The Positive Impact Weight Lifting Has on Blood Sugar
The Positive Impact Weight Lifting Has on Blood Sugar

Here is everything you need to know about the relationship between weight lifting and blood sugar.

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The Relationship Between Cholesterol and Blood Sugar
The Relationship Between Cholesterol and Blood Sugar

Cholesterol plays a very important role in the human body, contributing to the structure of the cells, helping with vitamin D synthesis, and also promoting the production of steroid and sex hormones, like cortisol, aldosterone, testosterone, and estrogen. But how exactly is cholesterol connected to blood glucose levels?

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The Link Between Sleep Apnea and Diabetes
The Link Between Sleep Apnea and Diabetes

NutriSense dietitian Katrina Larsen, MS, RD,N, LD, CDCES discusses the risk factors for sleep apnea and how this disorder is linked to other health conditions.

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The Paleo Diet and Blood Glucose Levels
The Paleo Diet and Blood Glucose Levels

The premise of the paleo diet is that the body can handle a mix of meats, fruits and vegetables, eggs, fish, and complex carbohydrates better than processed meats, refined fats, grains and simple carbohydrates because it evolved to eat the first category as hunter-gatherers.

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The Health Benefits of Winter Squash
The Health Benefits of Winter Squash

A common ingredient in cozy winter recipes, winter squash is one of our favorite foods this time of year. Read on to learn more about how it can benefit your health.

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The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Stocking Stuffers We Love
The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Stocking Stuffers We Love

Haven't finished your holiday shopping yet? Pick from this list of NutriSense-approved holiday gifts to find some great last-minute stocking stuffers for everyone on your list!

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The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Health-Focused Gifts They’ll Love
The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Health-Focused Gifts They’ll Love

Still haven't bought all your holiday gifts this year? Don't worry—there's still time to find the perfect gift for everyone on your list. Read our guide for some great ideas!

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The Link Between Inflammation and Blood Glucose
The Link Between Inflammation and Blood Glucose

Learn more about inflammation, how it affects blood glucose levels and what you can do to prevent and manage it.

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The Health Benefits of Adding Fermented Foods to Your Diet
The Health Benefits of Adding Fermented Foods to Your Diet

Fermented foods have a range of health benefits. Read on to learn more about what they are and why you should be adding them to your diet.

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The Health Benefits of Potatoes, Yams, and Sweet Potatoes
The Health Benefits of Potatoes, Yams, and Sweet Potatoes

Potatoes, yams, and sweet potatoes are similar in usage, but pretty distinct in taste, texture, appearance, and even nutritional content! Read on to find out more about each one.

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The Health Benefits of Living With Pets
The Health Benefits of Living With Pets

Did you know that living with a pet can do more than just put a smile on your face? Read on to learn all the ways living with pets improves your wellbeing.

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The Health Benefits of Cooking With Herbs and Spices
The Health Benefits of Cooking With Herbs and Spices

Herbs and spices are a great way to add flavor to dishes, and also have a range of health benefits. Learn more about a few of our favorites.

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The Health Benefits of Beans
The Health Benefits of Beans

Learn about the health benefits of beans and how they can help you live a healthier, longer life.

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The Guide to Metabolic Diets: What Are They, Do They Work, And Who Should Try Them?
The Guide to Metabolic Diets: What Are They, Do They Work, And Who Should Try Them?

Review our guide to metabolic diets to help get a better understanding of what they are and whether they might be right for you.

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The Foods and Traditions of Kwanzaa
The Foods and Traditions of Kwanzaa

Learn about the traditions and nutrient-dense food commonly enjoyed during Kwanzaa. 

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The Blood Sugar and Joint Pain Connection
The Blood Sugar and Joint Pain Connection

Have you ever wondered how your glucose levels might be connected to joint pain? We'll take a deep dive into this connection and share tips for reducing pain.

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The Best Diet for Non-Diabetic Hypoglycemia
The Best Diet for Non-Diabetic Hypoglycemia

This article explores hypoglycemia in non-diabetics, how to manage symptoms through diet, and the advantages of glucose monitoring.

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The Effect of Aging on Your Blood Glucose Levels
The Effect of Aging on Your Blood Glucose Levels

Take a look at how aging can affect your blood glucose levels.

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The Best Diet to Increase Your Vitamin D Levels
The Best Diet to Increase Your Vitamin D Levels

Read on to learn more about vitamin D-rich foods and what you should include in your diet to make the most of this vitamin’s health benefits.

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The Best Diet for Menstruation
The Best Diet for Menstruation

When it comes to your menstrual cycle, what you eat can significantly impact how you feel. Read on to learn more about the best foods to add to your diet to help during that time of the month.

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The Benefits and Risks of Popular Ayurvedic Herbs and Spices
The Benefits and Risks of Popular Ayurvedic Herbs and Spices

Ayurveda is an ancient Indian holistic healing system that dates back over 5,000 years. In the second installment of our series on the practice, review the benefits and risks associated with popular Ayurvedic herbs and spices.

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The Beginner’s Guide to the Low FODMAP Diet
The Beginner’s Guide to the Low FODMAP Diet

In this article, we break down what a low FODMAP diet looks like for beginners, and its potential benefits and drawbacks for gastrointestinal health.

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The 6 Worst Foods for Osteoporosis
The 6 Worst Foods for Osteoporosis

When it comes to bone health, good nutrition is absolutely critical. Read on to learn what osteoporosis is and why some foods may increase your risk of or worsen the condition.