For many people, starting a weight loss journey can be difficult—after all, so many factors can influence weight loss and make it more complicated than it initially appears to be. But in spite of these challenges, it’s your long-term health and wellness that keeps you going.
Obesity is linked to an increased risk for certain types of cancer, and shedding extra weight is shown to lower your cancer and heart disease risk. For others, weight loss can even increase your focus and energy.
Rather than calorie counting or restrictive diets, which are typically associated with losing weight, a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) can help you understand your unique body and draws a roadmap that can help you choose the best path to weight loss.
How Do People Gain and Lose Weight in the First Place?
Think of your body as a self-regenerating candle. You burn glucose at the wick, and extra energy gets stored as wax. By eating, you give your wick the glucose to burn bright. But if you eat too much, or too much of the wrong foods, your wick can’t burn glucose fast enough.
After eating, your body stores the extra energy as wax (fat) and you gain weight. Conversely, if you restrict what you eat or burn brighter through exercise, your wick quickly exhausts your glucose energy. This forces the candles to burn its wax reserves and can lead to weight loss.
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 you use more calories than we take in—you lose weight, right? Well, not always.
Factors Affecting Weight Loss
Though CICO works well for many people, your body isn’t a candle. Your metabolic rate—the rate at which your candle burns energy—depends on a host of factors. Reducing calories also triggers your body to slow down your metabolism.
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, of course—but to lose weight and increase our overall health, you need to know how your hormones affect your metabolic rate. When you look only at calories, you are missing the bigger picture. And as we’ll discuss later in this article, the key hormone to pay attention to in your metabolic system is insulin.
The Connection Between Blood Sugar and Weight Loss
Glucose is your body’s main energy source. Whenever your glucose (or blood sugar) levels rise, this triggers the release of insulin. 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 continuous glucose monitor can also show you your approximate insulin levels.
Blood glucose (and in turn, our insulin levels) fluctuate for a host of reasons. When you eat foods like carbohydrates, your glucose rises. Eating sweet foods high in processed carbohydrates increases that rise. But stress or a lack of sleep or exercise sees a similar result, and can also trigger increased blood sugar by increasing your stress response.
Poor glucose regulation, which can cause your blood sugar to be elevated for a long period of time, is associated with weight gain. For this reason, data beyond just post-meal glucose levels is important—regulating your blood sugar may even help facilitate weight loss.
The benefit of a CGM’s constant stream of data is that it can be used to support glucose regulation and help you to keep your levels in the normal range. For weight loss, a CGM provides continuous access to data that show us exactly how your glucose levels affect your overall well-being. This can greatly aid your ability to achieve effective and lasting weight loss.
What Role Does Insulin Play in Weight Loss?
Insulin is the captain controlling our metabolism. It’s what’s called an “anabolic” hormone, meaning it contributes to your body’s growth. You may recall disgraced athletes caught using “anabolic” steroids to “grow” muscle. Eating prompts the pancreas to release insulin into your bloodstream.
Once released, insulin starts barking orders. It tells your body to burn glucose (blood sugar). It shifts your 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.
Unfortunately, many people suffer from an abnormal metabolism. In a world with 24-hour fast food on every corner and store shelves lined with processed sugars designed to remain edible for several years, this may not be very surprising.
When you snack and eat these hyper-palatable processed foods, your body can begin to release too much insulin too often. This can cause your metabolic captain to start barking more orders—its voice gets louder. And what does a team do when the captain starts yelling? They stop paying attention.
Too much snacking and low-quality food can increase your body’s resistance to insulin. The next time insulin asks your body to burn blood sugar, your metabolism doesn’t listen. This is what makes weight loss very difficult.Keeping a close track on insulin and this metabolic system, then, is one tool that can be helpful for facilitating weight loss.
Blood Sugar and Your Diet
Different diets tell you to eat different foods. Further, some diets often say the foods promoted by other diets are bad for you—just look at the vegan diet vs. carnivore diet. Remember, some of these branded diets are often tied to expensive cookbooks and membership programs.
To cut through the 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. As far as blood sugar goes, apples are better for your glucose response than white bread. While this might sound simple enough, 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 researchers gather more data, they come to realize the glycemic index isn’t a universal score. That’s why glycemic load—or the estimation of how much a food will raise your blood sugar—is an equally important measurement to consider.
One person can metabolize a PB&J on white bread with barely a blip in their glucose, but that same meal can send the next person into a Mt. Everest-sized glucose spike. More data is often better data; and the more personalized the data, the more useful it becomes.
What Are Optimal Glucose Levels for Weight Loss?
If you’re considering measuring your glucose levels with a CGM, it’s important to understand what your fasting glucose level can tell you. Your baseline fasting blood sugar is measured after at least eight hours of fasting, and is usually measured in the morning.
For non-diabetic individuals, ideal fasting blood sugar levels for weight loss and good overall health are between 70 to 99 mg/dL. A reading over 100 mg/dL can be an indicator of prediabetes.
For diabetics, a normal baseline blood sugar reading will be a bit more elevated, and can fall somewhere around 130 mg/dL. With your personal baseline number firmly established, you can drill down and see how our food affects our blood sugar throughout the day.
Post-meal glucose can vary greatly depending on your diet and lifestyle, but at Nutrisense, our nutritionists generally recommend avoiding repeated spikes of >140 mg/dL. Now, with all this information under your belt, how exactly can optimizing your glucose levels may help you reach your weight loss goal?
How Does Glucose Tracking Help Manage Weight?
CICO and glycemic index scores provide a starting foundation for building healthy eating habits. For sustainable, lasting weight loss, though, and for lifelong health, personalized data is essential. That’s where glucose tracking, especially with something like a CGM is key.
One of the benefits of a CGM is that it gives you a continual stream of data. Even for a non-diabetic, this knowledge is power. Knowing exactly how much glucose is in your blood tells you approximately how much insulin is in your blood. Knowing how much insulin is in your body indicates how efficiently your candles are burning.
Even discounting food, your glucose levels change over the course of the day in response to your body's internal clock. Getting good data is essential, because you can’t always take traditional blood sugar samples while you're sleeping, for example.
A CGM gives you that continual stream of data. It shows blood glucose levels while you’re awake and after you eat. It tells you your actual blood sugar levels when you're feeling hungry, and collects this data constantly throughout the day.
Imagine that you’re an otherwise healthy non-diabetic person who exercises, yet still puts on weight. Your CGM may show a baseline of 90 mg/dL, but after eating lunch, your CGM shows a blood sugar spike up that hits 140 mg/dL.
But now, armed with your body’s own data, you can see how your lunch habits are causing an unhealthy blood sugar spike. Continuous CGM data can help you fine-tune your eating habits to push that post-meal blood sugar spike closer to 30 mg/dL, helping you to 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 person who eats well. They may 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 you’re constantly pulsing blood sugar through your body, elevated insulin levels will keep your body in building and storage mode.
In any case, whether you do or don’t have diabetes, the data from a CGM is a powerful tool for creating accountability. You are more likely to act when you have real-time data at your 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.
Why Is It Important to Monitor Your Weight?
Discussions around weight loss often have to do with aesthetics. But losing weight is so much more than looking “good”. After all, what good is looking good if you feel awful?
The real benefit of watching your weight comes with how it makes you feel. As we mentioned earlier, obesity and elevated blood sugar have been linked to a host of chronic illnesses such as:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Kidney disease
Losing weight over a healthy and realistic timeline can add healthy, productive years to your life. Armed with good, actionable data from a CGM and even better lifestyle habits, you can keep a trained eye on your weight and live your healthiest, happiest life.
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.
Ready to take the first step? Start with our quiz to see how Nutrisense can support your health.
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Kara Collier is the co-founder and VP of Health at Nutrisense, one of America’s fastest-growing wellness-tech startups, where she leads the health team. She is a Forbes 30 under 30 recipient, frequent podcast guest & conference speaker.