Janel Ferrin Anderson NC FNLP DNM
As a fit and health savvy woman in my mid 40s I was really surprised how big of an impact blood glucose had on my body and how I felt and what a big impact I could make with this information.
Wearing a continuous blood sugar monitor has been a powerful way to connect with my body in a new way, to connect the dots between how I feel and what is going on inside, and to actually improve how I feel on a day to day basis (and the science tells me I am also preventing future degenerative diseases too, sweet). Wearing a CGM, as they are called, provided me with some concrete action steps and areas to focus on, especially at a time when my hormones are changing and my body is reacting to glucose/carbs differently.
Here is a list of symptoms that can be a result of dysregulated glucose according to the research and work of Dr. Mark Hyman and Biochemist Jessie Inchauspe- cravings, fatigue, brain fog, infertility, acne, wrinkles, insomnia, hot flashes, pms, anxiety and depression, headaches, stubborn weight gain, early cellular damage and aging from chronic inflammation, oxidation, and glycation.
Although these might not be a not a disease state, they absolutely suck. And there is so much we can do to reduce these symptoms that we consider ‘normal’. I want optimal health, not just what is considered ‘normal’. Focusing on glucose is one powerful way to impact so many symptoms and how our cells age.
First off, a few basics. Our blood sugar, or amount of glucose in our blood, is meant to rise and fall throughout the day. We do not want big spikes in our blood sugar, we want happy hills. We also do not want our blood sugar elevated for extended periods of time. Both of these can cause many symptoms as well as long term damage to cells. Both of these can be off despite eating well and basic blood work looking okay. The misconception is that unless you have diabetes or prediabetes this does not impact you. This could not be farther from the truth. This is one of the most misunderstood areas of health that I have seen. Plus, as estrogen changes for women in Perimenopause, our relationship to glucose and carbohydrates changes.
In my experience personally and with working with hundreds of women clinically, optimizing blood glucose is one major way to improve day to day health for all of us, especially women as our estrogen levels change. It is a powerful way to resolve multiple symptoms that seem unrelated AND prevent future health issues. Just because your bloodwork is ‘normal’ it does not tell you anything about glucose highs and lows during the day and night. Having optimal glucose can change a lot.
A cgm is a continuous glucose monitor. It attaches to your arm (no, it does not hurt) and it tells you how you are responding to food and stress all day and night. You read the data on your phone. You can instantly see how your choices impact your biochemistry.
Here are some of the big things I learned by wearing a CGM.
If you would rather skip that information, feel free to jump to the bottom and take the quiz to see if blood sugar ups and downs might be impacting your health and how you function.
#1. Stress was causing huge spikes in my blood glucose despite how I ate or moved my body.
This one blew my mind. No matter what I ate or how I moved my body when certain stressors came up my blood sugar would spike higher than it had all day and then drop low (what goes up, must come crashing down). Wow. These emotional stressors were often based around work or parenting. The incredible thing was how I was able to change this and pretty quickly. By monitoring with a CGM I could see what worked and what didn’t. I already had a regular mindfulness practice but I really worked hard at taking mindful breaks, noticing how the stress felt in my body so I could take action, and then taking action steps to reduce my stress response. The cool thing, it worked! Although this took several steps, 2 of my favorite and most effective in the moment stress reducers are 1. Heart Math and 2. Playing ‘Right Now’ (if you have worked with me you likely know/use both of them).
#2. My afternoon bonks, usually around 3pm, were all about my blood glucose
When I first started using the CGM I could see how my typical glucose bonks in the afternoon were exactly when I had a hard time working, felt fatigued, I also craved sugar, or a beer at that time to pick me up. The crazy thing was how this changed after a few months of mindfully working on my metabolic flexibility. Now, I can typically go from lunch to dinner feeling pretty balanced and without noticing any dips. If I want a treat or a beer I can choose that for pleasure instead of needing it for a pick me up!
#3. My hot flashes and insomnia were all about my blood glucose
When my blood sugar was dysregulated during the day, meaning more ups and downs than optimal or when it was elevated for a large part of the day from snacking or stress, my blood sugar was all over the place at night too!! The ups and downs during the night were directly linked to my insomnia and to my hot flashes at night!! This was another ‘ah ha’ moment for me and fun to watch change. No more hot flashes for me.
#4. Burning fat and losing my new midsection weight was NOT about working out more, instead it was about becoming metabolically flexible and optimizing my glucose curve
As an active mountain athlete it was weird when I started getting a little thicker around my midsection, especially while I had increased training for an ultra marathon. It didn’t seem to matter how much I worked out, my mid section was getting thicker. I am by no way saying we should all look the same way we did in our 20s but something was definitely changing. The wild thing was after working with my glucose and metabolic flexibility I found that I lost my midsection weight by actually doing less and instead by lowering my glucose curve. Science is so cool and our metabolism is incredible. For me reducing stress and increasing metabolic flexibility (aka burning fat) was key.
#5. My anxiety and sleepiness were often a blood sugar high or low
Being able to check my blood glucose when I was feeling anxious or sleepy was powerful way to connect the dots. Turned out most of the time I was anxious or overcome with the need to nap during the day, my blood sugar was either spiking high or had dropped very low both from dysregulated glucose over time. Especially with my hormones changing my sensitivity to glucose in my 40s, and with both of these symptoms becoming worse recently due to this, this was an incredibly empowering connection to make. Both of these symptoms have improved with better metabolic flexibility and when they do occur I know exactly what I need to do.
#6. Salty processed foods like chips and corn nuts and corn chips spiked my glucose way more than I thought. I was better off with a snickers!
I learned a lot about what foods specifically helped and what foods hurt my glucose curve. This can be different for everyone. Some were obvious, like drinking alcohol on an empty stomach and pancakes for breakfast. But often some foods surprised me, like choosing corn nuts as a treat instead of candy after a day skiing and seeing my glucose spike 100 points (keeping spikes under 30 or 40 is optimal). I was also shocked at how the order that I ate food made such a big difference in how high by glucose spiked. So cool.
#7. Lunch was really important for me to get dialed
When I first started out on this I was not great about lunch. It was the hardest meal of the day for me to get dialed. On days that I did not do a good job with lunch, my entire afternoon and evening was disrupted with symptoms already mentioned. Now, after months on this, lunch is much easier for me as I see how important it is. But the coolest thing is with more metabolic flexibility now I am able to coast through on days I am not as organized. This is one of the incredible things about optimizing glucose- You feel better day to day but it also snowballs to improve your resilience in the long term.
#8. Athletically, using a CGM allowed me a deeper understanding of when I could run fasted, when I needed to fuel up, how different workouts stressed out my body in different ways, how different choices caused spikes to high even for athletes, and when I could cruise in zone 2 burning fat.
For any athletes out there, using a CGM is great fun and an incredible way to see exactly what is going on in your body. I was not shocked to see how some of my trail food was spiking my glucose but seeing it really helped me make better choices. This was not my primary focus but it remains an insightful way to optimize how my body is functioning in both the short term (aka on a run) and the long term (spikes from endurance food can do long term damage to cells and puts you on a glucose rollercoaster).
My big takeaways for me…..Knowing exactly what is going on in my body rules. There are small and easy action steps to dramatically impact glucose, that help with metabolic flexibility and can reduce so many symptoms while helping my cells stay younger, longer. These are much easier to implement when I can see exactly how they are impacting my body. Optimizing my glucose has had a huge role in reducing so many of my personal symptoms and so many of the symptoms of the people I get to work with.
I honestly learned a ton more but these were some big ones. These are lessons and tricks I will carry forward which I hope will be many and healthy. Please reach out with any questions or share what you have learned from using a CGM. Or better yet, join in October to dig in!
Take this quiz to see if glucose could be impacting your health and symptoms-
- Are you a female over 45? (estrogen changes change the way we tolerate glucose/carbs)
- Do you wake up in the middle of the night and have a hard time falling back to sleep?
- Do you ever get tired after a meal, where you want to take a nap?
- Do you regularly bonk around 3-4pm?
- Do you have a hard time going 5 hours between eating a meal or snack? Meaning, you stay full for less than 5 hours?
- Are you finding it hard to lose new weight around your midsection?
- Do you get hangry?
- Do you get headaches or jittery when you skip a meal?
- Do you eat processed foods or refined grains like pasta, cereal, muffins, breads, chips, etc? Or sugary drinks like chai, kombucha, juices, or smoothies?
- Do you drink alcohol or other sugary drinks on an empty stomach?
- Are you often hungry all day?
- Do you eat small meals, or snacks, or drink beverages other than water or herbal tea all day?
- Do you eat a sweet breakfast like oats, smoothies, cereal, baked goods, granola, or fat free yogurt?
- Are you a woman with signs of excess testosterone? Such as hair on the back/face/chest, acne or oily skin, fertility problems, PCOS, thinning or balding hair on your head.
- Do you have small pieces of excess skin on the neck or armpits (skin tags)?
- Do you have any family members that have blood sugar challenges?
- Do experience anxiety during the day?
- Do you experience brain fog?
- Are you an athlete that relies on carbs or sugary foods for fuel?
- Do you currently have prediabetes, diabetes, gestational diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver disease?
- Do you want to avoid diseases associated with aging such as Alzheimer’s?
- Is your A1C over 5.4% Or is your fasting blood sugar over 100? Or triglycerides over 80mg/dl? (functional levels for optimal health vs western disease focused levels)
If you answered yes to 2 or more of these you could likely benefit from optimizing your glucose curve. Most of us can!
A continuous glucose monitor is NOT essential for improving your response to glucose, it just helps. Wearing a CGM is an option at my new Fall Group Class Offering all about energy, glucose, and metabolic flexibility.
Optimizing glucose is one part of The Women’s Hormone Club. It is one of about 8 key steps to help ease through Perimenopause and Menopause with as few symptoms as possible. These two groups go together or can be taken separately. I teach both of them because it is my mission to help people understand their body better, how it changes, and how to impact health from a grassroots approach. Doing that in a group setting is the greatest bang for your buck plus coming together with community is powerful. Are you joining either group? I hope so!
Check out some testimonials of other women who have used CGMs or learn more about the class
Sign up for The Energy Club now. Class starts October 1st.
Janel Ferrin Anderson NC, DNM, FNLP
Janel is obsessed with helping people understand their body better and taking steps to feel and age their best. She has relentlessly studied the science of how food and lifestyle impact health and believes in filling this missing gap in healthcare. When we take a root cause approach we can impact all of our body systems today and for the long haul.