What could be causing your fatigue, brain fog, irritability, anxiety and headaches?

Could it be low blood sugar??  

There are those lucky people who actually feel hungry when their blood sugar dips but many people experience a host of much more subtle symptoms throughout the day.  The list of common symptoms of low blood sugar (ie, hypoglycemia) includes fatigue, brain fog, irritability, headaches, anxiety, depression, insomnia and even nausea.  The most important diet/lifestyle advice that I give to my patients with any of these complaints is to eat in a way that balances your blood sugar.  

This article is the final post in a series that I have written on the subject of balancing blood sugar.  In my first post I talked about how weight loss has more to do with balancing blood sugar and insulin levels than restricting calories and doing endless amounts of cardio.  I suggested the following three rules for keeping your blood sugar balanced:

#1. THE PROTEIN RULE: Include a source of high quality protein at every meal and snack
#2. THE SUGAR/FLOUR RULE: Limit sugar and easily digested carbs
#3. THE MEALS RULE: Eat as frequently as necessary to avoid hypoglycemia (ie, low blood sugar)

In my second post I went through the reasoning behind Rule #1: The Protein Rule, and provided some guidelines for choosing healthy protein.  In my third post I discussed Rule #2: The Sugar/Flour Rule, including how to identify sugar and easily digested carbs and examples of sweet treats that will satisfy your sweet tooth without spiking your blood sugar.  

Today I will go through Rule #3: The Meals Rule.  The key here is eating as frequently as necessary, not just eating frequently.  Many people subscribe to the long standing dietary advice of eating small, frequent meals.  This will certainly help to keep your blood sugar balanced but doesn’t allow your digestive system to have any rest throughout the day.  

The most important reasons your digestive system needs rest are to keep you having regular, daily bowel movements and to keep the levels of healthy bacteria in your gut balanced.  Constipation and imbalanced bacteria contribute to a host of chronic health conditions that can often be avoided by simply allowing 3-5 hours of digestive rest between meals during the day and 12 hours of digestive rest at night.  Read more about this important concept here.

So we want to find the balance between eating frequently enough to balance blood sugar and allowing adequate rest for our digestive system.  The top physiologic and metabolic priority is balancing your blood sugar.  The goal is to eat balanced meals that will sustain your blood sugar for 3-5 hours and then eat the next balanced meal before your blood sugar gets too low.  If you notice your blood sugar dropping within 1-2 hours, eat!  Balance blood sugar first and then work towards achieving digestive rest next.  

I often encourage my patients to start a mental list (or a physical one if you’re so inclined) of “meals that spike my blood sugar” and “meals that balance my blood sugar.”  If you eat a meal and 1-2 hours later you find yourself hypoglycemic (eg, hungry, tired, irritable, brain foggy, etc) you can be pretty sure that you just spiked your blood sugar and then crashed and you should add that meal to the “meals that spike my blood sugar” list.  If you eat a meal and 3-5 hours later start to notice your blood sugar dipping you probably maintained a pretty balanced blood sugar over that time and should add that meal to the “meals that balance my blood sugar” list.  

By following the three rules for keeping your blood sugar balanced you can:

  • Achieve or maintain a healthy weight
  • Prevent or reverse chronic diseases associated with insulin and elevated blood sugar (eg, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, PCOS, fatty liver, dementia, etc)
  • Optimize digestive function
  • Minimize symptoms of hypoglycemia

Understanding how your body works and what to do to support it is the first step in making changes.  The next challenge is figuring out HOW to get the food in front of you in a timely manner.  Changing habits is hard work and getting healthy food on your plate takes planning and practice.  Stay tuned for more information about creating habits around food and understanding your body!