Blood Sugar Balance and Your Fat Storage Hormone
At times, do you crave food, especially something sweet? Maybe your energy levels crash, and you want a quick pick-me-up probably carbs to keep yourself going. This may be because your blood sugar levels have dropped. When this happens, it can take a lot of effort to resist reaching for carbs to turn down that piece of cake.
You are trying to override what your body is telling you to do; resisting its efforts to get your blood sugar levels up again. No wonder, it’s a struggle and you end up eating! Or perhaps, no matter what you do, you just can’t shift the weight, particularly around your belly.
Your body is following internal instructions— you may have high levels of hormones that tell your body to store fat or to store fat around your belly. These hormones are released when your blood sugar is not in balance.
Mandy is a composite of success stories that, by tackling the same problem—cravings, low energy and irritability caused by blood sugar imbalances—started turning things around.
Mandy is a successful businesswoman. As a project manager, she’s brilliant at making sure that everything happens according to plan and that her projects come in on time. But when I first saw her, by the time she got home she was worn out and just wanted to collapse on the sofa. She found herself being snippy and irritable with her husband, for no real reason.
She’d also been steadily gaining weight, particularly around her belly. She’d tried cutting out the sugary foods, but by 10:30 a.m., she always reached for a biscuit. (She kept a stash in her drawer at work to share at team meetings.)
So, she decided to stop taking biscuits in to work. If she didn’t have them on her, then she couldn’t eat them! However, the plan backfired. As she ruefully said, she just ended up going to the vending machine for a chocolate bar. ‘It’s not like I should even be hungry’, she added.
I have breakfast on the train on the way to work, so it’s only been a few hours since I ate’. When I delved a little deeper, I found her typical breakfast was a large coffee and a croissant. Unfortunately, this breakfast was causing her blood sugar levels to soar, then crash.
This was the point at which she felt she needed the biscuits. In a desperate bid to bring her blood sugar levels back up again, her body was making her crave sugar. If your body is making you crave something sweet to bring itself back into balance, these cravings are hard to resist.
Because of the way she ate, Mandy was on a cycle of blood sugar highs and lows throughout the day. When her blood sugar levels dropped, she was releasing stress hormones, which were making her irritable and snippy. This cycle was depleting her energy and making it hard to cut back on the sugary foods.
Your blood sugar levels
Your blood contains glucose, a type of sugar. To stay healthy, you need this sugar to stay within narrow limits. Your body works very hard to stop your blood sugar from going too high or dropping too low. Two key hormones in your body control your blood sugar levels—insulin and glucagon.
When your blood sugar rises, you release insulin, which moves this sugar into your cells. By contrast, when your blood sugar drops, you release glucagon to move sugar from your cells into your blood. This moving of sugar in and out of your blood enables your body to keep your blood sugar levels within the correct limits.
Why high blood sugar can cause weight gain?
Now, imagine this cycle and the predicament your body is in. The higher your blood sugar, the more insulin it needs to release. Insulin is often described as the ‘fat-storage hormone. When your insulin levels are high, this signals your body to store fat. If you constantly have high insulin levels, you are likely to gain weight. It also becomes harder to lose weight. Insulin is not a ‘bad guy’. We need insulin. But like everything in our body, it needs to be in balance.
Why low blood sugar can cause weight gain?
When your blood sugar drops too low, one of the ways in which your body gets it back within the correct limits quickly is to make you crave carbohydrates, particularly refined carbs, such as sugar, white bread and white flour.
This is why you may find yourself wanting biscuits, cake, chips, or pasta. These foods release their sugars quickly, causing your blood sugar levels to rise rapidly. Caffeine can also push your blood sugar up, so you might find you crave coffee.
It is easy to overeat and make poor food choices when your blood sugar drops too low. Your body is desperately trying to bring your blood sugar levels back into balance. It is not designed to handle the ready availability of sugar and refined carbs. It is not just food cravings that can be a problem when your blood sugar drops too low.
To get your blood sugar levels up, your body releases stress hormones. Stress hormones move sugars into your blood to prepare you for a fight-or-flight response. Your body does not distinguish between low blood sugar and life-threatening danger. It releases the same stress hormones in both instances. The stress hormone cortisol increases your appetite and causes you to store fat around your belly. We look at why this happens in the next article. Your blood sugar will fluctuate up and down but ideally should stay within narrow limits.
How you get into a cycle of your blood sugar rising too high and dropping too low?
The more refined carbs you eat, the higher your blood sugar will rise. Remember, your body then releases even more insulin, which can make your blood sugar drop too low. And, as we looked at above, this can trigger you to reach for yet more sugary and refined carbs. With our modern lives, it can be surprisingly easy to get into this cycle of blood sugar highs and lows. We are surrounded by processed low-fiber foods and sugary drinks.
Many of us grab a coffee on the way to work. Perhaps you grab something to eat as well, maybe a croissant or a bagel? In this case, both your food and your drink will send your blood sugar rocketing. Or maybe you skip meals, then reach for something to perk you up quickly? Probably refined carbohydrates.
If you are in this cycle of blood sugar highs and lows, you are constantly releasing both insulin and cortisol. Remember, these hormones respectively tell your body to store fat and to store it around your belly. So, it will be a struggle—likely a losing battle—to lose weight.
If for a prolonged period of time you remain in a state of high insulin levels, your cells become less responsive to it. This is known as insulin resistance. With insulin resistance, your body needs more insulin to move the sugar out of your blood into your cells. So, you produce more insulin. Now you will have a really hard time losing weight.
Eventually, your body can become unable to keep up with demand; it cannot produce enough insulin. The sugar levels in your blood rise, leading to type 2 diabetes. Insulin resistance is a complex disorder with no single cause. The main cause is thought to be abdominal obesity. Abdominal fat produces inflammatory substances that reduce your sensitivity to insulin.
However, research now suggests that whilst abdominal obesity exacerbates insulin resistance, the main cause is a high-fat, refined-carbohydrate diet and physical inactivity.1 If you are overweight and insulin resistant. then balancing your blood sugar is particularly important. Not only does it help you lose weight, but it also improves your sensitivity to insulin.
Quick questionnaire Are blood sugar imbalances contributing to your weight?
If you answer Yes to three or more questions, then blood sugar imbalances may be making it harder for you to lose weight and contributing to your belly fat.
- Do have energy lows during the day?
- Do you grab sugary snacks to keep yourself going?
- Do you drink caffeinated tea or coffee to perk yourself up, or do you spread cups of tea or coffee throughout the day?
- Do you smoke?
- Do you crave sweet foods? Are you stressed?
- Do you go more than three or four hours without food?
- Do you feel irritable or stressed if you have not eaten for more than three hours?
- Do you skip meals, then overeat later in the day?
- Do you wake up tired and find it difficult to get up and start your day?
Key things you have learned in this article
When your blood sugar is high, you release more insulin. Insulin is known as the ‘fat-storage hormone, as it tells your body to store fat.
When your blood sugar is low, you can get cravings, particularly for refined carbs, sugary foods, or even coffee.
Your body also releases cortisol, which tells your body to store fat around your belly. It is easy to get into a cycle of blood sugar highs and lows.
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