Are Blood Sugar Levels Stopping You Losing Midlife Weight?

Is blood sugar stopping you losing your midlife weight gain? And how do you keep it stable? I explain why blood sugar is important, what foods help keep it balanced and three easy ways to keep those blood sugar levels on track.

Do you have carb cravings or ‘need’ chocolate to keep going? Is a lack of balanced blood sugar levels to blame?

"Blood sugar levels."

Does it conjure up visions of restrictive eating, diabetes medications or insulin injections?

I talk a lot about normal blood sugar levels in Midlife Menu and with good reason! It can be a key factor stopping midlifers losing weight especially if they’re on the ‘blood sugar roller-coaster’ all day. This is when peaks and crashes in your blood sugar levels cause intense cravings that have you reaching for the coffee and biscuits at 4pm or snacks in the evening.

What is Blood Sugar?

Blood sugar is the measure of the amount of sugar in your blood. You need the right balance of sugar in your blood to fuel your brain and muscles.

The thing is, it can fluctuate … a lot.

This fluctuation is the natural balance between foods that increase it and foods that decrease it. When you eat food with sugars or starches (‘carbs’), then your digestive system absorbs sugar into your blood. When carbs are ingested and broken down into simple sugars, your body keeps blood sugar levels stable by secreting insulin. Insulin allows excess sugar to get out of your bloodstream and into your muscle cells and other tissues for energy.

Why keep my blood sugar stable? 

Your body wants your blood sugar levels to be at an optimal level. It should be high enough that you're not light-headed, fatigued and irritable. However, it should be low enough that your body isn't scrambling to remove excess from the blood, thereby avoiding the peaks and troughs I mentioned earlier.

But this balance can be tested if we have a carb-rich meal without eating anything else to slow down the digestion of the carbs e.g cereal or toast and marmalade for breakfast. If the carbs are digested all at once, the corresponding sugars hit your bloodstream all at once, causing a spike. Insulin tries to move these sugars to your muscles but the problem is there’s a lot of energy all at once.

When insulin tries to move all of that energy to your muscles, the muscles don’t want all of it or maybe hardly any of it if you’re sat at your desk at work or in the car commuting. So insulin stores the energy as fat for you to use later. This is why insulin is sometimes called the fat storage hormone.

And it doesn’t stop there! Because the carb-rich meal caused a spike in blood sugar levels, insulin has now removed the blood sugars quickly.

This can result in your blood sugar levels now being too low. Your body is clever and will ask for the food which is going to get your blood sugar levels back up the quickest, which is carbs and hence the carb cravings.

When blood sugar is too low, this is referred to as hypoglycemia. When blood sugar is too high, it is referred to as hyperglycemia. Prolonged periods of elevated blood sugar levels (chronic hyperglycemia) can lead to "insulin resistance."

Insulin resistance is when your cells are just so bored of the excess insulin that they start ignoring (resisting) it, and that keeps your blood sugar levels too high. Insulin resistance and chronic hyperglycemia can eventually lead to diabetes.

So let’s look at how you can optimise your food and lifestyle to keep your blood sugar stable. In this way, food digestion happens slower. The insulin response is more controlled and energy is sent to the muscles in more manageable amounts. This then prevents the sugar dips and cravings.

Food for stable blood sugar levels

The simplest thing to do to balance your blood sugar levels is to reduce the number of refined sugars and starches you eat. To do this, you can start by dumping sweet drinks and having smaller portions of dessert.

Also, think about what you’re having for breakfast. Choose foods with healthy fats and protein in them like eats, nuts and full-fat yoghurt, rather than relying on a purely carb-based breakfast.

I think breakfast makes the biggest difference to me. I used to have cereal every morning but the change has made me feel so much better and I’m sure it’s reduced my sugar cravings later in day.
— Pippa P.

Eating more fibre is helpful too. Fibre helps to slow down the amount of sugar absorbed from your meal; it reduces the "spike" in your blood sugar level. Fibre is found in plant-based foods (as long as they are eaten in their natural state, processing foods removed fibre). Eating nuts, seeds and whole fruits and veggies (not juiced) is a great way to increase your fibre intake.

FUN FACT: Cinnamon has been shown to help cells increase insulin sensitivity. Not to mention it’s a delicious spice that can be used in place of sugar.

Lifestyle for stable blood sugar

Exercise also helps to improve your insulin sensitivity; this means that your cells don't ignore insulin's call to get excess sugar out of the blood. Not to mention, when you exercise, your muscles are using up that sugar they absorbed from your blood. But you already knew that exercise is healthy, didn't you?

Would you believe that stress affects your blood sugar levels?

Yup! Stress hormones, particularly cortisol, increase your blood sugar levels. If you think about the "fight or flight" stress response, what fuel do your brain and muscles need to "fight" or "flee"? Sugar! When you are stressed signals are sent to release stored forms of sugar back into the bloodstream, increasing blood sugar levels.

So, try to reduce the stress you're under and manage it more effectively. Simple tips are meditation (I use the Headspace or Calm apps), deep breathing or gentle movement.

Don't Forget Sleep!

Sleep goes hand-in-hand with stress.

When you don't get enough quality sleep, stress hormones, have a bigger appetite and even get sugar cravings. Sleep is a crucial, often overlooked, factor when it comes to keeping your blood sugar stable. Make sleep more of a priority - it will do your blood sugar (and the rest of your physical and mental health) good.

Your body is on a constant 24-hour quest to keep your blood sugar stable. The body has mechanisms in place to do this, but those mechanisms can get tired (resistant). Long-term blood sugar issues can spell trouble.

3 ways to keep your midlife blood sugar levels stable (and avoid the cravings)

1. Look at ways to reduce your stress levels and to increase exercise. This could be as little as just a walk around the block in your lunch break or listening to a meditation on the train to work.

2. Make sleep a priority. I know it’s not fashionable to have an early bedtime but your blood sugars and your general health will thank you for it.

3. Minimise excess carbs and eat more fibre. Make small changes to include healthier fats and proteins into your meals. If you’re struggling, why not take the 5-day sugar-free challenge for extra support and motivation?

Content Disclaimer

The information contained above is provided for information purposes only. The contents of this blog are not intended to amount to advice and you should not rely on any of the contents of this blog. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this blog. Midlife Menu Ltd disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this blog.