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  • Writer's pictureNick Allen

Insights from a week with CGM

I recently had the opportunity to wear a continuous glucose monitor (CGM), a tool usually reserved for people with diabetes, to follow my blood sugar levels over the course of a week. While these devices are critical for those with type 1 diabetes, they’re extremely informative even to those with full pancreatic function. Here are my top 3 takeaways:

1. Avoid refined carbohydrates on an empty stomach

My largest blood sugar peak of the entire week, by far, came on a busy day at the hospital. After eating a light breakfast shortly before 6 am, I didn’t have the opportunity to eat again until around 6 pm. In a rush, I grabbed a premade bowl from the hospital cafeteria containing chicken, vegetables, and white rice. While I don’t typically eat white rice, I like to have some flexibility and this was a situation where I was able to give myself a pass. I knew a blood sugar spike was coming, but I was shocked by the magnitude. I had never seen my sugar level north of 150 mg/dL, despite “tests” with syrupy waffles, burgers and fries, milkshakes, and more. This chicken and rice bowl sent me above 200. While I hated to see readings that high, it served as a valuable warning that after an extended period without food, it’s critical to get some protein, fat, and fiber in your stomach before any sugars or refined carbohydrates.

2. Don’t underestimate the role of sleep and stress

It’s too easy to ignore these aspects of your health, because for the most part the impacts are hidden. Make no mistake about it: poor sleep and around-the-clock stress will harm your health, even if you can’t physically see it. CGMs offer you a glance inside your body, and while wearing one you simply can’t deny the connection between mental and physical health. My sugar levels are normally pretty steady, and I remember multiple occasions where they were hovering well above my normal levels. Sometimes I would even see a spike without having a single bite to eat. While blood sugar is of course multifactorial, these unexplained rises almost all came at times where I was short on sleep, rushed at work, or otherwise not in a great place mentally. As much as I already knew the importance of sleep and mental health, seeing their tangible impact on a biometric is excellent reinforcement.

3. Walking after meals can have a huge impact

This is one of those lessons that you will hear a million times, but it will never sink in until you see it for yourself. When you’re wearing a CGM and have become used to the demoralizing postprandial spike from a carb-heavy meal, it’s incredible to see how simple walking can knock this spike down or even eliminate it entirely. I wrote before about how some of the world’s healthiest communities have made the dinnertime walk a ritual. The drop in blood sugar this creates is probably one of the key factors explaining why they stay metabolically healthy for far longer than the average American.

I wish CGMs were more broadly available, and perhaps they will be in the future. Everyone’s body is unique and there’s nothing like being able to see your own numbers in real time. For now, however, I hope that these lessons are enough for you to make some valuable changes in your own life.


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