Are you eating enough?
It seems everyone these days is going “low-carb,” trying juice fasts, going vegetarian or vegan. While many of these nutrition programs work well for certain individuals, these types of diets are not appropriate for most. I’ve encountered an inordinate amount of patients in my practice who feel that cutting calories and exercising is the still the best way to lose weight. To do so for a short period of time is probably ok, but not eating enough over longer periods can be extremely detrimental to your health.
Maintaining proper blood sugar balance
Frankly speaking, improper blood sugar regulation, also known as glycemic dysregulation, is one of the biggest stressors to the human body. Our bodies are always attempting to maintain proper blood sugar balance. Adequate blood sugar balance helps fuel the most basic metabolic functions and keeps our brain going. When our blood sugars drop too low, it is possible to feel tired, lethargic, lose focus and become anxious or depressed.
Glycemic regulation is simple. When our blood sugar drops too low, the body releases a number of hormones including glucagon (has the opposite action of insulin) that breaks down stored glucose in the liver. A stress hormone from the adrenal glands, called cortisol, is also released. This is because our body views glycemic dysregulation as stressful as having a death in the family, getting in a car accident or running away from a tiger. Believe it or not, fasting may actually be more stressful for our bodies than these aforementioned events. Cortisol has a similar job as glucagon, whereby it breaks down stored glucose throughout the body as a last ditch effort to raise glucose levels. However, with longer periods of fasting, glycemic dysregulation or having additional stress levels (who doesn’t have stress these days?), not only have we still not corrected our blood sugar problems but we start to run out of cortisol and our ability to deal with stress declines as well. Over time, adrenal fatigue or adrenal exhaustion may ensue. So one great way to protect the adrenal glands is to eat adequately throughout the day.
An illustrative example
Recently I had a patient who had a long history of uncontrolled panic attacks. The panic attacks were almost crippling and occurred when he was driving, which he had to do frequently for his job. He had been to see every single specialist under the sun and had almost every imaging study and lab test performed. He hadn’t gotten answers for his problems and was finally willing to try something different. Through the interview process, I found out that he used to be a triathaloner. He also battled food addiction and weight loss as well. Because he started to be more sedentary with his new job and didn’t have as much time for exercise, he was afraid of gaining weight. So he did what most people would do in this situation and cut his calories. He did so to the point where he would eat carrots and dip for breakfast and lunch. Besides panic attacks, he also was dealing with muscle spasms and headaches. All of these symptoms I believed were due to hypoglycemia. I had him introduce at least 15-20 grams of protein at every meal, especially at breakfast and lunch and made sure to have him consume some kind of complex carbohydrate earlier in the day as well. This is the only change that was made – no medications, no referral to a counselor, no naturopathic treatment! He came back 3 weeks later and reported that he had not had a panic attack or a headache and his muscle spasms were gone as well. Small changes go a long way!
Here are a few ideas to help balance your blood sugars throughout the day:
- Eat breakfast every day.
- Eat protein at every meal – examples: eggs at breakfast, chicken and a salad for lunch, and beef and veggies for dinner.
- Always combine carbohydrates and protein together. This helps to negate the effects of carbohydrates and prevent your blood sugar from spiking (Examples: if you have some oatmeal for breakfast, eat it with an egg or two or have leftover protein from the night before).
- Eat 3-6 meals per day. You should really only need 3 meals per day spaced about 4-4.5 hours apart. Breakfast and lunch should be your largest meals.
- Eat good fats to help you feel satiated – coconut oil in your smoothie or in your oatmeal in the morning, extra virgin olive oil on your salad.