6 Surprising Habits That Affect Blood Sugar, From a Nutritionist

A walk a day keeps the doctor away.

By Edie Horstman

Ever wake up at 3 a.m. totally hangry? Are your PMS symptoms impossible to avoid? Fall victim to the afternoon slump? If so, it’s time to get keen on blood sugar. Blood—what? That’s right: blood sugar. Blood sugar is your body’s main source of energy. It comes the food you eat. We all need adequate blood sugar for survival, but most of us walk around with blood sugar imbalance. And this isn’t a good thing.

The goal is maintain balanced blood sugar. It’s essential for both short-term and long-term health. While what you eat plays a significant role in blood sugar stability, there are quite a few sneaky habits that cause blood sugar to run haywire. Let’s dive into what they are and how to keep your blood sugar in check.

Feature image by Riley Reed.

Marie Kouadio Amouzame eating croissant
Image by Belathée Photography
Edie Horstman
Edie Horstman

Edie is the founder of nutrition coaching business, Wellness with Edie. With her background and expertise, she specializes in women’s health, including fertility, hormone balance, and postpartum wellness.

Are you metabolically healthy?

Whether you have type 2 diabetes, PCOS, or simply notice a spike and crash in your energy, you’re not alone. In many ways, the root of these conditions lies in metabolic health. Only a mere 12% of the U.S. population is metabolically healthy. Said differently: About 88% of us have blood sugar woes (and we don’t even know it!). While there’s a growing awareness of blood sugar, we’re just beginning to uncover how it impacts our cognitive function, hormone health, lifespan, and more.

To begin uncovering your metabolic health, schedule an A1C blood test or consider wearing a continuous glucose monitor to get personalized data in real time.

tomato salad summer produce_blood sugar imbalance
Image by Michelle Nash

Blood Sugar 101

First and foremost, understanding blood sugar is useful for everyone—not just pre-diabetics, diabetics, or in my case, a woman with PCOS. But, what is blood sugar? Blood sugar is the amount of sugar (glucose) in your blood at any given time. The term “blood sugar” refers to the amount of energy (sugar) present in our bloodstream. It’s produced when we break down any form of carbohydrate. Be it fruit, a slice of cake, or piece of toast, that carb is absorbed into our bloodstream. Immediately or eventually, carbohydrates are used as a source of energy.

Blood sugar is the amount of sugar (or glucose) in your blood at any given time.

What is normal blood sugar?

The range for normal blood sugar levels varies. However, throughout the day, most people want to aim for blood sugar between 80mg/dL and 120 mg/dL. Tested two hours after eating, some experts may say 110 mg/dL—and under—is ideal. Others say that anything below 140 mg/ml is OK. Ultimately, the tighter the window, the better. Although normal blood sugar is the goal, most people experience low and high blood sugar throughout the day. Curious about yours? Consider wearing a continuous glucose monitor.

gluten-free strawberry shortcake_blood sugar imbalance
Image by Michelle Nash

Low Vs. High Blood Sugar

So, what’s the difference between low and high blood sugar? Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) occurs when an insulin surge causes too much blood sugar to be transported out of our blood. Some of these symptoms include sweating, hunger, sleepiness, irritability and anxiety. As a result, we crave sugar and carbohydrates. This is a safety mechanism, given that they’re quick sources of energy. In reality, eating these foods starts the cycle all over again.

On the other hand, high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) occurs when the insulin is unable to transport enough blood sugar out of our blood. Some of these symptoms include dry mouth, weakness, frequent urination and thirst, and headaches.

green smoothie_blood sugar imbalance
Image by Michelle Nash

When To Seek Help For Blood Sugar Issues

Think of these symptoms as warning signs. Chat with your doctor or work with a Registered Dietitian to get your blood glucose in check. Unfortunately, these highs and lows can eventually lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, wrinkles, weight gain, and more. Therefore, maintaining a consistent blood sugar level is a key component of optimal health. Luckily, managing your glucose levels isn’t rocket science—and blood sugar imbalance is very reversible.

Why is blood sugar balance important?

Maintaining stable blood sugar is life-changing. With a few tweaks, you can feel much more vibrant, energetic, and focused! When possible, you want to keep your blood sugar levels in your target range. This helps prevent or delay long-term, serious health problems. Think: heart disease, vision loss, kidney disease, and unwanted weight gain. On a day-to-day basis, staying in your target range is also equally important. It can improve your energy, balance hormones, and stabilize your mood.

charcuterie_blood sugar imbalance
Image by Michelle Nash

6 Lifestyle Habits To Balance Blood Sugar

When it comes to reversing blood sugar imbalance, you want to consider your lifestyle. Think: activity level (exercise), mental health (stress), and sleep. These all affect blood sugar. Wearing a CGM can help you gather these insights. For example, if you get a poor night’s sleep, you’ll likely notice more fluctuations in your blood sugar the next day. In essence, independent of what you eat—which is very important for blood sugar balance—so are other daily habits.

walking_blood sugar imbalance
Image by Riley Reed

1. Move Your Body

Being physically active is one of the best ways to lower blood sugar. Simultaneously, it improves insulin sensitivity (the goal!). During exercise, your body burns glycogen. Glycogen is a form of glucose stored in your muscles. Heading out for a run? Pop an energy ball and that glycogen acts as fuel. All forms of exercise count, as muscles use up extra blood glucose no matter what type of movement you’re doing.

That said, a compelling study showed that a mix of resistance training and aerobic exercise is ideal. Adults with type 2 diabetes who participated in 5-6 aerobic training sessions, plus 2-3 strength-training sessions a week, showed that after a year, 75% of them were able to reduce their glucose-lowering medications, and 56% had gone off them completely. At any rate, never underestimate the power of a post-meal walk or a dance party in your living room.

Nitsa Citrine walking outside
Image by Claire Huntsberger

2. Embrace Morning Sunlight

We all know that (safe) sun exposure is imperative to our health. It’s well-researched that sunlight helps boost serotonin, which does everything from regulate mood and sexual desire to energy and sleep. It also helps regulate blood sugar. Even 5 to 15 minutes of bright sun exposure can increase vitamin D levels, aid in weight management, improve your emotional well-being, and support balanced blood sugar.

Over time, not getting enough sunlight can lead to unwanted health conditions. Specifically, when we don’t get enough sunlight, our bodies don’t create as much serotonin or vitamin D. And low serotonin levels can make us feel tired and lethargic. In turn, we crave sugary carbohydrates which send our blood sugar on a rollercoaster. However, by getting sunlight first thing in the morning—and avoiding excess artificial light near bedtime—we set our bodies, hormones, and blood sugar up for success.

camille styles in bed_blood sugar imbalance
Image by Michelle Nash

3. Get Quality Sleep

Did you know our sleep-wake cycle—also known as the circadian rhythm—impacts everything from our appetite to insulin sensitivity, blood sugar balance, and energy expenditure? Sleep is the foundation of health. Unsurprisingly, most of us aren’t getting enough sleep (nor are we getting enough sunlight).

Thanks to our current lifestyle and social habits, such as working at night, being exposed to artificial light before bed, and altered sleeping schedules, we’re experiencing circadian disruption. In turn, a lack of alignment with consistent, natural sleep cycles contributes to issues with blood sugar imbalance. To help support healthy glucose levels, hone in on your nighttime routine and be mindful of when you’re drinking caffeine.

Kimberly Snyder meditating in bed
Image by Teal Thomsen

4. Manage Your Stress

No surprise here. Many of us walk around in a constant state of stress. Rather than utilize the right bodily processes, we run on adrenaline. Our cortisol—and copious cups of coffee—fuel the day. As you can imagine, burnout is knocking at the door. This diminishes fertility, sleep quality, blood sugar balance, and much more. In order to create lasting change, we must first acknowledge we’re stressed. After, we can minimize our stressors. If you need motivation to start de-dressing, think about how much your blood sugar will benefit.

But you might be wondering, what does stress have to do with blood sugar? A lot. Chronic stress causes blood sugar to increase. Because when we’re stressed, the body prepares itself by ensuring that enough sugar is readily available. In turn, insulin levels fall. Glucagon and epinephrine (adrenaline) levels rise, and more glucose is released from the liver. Rinse, repeat. Thankfully, we have plenty of tips and tricks for creating a more zen headspace.

Iskra Lawrence smiling
Image by Michelle Nash

5. Brush Your Pearly Whites

This might seem like an outlier, but dental hygiene and blood sugar are a two-way street. First and foremost, blood sugar imbalance leads to higher blood sugar (glucose) levels in your mouth’s fluids. This promotes the growth of bacteria that can cause gum disease. Furthermore, chronically mismanaged blood sugar can cause the salivary glands in your mouth to make less saliva. When less saliva flows, the risk for dental cavities, gum disease, and other mouth problems increases.

On the other end of the spectrum, infections from untreated periodontal disease can cause blood sugar to rise and make it harder to control diabetes. See here for our best oral health tips!

woman drinking tea
Image by Riley Reed

6. Support Your Immune Health

Similar to how stress negatively impacts blood sugar, so does the common cold. When your body works to fight off an illness, your blood sugar rises. It’s part of our innate defense system. Your body releases stress hormones, like adrenaline, to fight the illness. These hormones can raise your blood sugar levels and increase the amount of insulin your body needs. In turn, this makes it harder for your body to produce enough insulin to keep up with the increased demand.

Support your immune system by eating antioxidant foods, sipping on an immunity-boosting tea this winter, and staying hydrated. Research also shows that dehydration can lead to higher blood sugar concentration. Staying adequately hydrated helps blood sugar imbalance, so drink up.

Want to learn more about balancing blood sugar levels?

Because blood sugar is one of the key determinants of our overall health and well-being, we’re passionate about diving deep and giving you the info you need to take control of your wellness. See below for more articles that can help!

The Meal Plan You Didn’t Know You Needed: Eat to Balance Blood Sugar

Forbidden Fruit? Not So Fast—a Nutritionist Shares the Best Fruits to Lower Blood Sugar

Experts Are Calling It the “Silent Epidemic”—A Nutritionist Shares Easy Tips to Balance Your Blood Sugar

What to Eat for Breakfast for Balanced Blood Sugar and All-Day Energy

10 Foods To Avoid Before Bed for Balanced Blood Sugar and Deeper Sleep