Blood Sugar Matters When You’re Giving Up Alcohol
Another thing they didn’t teach us in school
Sugar always gets a lot of free press in the alcohol-free and sober space. We use sugar as a quick replacement for alcohol that we miss. It’s available and delicious. A chocolate chip cookie with crunchy sea salt is a reason for celebration when a glass of Sancerre is no longer on the table.
What’s not talked so much, over the loud voices of, You’re All Addicted To Sugar!, are the basics of blood sugar balance. Learning a little about physiology helped me immensely when I was quitting drinking, and I hope this helps you, too.
If you have known issues with blood sugar like insulin resistance or diabetes, and are working with your Dr., this is probably not new information. If you’re early in your alcohol-free journey and are still experiencing cravings, the hungry/angry sensation before meals, or feelings of afternoon anxiety, then applying this info can be useful.
A quick primer — when we eat carbs and sugar, the pancreas releases insulin. The primary job of insulin is to shuttle those carbs (now glucose) into our cells so the sugars don’t hang out in our bloodstream. When our blood sugar remains elevated or quickly crashes, we can feel the symptoms.
Recently, we’re learning more and more about how this process originates in the brain.
Recognizing those blood sugar swings and how they show up in our body is a skill that’s not taught. What we do learn is to ignore the subtle or loud cues from our bodies. We all do this. We hold in our pee, skip breakfast, and drink when we have anxiety. It’s hard, at first, to recognize these internal hints of blood sugar imbalance after a lifetime of overlook.
The effects of drinking on blood sugar swings can remain even after we quit, as the pattern can become ingrained, like a well-traveled trail. So really, it’s the arc of your overall blood sugar that needs focus, more than just a scoop of ice cream.
One of the best ways to balance blood sugar is by eating regular meals. I regularly work with clients where breakfast and even lunch get neglected, and by dinner, they’re cranky and exhausted. Some of this is a fundamental lack of calories, or energy. But the blood sugar swings also play in. Maybe breakfast was some oatmeal and fruit (all carbs) and lunch was a small sandwich or pasta salad (more carbs). Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with carbohydrate, but by prioritizing them at every meal, and always over fats and proteins, things can go haywire.
Eat Regular Meals
I’m just going to say it, Intermittent Fasting (or any other fancy phrase for skipping breakfast) does not lead to excellent blood sugar balance for people who are trying to quit drinking. What does work? Eating meals consistently. If you find that you’re getting hungry, have a snack. Creating a routine gives us more even blood sugar over the day. Think gentle wave instead of a tsunami.
Eat Balanced Meals
Everyone has an idea of how this should happen, we have the USDA giving us My Plate, and countless diet plans telling us their ideal ratio of carbs to fat to protein. Learning how to eat meals that keep you full for a few hours, including all three macronutrients (protein, fat, carbs) in a way that works for your body, is a learned skill and the best way to get a handle on blood sugar. This might take a little practice and experimentation.
Get A Glucose Monitor
We’ve reached the point with technology where continuous glucose monitors are now a Thing. They look like a wearable patch, interface with an app, and can show you your exact blood sugar curve, 24/7. They’re currently prohibitively expensive (unless you have fantastic insurance). Alternatively, you can purchase a $20 glucose monitor and some strips and get to work on testing your blood sugar. This method requires you to prick your finger for a drop of blood, but the information you get is worth the stick.
To begin with the glucose monitor, I like to check fasting glucose first thing in the morning. These are the current ranges for fasting blood glucose from the American Diabetes Association with the caveat that the “normal” range may still be set high. The next best way to use this tool, which is overlooked, is after meals. Wait 2 hours after a meal, and see where your blood sugar lands. If you still see a high number? Blood sugar is not coming down. If you have that shaky low blood sugar feeling? Check it.
Most of us go to the Doctor a couple times a year and get our fasting blood sugar checked at the lab. The reality is that our blood sugar is elevating and dropping with every meal, every hour of the day. This method gives us insight into how our body responds to certain foods, which directly impacts how we feel.
Stress Management & Exercise
After eating regularly, there’s two more blood sugar balancing biggies that we like to shy away from. I’m hitting them all in one post! Stress management, and exercise. We have great research that stress contributes to blood sugar dysregulation, and can be alleviated by stress-reduction practices. Meditation and other calming techniques for the nervous system can help to manage blood sugar. Taking a short walk after meals, even for just 10 minutes, is an excellent way to help tame the glucose response, and it feels really good. Strength training and HIIT workouts can also improve blood glucose control over time.
These tactics are simple, but not the easiest to implement. Try adding one small aspect in slowly, with intention. Then move to the next. Tracking your meal timing or exercise with an app or a good old fashioned calendar can help build momentum, and give you great data to look back on. Balancing blood sugar is an area that many people need help with when quitting drinking, and it can make a world of difference in the way you move through the day.