Turn Your Insulin into Jillian Michaels (Part 1): Test Your Blood Sugar

DSC_0011Feel fat or sluggish? It may not be YOU, it may be your glucose level and a hot little hormone called insulin.

I find that measuring my fasting glucose is an incredibly helpful metric. When I was a chunky monkey and stress-crazed mom in my thirties, I discovered that my fasting glucose was 110. I was stunned because I was heading toward diabetes. I turned my problem with glucose around in 72 hours. (More on that in Part 2!)

I think of insulin as the “Jillian Michaels” hormone. When it’s in the target zone, it’s a wondrous model of human engineering.

But the rest of us have the non-Jillian Michaels version. The rest of us have a little… um, let’s call it sluggishness when it comes to insulin. Insulin knocks on the door of our cells, and we can’t be bothered to deal. But as Jillian says: “The past does not define you; the present does.” It’s time to redefine your dance with glucose and insulin, My Friends.

Is Your Pancreas the Biggest Loser?

Most of us have heard of insulin and blood sugar, but don’t really understand how they work.

Think of them this way. Your pancreas produces insulin, the hard-working/Jillian Michaels hormone that seeks out glucose and turns it into useful energy. Glucose is sugar, floating around in your bloodstream… but any glucose that doesn’t get used up by insulin eventually gets stored as fat for “later.” While your pancreas tries to match your insulin levels with your glucose, sometimes it can’t keep up.

Your insulin-producing pancreas is all business, rather like Jillian Michaels: harnessing the sluggish and over-sugared, and turning us into lean, energy-filled machines. The problem is that when we have chronically-high blood sugar, even the toughest little fireball of a pancreas can’t produce enough insulin bring glucose levels down. And even if it can, after months and years of flooding your system with insulin it goes numb, leading to insulin resistance…and then high blood sugar once again.

Blood…But Not Sweat and Tears

The good news? You can bring down your blood sugar levels and reverse insulin resistance. All it takes is a little lifestyle tweaking and a little insight from the oh-so-handy tool: the glucometer. Seeing your elevated blood sugar levels on the screen may be all the motivation you need to cut out some carbs and add some exercise.

Testing your blood sugar, especially your fasting blood sugar (first thing in the morning before you eat breakfast), provides insight into your insulin sensitivity and your blood glucose levels. Since both are great indicators of overall health, I’m going to explain how you can administer this simple test yourself.

Gear up!

You can pick up a glucometer at any pharmacy – Target, CVS, Walgreens, or online – without a prescription. OneTouch is a popular, reliable brand that sells their compact OneTouch Ultra Mini for under $20 on Amazon. That’s what I use each morning.

Along with a glucometer (sometimes simply called a “meter”), you’ll also need a lancing device (almost all glucometers come with their own), lancets, and test trips.

Some glucometers come with a small supply of test strips, but you’ll probably want to buy more so you can collect blood sugar data for at least a few weeks. Make sure that the test strips you buy are compatible with your glucometer! For example: If you buy a OneTouch glucometer, you’ll want to pick up some extra test strips, too. You’ll also need lancets to go inside your lancing device (again, most meters come with a small introductory supply).

In review, here’s what you need:

– Glucometer

– Test strips

– Lancing device

– Lancets

– Control solution (optional)

Set up your meter.

If it’s your first time using your meter, you’ll need to set it up. This may include the following:

– Setting date and time

– Matching the test strip number to the meter’s settings (not necessary for all meters). Once you insert a test strip into the meter, simply make sure the number on the screen matches the number on the vial of strips. Use the meter’s buttons to adjust if necessary.

– Calibrating the meter using a test strip and control solution (again, not always a required step)

Test Your Blood Sugar

Step 1. Wash your hands.

Some doctors recommend using an alcohol swab, but it’s been shown that the alcohol on your finger tips can throw off the test results. Soap and water works perfectly fine.

Step 2: Insert a test strip

Put a test strip in your meter; one end of the test strip fits into a slot in the meter, and the other will have a narrow channel on it for the blood sample. After you’ve inserted it, watch the screen for the icon that signals it is ready for testing.

Step 3: Prick your finger.

Most meters use a drop of blood from your fingertip, although some are approved for palm or forearm use. See the instructions included with your meter.

Put a new lancet in your lancing device and put the cap back on. If you have sensitive fingertips, set the lancing depth to a low number (1-2). If you have callused fingertips, you will need to set the number a bit higher in order to get a drop of blood to appear.

Cock the lancing device and hold the cap of the lancing device against the side of your finger. Squeeze the trigger and the lancet will pierce your skin. If needed, squeeze your fingertip until a small drop of blood appears. You don’t need much, and it won’t hurt too much.

Step 4: Add your blood sample to the test strip.

Holding the meter and strip at a right angle to you finger, gently hold the strip against the drop of blood. The blood should easily fill the length of the channel while your meter waits.

Most meters can sense when the strip makes contact with blood. If the blood doesn’t make it to the end of the channel for any reason, you will get an error message on the screen and will have to start over with a new test strip. It happens to all of us.

Step 5: Get results.

Once the blood sample has filled the test strip channel, your meter will need a few seconds to process. Next, your blood glucose level will display on the screen. You did it!

Most new meters have a large memory and the ability to import the data into your phone using a USB. Feel free to go full biohacker and track your blood glucose highs and lows over weeks and months! Charts! Logs! I love it!

Step 6: Clean up.

Dispose of your used lancet and test strip in a biohazard container or a thick plastic jug with a lid, like an old juice container.