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I swore I’d never wear a continuous glucose monitor. No, really. In past years, several people have asked me what I thought of them and I said it wasn’t for me. In large part that was because I hate needles or being poked/prodded in any way. On top of that, my blood sugar has been steady and in optimal ranges so I didn’t see the point. Lastly, if I ever needed blood sugar data, I have felt comfortable using a traditional glucometer. So, why wear a device? Why spend the money?
Well, my mind has changed. I’ve been wearing the Levels continuous glucose monitor and I really like it. In fact, I think it’s a game changer for my overall health and my postpartum fat loss journey.
Let me tell you why. But first, you might not even know what a continuous glucose monitor is, how it works, or what it does, so let’s start there.
What is a Continuous Glucose Monitor?
A continuous glucose monitor (CGM) is a wearable device that automatically measures your blood sugar throughout the day and night. CGMs are often worn by diabetics, but they’re growing in popularity in non-diabetic users because of the links between blood sugar and important areas of health and performance including weight loss, fertility, energy, recovery, cognitive performance and more.
A CGM is usually small – a little shorter than a paperclip and about 1/8th of an inch thick. It’s most often worn on the belly or the back of the arm. There’s a micro-filament, smaller than a fishing wire, on the underside of the sensor that inserts into your skin (just a tiny bit). This allows the sensor to gather blood sugar data from your interstitial fluid.
What Does it Tell You?
Of course, the CGM tells your your blood sugar level in real time and also looks at trends in your blood sugar throughout the day. In doing this, it imparts valuable information as to why you’re so tired or why you’re having trouble focusing or getting through a workout. It tells you which meals support blood sugar balance and which meals don’t.
I shared with you that I never imagined I’d wear (nevermind enjoy wearing) a CGM and one of the reasons was that I felt that I had a great understanding of what to eat for blood sugar stability. I have to say that I learn so much from my CGM! For example, after a crappy night of sleep, a meal that normally didn’t spike my blood sugar produced a spike! I was much more sensitive to carbs with less sleep – that’s so valuable to know!
I also got to see what things other than food elevated my blood sugar. Yes, it’s true, you could be creating elevations in your blood sugar without eating. Stress was a big one for me. A couple of times getting frustrated with or overwhelmed by my kids showed me that my blood sugar was creeping up in response to stress. Seeing the data has helped me work on my responses to every day frustrations.
Another big thing I learned from wearing my Levels continuous glucose monitor was around the tremendous impact of walking after meals, especially after sweets! Early in my Levels-wearing journey I had one of my favorite healthier treats – full fat greek yogurt with a bit of a crumbled up protein bar in it. A few days later, I had it again. Levels recognized that I’ve had this before and sent me a suggestion, “Your blood sugar is rising. Try getting up and going for a walk.” So, I did. I hopped on my treadmill and watched, amazed, as the blood sugar rise was completely blunted. Seeing this data in front of me has helped me build a habit of walking after my meals. It’s just so different when you can see the data!
Levels Continuous Glucose Monitor
Over the past few years, a ton of companies have popped up selling continuous glucose monitors. Health data and wearables are on the rise so I can’t say I’m surprised. They aren’t all created equal, so let me tell you why I chose Levels. (It’s also important to note that I sought them out as a paying customer. I had no relationship with the company, did my research and spent my money on the device because it seemed like the best one out there.)
Some CGMs give you constant data and others don’t. This is an important point of distinction. I can open the Levels app at any time and see my blood sugar value as well as what it has been at any prior point in the day. Other devices require that you bring your phone to the sensor on your skin to get a current read-out. I wanted the data always available automatically, without me having to remember to scan the device.
The Levels app does much more than display your blood sugar value. It scores every meal you enter so you are always growing in your understanding of what drives stability and what doesn’t.
It also provides ongoing education. For example, if I document that I ate an apple, the app will prompt me to read an article on ways to minimize the impact of fruit on my blood sugar. It’s a smart software system that recommends education based on you, personally.
One of the things I’ve loved the most is the visual nature of the app and the way it makes blood sugar stabilization a fun game. it shows you how many consecutive hours of stability you’ve had in way that reminds me of the activity rings on an Apple Watch. It challenges me to get 24 stable hours each day and I honestly enjoy the process!
They have a ton of great info on their site and various options for purchasing, so check that out here.
What I Love About It
Here’s the biggest thing: it’s so easy to tell ourselves, “this one thing won’t hurt”, especially in the context of the impact a food has on our overall body weight. However, we know that excessive rises in blood sugar (we’re talking frequency as well as intensity) do have an impact. Using a CGM means seeing the way food, stress, sleep and movement impacts our body, in real time. Sure, there’s a lot we don’t see, but I find it incredibly powerful to observe a real-time measurement of how what I’m doing is impacting my health. It’s been a great tool for encouraging quality choices and consistency.
I love data and I’m a ‘rule follower’ so Levels has been an awesome tool for me.
It’s important to note that while I am on a postpartum fat loss journey, it’s not (exclusively) a fat loss tool! The insights from the Levels continuous glucose monitor are great for improving sleep, movement, fitness, energy, mental clarity, muscle recovery, fertility and more.
The app is super easy to use and gives new insights and reports regularly. I’ve recommended it to so many people!
What I Don’t Love
Right off the bat, as someone who hates any kind of needle, filament prick or prod – I don’t mind wearing the sensor! I find it pretty painless so I’m surprised to say that part isn’t one of my “cons”. What I don’t like is how often I have to calibrate the device.
I’ll explain it this way: if you a wear a pedometer or use a wearable to monitor calorie burn, these devices are fantastic for monitoring trends and getting overall data, but they’re not super accurate. For example, if you use your Apple Watch to indicate your daily energy expenditure, it’s probably accurate +/- 10%. That’s a pretty wide margin. In my opinion, the accuracy of the actual value isn’t as important as being aware of the trend over time.
The same thing is true with continuous glucose monitors. It’s less important that you have an exact value for your fasting blood sugar and more important that you observe trends over time. With that said, to have the data be as accurate as possible, you have to calibrate the device. That means also purchasing a traditional glucometer and pricking your finger to get a blood sugar measurement directly from your blood. You then enter that value into your CGM app. There have been a few times when my CGM reading didn’t seem right, so I pricked my finger and it was a good 20 mg/dL off.
When I first apply a new sensor (which you do every 10-14 days if you want to continue wearing it beyond your first sensor), I calibrate 5-10 times.
It’s annoying and adds to the expense. For me, it’s still worth it, but keep that in mind! Though you don’t have to calibrate, I highly, highly recommend it. You’ll probably get some false high and low blood sugar alarms if you don’t.
Do I Recommend Others Wear a Continuous Glucose Monitor
There’s a philosophy in CrossFit circles that describes how one should consider their progression in the “sport”. It goes like this: mechanics > consistency > relative intensity.
What that means is that the mechanics always come first. You need to master basic movement standards before you need to worry about increasing the frequency of your workouts. Then, you want to be consistent with your movement mechanics before progressing to (relative) intensity.
I think the same applies here. Wearing a CGM feels like more of an advanced strategy so I recommend folks focus on mindset, the basics of quality nutrition and getting consistent with those before jumping to wearing a CGM.
With that said, if you love data, give it a shot! You don’t have to commit to wearing it forever. Heck, you could take it off after a day or two! Or, you could use it for the duration of one sensor (10-14 days) and then be done with it. Maybe it’s something you do for a week or two every quarter just to check in on how your body is responding to what you’re doing.
Bottom line: is it an essential I recommend for everyone? No. But do I think it’s an awesome tool for those who are interested? I sure do!
Will I Wear It Forever?
No. In fact, I didn’t wear it on our recent family vacation primarily because I didn’t want to worry about losing the sensor in the ocean. I do think it’s a tool I want to stick with for a while though. Maybe 4-6 months and then I’ll switch over to a couple weeks every quarter.
If I am fortunate enough to get pregnant again, I definitely see the value in wearing it for the duration of my pregnancy. I’m someone who experiences aversions to proteins and veggies when I’m pregnant and the only thing that sounds good tends to be carbohydrates, so I think it will be an important tool to help me make the best possible choices if/when pregnant.
Curious enough to give it a shot? Learn more and get started here.
I did a comprehensive training on my experience with the Levels continuous glucose monitor – you can listen to an audio version of the replay by signing up for my free training series. Once you sign up, you’ll get a welcome email that includes a link to the replay archive. Check spam if you aren’t seeing it in your inbox after you sign up. Here’s that link to sign up for the free training series.