Dietitian Julie Cottrell experiments with CGM

Wearing a CGM helped Julie feel more confident than ever that her protein-focused, low-carb approach is the right one for her health

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Who: Julie Cottrell, 52
Where: Chattanooga, TN
Time with Levels:  Six months, on and off
Most Useful Takeaway: Controlling her alcohol intake helped prevent glucose dips at night that derailed her diet—and decreased menopause symptoms like night sweats.

1. What was your health like before using a CGM?

I’ve been a registered dietitian since 1996, and I’ve experimented with all kinds of diets along the way. While I never had any issues with my weight, I was always trying to fine-tune my diet and be as healthy as I could. I came up in the “low-fat diet” era but have questioned that approach for a long time. You can do a low-fat diet, but you’ll spend a long time on the treadmill.

What I found made the most sense for me is eating low-carb. That’s what makes me feel the best. When I first tried keto, I made many of the same errors as everyone else, such as eating too much fat to try to make ketones. I love to experiment on myself because it makes me a better dietitian. I want to provide clients with the best information possible.

2. What made you want to put a CGM on your arm?

Once I learned you could take a peek inside your body, I was hooked. I already used blood sugar and ketone strips as part of my keto journey. When working with my clients with diabetes, I felt constrained on how to advise them to manage their blood sugar best, and using a CGM provided this new perspective for me.

While I have a healthy diet and don’t eat junk or fast food, I drink wine in moderation. But I’ve experienced how wine can lower my blood sugar. And that affects what I eat because I’ll eat a substantial meal but then feel hungry again. I wanted to know what was going on in my body when I drank alcohol.

3. What non-diet factors did you realize were related to your blood sugar?

I’m going through menopause and having night sweats. The symptoms are similar to low blood sugar. I feel hot, sweaty, and clammy. With the CGM, I can quickly check my blood sugar in the middle of the night without getting up. I realized that my blood sugar was lower if I drank alcohol a little too late, and I had more hot flashes. I was also able to confirm that I truly was experiencing a low blood sugar that was causing me to get up and snack on nuts and cheese after dinner.

Now, I’ve tweaked my habits so that I cut off alcohol by 7 p.m. I may have a little while preparing dinner or with my meal, but if I pour another glass after, I’m asking for trouble—my blood sugar going lower, derailing my diet and triggering night sweats.

4. What did you notice about your food choices and how they correspond to your blood sugar?

In many ways, wearing a CGM affirmed what I had already been feeling. I follow a diet that prioritizes protein and is very low in carbs. (Fifty grams or lower per day.) When I see my positive numbers come back—eating steak, chicken wings (dry!), an omelet, or a Caesar salad with salmon or chicken—it solidifies that I’m telling patients the right thing.

Of course, not everyone’s body reacts the same way to food, but knowing my levels helps me know that I’m on the right track. The best strategy for me is to hone in on protein, get some healthy fats in, and really modify carbs. I can assure people that there are a lot of “healthy carbs” that are not going to be their friend.

5. What advice would you have for clients who are wearing a CGM?

The same way people manage their body weight, you can get into the weeds trying to micromanage your blood sugar, which can become discouraging. When you wear this, you see, “When I do life, this is what it looks like.” If you start saying, “I’m looking for this exact number, or I want this exact score after I’ve eaten this food,” you can get in trouble.

As a personal example, by drinking a glass of wine with my meal, I can get a better score, but that’s not making me any healthier. I want to make a better choice, irrespective of my score. The key is to look at your overall trends to know how your blood sugar reacts to a particular food or activity in general—and not necessarily get bogged down in the details.