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Who: Sarah Tickell, 45
Where: Sunnyvale, Calif.
Time with Levels: 5 months
Most Useful Takeaway “Metabolism is so individual. I couldn’t rely on someone else to tell me what I should be able to eat.”
1. What were your diet and exercise habits like before Levels?
I’ve struggled with my weight for a very long time. The problem is that my weight is stable—it doesn’t go up or down. Even though I’ve bounced around to various doctors trying to lose weight, I’ve not been able to find answers. I eat a minimally processed diet and make my own food. Every doctor told me to eat in moderation. They said not to rule out foods or avoid certain food groups. And so that’s how I ate.
Doctors also focused on my extreme levels of stress. For the past three years, our family has been in a constant state of crisis. My eldest child has a severe medical condition that affects his mental health. Every doctor told me that I’d never get a handle on my weight until I dealt with the stress. But my kids are in my life. I can’t get rid of them! I had to figure out how to lose weight even with the stress.
2. Why did you want to put a CGM on your arm?
I first heard of Levels through the Broken Brain podcast. It was something that I just wanted to try. I was already aware that I could potentially have blood sugar problems. With my last pregnancy (I have three kids), I developed gestational diabetes. By restricting my eating habits during pregnancy, I was able to avoid going on medication. And though the condition disappears after delivery, my endocrinologist warned me that I would be more susceptible to having Type 2 diabetes in the future. At the start of this year, my blood work indicated that I had prediabetes.
3. What have you learned about how your eating habits affect your glucose? Is there a particular meal that has consistently kept your blood sugar stable?
All the doctors I saw previously told me to eat foods like blueberries and sweet potatoes. I found out quickly that those were not good for me at all. I experimented and tried just five blueberries with breakfast—even that caused a spike.
Colorful vegetables I have to be careful with, too. What I can eat are green veggies in abundance. Give me a big green pepper, but the moment I eat a yellow pepper, my levels go up.
So the breakfast I eat every day is an almond milk chia pudding. I make it myself and top it with homemade coconut granola and cinnamon. There are very few grocery store products that I can purchase that don’t affect my blood sugar, so I try to make everything myself.
Related article: Foods we love: Chia
It became so clear to me that metabolism is so individual. I couldn’t rely on someone else to tell me what I should be able to eat.
4. What non-diet things have changed since wearing the CGM?
I was experimenting with different types of exercise and how they would affect my blood sugar. The idea of doing small bouts of intense physical activity throughout the day sounded great as a mom with three kids and one who has special needs. Quickly, though, I learned that that was not the method for me. It made me hungry quickly and made me want to snack. And I’m not a big snacker. As soon as I start wanting snacks, that’s a red flag. I know something is off. Snacking isn’t good for my blood sugar regulation because even though I’d choose healthy options, the more frequent eating made my blood sugar less stable.
When it comes to exercise, I figured out that I need to focus on getting my heart rate elevated for at least 30 minutes–but no more than 45 minutes. That’s the perfect amount to help me feel energized.
5. What type of results have you had? Do you still have prediabetes?
Using the CGM has been life-changing. I’ve lost 22 pounds since January. Even though the rate of weight loss is slower than I’d like, I realize that it’s a good cadence. It’s all because I can quickly see what food does to my body from a glucose perspective. As a result, my A1c has dropped from 5.8% to 5.2%. [A1c is the average blood sugar level over the past three months. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a normal A1c is below 5.7%. Prediabetes is considered 5.7% to 6.4%.]
I no longer have prediabetes, and that was all without a prescriptive diet or an appointment with a specialist. Ultimately, I’ve realized that as long as I focus on blood glucose and getting some activity in, the weight piece takes care of itself—no need to obsess about what the scale says.