The Program: How and Why Does Atkins Work
What is The Blood Suger Roller Coaster?
Are you often tired and low on energy? Do you crave sweets and starchy foods? The surges and dips of your blood sugar may be taking your body on a ride that also interferes with your ability to control your weight. Let’s explore the delicate balancing act in which insulin normally keeps your blood glucose on an even keel—and learn how Atkins can help.
What Is Blood Glucose?
When food is digested, it breaks down into components your body can use for energy and as its building blocks. Carbohydrates are converted to simple sugars, primarily glucose, which enters your blood stream. Eating carbs—whether simple carbs in starchy and sugary foods or high-fiber carbs in whole foods such as fruits and grains—makes your blood sugar level rise. However, carb foods that are rich in fiber have a less rapid effect. Your system can tolerate a fairly narrow range of sugar in your bloodstream, which leads us the other key player in this perfectly normal process.
What Does Insulin Do?
When your blood sugar level rises, it triggers your pancreas to secrete the hormone insulin, which absorbs glucose and transports it out of your blood stream. It is then available for use as energy or is stored, either as fat or as glycogen in your muscles. In this way, insulin protects your body from the damaging effects of spikes of glucose. Insulin also performs other key roles. (See How Insulin Blocks Fat Burning.)
When Things Go Wrong
But just as too many calls to arms produce battle fatigue, years of overconsuming carbs may make your body’s insulin response less effective. As a result, your pancreas may overproduce insulin, which diminishes your blood sugar levels and leaves you feeling shaky,
headachy and hungry. Your natural response is to feed the beast with quick-acting carbs to reboot your energy. Then, just rewind the tape: a few hours later your glucose is driven down by another squirt of insulin, setting up a cycle of sugar highs and lows. We call this the blood sugar roller coaster.
Nodding off at work after lunch or feeling headachy or jittery is bad enough, but ups and downs of in your blood sugar also make it very difficult to control your weight. When you’re constantly hungry and craving certain foods, it’s hard to resist your body’s messages. But all these effects may be just the tip of the iceberg.
After years of riding the blood sugar roller coaster, you could develop a condition known as hypoglycemia ("hypo" means less, "gly" means sugar and "emia" means blood) because producing lots of insulin can drop blood sugar too low. After a while the insulin becomes less effective and despite extra insulin, your body becomes insulin resistant, meaning it is increasingly less able to transport energy-sustaining glucose to your muscles. This leads to a vicious cycle in which the body produces even more insulin in an increasingly futile effort to regulate blood sugar. At the point that insulin becomes ineffective, an individual will experience chronically high blood sugar and full-blown diabetes.
Get Stable, Get Slim, Stay Healthy
Doing Atkins is the best way to get off the blood sugar roller coaster and lay the groundwork for weight control and good health. The diet’s rebalancing of protein, healthy fats and fiber-rich whole food carbohydrates promotes relatively constant glucose levels, eliminating ravenous cravings that make you unable to resist the very foods that only produce more cravings a few hours later. But once you stabilize your blood sugar by reducing your intake of carbs, you can eliminate the peaks and valleys, ensuring a steady flow of energy and an appetite that’s under control. It’s that simple! (For more on blood sugar and insulin control, see The Atkins Edge.)