Levels Health Review and 20 Things I Learned by Wearing a CGM

Levels

I was certain the Levels App was either broken or rigged. I mean, I knew I was eating healthy. 

I was eating healthy, right? There’s no way my glucose could be so bad.

But it was that bad (except for one time it was great, more on that later).

The Backstory on My Addiction to Sugar

I have a lot of family members who either have diabetes or are prediabetic (even the ones who run a lot and are super skinny). Several of my grandparents were diabetic.

I have always struggled with my blood sugar. 

Even into my mid-30s when I really started focusing on my fitness, I would still treat myself to a mocha once a week. I didn’t do this due to concerns about my health. I did it because of the cost since I am first and foremost focused on personal finance.

It took nearly a year, but I realized that on the days when I had a mocha, I was at my worst. At first I felt great, but then I would get really, really angry. Like feeling full-on rage about little things. 

I was always at work at the time, so it rarely was expressed. I could just feel my body boiling. 

Once I learned that my mocha had nearly twice the daily recommended allotment of sugar for an entire day, I started skipping my mocha or replacing it with a latte. 

I also have a total sugar addiction, and I love pasta.

I have never been overweight and always exercised regularly, so my doctors told me not to worry about diabetes. For most people, if you control these things, you can manage to not get diabetes.

But I knew something wasn’t right.

Turning to Continuous Glucose Monitors (CGMs)

That’s why when continuous glucose monitors started becoming available through a few health-focused startups, I was extremely interested in trying one.

A year ago, you had to get on waitlists to get into a program. 

The first program I tried was January AI. I used it for a month and generally had a good experience, but I found tracking my calories cumbersome, and there were a few other pieces of the program that just felt that it wasn’t right for me.

Note: Their tracking and use of experiments to guide your learning were great. So if you like to do a guided experimental program, I would highly recommend them. You can read my full January AI review here

Then this fall, I got into Levels. I say I “got into” it because there was and still is an extremely long waitlist.

Levels appealed to me as all I loved the extensive research and educational content they include in their blog. They seem committed to the health and research needed for all of us to improve our metabolic fitness.

Levels Health Review

Like with January AI, there are two apps you use to track your progress. One is the app associated with the continuous glucose monitor, while the other is the Levels Health App. 

The app is much sleeker and sexier than January AI. Plus, there is a daily score. They tell you that many of their users score in the 80s.

For my first weeks, I was constantly in the 50s to 60s. I couldn’t see how anyone could score in the 80s. But, the more I experimented, the more I learned.

Even a single slice of high fiber, high protein toast (I like Dave’s Killer Bread) with eggs and spinach would send my glucose skyrocketing.

Super healthy (so I thought) homemade sushi was the same. My blood sugar would shoot through the roof.

In my third month with the monitor, I finally started realizing what I needed to do for my body to be best for metabolic health. 

It seems it’s much harder for me than most people to keep my glucose at lower levels. But I have learned a lot from tracking my glucose paired with the specific information Levels includes in the app.

20 Lessons Learned from Wearing a CGM

Over the course of wearing a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) for almost four months and interacting with the app daily, I’ve learned a lot.

Here are 20 specific things I’ve learned to improve my glucose levels:

1. Start the Day Off Right

Some people have an easier time eating pastas and breads in the morning. For me, if I started the day off on the wrong foot, it was extremely difficult for me to get my blood sugar back in line. 

2. Focus on Eating During Restricted Time Windows

Perhaps a turning point for me was listening to this podcast with Dr. Andrew Huberman.

I had always assumed that because I had significant issues with low blood sugar (which I now attribute to blood sugar crashes) and because of my focus on exercise, that the “intermittent fasting” trend was not something I was interested in at all. 

But, once I stopped my sugar highs and resulting crashes and started time-restricted-eating, I was able to better control my blood sugar.

3. Learn to Love the Process

Now I equate some feelings of hunger with a sense of good health. Note that this does not include extreme hunger, just a little bit of hunger. This isn’t for anyone who has struggled with eating disorders in the past.

I have found that my body has adjusted. I haven’t lost any significant weight with time-restricted eating, but my skin sits differently, I feel much healthier, and my glucose levels have really steadied.

4. I Can Tolerate Very Few Refined Starches

I used to have a donut as a treat once or so a week. Now it’s more like once a month. I assumed if I was eating healthy the rest of the day, I was fine. 

But it turns out that spiking your blood sugar actually changes your cells, and not in a good way. So you really need to avoid blood sugar spikes. Otherwise, your cells are actually changing.

5. I am Still Working on My Fiber Intake

Pairing foods with some protein (for me, fish and eggs) are what I tolerate best.

6. I Live By My Morning Smoothie

I am prone to migraines and have been on a “migraine diet” for more than a year. One of the things I enjoy most and actually doesn’t affect my blood sugar at all is my morning smoothie with blueberries, sun butter, and protein powder.

7. Enjoy Wine with Pasta

If I’m going to eat pasta, which I still do, I start my meal with a half glass of wine.

8. Popcorn Doesn’t Spike My Blood Sugar

I was certain popcorn would cause my glucose to spike, but it doesn’t. I have found this to be one of the best “starchy” snacks.

9. Sweet Potatoes are Terrible for My Blood Sugar

I didn’t believe something as seemingly healthy as a sweet potato would cause spikes, but it went crazy. 

10. Flaxseed is Amazing

Flaxseed is one of my new favorite things. It’s relatively inexpensive, and it’s high in fiber and high in protein. I mix it in smoothies and for the occasional batch of cookies I make, I throw some in as well. 

11. Coconut Flour is Also Great

I don’t eat almond flour anymore as almonds trigger my migraines. I’ve started baking with coconut flour when I can. 

12. Eating Protein and Fat First is Extremely Important

My kids love their morning waffles. There are always a few bites left. 

Homemade waffles smothered in butter and pure maple syrup, what’s not to love? Please tell me, how could I let that go to waste?

But, I’ve discovered that even eating three or four bites of these waffles causes my blood sugar to go way up (once as high as 150, which is pretty dramatic).

That said, the timing matters a lot. If I’ve already had my breakfast (like my healthy smoothie or some eggs), the blood sugar barely changes. But, if I eat them as my very first food of the day (often not eating my main breakfast for several hours), that’s when I get big spikes. 

This isn’t just true for me at breakfast, but with all meals. I know I should focus on protein and fat first, then nutritious veggies, followed by anything else. 

13. Eating Just a Little of Something Makes a Big Difference

This seems like it’s stating the obvious, but until you actually see the results for yourself with your own body, it’s hard to put into action. 

It makes a huge difference if I eat a lot of something versus just a little. For example, that donut I spoke of, I had just about a quarter of a donut (after eating some eggs and it was post-exercise) yesterday morning, and my blood sugar barely spiked at all.

Plus, I still eat ice cream. Again, I just eat a little, and I can keep my glucose in range. 

14. I’ve Learned How to Savor My Food

Going back to the previous point about eating just a little, I’ve learned to actually taste my food rather than scarf it down. 

I like to think I’m a dignified eater, but with two young kids and an endless to-do list, I eat at rapid speed.

Now I eat just a bit less and focus on chewing and tasting it more. It makes for a much better experience. 

15. Levels has You Set Your Target Glucose at Below 110

This was insanely hard for me to reach at first. With January AI, the target glucose was a bit higher. Every body is different, but the research shows that maintaining this lower glucose is really critical for health.

16. I Have to Get My CGM Monitor in the Right Spot

There was one 14 day period where I put it too high up on my arm, and my glucose levels were about 30 points higher than they normally are.

Make sure you don’t put it right in your tricep, which can be uncomfortable. If you put your arm back and flex your tricep, the space is a few inches down and just slightly back from it.

17. My Blood Sugar Rises with Exercise and in the Morning

My Blood sugar rises with intense exercise and also may rise first thing in the morning due to cortisol. Thankfully there are a lot of educational articles and snippets on the Levels App.

Through them, I learned that the fact that some mornings my glucose spikes right around the time I get out of bed is because of my cortisol. Plus, my blood glucose also goes up during periods of intense cardio exercise.

Thankfully, the app records your exercise and doesn’t count the spikes due to a workout against your score for the day. 

18. My Blood Sugar Goes Up with a Hot Shower 

This is the weirdest thing, and I didn’t find any scientific studies to support it, but I did find some Reddit groups. Many people have reported spikes in their blood sugar while showering. 

Obviously I’m not going to stop showering, but it was just another interesting thing I learned. 

19. Wearable Trackers are Pretty Incredible 

I look forward to continued wearable technology. It is hard to overestimate the ability to change behavior when you have real-time results.

20. Walking After Eating is a Game Changer 

Walking for just 10 minutes at even a slow pace causes my blood sugars to remain much steadier than sitting back down to work or relax.

The Bottom Line

If you are interested in your metabolic health, I highly recommend Levels Health. The membership has been truly eye-opening and life-changing for me. 

My only complaint is that the cost of CGMs is too high. I would wear one nearly year-round if it was affordable for me to do so. 

If you are interested in improving your nutrition, want to get a handle on your blood sugar, or learn which foods are actually best for you, I would recommend Levels Health.

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