If you’ve ever been jarred awake by (or even slept through) an alert from your continuous glucose monitor (CGM), you know how frustrating it can be to start your day feeling like you’re already behind on something like a healthy blood sugar level.
One effective way to avoid those abrupt wake-up calls from your CGM? Explore the world of blood sugar predictions that can help you stay two steps ahead of the ups and downs in your condition.
Mapping Out Your Health Journey
Technically speaking, blood sugar predictions come from machine learning models that can find patterns among health data points and generate forecasts and insights based on those patterns. Research shows that blood sugar predictions can help you learn how to prevent highs and lows and prioritize self-care practices that can improve your overall health long-term.
The beauty of these machine learning models is that they don’t need a ton of time to get to know you and produce accurate predictions about your health. Thanks to the tens of billions of health data points at their disposal, these models can provide forecasts for one person based on the collective data of thousands upon thousands of others with similar health profiles.
But how do blood sugar predictions translate to real change?
“Glucose predictions are like being shown a map with your current location and your journey ahead,” explains One Drop health coach, Alexa Stelzer, a registered dietitian/nutritionist (RDN) and certified diabetes care and education specialist (CDCES). “They give you an opportunity to see the destination you’re headed toward and reroute if you’d like to. You can still reflect on the health behaviors that got you to where you are, but you can also more accurately determine the appropriate action to take (if any).”
For instance, let’s say you recently experienced a low blood sugar episode and you’re eager to avoid another one in the future. Maybe you initially consider the idea of eating extra carbs when your blood sugar is in the 80s or 90s in an attempt to prevent further lows. “This may achieve the desired results and keep blood sugars from dropping, but in some cases, it is unnecessary and causes rebound highs,” notes Stelzer. “If you were to know your blood sugar is in the 80s and increasing, versus in the 80s and decreasing, you could make a more informed decision about how to respond.”
Using Predictions to Change Your Reality
It’s not enough just to know where your blood sugar may be headed in the future; you have to act on that information. Maybe you use a health app that offers not only blood sugar forecasts, but also advice on how to respond to whatever your forecast shows you.
“Consider, for example, if your blood sugar is in target range, but a forecast tells you it’ll go up,” says Stelzer. “Along with it, you may be provided with a suggestion to take a walk, drink some water, or practice some stress management exercises—all of which can help blood sugar management.”
Over time, continues Stelzer, these suggestions will become second nature. While it’s still a good idea to consistently use blood sugar insights to manage your health, engaging in this technology can ultimately help you learn to listen to your body and respond accordingly.
Blood Sugar Predictions Help You See Which Habits Are Worth Keeping
Oftentimes we use health data to hyper-focus on what we’re doing “wrong” or where there’s room for improvement. But we often forget that it’s just as valuable to know what we’re doing right when managing our health, explains Stelzer.
Let’s say your current blood sugar is slightly above target, but a blood sugar forecast tells you it’s expected to go down in the next few hours. Pause and take a moment to reflect on which of your health behaviors may have helped to get things moving in the right direction, suggests Stelzer. “Did you exercise? Did you take your mealtime insulin? Make a mental note of what behaviors may have contributed to the prediction,” she explains. “And remember: If you don't like the prediction, you now have the opportunity to take action.”
What to Do When the Data Feels Intimidating
Perhaps your health app gives you a blood sugar prediction after each glucose, activity, food, or medication moment that you log. “If you’re logging often, that can be a lot of predictions,” says Stelzer.
Whenever you feel overwhelmed by your diabetes data, Stelzer suggests you start by focusing on just two details: the prediction (e.g. whether your blood sugar will go up, down, or stay steady) and the behavioral advice (go for a walk, hydrate, etc.).
“These two things may actually help you to feel less overwhelmed,” she explains. “The prediction tells you where you’re going, and the recommendation can provide insights into what to do about it. Start trying out some of the recommendations, and take note of how they impact your blood sugar.”
Once you feel confident with these two steps, start diving a little deeper into your data. Maybe you can pull up a full eight-hour graph of your blood sugar levels. Then, says Stelzer, simplify the information by asking yourself: “Do I like the direction I’m headed in?”
If you’re happy with where you’re going, great! “Take a moment to express self-gratitude for the actions that led to this,” says Stelzer.
If, on the other hand, you’re unsatisfied with your prediction, consider how you might change course. “If you notice a pattern in the predictions (e.g. if you’re going high or low at a certain time most days), reach out to your One Drop coach for additional insights on what behaviors could help you get where you want to go,” she says.
Another tip from Stelzer: Try simplifying your blood sugar predictions by thinking of them as weather forecasts. “If the weather-person predicts a rainy afternoon, will you do anything differently? Maybe you’ll do something small like make sure the windows in your car are rolled up before going into work. Maybe you’ll do something big like cancel your plans to go to the park. Or maybe you’ll just carry an umbrella.”
Whatever you do, the goal of these predictions is to reduce the uncertainty of the future, to help you know what to expect, continues Stelzer. “Sometimes the best action to take after receiving a prediction is to just go about your day with the increased confidence that knowledge can bring,” she explains. “The predictions don’t always mean you have to do something drastically different. It might mean you drink more water or engage in 15 minutes of activity. These small changes to behavior over the course of the day really add up.”
It’s also important to “take a step back to look at the big picture,” adds Stelzer. “You likely didn’t set out on your health journey to spend more time analyzing your health data. Reconnect to whatever reason it was that you decided to take care of your health.”
Maybe you want to be there for your kids or grandkids, or perhaps you want to be healthy enough to hike, travel, or do other activities you love. Whatever drives you, “use your data to empower rather than distract yourself from those activities,” says Stelzer. “Remember that managing your health is ultimately about having the freedom to live the life you want.”
Bottom line: Achieving a healthy blood sugar level doesn’t have to be another stressful item on your to-do list. Reach out to your One Drop coach the next time you need a hand with your health data.
This article has been clinically reviewed by Jamillah Hoy-Rosas, MPH, RDN, CDCES, and VP of clinical operations at One Drop.