Do you find yourself on the blood sugar rollercoaster, chasing lows with highs, or eating everything in sight when feelings of low blood sugar strike? Here's how to treat hypoglycemia without the added consequences of binge-eating.
Some low blood sugars are simply worse than others. And certainly, all low blood sugars are definitely annoying and frustrating. Then there are the lows that make you feel like your brain is shutting down and the only thing that will possibly save your life is more food.
During those severe lows, I’ve noticed that even just the physical act of chewing -- feeling my jaw muscles chomping down on food -- is what makes me feel safer and comforted.
During those severe lows, our brain is begging and begging for more glucose -- even long after our blood sugar has come back up to a safe level.
But if binge-eating everything in sight or even half of everything in sight is a regular occurrence for you during low blood sugars, you’re probably suffering the consequences, too: weight-gain, A1c goals you can’t reach, frequent blood sugar roller coasters, and of course plenty of guilt and frustration, too.
Here are 6 tips for treating low blood sugars without bingeing.
Select certain foods as “medicine.’ If your brain considers PopTarts and glucose tabs as ideal foods to use for low blood sugars, you’re simply setting yourself up to eat hundreds more calories per low than necessary. Instead, try choosing 3 or 4 different foods that are now your “low blood sugar treatment foods.” For example: Gummy LifeSavers, Smarties, glucose tabs, raisins, jelly beans, juice boxes. These are all fast-acting carbohydrates that contain only carbs. They can be kept in most places (except the juice boxes), and you can consume a very measured amount. By deeming these foods your “low blood sugar treatment foods,” you’re setting up a clear standard of treating lows rather than eating anything in the cupboard.
Treat the low...then enjoy your meal. If you’re about to sit down to dinner but your blood sugar is plummeting, there’s no better recipe for disaster than using your dinner to treat your low. Not only are you forced to then guess how many carbs you need for the low vs. how much insulin (if you take insulin) you should still take to cover the other carbs, but you’re also not going to actually enjoy your dinner! You’ll scarf it down without even tasting it. Instead, treat the low with a small glass of juice or 4 Gummy LifeSavers -- giving yourself certainty that you have treated the low and you are not going to die -- and then enjoy your dinner!
Stay out of the kitchen for 2 a.m. lows! This isn’t about safety as much as it is about preventing binge-eating. There’s nothing worse for a night’s sleep than 2 a.m. hypoglycemia. On the other hand, nothing feels more comforting at 2 a.m. during a severe low blood sugar than a giant, giant, giant bowl of cereal! 150 grams of carbs down the hatch. And almost a guarantee that you’ll wake up at 400 mg/dL. Going to the kitchen during a low blood sugar at 2 a.m. is just a recipe for disaster! Instead, keep a container of fast-acting carbs mentioned earlier right next to your bed. You know you only need 3 to 5 Gummy LifeSavers or Smarties for most lows. Then curl into a ball and wait patiently for your blood sugar to come back up. Do not go into the kitchen!
If you absolutely need more carbs to endure the severe low...at least cover those extra carbs with carefully measured insulin. Okay, sometimes the really extreme, rapid-dropping, tons-of-insulin-on-board kinds of lows can mean that extra carbs are almost essential -- especially for refilling your glycogen stores. If you’re going to eat 100 grams of carbs in cereal to help your body actually feel better, at least measure the cereal and consider taking insulin to cover some of those carbs to prevent a rebound high.
Stash your “low blood sugar foods” everywhere! Next to your bed, in the kitchen, in your purse, in your desk drawer at work, in your car, in your spouse’s car, in the diaper bag. And so on! Everywhere. If you don’t have the right foods for treating lows within arm’s reach, your brain can easily justify demanding you eat 7 slices of buttered toast instead. Do take a minute to consider the temperature of each location -- that’s why I like using Gummy LifeSavers, because they don’t melt or freeze!
Chug some water, chew some gum...and wait! After you treat that low with the unsatisfying yet accurate number of fast-acting carbs, you’ve gotta distract yourself long enough for those carbs to do their job. If you can chug a glass of water, then pop some minty gum in your mouth (1 or 4 pieces if you have to) and wait at least 15 minutes before eating more food, you’ll prevent bingeing on hundreds more calories. It takes willpower, sure, but it’s also a matter of habit. And of reminding yourself: “I am in control of how much food I eat during this low.” It’s up to you. Either continue the habit of binge-eating during every severe low, or create a new habit that focuses on logic, willpower, and careful decisions.
And of course, at the end of the day, if you’re experiencing frequent low blood sugars as a person with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, it means part of your medication regimen and dosages need to be adjusted!