Ginger Vieira was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 13, celiac disease a year later, and fibromyalgia in 2014. Ginger provides great insights into life with multiple chronic illnesses, including how to make the most of your life despite your health setbacks.
If you take insulin or oral diabetes medications, chances are you've experienced at least one low blood sugar episode. You start to shake, tremble, sweat, and feel very lightheaded. But for many, the most problematic symptom of hypoglycemia can actually be the uncontrollable urge to eat. Even though you only need 10 to 20 grams of carbohydrate to treat most low blood sugars, your brain is begging you to eat more, because digesting those carbs can take at least 10 to 15 minutes before they finally reach your bloodstream.
The result? You can easily find yourself binge eating with every low blood sugar. That not only leads to a rebound high blood sugar, but also the consumption of sometimes hundreds of unneeded extra calories every week.
Here are 3 simple tips for preventing binge eating during hypoglycemia:
- Use specific foods: Do you currently tend to use low blood sugars as an excuse to eat junk foods that you try to avoid during normal circumstances? This will absolutely increase the risk of bingeing because you're not only craving sugar, you're also facing a food that you constantly limit in your life. Instead, try making room for a small portion of that junk food to enjoy in your life when your blood sugar is stable and your mind can focus. As for the lows, choose forms of carbohydrate that are easy to digest (and therefore don't have too much protein or fat in them, which would slow down digestion). And choose foods that you don't particularly enjoy. Juice boxes, a gummy candy you don't really care for, or glucose tabs are far better choices for treating low blood sugars effectively without bingeing. (I've never heard of anyone wanting to binge on glucose tabs or juice boxes!)
- Be prepared: if you have to go all the way to the refrigerator or the pantry to look for carbohydrates for your low, you're literally opening the door and inviting binge eating to come on in. Instead, pick a drawer in your kitchen, bedroom, office, and car, and a handy compartment if you carry a purse, where you'll store a specific type of carbohydrate. That way you're not going to the place where all the food is kept; instead you're just going to the location where the "treatment for low blood sugar" is kept! By keeping your go-to sources for treating lows available in the areas of your life where you spend the most time (home, office, car, bag), you'll be prepared to treat a low without having to look at a variety of possibly too tasty foods in the cupboards.
- Wait, wait, wait: this is the hardest part but it's crucial if you want to avoid consuming those hundreds of extra calories. It absolutely does take 10 to 15 minutes for symptoms of a low to quiet down and for your brain to stop begging you to eat more food. Instead of giving in to those head games, treat your blood sugar with 10 to 20 grams of carbohydrates and distract yourself: plug in your headphones and listen to 3 songs, call a friend and chat for 10 minutes, lie down and repeat a positive mantra in your head … anything that keeps you from eating more food before you've given those 10 to 20 grams of carbs enough time to do their job.
In the end, you do have control over the way you treat your low blood sugars. The more often you remind yourself of this fact, the more often you can avoid that low-blood-sugar binge and the chaos that follows it.