Low blood sugars are one of the more unpleasant (and scary) aspects of living with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Even the mildest of lows can disrupt an otherwise lovely day, and the more severe lows can leave us feeling extremely crummy for hours — long after our blood sugar has come back up to a safe level.
And of course, then there’s the part where your brain is begging you to eat more food. And more food. And more food. The “low blood sugar binge” and the rollercoaster that follows after are very common. Low, binge, high, rage-bolus, low again, binge again, high again, rage bolus.
In my early 20s, I found myself getting sick and tired of this grueling cycle. So, I created a few guidelines for myself. Eventually, in my past work as a diabetes coach, I found that many, many of my fellow PWDs throughout the community struggle with this, too. I put those guidelines into an easy-to-read guide titled, “Emotional Eating with Diabetes: Your Guide to Creating a Healthy Relationship with Food.”
Here are 3 tips that help me prevent and avoid that terrible low blood sugar binge & coaster ride:
Tip # 1:
I remind myself that I am in control of how much food I eat to treat this low. If you’re telling yourself that you can’t control it, it’s time to do a little fresher in that ol’ brain. No one is making you binge. Yes, your brain is irrationally begging for more food, but that’s when you need to dig deep into the rational and intellectual part of your brain that knows how many grams of carbs you really need for that low. (Hint: the answer is not 200 grams.) Reclaim your power here, my friends! You are in control of how much food you eat when you are low.
Tip # 2:
Treat the low…then distract yourself! Personally, what helps me calm down the part of my brain that’s begging for more food is one of three things:
- Drink a large glass of cold water. (I don’t know why, it just helps!)
- Chew on gum or baby carrots. (The noshing feeling makes my jaws and brain feel like I’m eating, which helps my brain calm down.)
- Definitely GET OUT OF THE KITCHEN. Go to your bedroom. Go watch TV. Go sit in the sunshine on your front step. Go tell your housemate that you’re trying very hard to not eat any more food. Just get out of the kitchen.
Tip # 3:
Declare certain foods “medicine foods” and use those to treat lows. Low blood sugars are not actually a great time to eat all the ice cream or treat yourself to a couple of brownies because you’re not going to enjoy them! Save the yummy stuff for when you’re calm, your blood sugar is stable, and you can properly dose for the carbohydrates. In other words: give yourself permission to eat a freaking brownie so that you don’t binge on those “off-limits” foods when you’re low. And THEN: use fast-acting, low-fat carbohydrate sources to treat your lows that you can measure carefully while eating. For example: jelly beans (1 gram of carb per bean, depending on the brand, means you only need 5 to 10 beans for a mild low), gummy candy (gummy Lifesavers have 4 carbs per piece), fruit snacks, Pixie Stix, Smarties, SweeTARTS, etc.
At the end of the day, you are in charge of how you treat your lows. If you’ve made a habit of treating them with too many carbs, you can definitely create a new habit of treating them differently. It’ll take practice. Commitment. Persistence. And some reflection! I have a feeling after a few times of treating lows more carefully, you’ll appreciate how much easier the rest of the day is without that blood sugar roller coaster.
TCOYD Note…Just for fun, here’s an old video Dr. Pettus made, all about this age-old problem!