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Everyday Challenge: Hypoglycemic Hunger

Managing blood sugar lows and avoiding overeating

Why do I feel this overwhelming hunger when my blood sugar is low? I know I’m supposed to only eat a certain amount, but it’s hard to stop myself from overeating.

Hunger is one of our most primal urges. It exists to make sure we eat enough to keep ourselves alive. There are many situations that may elicit hunger, including an empty stomach, the aroma of food and – you guessed it – low blood sugar. Even in people who don’t have diabetes, a drop in blood sugar may stimulate the appetite center of the brain, which in turn might cause one to seek out and consume food.

Those with diabetes know that hunger can be a double-edged sword. While it may help to consume rapid-acting carbohydrates during periods of low blood sugar, it can be very difficult to know when to say “when.” Food may taste particularly good during a low, and the acts of chewing and swallowing might be especially satisfying. If the low is significant enough to impair cognitive function, it may be more difficult to count carbohydrates and choose diabetes-friendlier foods. Other symptoms associated with hypoglycemia (shaking, sweating, rapid heartbeat) may continue for a while after blood sugar has risen back to target range.

So how does one combat those primal urges to “consume mass quantities” during a bout of hypoglycemia? Talk with someone on your diabetes care team about how to plan ahead. They may suggest setting aside small juice boxes for mild lows and larger juice boxes for more severe lows. Or placing different quantities of glucose tablets in plastic snack bags marked clearly for treating lows that fall within specific blood sugar ranges. It may also be helpful to leave yourself an instructional note, such as: “Take one treatment only, sit and watch TV and check in 20 minutes.”

You may wish to work with a partner to help oversee your hypoglycemia treatment. You may also want to ask them to keep you away from additional food until that treatment has time to take effect (usually 15-20 minutes). A blood sugar recheck can help verify if the treatment was sufficient.

Gary Scheiner, MS, CDE*, is a Certified Diabetes Educator and Masters-Level Exercise Physiologist who has lived with type 1 diabetes for more 28 years. He was named 2014 Diabetes Educator of the Year by the American Association of Diabetes Educators, and has written six books, including Think Like a Pancreas. Scheiner and his clinical staff provide diabetes management consultations worldwide via phone and the Internet through his practice, Integrated Diabetes Services. Scheiner is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.

*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.

© 2015 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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