Tricks to Not Over-Treating Low Blood Sugars
You’re in the moment. You feel miserable. You want to eat everyone and everything in sight!
Low blood sugars (hypoglycemia) can feel awful. When you’re having a low blood sugar, your body (including your brain) does not have enough glucose to support its energy needs. In most cases, your body senses danger and kicks in a protective instinct to eat!
So you eat...and eat... and eat!
Then, bam, high blood sugars follow and you can feel like you’re on a roller coaster with little energy left for anything else in your day.
How do you “override” this instinct and get off the roller coaster? Careful planning is the key.
Standard treatment for low blood sugars
Let’s review standard treatment for low blood sugars according to the American Diabetes Association:1
If you’re less than 70 mg/dl, the best treatment for a low blood sugar event is using 15 grams of “fast” acting carbohydrate. “Fast” means you’re eating or drinking something that is pure carbohydrate, with very little fiber, fat or protein in it. For example, you’ll see a quicker response in your blood sugars if your 15 grams of carbohydrate comes from Skittles instead of a Snicker bar.
In my experience, if you’re less than 50 mg/dl, you typically need to eat or drink 30 grams of carbohydrate to get the blood sugar back up into a safe range.
Always re-check a blood sugar 15 minutes after you treat a low, and retreat if you’re still below 70 mg/dl.
3 tricks to prevent over-treatment of low blood sugar
Even if you know and understand these recommendations, it can still be hard to "stick" with them. Consider trying the following tips to help you battle those internal urges to overeat in the face of hypoglycemia.
1. Use proportioned items
This is one of the easiest ways to regulate your intake in the midst of treating low blood sugar. You can either portion things out yourself or buy them pre-packaged in the recommended portions. For example, purchase a large container of glucose tabs and then separate out four at a time, bagging each group of four in separate containers or ziplock bags. Sound like too much work? Try these pre-packed options: single-serving fruit snacks, kid-sized juice boxes, or glucose gel. Just double-check your pre-packed options have the right amount of carbs.
2. Stash your treatment in a convenient place
This trick has 3 big positives.
- If you’ve got your stash ready to go, you’ll be less likely to run to the kitchen or nearest food source. Meaning you’ll be less likely to over-treat and less likely to try to treat with something that may not work as well.
- You’ll be treating your low blood sugar sooner, rather than using time and energy to find a low treatment option as your blood sugar continues to plummet.
- You’ll be less likely to put yourself at risk.
For example: if you wake up with a low blood sugar one night, you’re likely already out of it and groggy just from sleep, let alone the numbing and groggy effect a low blood sugar has on your body and brain. That means you’re more at risk for injury (let’s say from a fall). Or you may be “out of it” enough that you struggle to get your body to move, let alone make its way to the kitchen.
Keep your low blood sugar stash in strategic places: besides your favorite living room chair, your desk drawer at work, your bedside table, and your car glovebox to name just a few.
3. Develop a “low blood sugar before a meal” plan
It’s easy to be tempted to treat a low blood sugar by just scarfing down your meal and/or skimping on your medication (if you take medication with a meal). But this almost always results in high blood sugars later. You likely have a number of different treatment options to choose from if you experience low blood sugar before a meal. Here are some common ones I see many people use:
- Treat the low blood sugar as you typically would, make sure it comes back into a healthy range, then eat your meal.
- Treat the low blood sugar by eating 15-30 grams more with your meal (depending on how low your blood sugar is).
- Reduce your pre-meal medication dose (this works best if you use insulin).
There's a catch with the last two. Although they are more convenient, they may not work as quickly as treating your blood sugars independently of your meal.
And there you have it, 3 tricks to help your blood sugars stay in a healthier range after treating hypoglycemia.
Just like diabetes, not all low blood sugar treatment plans are made equal. It’s important to work closely with your healthcare team to develop a plan that works best for you. If you’re having low blood sugars on a regular basis, call your healthcare provider as soon as possible. It’s likely you need a change to your diabetes plan.
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