If you suffer from confusion, irritability, impatience, shakiness, or inability to complete simple tasks when you miss a meal or just haven’t eaten in a few hours, you might consider trying to make some dietary and life style changes. These symptoms are typical for a condition called Hypoglycemia, which is connected to low blood sugar levels.
Please read Part One where I explore what hypoglycemia actually is and what causes it.
I did not suffer from low blood sugar levels as a child. Unfortunately I became hypoglycemic in college due to a diet of processed foods, soft drinks, sugar, pastries, caffeine, and lack of sleep. It has taken a long time to heal but I have not had a severe low blood sugar episode in more than six months! I still occasionally get slightly lightheaded if I am hungry but it is rare and I watch my blood sugar levels like a hawk. Hypoglycemia can contribute to more severe health issues if not treated like diabetes, fatty liver, hypothyroidism, impaired immune system, and food allergies.
I began making changes slowly over the course of two years. Not only did these changes stabilize my blood sugar levels but to my surprise I also lost ten pounds! I have never been heavy. In fact I have a pretty petite frame, but since I began eating whole foods and slowly implementing ways to heal my hypoglycemia, my weight also went down. It’s kind of ironic that I lost weight only when I stopped obsessing about it, but my diet demons are another post! These changes have helped me so much that I wanted to share them with you all. I will elaborate on what changes worked and what changes did NOT work for me. Please note I made these changes slowly. It is hard to implement all of them at once.
What DIDN’T Work
1. Eating smaller meals more frequently.
After one of my many episodes of dizziness, nausea, and irritability my husband and I went on line and started doing more research about low blood sugar levels. Every article we came across suggested small and frequent meals. We were eating healthy so all of our meals were homemade with local produce. I tried to eat lots of salads, whole grains, fruit and some meat and divide my main three meals into six meals without increasing the amount of food. Results: Six months later I was as hypoglycemic as ever and I continued to crash hard almost every night and crave sugar and junk food ALL the time.
I tried to increase my ingestion of beans, rice, apples, celery, garbanzo beans, broccoli, sour dough rye bread, etc.
Results: Not only did my hypoglycemia not get better but I began feeling increasingly more bloated and constipated – not the effect I was looking for! In fact after reading more I discovered that too much fiber – even when it comes from fermented grains, fresh vegetables, and fruit – can be quite detrimental for some people and can cause indigestion and irritation of the intestinal lining, and may even cause diabetes. Empowered Sustenance has a intriguing article about the dangers of ingesting too much fiber here.
Eating only 20% – 30 % of low fat protein only lasted for about a week. I was too hungry. My body demanded more fuel and I tried to satiate myself with more fermented whole grains and veggies but to no avail. In fact I started dreaming about eating steak! Literally swimming in meat! I became more moody and irritable. I do not recommend this if you are hypoglycemic. It only exacerbates the problem.
4. Drinking 6 to 10 cups of water every day.
Drinking more water was helpful but not for my hypoglycemia. I feel more hydrated if I carry a water bottle with me everywhere but I don’t feel full! If I am shaky and I drink a large glass of water I will use the restroom fifteen minutes later and my urine is completely clear. My body just flushes it out and angrily demands real fuel.
In fact, drinking too much water during meals may contribute to the incomplete assimilation of nutrients. How? It interferes with the hydrochloric acid in your stomach that churns and breaks down food before it enters your small intestine. According to this article by Thank Your Body, too much water intake may also lead to decreased metabolism, decreased mental clarity, headaches, insomnia, and cold hands/feet.
I have never been a huge fan of breakfast. Once I began eating whole foods again, I started eating whole foods again, I started eating things like oatmeal or piece of toast for breakfast, very rarely did I choose to eat eggs or bacon with my toast in the morning. One weekend my husband got up early and prepared us steak and eggs for breakfast. He was so excited and I didn’t want to disappoint him so I sat down and started eating. I thought to myself how impossible it would be for me to eat this tremendous amount of food but – I ate the whole thing!
Results: I wasn’t hungry for five hours! I didn’t crash at all either. In fact I had more energy and I didn’t feel lethargic.
Since then I slowly switched out my toast and oatmeal for pastured eggs, raw milk, avocados, and bacon. While I still like to eat veggies, a limited amount of fruit in the morning, I pair them with good proteins and fats which provide me with a steady source of glucose throughout the day, rather than the spike-and-crash routine I had before. I chose a low-carb – not a Paleo and not no-carb – diet to heal my hypoglycemia. I still enjoy a delicious slice of sour dough bread occasionally.
2. Carrying high protein snacks.
A few years ago I carried granola bars, carrots sticks and wholewheat crackers in my purse to prevent hypoglycemic attacks. Now I replaced them with avocados, locally made beef jerky, raw cheese, or sprouted nuts. These foods offer me a steady dose of glucose instead of a sugar spike, the way simple carbs do, thus I am less likely to experience any severe symptoms if I skip a meal.
3. Limit caffeine intake
I don’t drink caffeine anymore because it has an overstimulating effect on my adrenal glands which causes my liver to release more stored sugar. The more sugar there is in the blood, the more insulin the pancreas will release, which causes low blood sugar a few hours later. It is hard to quit caffeine cold turkey. I don’t recommend it. The withdrawals and the migraines can be very severe. Instead try limiting yourself to only one cup a day and combining it with a meal full of protein and fat. This way you can prevent the release of too much caffeine at once which can over stress your body and overstimulate your adrenal gland. If you are not ready to quit coffee cold turkey here is an article on how to prevent coffee jitters and the ingestion of too much caffeine from The Nourished Life.
4. Limit alcohol intake
Alcohol is toxic to the liver. Of course there are delicious fermented wines and home-brewed beers to be enjoyed if you don’t experience severe allergic reactions to alcohol. I still occasionally enjoy a glass of wine, but never before I have a belly full of food so that my body does not grab the sugar in the alcohol first. Alcohol goes straight to your bloodstream, making the pancreas send out more insulin, which will cause you to crash in a couple of hours. I suggest using moderation and pairing it with protein and fats, rathert than carbs and sugar.
5. Limiting sugar intake
This is very very important. The ingestion of too much sugar causes your pancreas to “overreact” and send too much insulin in your blood stream. A release of too much insulin ends up taking too much sugar out of the blood and into storage. Since the brain and other components of the nervous system cannot store glucose, they are dependent on circulating glucose for energy. When there is not enough glucose circulating through the bloodstream the brain begins to run out of fuel – and you begin feeling dizziness, irritability, lethargy and anxiety.
If you are hypoglycemic you want to keep your sugar levels stable at all costs. I am a recovering sugar addict. I lived off sugar for a few years and overtaxed my pancreas and adrenal glands. Please read here for my personal story overcoming a sugar addiction.
6. Sleeping more than eight hours a night.
Sleep is one of the most important factors in maintaining proper bodily function. Somehow in our culture we have convinced ourselves that we really only need to sleep when “we have time for it” – time we increasingly have less of. I have heard many people argue that their bodies simply don’t need more rest than five or six hours of sleep a night, while drinking their third shot of espresso for the day. I am not advocating that you sleep eight or nine or any number of hours a night. I am advocating listening to your body’s cues. Your body will tell you when you are tired. Instead of reaching for caffeine or sugar, take a fifteen minute nap and try sleeping another hour or so the next night. You might be amazed at the difference. Daily sleep deprivation will exhaust your adrenal glands and your pancreas and put unwanted stress on your body. In fact studies have shown a direct correlation between sleep deprivation and the development of insulin resistance!
7. Listen to your body
I admit this has always been a challenge for me in the past. I always thought we beat our bodies into submission, like it was me vs. my body. Whenever I got sick I tried to ignore it until I would have to be wheeled in to the emergency room. I had bronchitis for three months before my host family took me in to see a doctor, and I had an emergency appendectomy after finishing a ten hour shift at work. So I don’t have a great track record of listening to my body, I am working on it! I am more aware of my limitations now. In fact my emergency appendectomy was a very humbling lesson about how fragile we are and how much we depend on listening to our bodies. I am less likely now to have a severe sugar crash because I hear my body signaling the alarm before it happens and I make an effort to boil myself an egg, nibble on some cheese, or drink a glass of raw milk.
Go on a walk, a hike, do some yoga, meditate, stretch, do breathing exercises, take detox baths, get a massage or acupuncture – anything that will help you be present with your body and relax both mentally and physically. Moving your body is very important. It will boost your metabolism, raise your mood, and increase the sensitivity of you insulin receptors.