3 Tips: Getting Off the Blood Sugar Roller Coaster
Editor’s note: This article does not substitute for medical advice from your healthcare team. Severe low blood sugars—in which you are unable to eat or drink food, are vomiting for any reason, or overdosed on insulin—may require emergency glucagon and/or emergency services.
It doesn’t take much to get stuck on a blood sugar roller coaster as a person with diabetes—especially if you’re taking insulin.
Still, there are ways to get off the blood sugar roller coaster at any point in the (terrible) ride! Here are three tips to help you hit the brakes.
Use fast-acting carbohydrates to treat lows quickly.
Treating low blood sugars with 16 grams of fast-acting glucose (dextrose) will raise your blood sugar significantly more quickly than 16 grams of sugar from a chocolate bar, bowl of oatmeal, bowl of ice cream, an apple or even a glass of juice!
Why? First, glucose raises blood sugar levels immediately because it is already in the form of sugar your brain and cells recognize and require for fuel. Glucose products like Dex4 also contain zero fat and protein—both of which slow down the digestion of life-saving carbs.
Choosing fast-acting carbohydrates that contain zero fat or protein helps your blood sugar rise faster, meaning you’ll feel better faster!
Avoid using meals or treats you love to treat hypoglycemia.
Low blood sugars come with a desperate urge to eat, eat, eat. If you have a habit of using low blood sugars to binge-eat yummy high-fat and high-carb treats, you’ll set yourself up for hours of exhausting highs and lows.
If you do binge, think very carefully about how much insulin to take and at what intervals you inject it. Resist the urge to rage bolus! As difficult as it is to be patient, you must remind yourself, “I will get my blood sugar down eventually. Taking more does not make it work faster.” Remind yourself that creating a new habit is about making a different choice in the moment. It isn’t easy! The more you remind yourself of what happens when you do rage bolus, the easier it will be to resist the urge to do it.
Also, identify a few precise and fast-acting carbohydrates—like Dex4 glucose tabs, soda, or juice—to have on hand specifically for lows. These carbs will be your “medicine foods” for lows. If you commit to choosing these types of carbs first when you are low, you’re far less likely to over-treat your low by binge-eating high-carb or high-fat meals that put you on a coaster ride.
After you treat a low: distract yourself with something else.
Resisting that urge to binge during a low blood sugar isn’t easy! After you treat the low with 15 grams of fast-acting carbohydrates, distract yourself while you wait 15 minutes before checking your blood sugar again.
Helpful distractions can include: drinking an ice-cold glass of water, chewing gum, listening to five songs you really love (call it the “Hypo Patience Playlist”!) or calling a friend.
The goal is to wait out the urge to over-treat the low blood sugar and give those fast-acting carbs time to do their job.
The bottom line
The way you treat low blood sugars is a habit you build with time and experience! You can change your low blood sugar treatment habits if you have the right tools—like the right fast-acting carbohydrates.
Take some time to think about your current low habits and the impact of those habits on your day-to-day wellbeing. Blood sugar roller coasters are exhausting, but they don’t have to last all day if you catch those coaster habits before they start.
You have the power to change how you treat lows! It starts with momentary habits and decisions.
Educational content related to diabetes management is made possible with support from Dex4, an active partner of Beyond Type 1 at the time of publication. Editorial control rests solely on Beyond Type 1.