6 Steps To Break The Cycle Of Hypoglycemia
When you go a few hours without eating, do you experience shakiness, feeling light-headed or dizziness? Do you go from fine to I’m-going-to-kill-someone-if-I-don’t-eat-right-now in a matter of minutes?
Crave sugar and carbs only to feel tired, shaky, or cranky later? Are headaches a regular thing for you? Do you experience brain fog, anxiety, irritability, or sudden mood swings that seem to correlate with what or when you eat? Does the word “hangry” describe you?
Then, you may be dealing with a blood sugar issue called hypoglycemia.
What Is Hypoglycemia?
Hypoglycemia is a condition caused by low blood sugar (low glucose) levels. It occurs when blood glucose levels fall below the level required to maintain adequate energy for normal bodily functions.
Symptoms of a hypoglycemic episode range from extreme hunger to irritability and dizziness to hallucinations and loss of consciousness in extreme cases.
- limiting calorie intake through dieting, fasting, or skipping meals
- too much exercise without proper refueling
- not eating enough protein
Finally, taking unhealthy doses of insulin medication for diabetes can also cause hypoglycemia. Diabetes drugs, which can often drive blood sugar too low, tend to bring on the worst hypoglycemic symptoms, like hallucinations, loss of consciousness, and even coma.
The Cycle Of Hypoglycemia
Hypoglycemia is cyclical.
The blood sugar drops, causing a host of symptoms. These symptoms trigger you to crave foods that will provide a glucose boost as quickly as possible — sugar, bread, pasta, pastries, bananas, sodas, etc.
You consume the food you crave and feel temporary relief. All of your symptoms may even immediately disappear, causing you to believe that you’re doing the right thing.
Yet, these foods are causing such a sharp spike in blood sugar that your pancreas must secrete more insulin to bring the blood sugar back down. Sometimes, the pancreas overshoots and brings the blood sugar down too low.
Then, the hunger, irritability, anxiety, dizziness, shakiness, paleness, etc. begin again.
Every time these symptoms arise, you reach for the sugar/carbs, your pancreas overshoots to compensate for the blood sugar spike, and the blood sugar dips into the danger zone again. On and on and on it goes. (Does this sound all too familiar? Here’s how you can know for sure if your blood sugar is imbalanced.)
Over time, your body becomes less sensitive to insulin, so the pancreas must secrete more and more to pick up the slack. This is known as insulin resistance.
And after insulin resistance? Diabetes.
Hypoglycemia and insulin resistance are totally and completely reversible. It is possible to maintain a lifestyle without the roller coaster of hypoglycemia! (I talk about balancing blood sugar through diet in a video in Traditional Cooking School’s Women’s Health eCourse. Click here to learn more!)
Who’s At Risk For Hypoglycemia?
Just because diabetes doesn’t run in your family does NOT mean you aren’t at risk for hypoglycemia. In fact, ANYONE can experience hypoglycemia (or its opposite, hyperglycemia)!
Reactive hypoglycemia is the most common reason for hypoglycemia in non-diabetics. Basically, after eating a large amount of carbohydrates, the pancreas overproduces insulin, causing too much of a drop in blood sugar.
So, you’re at risk for hypoglycemia if you’re eating too much high-carbohydrate food — especially if those foods are processed.
This automatically includes anyone eating the Standard American Diet (SAD) which is loaded with high-carb, processed foods.
What if you eat Real Food? Can you still be hypoglycemic?
Although traditionally preparing carb-rich foods like grains and beans through soaking, sprouting, or souring does reduce the glycemic load of these foods, they are STILL high in carbs and will STILL cause hypoglycemia when eaten in excess.
If soaked or sprouted beans, rice, or grains and/or sourdough bread make up a large percentage of your daily diet, you may be unknowingly causing blood sugar spikes and drops which could lead to hypoglycemic symptoms.
Finally, are you under a lot of stress? Or do you suffer anxiety? If so, you’re at risk for hypoglycemia. (Read more about this below!)
Break The Cycle Of Hypoglycemia
Unfortunately, if you don’t stop the cycle — and insulin resistance turns into diabetes — you’re in real trouble.
Hypoglycemia is often an indication that more serious blood sugar problems (ie. insulin resistance, then diabetes) are on the horizon.
So, the million-dollar question is…
How do you break the cycle of hypoglycemia?
#1 — Eat A High-Protein, High-Fat Breakfast TODAY
Ok, breakfast skippers… today’s the day! Carpe Diem! It’s time to start eating breakfast — a high-protein, high-fat breakfast — TODAY!
If you’re powering through your morning on nothing more than coffee, I’d bet money that you’re cold, peeing every 20 minutes, and a hot mess by the time lunch rolls around. (Or you’re sneaking doughnuts from the break room at 10 a.m.)
The caffeine jitters, the frequent urination, the dizziness every time you stand up, the doughnut cravings — they’re all bright red flags that are trying to alert you.
Warning! Your blood sugar is low.
This doesn’t mean that you can never again have carbs at breakfast! But, you have to give your pancreas a break from all the insulin-secreting it’s been doing. It’s overworked and underpaid, ya know?
It’s time to pay up with protein and fat! And if you’re hypoglycemic, this is the quickest, easiest step!
Eat breakfast… Preferably no more than 45 minutes after waking. Do not add carbs to this meal — no oatmeal, no toast, no muffin, no cereal, no cinnamon roll, no doughnut, no milk, no fruit, no juice.
A high-protein/high-fat breakfast looks like:
- 2 eggs fried in butter, sliced avocado, bacon or sausage
- 2 slices Pepperoni Pizza Crust-less Quiche and a Sugar-Free Dandy Blend Latte
- Full fat yogurt or Greek yogurt bowl — like my DIY Chobani Flip: Coconut Yogurt with Sliced Almonds & Dark Chocolate, add another protein source like boiled eggs, sausage, or grain-free waffles
- An omelet with sauteed onions, peppers, spinach, and cheese with a Chocolate-Orange Smoothie
- Grain-Free Low-Carb Belgian Waffles with butter, but no syrup. Try Sugar-Free Lemon Curd on top instead!
No breakfast or lots of carbs at breakfast should never again be your normal. Your body is screaming for nourishing fats and plenty of protein to keep that blood sugar (and your mood) stable.
#2 — Stay Away From Refined, High-Glycemic Carbs
My nickname for hypoglycemia is pre-pre-diabetes.
Whether or not diabetes runs in your family, you have blood sugar issues if you’re hypoglycemic. Period.
Because hypoglycemia is often an indicator of worse things to come, refined, high-glycemic carbohydrates should no longer be regulars on your menu.
First and foremost, this means a departure from processed foods. Processed foods are the most refined and contain the most sugar.
Furthermore, checking the ingredients list for sugar isn’t enough. For instance, there may be no sugar listed in the ingredients of potato chips, however potatoes are very high-glycemic and will spike blood sugar even WITHOUT actual sugar added. Just because it’s a savory food doesn’t mean it won’t spike your blood sugar.
Sugar is not the only thing to aware of. Be wary of fructose (fruit sugar), starches (potatoes, tapioca, arrowroot, rice), and whole grains (like oatmeal and whole grain bread).
So if you truly want to break the cycle of hypoglycemia today, you have to understand that these foods (even the super healthy ones) are contributing to the cycle and must be eliminated or significantly reduced:
- High-sugar fruits like mango, banana, and pineapple
- Bread, even soaked, sprouted, or sourdough
- Sodas and juice, even fresh-pressed juice
- Any ingredient with the suffix -ose — sucrose, dextrose, sucralose, fructose
- White foods — potatoes, rice, sugar, white flour, popcorn
- Anything in a box or bag (chips, crackers, pretzels)
- Dried fruits — raisins, dates, and especially those that are juice- or sugar-sweetened
- Anything with high fructose corn syrup
- Grains and beans
- Pastries, doughnuts, bagels, cookies, cake, brownies, etc. — even “Paleo” versions. They’re usually made with insane amounts of starch (see next point) and/or whole sweeteners (see the point after that).
- Starches like tapioca, arrowroot, and cassava
- Whole sweeteners like raw honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, muscovado sugar, etc.
Not to worry! You won’t starve! Now that you’re aware of the foods that are causing the hypoglycemia cycle to be on repeat, here’s how to nourish your body out of that cycle:
#3 — Focus On Protein, Veggies, & Fat At Each Meal
First of all, you need to eat protein, at every meal and snack. Period.
Of the macro-nutrients (protein, fat, carbs), protein is the most satiating. Your body burns through carbs quickly; yet, protein is a slower burning energy source, so it keeps you fuller longer!
Protein sources include:
- Eggs of any sort — boiled, fried, scrambled, deviled, quiche — the sky’s the limit!
- Any and all cuts of pastured animal protein — chicken, beef, lamb, bison, turkey
- Wild-caught fish and shellfish — salmon, white fish, tuna, shrimp, lobster
- Gelatin and collagen — stir into hot and cold drinks for extra protein!
- 24-hour fermented yogurt or Greek yogurt
Nourishing fat sources include:
- Coconut oil
- Olive oil
- Rendered animal fats like tallow and lard
- Pastured butter and ghee
- Avocados and avocado oil
- Pastured egg yolks, like for mayo and salad dressing
- Raw heavy cream
- Coconut butter
What about low-glycemic fiber sources? While it’s true that whole grains, beans, oats, and fruit contain fiber, they aren’t the best sources of fiber when trying to break the cycle of hypoglycemia.
Still, you’ll experience other negative symptoms (ie. constipation and bloating) if you aren’t eating enough fiber. Low-glycemic fiber sources include:
- Leafy greens — in salad, steamed, kale chips, in smoothies
- Microgreens — sunflower sprouts, wheat grass, buckwheat sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, radish sprouts, etc.
- Any and all veggies!
- Low-glycemic fruits — strawberries, raspberries, stone fruits — 1 handful a day is plenty
- Sprouted beans, sprouted brown rice, sprouted or soaked quinoa — about 3/4 cup per day is plenty
- Chia seeds, flax seeds, and psyllium husks
- Coconut flour
Protein + Nourishing Fat + Low-Glycemic Fiber Source = Balanced Blood Sugar!
#4 — Start Snacking
… especially if you’ve been restricting calories, dieting, or fasting!
If you’ve ever been told that snacking is bad or snacking will ruin your dinner or snacking causes weight gain…
I’m telling you the opposite!
Eating the wrong types of snacks? Sure, that will ruin your appetite for more nourishing foods and probably cause weight gain. Eating the wrong types of snacks (ie. high-carb, sugary snacks) will also fuel the cycle of hypoglycemia.
On the flip side, the snacks that satiate you with protein, keep you full, and keep your blood sugar stable — those are the snacks to reach for!
I understand that you don’t want to be in the kitchen all. the. time. You need quick and easy things to reach for, especially during those hangry moments you may still experience in the first few days of breaking the cycle of hypoglycemia.
It goes without saying — read labels on anything you buy pre-packaged. Sugar is hiding everywhere, and the last thing you need right now is more sugar.
Here are the blood sugar-balancing snacks I recommend:
- Epic Bars, jerky, nitrate-free pepperoni or salami
- Nuts and seeds — soaked and dehydrated or sprouted, preferred (Buy pre-soaked/dehydrated nuts and seeds or learn how to do it yourself!)
- Nut and seed butters — I love this brand of soaked/dehydrated nut butters!
- Coconut Butter and Toasted Coconut Butter
- Pork rinds
- Raw veggies, like celery and nut butter or your favorite veggies and Quick Probiotic Ranch
- Raw cheese
- Boiled eggs
- Parmesan crisps
- Low-Carb Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Low-carb smoothies and shakes
- Frozen Berry Kebabs or fresh berries
- DIY Chobani Flip
- Kale Chips
Once your blood sugar returns to normal, you’ll likely find that you aren’t as hungry and don’t require many snacks. That’s great… exactly what we want! However, while your body heals, give it what it needs and craves — plenty of protein and fat!
#5 — De-Stress
Stress hormones cause the blood sugar to rise, signalling the pancreas to produce insulin — even when we’ve had nothing to eat.
I highly recommend reading this entire post, How Stress Hormones Raise Blood Sugar. Although I don’t completely agree with the author’s recommendation of insulin injections before stressful events, I love the explanation he provides about how stress hormones raise blood sugar. He says:
…[T]he liver serves as a storehouse for glucose [blood sugar], keeping it in a concentrated form called glycogen. The liver breaks down small amounts of glycogen all the time, releasing glucose into the bloodstream to nourish the brain, nerves, heart and other ‘always active’ organs.
The liver’s release of glucose depends largely on the presence of certain hormones. Of all the hormones in the body, only insulin causes the liver to take sugar out of the bloodstream and store it in the form of glycogen. All the other hormones—including stress hormones, sex hormones, growth hormones and glucagon—cause the liver to secrete glucose back into the bloodstream.
Growth hormone is produced in a 24-hour cycle and is responsible for the blood sugar rise that we sometimes see during the night or in the early morning. The other ‘stress’ hormones, particularly epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol, are produced when our body needs a rapid influx of sugar for energy purposes.
… Emotional stress (fear, anxiety, anger, excitement, tension) and physiological stress (illness, pain, infection, injury) cause the body to secrete stress hormones into the bloodstream.
Basically, even when your diet is ideal, stress hormones may still trigger your liver to secrete glucose into your blood stream during stressful situations.
Living with clinical anxiety is even worse. Your body perceives itself in a constant fight-or-flight (stressed out) state all the time.
I have personally experienced this. I felt like I was going crazy when I couldn’t figure out why I was still getting hangry, shaky, dizzy when standing, and irritable — even on a low-glycemic, low-carb diet!
You can read about the 5 things that *really* helped my anxiety to see if some of these things will work for you, too.
Ways to de-stress:
- go for a walk, preferably in the sunshine
- guided meditation (these are paid/these are free)
- deep breathing
#6 — Be Prepared For Cravings
Have you decided enough is enough? Are you ready to break the cycle of hypoglycemia once and for all?
Hold your horses… because we’ve got one more hurdle to jump.
You’re already experiencing serious cravings, if you have hypoglycemia. You may not recognize them as cravings because reaching for the carbs and/or sweets when those symptoms strike is probably completely normal for you.
Furthermore, you’ve likely been experiencing those cravings for a long time.
Now that you’re ready to break the cycle of hypoglycemia, you’re going to have to break up with some favorite foods, too.
And sugar is first on the list.
Quitting sugar can make you feel awful. Some report that it even makes them feel like they have the flu — completely with body aches, headaches, nausea, fever, and vomiting.
Please don’t let this scare you away! Quitting sugar is also the best choice you can make right now!
To fight the inevitable cravings you’re about to experience, you’ll want to have low-carb, low-glycemic sweets ready to go.
This is absolutely a crutch — and one I don’t want you to lean on too heavily. If you’re addicted to sugar, eating sugar-free sweets isn’t going to break your addiction. However, having some treats around while you’re trying to break the habit can make the transition easier on you mentally and emotionally.
First and foremost, fill up on nourishing foods — the protein, fat, and fiber-rich veggies.
Second, remember that these are treats. They’re not meant to be eaten instead of nourishing, blood sugar-balancing foods.
These Low-Carb Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies or these Sugar-Free Death By Chocolate Cookies are quick and easy go-tos. Nourishing White Hot Chocolate is great on a cold day or when you want to get in some extra nourishing fat.
If you’re used to relying on coffee without breakfast, try this caffeine-free Dandy Blend Latte; it contains MCT oil to provide a quick source of energy.
Finally, my cookbook Sweet Without Sugar: A Collection Of Allergy-Friendly, Low-Carb Desserts is loaded with sugar-free, high-protein, high-fat desserts to satisfy those cravings!
This eCookbook uses my DIY Sugar Alternative Blend, a blend of erythritol and stevia, instead of white sugar and whole sweeteners to satisfy your sweet tooth without contributing to hypoglycemia. Unfamiliar with erythritol? Get my FREE Guide To Alternative Sweeteners!
- Blood Sugar Imbalance: 11 Signs Your Body Is Crying For Help
- FREE Guide To Alternative Sweeteners
- Sweet Without Sugar: A Collection Of Nourishing, Allergy-Friendly, Low-Carb Desserts
- How Stress Hormones Raise Blood Sugar
- Women’s Health eCourse, Lesson
It will take some work, but it is possible to break the cycle of hypoglycemia. In fact, you can start TODAY and feel like a completely different person in just a few days!