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Help for When You Can't Control Your Eating


You've tried to eat right, but somehow it all fell apart. One moment you were eating healthful salads, the next you finished off half the batch of cupcakes you were making for the Cub Scout sale.

Yes, getting control of your diet is essential when you have diabetes, but if you have failed, don't despair. You aren't the first, nor the last person with diabetes to run into trouble when you try to eat in a healthier manner. If you've been having a hard time with your diet, don't blame yourself. There are reasons why you failed and they can be corrected.

Here are some very common reasons why people with diabetes end up eating foods that derail their control along with tips that can help you avoid diet disaster.

  • Too Stringent a diet. An almost guaranteed way to sabotage yourself is to set too stringent a diet goal for yourself. Yes, you can get great control of your blood sugar by eating only 30 grams of carbohydrate a day, but unless you have an obsessive, rigid personality it is very unlikely you will be able to adhere to that strict a diet plan for more than a few weeks. Most people with diabetes do not have obsessive, rigid personalities and the fact that you have been diagnosed with diabetes is not going to change the personality type that you already have. So you have to work with what you've got, and that means choosing a diet goal that you can attain without feeling deprived and crazy. If your goal is blood sugar control, you will have to cut back on carbs, but here are a few tips that can help you avoid extreme dieting and its inevitable ugly meltdown.

  • When you start your diet, don't limit carbohydrates and calories at the same time. It is a lot easier to cut back on carbohydrates if you let yourself eat satisfying filling foods. For most people with Type 2 diabetes who are trying to get their blood sugars back into control, "free" foods include meat, cheese, berries, salad, and even nuts. Eat a lot of these foods and keep your carbohydrates very low and you may not lose weight, but you will see your blood sugar drop to normal levels. Many people with Type 2 can easily handle from 60-90 grams of carbohydrate a day without spikes. Exactly how much depends on your body size. The bigger you are, the more you probably can handle.

  • Look at how you usually eat, and choose a goal you can meet without completely changing your way of eating. If you usually eat lunch with your co-workers at certain restaurants or a cafeteria, your diet will fail there isn't anything you can eat that is available where you are used to eating. That means that you will need to spend some time figuring out a diet plan that can include foods available in the places where you have to eat. Some people can bring lovely, healthy homemade bag lunches to work every day. These are the same people who make homemade Halloween costumes for their children. They are a special breed and I applaud them, but the rest of us better find something we can eat in the places that fate decrees we dine. There are lower carb foods just about everywhere, and though they may not be nutritionally perfect, they are a lot better than crashing off your diet. So strip the roll off that sandwich, ask for a salad or vegetable side dish instead of fries, order a pizza with meat and veggie toppings and don't eat the crust, don't eat the rice or noodles with the Chinese meat and veggie dinner, and your blood sugar will thank you. Test after every meal, so you can figure out which meals worked and which meals were just too much for your body to handle. With some practice you should be able to find well-tolerated foods everywhere that you can eat with pleasure. You can find some ideas here: What Can You Eat When You Are Cutting The Carbs.

  • Eat foods of the sort you've always eaten. A huge mistake people make is to decide that healthy eating means eating bizarre and exotic foods they've never eaten before. Maybe seaweed noodles would be kind to your blood sugar, but that doesn't mean you have to eat them. You can make noodles out of steamed zucchini that are just as healthy. While it is good to be adventurous when checking out what foods you can eat without raising your blood sugar, you will be a lot happier and more likely to stick with your diet if you fill that diet with things you already like to eat. Bacon, avocados, steak, Buffalo chicken wings, and fancy cheeses were some of my favorite foods when I was diagnosed. They are are all very low carb and very kind to blood sugar. Spend some time with a nutritional guide looking for foods you enjoy eating that are low in carbohydrate too.

  • When you feel out of control with your eating, ask, "Am I physically hungry?" Physiological hunger is a gnawing feeling you feel in your body. Pay attention to what you feel and learn to distinguish between physiological hunger and the kind of habit hunger that drives nervous eating. If you have been eating enough calories to sustain your body, but your body still feels a gnawing physiological hunger, there is almost always a physiological explanation for that hunger, and if you can figure out where it is coming from, you can take steps to deal with it in ways other than feeding it food. Here are some reasons for physiological hunger:

  • Your blood sugar level is is moving too swiftly, either up or down. When blood sugar moves, a lot of us feel hungry. So the first thing to do when you feel unexpectedly hungry is grab your blood sugar meter and see what is happening with your blood sugar. If your blood sugar seems like it might be heading a bit low, try the Two Gram Cure. If it is high, that will make you hungry, but the only way to avoid making the hunger worse is to eat only foods that will not raise your blood sugar further. Eat no-carb snacks or nothing at all. You may find it easier to wait it out if you know that what you are feeling is not a real need for food, but just your blood sugar sending confusing signals to your brain.

  • Is that time of month coming? The week before many women get their monthly periods some really nasty hormonal changes occur in our bodies that can cause ravenous hunger which no amount of food can cure. Fortunately, this rarely lasts more than a day or two, but they are not pleasant days. If you are a hungry younger woman and your blood sugar looks okay, check the calendar. If it is hormone levels that have you wanting to eat everything in sight, remind yourself that eating won't help and eating carbs will only make you feel worse. Knowing it will pass in a day or so makes it easier to tough it out.

  • Cannabis and  CBD can make you very hungry.  Now that cannabis is legal in many states we are hearing a lot of buzz about its medical benefits and especially those attributed to its CBD component. CBD does not get people high, but it has definite physiological effects, and one of them is to make people very hungry. This is helpful for people undergoing chemotherapy, who need to eat, but can be a problem for the rest of us.

    Note that  many products sold outside of dispensaries claiming to contain CBD contain so little that they have no physiological effect. Hunger is only an issue with the higher CBD strains sold at dispensaries. That said, even cannabis strains without CBD can give people fearsome attacks of the munchies a few hours after they are consumed. The reason for this turns out not to be fluctuating blood sugars, as people used to believe, but because there are components in certain cannabis strains--particularly those with indica genetics--that stimulate cannabinoid receptors in the gut in ways that activate the brain's hunger center. 

    The good news is that there are other THC-containing strains that do not provoke a hunger response. Some Sativa strains can actually  dampen hunger. If you live in a place where cannabis is legal, you will just have to experiment until you find a strain that doesn't sabotage your diet. 

Here are some reasons for non-physiological hunger:
  • Are you surrounding yourself with food cues? Watching TV has been shown to increase obesity not just because you sit there for hours without doing anything, but because TV ads are full of food cues which get us wandering into the kitchen looking for something to eat. The fact is, most of us if we see food will get hungry. In fact, just thinking about food may cause insulin to be secreted by the beta cells of a normal person. So do what you can to avoid adding food porn to your life. Do not read cookbooks, low carb or otherwise. Do not watch cooking shows. Do not walk into the kitchen unless you have a very good reason for being there. If you are going to be watching TV, make sure the house is not full of handy snack food items. If they aren't there, you won't eat them. If they are, you probably will. You may have to ask for help from your family to make this one work. Explain to them what is at stake and ask that they help you by keeping food out of the house that you know you can't handle.

  • Are you eating out of habit and boredom rather than hunger? We get conditioned to eat things. Sunday football means chips and dip. Ten A.M. at the office is coffee and donut time. If you actually stop and check, you may find that you aren't hungry when you eat these foods at all. They are just habits you've gotten into. Sitting around with nothing to do often leads to boredom eating. Again, stop and ask yourself, "Am I hungry?" If not, find something else to do. Taking up a hobby that uses your hands, like knitting, or spending time typing on your computer are good ways to keep yourself from this kind of random eating. If you are feeling aimless and there is time, why not take a short walk, instead of snacking? If you ask yourself, "Am I hungry?" you may be surprised how many times you eat when the answer is, "not really."

  • Are you making food the object of a power struggle? Is the stuff in the fridge fuel or is it ammunition? For a lot of us, it's a bit of both. That is why, when we eat something that didn't agree with our blood sugar, the response is so often emotional melt down rather than a calm realization that this particular load of fuel did not burn as well as we would have liked it to do.

    If your spouse or a parent has been pressuring you to lose weight, your diet might not seem like it is yours any more. Instead, starting a healthy diet might feel like letting someone else boss you around--and if you don't like being bossed around, a great way to show it, is to fail at the diet. It's tough to untangle the emotional issues that have overlaid themselves on the stuff you eat.

    The first step, often, is to realize that there are issues stemming from your past and current relationships that have made every meal a psycho-drama in which you fight to win or struggle and fail--and do everything except dine on foods you like to eat that won't mess up your blood sugar too badly. Because that really is the only issue that counts here. When emotion surges up around something you put in your mouth, stop and ask yourself, "Is this about the food or something else?" And if it is something else, set that aside, and find something to eat that works for your blood sugar. If you can't do this, it might be helpful to find someone who can help you with your emotional issues. Just don't let the therapist tell you what foods to eat. Your blood sugar meter should be doing that.

  • Try Giving Yourself Some Love. When you eat something you know was bad for you, do you get angry at yourself? Do you think mean thoughts about yourself? Do you call yourself names? Most of us do, but these kinds of self-hating behaviors make us feel terrible, and feeling terrible does not help us get back into better control.

    next time--and there always IS a next time--why not try something different. When you screw up, treat yourself the way you would treat a little kid you love and care for. Instead of yelling at yourself and punishing yourself, give yourself an invisible hug. Ask yourself WHY you screwed up. What was going on that made you depart from the plan you had set for yourself? Then put on your thinking cap and see what you can do, the next time this same issue comes up, to defuse this particular problem and keep it from derailing you.

    Whatever happens, stop to give yourself a pat on the back for trying, no matter how badly you might have missed your target. You deserve it. Having diabetes stinks. And having food, which should be a source of joy, become an enemy, stinks, too. It isn't having a pity party to admit this and to give yourself some extra love because you need it to cope with what you have to deal with, day in and day out. It's giving yourself the same kind of compassion you would give a stranger you saw dealing with something hard and doing the best they can do. Other people in your life probably don't know how tough it is to have to face the pressure to eat right day after day after day, but you know. So give yourself the love and appreciation you deserve. The kinder you are to yourself, the more energy you will have to do what you have to do to keep yourself healthy.

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