Managing hunger when you have diabetes can feel like walking a tightrope. On the one hand, you want to feel full; on the other, you want to control your blood sugar.
To further complicate things, diabetes can make you feel hungrier than usual. Low insulin levels and increased insulin resistance (low body response to insulin) prevent your body from processing sugar into energy. As a result, your cells don’t get the energy they need, and your body continues to send hunger cues. This problem, called polyphagia, should improve with treatment, but managing hunger is important when keeping track of your diabetes and making dietary or exercise decisions.
Finding reasonable ways to manage your hunger is essential for living with diabetes. This article will review three ways to manage your diabetes hunger in a healthy way.
Eating a balanced diet is key to managing diabetes and hunger. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), a balanced meal typically includes:
Although there’s no perfect one-size-fits-all meal plan for people with diabetes, health experts recommend certain lifestyle changes to control blood sugar levels and hunger. These include:
High-fiber foods slow your body’s sugar uptake, keeping blood glucose (sugar) stable and helping you feel full longer. Your body absorbs simple carbohydrates more quickly than complex (high-fiber or high-starch) carbohydrates, so they tend not to keep you full as long. High-protein foods keep you fuller than foods high in fat or carbs, and they prevent hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) between meals.
Members of DiabetesTeam often discuss eating tips. Regarding nighttime snacks, one member said, “When I HAVE to have a night snack, I am trying to eat healthier items like almonds and/or half an apple.”
Another member adds, “The less processed a food is, the better it is for you. So off the fresh produce shelf is better than from the frozen section, which is better than in a can which is better than some microwave meal.”
Mindful eating comes from the general concept of mindfulness — focusing on feelings, thoughts, and physical sensations in the current moment. Mindfulness teaches people to notice, but not judge, how they’re feeling. Eating mindfully allows people to appreciate their physical and emotional experience of food.
In the book Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life, authors Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Lilian Cheung outline seven practices for mindful eating. They include:
Mindful eating can help with diabetes because it helps you better distinguish between what physical hunger feels like compared to emotional cravings — that is, the desire to eat in response to stress, anger, shame, boredom, or even happiness.
Physical hunger tends to build slowly following a meal. On the other hand, food cravings triggered by emotions come on abruptly. Additionally, whereas physical hunger subsides once you have a full stomach, emotional hunger continues to linger.
Other indications that your hunger is physical and not emotional include:
To help determine whether your hunger is physical or emotional, the ADA recommends using a hunger-satiety (fullness) scale. The scale ranges from 1 to 10, where one is starving, and 10 is stuffed to the point of feeling sick. The ADA recommends eating when your hunger-satiety rating is between 4 and 6.
If you find yourself experiencing sudden cravings that likely aren’t physical hunger, consider these alternatives to eating:
Physical activity is another pillar of managing diabetes hunger. Research shows that aerobic and resistance exercise reduce hunger and increase feelings of fullness for people living with type 2 diabetes. Aerobic exercise includes running, swimming, and walking, while resistance exercise includes doing pushups, weight lifting, and stretching.
DiabetesTeam members often discuss their exercise plans. One member shared, “I walk 10 to 15 minutes immediately after eating each meal. That lowers the post-meal glucose spike. Walking works for many.”
In general, health experts recommend regular physical activity to help manage diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), physical activity benefits include:
For safety, health experts recommend that people with diabetes check their blood sugar before, during, and after exercise. This practice helps prevent hypoglycemia while you exercise. Symptoms of hypoglycemia include shakiness, sweating, fatigue, and dizziness.
It’s important to have glucose tablets or juice on hand while exercising so you can treat hypoglycemia immediately if it occurs. Health experts also recommend eating a small snack before exercise to prevent hypoglycemia.
DiabetesTeam members also share tips for preventing shakiness. One wrote, “I used to get the shakes really bad when I hit the gym. Taking a protein shake before a hard exercise prevents the shakes from happening during my extreme workouts.”
Managing diabetes safely and healthily is a team effort. If you have type 2 diabetes, discuss your management plan and safe exercise practices with your doctor. A registered dietitian can also be a valuable member of your health care team by helping you make meal plans that can supplement your ongoing diabetes care.
On DiabetesTeam, the social network for people with diabetes and their loved ones, more than 132,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with diabetes.
Are you living with diabetes and looking for ways to manage your hunger? Do you have tips that work for you to stay full and keep your blood sugar controlled? Share in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.