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Balancing diet and exercise along with work, family, and everything else that goes on in a given day can be difficult. For diabetics, it’s even tougher. Sometimes, they simply don’t have the appetite for more than one big meal a day. As a result, they find themselves with frequent bouts of “the jitters,” or that shakiness that accompanies low blood sugar. The jitters prompt them to grab for anything – candy, orange juice, even frosted cereal. Over time, this becomes a daily occurrence, which can lead to obesity and a self-diagnosis of hypoglycemia.
While the self-diagnosis is not completely off, the state of hypoglycemia can actually be caused by poor eating habits. A diabetic’s pancreas has to work overtime to put out huge amounts of insulin to cover the big meals that usually contain large amounts of fat. Meals with animal fat can be held back from entering the cells in the muscles and brain for as long as six hours! Meanwhile, the pancreas continues to receive messages that the muscles and the brain are starving and need more insulin to get the carbohydrate load transported there.
After a few hours following a huge meal, all the excess insulin and carbohydrates that haven’t been excreted or laid down as fat are now pushed into the muscles and the brain. This sudden surge of insulin and carbohydrate causes a drop in blood glucose values, which causes the jitters. And the cycle repeats itself as the person reaches for all the wrong foods once again.
The body requires a balance of nutrients in meals spread throughout the day. Even vegans can encounter a similar problem if they consume huge amounts of carbohydrates with little protein, but excessive fat. Consuming too many foods with imbalanced nutrients in one sitting forces the body into what I call bad metabolic mojo.
Skipping meals not only causes jitters and worsens insulin resistance, it can also lead to other health complications, including obesity. An increasing amount of research has shown that those who develop insulin resistance are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. To prevent extended fasting times, jitters, and insulin resistance, it’s important to give your body the right things at the right time. That way, you can better manage your weight and have energy to spare while staying mentally sharp.
Even when you’re not hungry, assess the situation objectively. Just because your hunger mechanism doesn’t engage properly, whether it’s due to medications or faulty triggers, doesn’t mean that you should ignore your body’s need for nutrients. Set a schedule and stick to it no matter what. Plan what you’ll eat and have a consistent amount of carbohydrates, lean protein, and fiber while keeping the amount of fat to a minimum. There needs to be a balance during each meal and snack.
For many people, the loss of appetite occurs in the morning. Plan for this. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day because you’re literally “breaking the fast” within an hour of two of waking up. When you get out of bed to prepare for the day, think about a small nutritious breakfast food that you’ll be able to enjoy every single morning. Start small and adjust based on your dietary needs. A good starting point is at least 15 grams of carbohydrates, an ounce of protein, one to five grams of fat, and three to five grams of fiber.
Here are a few examples of a healthy snack-sized breakfast:
For some people, breakfast is the biggest meal of their day. If you find that the portions are too small, you may double or even triple the nutrients depending on your dietary needs, as long as you stay below 10 grams of fat. The amount you eat is important, but not as important as maintaining a consistent balance of nutrients.
A balance of carbohydrates, protein, fat, and fiber helps keep the body stable throughout the day. Those who maintain this balance benefit from more energy and mental clarity than those who work on an empty stomach or with a diet that’s high in carbs on some days and high in protein and fat on other days.
Always remember to approach the situation objectively. Improving your schedule to avoid skipping meals and snacks can positively affect metabolic changes, greatly improve insulin sensitivity, and prevent weight gain. By making a habit of eating the right amount of nutrients at the right time, you’ll start seeing improvements in your energy, weight, and overall health.
Jeannene Davis graduated from The University of Texas Houston Health Science Center with a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition & Dietetics and followed the degree with a Certification in Adult Weight Management and Diabetes Education. She provides in-house support to physician offices and large scale support to corporations and small businesses to ensure their employees have the most current information about nutrition and wellness.
She's worked in hospitals, outpatient radiation clinics, gene therapy centers, and even insurance companies, focusing on health and wellness, diabetes, and herb and supplement education, as well as renal nutrition support to pre-dialysis, dialysis, and renal transplant patients for a variety of companies since 1993.