Hypoglycemia: a personal diagnosis

Have you or someone you know been diagnosed with hypoglycemia? Here’s a special edition HypoAware blog from a 21-year-old who has recently been diagnosed with the condition. She gives you some tips to remember during the diet and lifestyle adjustment period. 

I was diagnosed with reactive hypoglycemia about three months ago at the age of 21. Before the diagnosis, I had no idea what hypoglycemia was or had even had heard of it. I had experience symptoms ranging from tiredness to passing out in the mornings from about the age of 17. I had gone to doctors with my concerns, but they had always dismissed my symptoms as iron or magnesium deficiency.  While I think part of me knew there was something else going on, I mostly ignored my symptoms and continued to eat sugary foods to counteract my afternoon sugar crashes. While the diagnosis was overwhelming (as there is no cure), it was mostly a relief as I finally knew the source of my symptoms.

After finding out I had hypoglycemia, all I could do was research and learn as much as I could. From this process, I realized that hypoglycemia is a condition that remains largely undiagnosed and suffers still remain confused. Information is often conflicting and just plain puzzling- what should I eat? Are there effective medications? What should I do if I start to experience symptoms?

From personal experience, I have come to realise five things:

  1. Protein, protein, protein. Eating protein is essential at EVERY meal. Having a protein shake in the morning, eating nuts and seeds in between meals and incorporating lots of veggies into my diet has made a huge difference. I have found that protein bars often make me feel clouded and sick (probably due to their highly processed nature) even though my doctor recommended them. This leads me to realisation number two…
  2. Hypoglycemia diets need to be customized. Everyone’s symptoms and experience of hypoglycemia is different. What works for some (like protein bars) won’t work for others. You need to listen to your body and understand your symptoms. Hidden food allergies are often linked to hypoglycemia and make hypoglycemic symptoms more pronounced. As such, you should get yourself tested for food allergies. Common allergies include wheat, soy, dairy and foods containing chemical food additives. I have found that a diet similar to the paleo diet free from dairy and wheat has worked the best for me, but I’m still figuring it out.
  3. Caffeine is the devil. Since being diagnosed, I have quit my coffee and have feel a lot better. While I miss my daily caffeine hit ALOT, I’ve since realized that the crashes I used to have in the afternoon were caused by my coffee consumption. After the initial post-latte high, I would become tired and cranky.
  4. Exercise! While you have to be careful about working out when you have hypoglycemia (see the post below “Exercise and Hypoglycemia”) it has made a big difference to my energy levels and the endorphins don’t suck either. Exercise is important in a hypoglycemia health plan, but know your limits. I only exercise for 30 minutes because after that I start to notice symptoms, including shakiness, dizziness and paleness.
  5. It’s hard for people to understand what you’re going through. I am fortunate enough to have amazingly supportive family and friends (after my diagnosis my lovely mother actually followed my new diet with me) and all of them are very sympathetic. However, you’ll come across some people who just don’t understand or dismiss your symptoms as a case of hypochondria. I had many people thinking I was changing my diet to loose weight and didn’t understand why I couldn’t eat sugary food. This skepticism combined with difficult process of dealing with daily symptoms (tiredness, mood swings, lack of concentration, etc) may cause you to come down with a case of  “why me?!” syndrome. While you’ll have bad days, it’s important to remember that hypoglycemia is manageable. You can get symptoms under control through a process of trial and error and live an energetic, happy life.
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3 Responses to Hypoglycemia: a personal diagnosis

  1. knitgrrl says:

    Interesting article. I’ve always had a difficult time with exercise, have often wondered if I had hypoglycemia. I don’t know if all these factors are important, but: If a sugary alcoholic drinks and I haven’t in awhile, I get really shaky. I’m often really shaky. I get lightheaded easily. If I don’t eat much sugar then eat a lot, I get a rash on my face. When I work out at the gym or yoga, I get irritable and feel really heavy & tired, and the world literally seems to go a couple shades darker. I have an unusually low resting blood pressure – every nurse tells me this. I don’t know if that has anything to do with anything. And I’ve always had weird white blood cells (when I was a child they thought I had leukemia, but it turned out to be mono and now I supposedly just have weird white blood cells for no reason). I’m always cold. I was raised vegetarian poorly, which meant lots of processed foods, white flour, sugar. I have a hard time remembering things. I get a low grade flu so often that I can’t ever get into a good exercise routine (usually the flu follows a workout, for some reason). I don’t know if this is because I have a poor immune system. I was often sick as a child, with the cold. Now I get flu-like symptoms: fever, chills, aches. And frequently. At least 2x/month. I’ve been trying to eat better, low glycemic foods. But it’s discouraging, because I’ve been really excited about hot yoga but almost pass out every time I do. Somehow, I think it’s related. Thank you for your time.
    Oh – and whenever I’ve tried to give blood, they usually deny me because I’m low in iron. Anemia? Hypoglycemia? I just want to feel better – STRONGER! (I LOVE my 90 minute yoga class.)
    And if I drink sugar-free sodas (or sugar free anything, really), I feel really irritable and fuzzy-headed.
    And sometimes when I eat onions, I feel itchy and weird. Same with bread and some cheeses. Yogurt/dairy seems to cause me to break out.

  2. Katherine Williams says:

    This has really motivated me; I had the same problem, I had it since I was about 16/17 and was told it was my age and I would grow out off it! Recently though, I was finally diagnosed after going to the doctor and telling them that I thought I had it. I totally agree how the diet should be customised as there are so many things that are apparently “OK” but are not for me!

    I love exercising but I find I have no energy at all; one of my symptoms of hypoglycaemia is insomnia, therefore I am exhausted so cannot get up to exercise – did you experience this at all? And if so how did you fix it?

    Thank you for motivating and inspiring me

    Kat Williams

  3. Katie says:

    Thank you so much for this inspiring post! Having hypoglycemia can be really challenging and hearing about other peoples struggles brings me so much encouragement. Thanks again!

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