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What do I do when I get hungry with diabetes?

By Megrette Fletcher, M.Ed., R.D., C.D.E

Recognizing-hunger-helps-diabetes-management-smWhat should you do when you get hungry if you have diabetes? The simple answer is… eat! Of course, it may not feel that simple if you: a) aren’t sure whether you are actually hungry; b) aren’t sure whether you “should” eat if you are; c) are concerned about exceeding your carbohydrate intake; and/or d) are worried about what will happen to your blood sugar if you eat.

Let’s start with the basics. Physical hunger is your body’s cue that you need fuel. You may be surprised to learn how recognizing hunger can help improve your blood sugar and help you manage your diabetes. The tricky part is learning to tell the difference between hunger and all of the environmental and emotional triggers for eating. Obviously eating when you are actually stressed or bored instead of hungry will cause your blood sugar to rise. In addition, when you have diabetes, it is important to be able to differentiate between hunger and symptoms of hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia. (Hint: Checking your blood sugar helps!) Be sure to review Part 2 of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes for clarity on all of this.

As for what you “should” eat when you are hungry, we follow an “all foods fit” philosophy. The Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes Plate method makes it easier to apply the principles of balance, variety, and moderation to your food choices.

But what about carbohydrates? The USDA established the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) as a way to ensure that a person gets adequate nutrients for a healthy life. In a previous post about carbohydrate intake with diabetes, we explained that the minimum RDA for carbohydrates is 130 grams per day. If you divided that into three equal meals, that would be about 45 grams of carbohydrate at each meal. Of course, you may decide that you prefer three meals and a snack or two so adjust accordingly.

Of course, not everyone will feel satisfied consuming just 45 grams of carbohydrates in a meal, but remember, the RDA is the minimum amount. If you are thinking, “But I am afraid that my blood sugar will go up!” remember that many people with diabetes are able to eat between 45-75 grams of carbohydrates at one time and keep their blood sugar in their target range.

To figure out the “right” amount of carbohydrate for you, check in with your Hunger and Fullness level after eating and check your blood sugar two hours after your meal. (Record the results in the Fearless Glucose Monitoring Log.) If it is higher than your target, you just learned something! You can then experiment with the amount of carbohydrate you eat at one time to see how it affects your blood sugar.

Consider meeting with a Registered Dietitian or Certified Diabetes Educator who is trained in the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Diabetes program or utilizes mindful eating in their counseling. There are also websites such as www.diabetes.org that provide tools to help you estimate your energy needs.

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About the author

Megrette Fletcher is a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator, author, and co-founder of The Center for Mindful Eating. Megrette is the 2013-2014 president of The Center for Mindful Eating, a non-profit, organization to assist health professionals to explore the concepts of mindful eating. She has written articles for and has been quoted about mindful eating in Diabetes Self Management, Today’s Dietitian, Today’s Social Worker, Bariatric Times, Glamour, Family Circle, The Wall Street Journal, US News and World Report, Women’s Day, and Oxygen Magazine. Megrette currently works as a diabetes educator in Dover, New Hampshire.

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