What to Do if You Eat Too Much Sugar When You Have Diabetes
So you've overdone it on the sugar. We've all been there—we've all gone a little too hard at the dessert table, or the donuts at work, or the nighttime bowl (or box) of sweet cereal. You're not alone in that. But, since you have diabetes, the consequences can be a bit more intense, and it's important to take action to get your blood sugar stabilized. Don't worry—this dietitian is going to walk to through some steps you can take to recover from a sugar overdose.
Related: Blood Sugar Basics for Diabetes
What happens in your body
With diabetes, eating too much sugar can cause more than just the jittery feelings of a sugar high. It can cause several other symptoms—and it's important to understand what you're feeling, and to understand what is happening in your body.
After consuming an excess amount of sugar, you might enter a state of hyperglycemia. Hyper means high or above, and glycemia refers to the amount of glucose (or sugar) in the blood. Being in a state of hyperglycemia cause a few different things to happen. A common symptom people with diabetes experience is intense thirst—they feel like they can't get enough to drink. This is called polydipsia. Paired with polydipsia, you may also experience polyuria—the frequent need to urinate. These are both tell-tale signs that your blood sugar is high. Further, you may experience headache, blurred vision, and possible feelings of fatigue.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, I recommend checking your blood glucose. If you monitor your blood sugar (and PSA, if you have diabetes, you should be monitoring your blood sugar regularly), your blood sugar will likely be above 180 mg/dL after a sugar binge. This value can be different for different people and it's important to talk to your doctor or endocrinologist about your unique blood sugar targets.
Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) can occur if hyperglycemia goes untreated and many experts recommend testing for ketones if your blood glucose goes above 240 mg/dl. Ketoacidosis (not the same as ketogenesis, learn more about the differences) can be life-threatening and requires medical treatment. Talk to your health care team about ketoacidosis and what to watch for (there are strips to test ketones in your urine) but if you're feeling tired, have nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, trouble breathing or confusion you should call your doctor immediately.
What to do if you've eaten too much sugar
Try one (or more) of these tips to help you if you've eaten too much sugar.
1. Use insulin if you need it
Depending on the type and severity of your diabetes, you may take insulin to help manage it. After eating excess sugar and experiencing hyperglycemia, you may require insulin to help your blood sugar stabilize. However, this is unique to every individual. The type of insulin, dosage, and time of dosage is different for everyone. You must consult with your doctor or endocrinologist about your specific insulin needs, and follow the recommendation they provide you. If dosed and used correctly, insulin helps to stabilize the blood sugar after eating too much sugar.
2. Move your body
One of the worst things you can do after a sugar binge is sit it out. Get moving. Moving your body will engage your muscles, and get them to use some of that sugar in your blood. Go for a walk, ride your bike, turn on a 20-minute playlist and dance—just move your body. This will help to naturally bring your blood sugar down.
3. Drink water
Remember when we talked about polyuria—the increased and frequent need to urinate? Well, this can cause dehydration. You're excreting a lot of fluid, so it only makes sense that you need to replenish those fluids, right? Make sure to drink plenty of water after a sugar binge. I'm talking at least one 8-ounce glass every hour. Not only will this hydrate you, it will help to dilute the excess sugar in your blood stream.
4. Check your blood sugar regularly
It's important to understand the severity of being in a state of hyperglycemia if you have diabetes. It can have very dangerous consequences, so it's extremely important to monitor your blood sugar and ensure that it is stabilizing over time. The general recommendation for a person with diabetes is to check your blood sugar every four hours. If you enter a state of hyperglycemia, it is advised to check it more often, until your blood sugar has stabilized. However, this is unique to the individual. Have a conversation with your doctor about how often you should monitor your blood sugar after eating too much sugar.
5. Make a game plan
Okay, so the deed is done. You've had a bit of a sugar binge and have dealt with the consequences. Now it's time to think about what you can do to prevent that from happening again. It's important to reflect on the why—why did you overeat those foods? What tempted you? What can we do to prevent this from happening again?
First, I encourage you to reflect on your dietary habits and eating patterns. Are you eating enough during the day? Is each meal a nourishing balance of all three macronutrients—carbs, fats and protein? Are your snacks an appropriate portion to hold you over between meals and keep your blood sugar stable? Are you getting enough fiber? Are you drinking enough water?
These questions are a starting point. The purpose is to increase your awareness of your own habits. After all, we can't truly solve a problem without getting to the root of it. I encourage you to work with a registered dietitian on creating a healthy and sustainable eating style that will not only physically nourish you and stabilize your blood sugar; that will also leave you feeling satisfied and never deprived. This will help remove the desire to overdo it or binge on sugary foods that will wreak havoc on your blood sugar.
Related: 12 Ways to Lower Your Blood Sugar
If you have diabetes, it's important to arm yourself with tools to treat a sugar overdose. First, it's important to forgive yourself. We have all—I repeat, we have all—been there. It's not the end of the world, and it is very treatable. It can pose some pretty serious consequences, so we must be prepared. That is what this protocol is for, so that you can have some action steps in your arsenal, and you can overcome these things.
While these are great tools to have, I encourage you to talk with your doctor or endocrinologist about a specific and individualized course of action for you to take in the event of a sugar overdose. That way, you'll be ready to face these things head-on and overcome them with ease.