What Reactive Hypoglycemia Actually Means to Someone Who Has It


It happened again last night right as I was getting in bed. I got hot all over and started sweating. I suddenly felt like I was going to vomit, and I couldn’t really stand up straight without holding onto something.

Quickly as I could, I made my way to the bathroom. Then I remembered the
last thing I ate was a slice of cheese pizza, and that was five hours ago.

Once the nausea had subsided, I began rummaging through the pantry for some
graham crackers and sunflower seed butter. (This is my alternative snack since
I’m allergic to peanut butter.) My mom glanced over at me, concerned.

“Are you sick, Nikki?”

I gave an exasperated sigh. “No, my sugar’s just crashing again.” Just another day in the life of a reactive hypoglycemic.

So many people ask me, “What is hypoglycemia? What does that mean?” By definition, hypoglycemia means “low blood sugar,” but that’s hardly an adequate explanation. Let me start by telling you what hypoglycemia is not.

It is not the same thing as diabetes.

It is not just a high metabolism.

It is not a made-up condition, although many people have never heard of it.

It is not an excuse to take snack breaks at work or to eat a lot.

It is not getting crabby when you’re hungry.

According to Diabetes.co.uk, here’s what scientists believe is happening inside the body of someone with reactive hypoglycemia:

“Scientists believe reactive hypoglycemia to be the result of too much insulin being produced and released by the pancreas following a large carbohydrate-based meal.

This excess insulin production and secretion continues after the glucose derived from the meal has been digested, causing the amount of glucose in the bloodstream to fall to a lower-than-normal level.”

A “well-balanced diet” is key for people with reactive hypoglycemia, notes the Mayo Clinic. It should include “lean and nonmeat sources of protein, and high-fiber foods, including whole grains, fruit and vegetables.”

But enough science. Let me tell you what reactive hypoglycemia actually means to someone who has it.

It means eating every few hours whether you’re hungry or not.

It means carrying a snack with you everywhere you go and having a mini panic attack when you realize you forgot one.

It means no longer feeling self-conscious when you’re the only adult eating in church because everyone is used to it and says, “Oh, her sugar is just low.”

It means when planning a trip to the theme park or zoo, your first concern is finding out where the vendors are located.

It means asking your boss if you can take three 10-minute snack breaks instead of one 30-minute lunch break.

It means organizing your errands after lunch, before dinner and grabbing a protein shake while you’re out.

It means learning to love sunflower seed butter, pumpkin seeds, beef jerky and other portable sources of protein.

It means recognizing your progression of symptoms and trying to stop them before they get too far. Mine progress from tiredness, to weakness, to dizziness, to hunger, to an inability to think straight, to an inability to walk straight. Although it has never gotten far enough that I passed out, I have come pretty close.

It means getting dark circles under your eyes during a long day at work, and all your coworkers asking, “Is your sugar OK? When was the last time you ate?”

Hypoglycemia is no big deal to the people who know you. It’s no big deal to me because I think of it as a way of life rather than an illness. Nevertheless, it is no small thing when you feel your sugar crashing.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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