Does This Make Me a Bad Diabetic?

Choosing between food and glucose tabs to treat low blood sugars.

Scott K. JohnsonBy Scott Johnson

September 2009 — I think low blood sugars are one of the most unfair things that I have to deal with. They're certainly not the only unfair thing--diabetes seems packed with nothing but unfairness much of the time. But low blood sugars are the most disruptive thing because everything stops. The low must be treated immediately. It doesn't matter what time it is, or that your next meal is only twenty minutes away. Low blood sugars will not wait for a convenient time. It is right here, right now.

Lows are hard because they start sucking the sense right out of your brain before you have a chance to figure out what is happening. They cripple the one thing you need the most in order to fix it – your brain! If that isn't unfair, I don't know what is.

Low blood sugars are also tricky because they are deceptive. Low blood sugar can make you appear drunk or high (or both), and has created a lot of really bad situations for many people with diabetes. While I've never experienced anything like that personally, it scares me to death to think that it could happen to any of us, at any time. Low blood sugars are also deceptive in that they can present very subtle symptoms, such as sweating. What if you're exercising when that happens? How are you supposed to know that you are sweating because you're low?

Low blood sugars lead me to bad decisions at least seven out of ten times. You know why? Fear! Lows are absolutely terrifying, and if you are fortunate enough to catch them while you can still think straight, that fear penetrates right down to the core of your being. I swear that low blood sugars trigger some primal survival instinct that has been dormant since the dinosaurs roamed the earth. They have an express elevator, straight to the reptile brain.

The biggest problem I have is eating WAY more than I need to come back up to target. While I'm just waiting for the food to kick in and start raising my blood sugars, my reptile brain is whispering, "What if that wasn't enough?" and, "Maybe you should have just a little more just in case," and, "It will make you feel better."

I am my own worst enemy when treating lows. I know it, but most times I simply can't help it. There is almost no stopping the urges to just keep eating until I feel better. I've thought about the discipline that so many have; their ability to treat and wait, or their ability to stick to only glucose tabs, for example. I'm amazed by them, and have often wondered what I am missing. Am I just that undisciplined? Am I a "bad diabetic" because I can't keep my head on straight when low? I don't think so.

Through this thinking, I may have had a small breakthrough, and it has everything to do with my relationship to food. Food, specifically quantifying food, is very difficult for me. It's not hard for me to measure and count. I think any of us can do that with help and training. But the act of quantifying food really, really bothers me. I don't know exactly what it is that rubs me so wrong about it, but there it is. Examining my relationship with food, I think my hatred of quantifying skews my decision-making process when dealing with lows. I almost always (incorrectly) see low blood sugars as an opportunity to take all my discipline, which I've exercised throughout the day, and throw it right out the window. To be fair, my judgment is poor during a low, especially at night.

With this skewed view of food in relation to low blood sugars, glucose tabs seem more like medicine than the fun and pleasure that good food can offer, even with all of the flavors and forms of glucose available today.

But MEDICINE is exactly what I NEED at that point. I need medicine to treat my low blood sugars, just as I need insulin to treat high blood sugars. Especially when this medicine (glucose) is designed to do one thing, and that is raise my blood sugar faster than anything else available.

Why is that message so difficult for me to swallow?

Visit Scott's blog.


dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.

Last Modified Date: June 17, 2013

All content on is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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