The farther I got into the mind, body and spirit thing that is recovery, the more I realized how completely the three aspects dovetail. It is possible to be spiritually and mentally healthy while in poor physical condition, but generally the aches, pains and discomfort associated with such things — even with poor nutrition or lack of exercise — will interfere with our overall recovery. As someone so succinctly put it (it may even have been me), “When you feel like hell, it’s hard to rise above it.”
In recovery we say, “Don’t get Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired” (H.A.L.T.). It’s amazing how often those seem to go together. We feel low on energy, may have a dull headache, and become irritable, stubborn, and prone to seemingly irrational fits of anger or even rage. I’ve often wondered how many cases of “Road Rage” could have been avoided if the perpetrator had eaten a decent snack before beginning the drive home after work.
What we’re talking about here is levels of blood sugar. Regulation of blood glucose is one of the many bodily functions that are messed up by alcoholism and addiction. Roughly 25% of the calories we eat go to keeping our brains operating at their most efficient level. When our blood sugar begins to drop, our brains begin to malfunction for lack of fuel, and that can cause big problems.
Until recently it was thought that each person’s reaction to a given level of blood sugar was pretty much the same, but it has been found that many people are affected emotionally by glucose levels that were once believed to be within the normal range.
To find out if you suffer from mood swings caused by low blood sugar, use this easy way to self-diagnose. Get a small candy bar and a package of snack crackers (not cookies). About three hours after your last meal or snack, eat the candy bar. Begin keeping track of the way you feel. The symptoms of sub-clinical hypoglycemia may include any or all of the following symptoms:
* Irritability, ranging from mild to raging
* Low energy
* Rigid facial muscles (can’t smile)
* Muscle tension
* No sense of humor
* Dull headache
* Minor visual disturbances
* A jumpy, edgy feeling
* Difficulty concentrating
These symptoms will normally begin to occur within an hour, often in much less time, and tend to worsen rapidly. Once you have satisfied yourself about the symptoms, go ahead and eat the crackers; they’ll help stabilize your glucose and bring you back to normal.
The cure is simple: don’t get that hungry. Our bodies are designed to work best when we eat several small meals a day, rather than three larger ones. We have artificially imposed a schedule on them that they don’t accept well. We should eat a good breakfast, not too heavy on sweets, because we have been fasting for a third of a day. A low-sweet snack at mid-morning will hold us until lunch, at which time we again avoid heavy sweets. A mid-afternoon snack will take us through the rush hour commute to dinner time, with a reasonable dessert, in a far better mood. A high protein snack before bedtime will help us sleep better.
The big trick is to avoid things that will cause our blood sugar to rise quickly, like our candy bar on the empty stomach did during the test. When our glucose level rises too rapidly, our bodies overreact and bring it down too far and too fast. That’s what causes the hypoglycemic episodes — the blast of sugar. If it was accompanied by caffeine, the result is likely to be exaggerated even more. A low-sugar snack will bring the glucose up slowly and avoid the overcompensation. Obviously another candy bar would bring it up, too, but that will result in chasing our blood sugar curve all over the place, and many of us are doing that already.
A common complaint is “I can’t eat all those snacks — I’ll gain weight!” You will probably find, if you choose your snacks carefully, that you’ll actually eat less over the course of a day because you won’t be as hungry at meal times. Also, remember that we’re cutting down the sweets. Sweets are OK, but not by themselves. We need to have them after a decent meal, or small amounts with our snacks, to avoid that blood sugar “spike.”
Give up the donuts and coffee for breakfast and the high-sugar snacks between meals. If you can make yourself reduce your caffeine intake, that’s good too — especially if you’re in the habit of drinking sweetened coffee or energy drinks on an empty stomach. Try it for a week, and keep a log of how you feel. You may be amazed at the difference it will make in the quality of your life. I was.
This is also the recommended diet to reduce the chance of developing diabetes, especially when combined with exercise and sufficient rest.
Remember, the Universe will cheerfully refund your misery at any time; all you have to do is ask.