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Something that I struggle with but don’t ever discuss is living with hypoglycemia and vasovagal syncope. It’s not something that comes to mind for me to talk about yet it has a huge impact on my life. Being a fitness competitor is extremely difficult for me (towards the end of prep) because of it. Hypoglycemia can be best and easily described as having periods of low blood glucose (low blood sugar). Vasovagal Syncope can be best described as fainting due to over-reaction to certain things such as the sight of blood/needles, etc.
LIVING WITH HYPOGLYCEMIA – MY HEALTH JOURNEY
When I was in college I didn’t know the best ways to eat healthy. I knew how to work out but this was still before my heavy lifting days. I could often be caught running the treadmill for 45 minutes and doing maybe 30 minutes of light weights. I would count calories and thought fat was the enemy. I never considered how much protein, carbs or fat I was getting because I was so stuck on the number of calories.
Towards the end of college I had a few episodes where I would become really shaky, light-headed and dizzy. A few times I passed out. I thought it was a fluke thing the first few times but as the episodes increased getting worse each time, I knew something was wrong.
I remember getting ready for one of my first post-graduation interviews. I was blow-drying my hair and started to become extremely weak. I got nauseous, I felt clammy and I started to shake. I would blow-dry for a minute, take a break, blow-dry for a minute, take a break. Not wanting to miss my interview I kept telling myself it would pass. I got in my car and started to drive to my interview, making it to one of the busiest roads in town. Before I knew it I was in a full-blown sweat and I was starting to lose my vision. Luckily, I was able to get to the side of the ride before I lost complete vision. I couldn’t see a thing. By some grace of god, I didn’t pass out and lose control of my car. It took me a few minutes to get my vision back and when I woke up I was COVERED in sweat and shaking uncontrollably.
Over the next few years I had many random occurrences of passing out. I usually got a small window of time where I could feel it coming on and I could call for help. No one could ever keep it from happening but at least I knew if someone was there I wouldn’t get hurt. It wasn’t until me and my husband decided to have kids that I was ever diagnosed.
One day we visited a Reproductive Endocrinologist Dr. who sees patients for endometriosis, PCOS and many other issues. I was there for a possible endometriosis evaluation which had nothing to do with my fainting episodes. During the sit-down in the Dr.’s actual office I started to become weak. I was sweating, felt light-headed and couldn’t put my words together. Me and my husband were sitting directly across from the Dr. and I told them both (as I was sitting down) “I’m going to pass out”. Sure enough right in front of the Dr., I passed out cold. I’m sure it would be embarrassing for some but to me I was happy it happened in front of him. Looking at the circumstances and knowing my blood sugar, he pretty much diagnosed me on the spot (with some further testing after).
My Dr. gave me some advice on how to control living with hypoglycemia and my blood sugar. To this day I find them all imperative to keeping my healthy. I have not had an episode since taking these steps. I’ve listed some below.
- Eat meals that have carbs/protein/fat. A great snack bar if you have hypoglycemia: Kashi Dark Mocha Almond Bars
- Make sure you are getting enough CARBS
- Do not drink alcohol without a sufficient amount of food
- Do not skip meals
- Eat when you are hungry, don’t let yourself go too long between meals or become famished
- Check your blood sugar (there are lots of devices you can put right in your pocket)
Fast forward a few months from THAT Dr. appt. and I was also given an appt. at my cardiologist office. I was given a tracking device that I had to wear for a week or so (can’t remember exactly, it was awhile ago) to evaluate my heart. All turned out ok but he did say that I was definitely suffering from vasovagal syncope episodes as well. Not only did I pass out for unforeseen reasons often but I also passed out whenever I would have blood taken or get HIGHLY anxious.
With these 2 issues combined he gave me a pretty serious possible outcome: losing my license. I think my jaw was on the floor when he said this. Luckily, with the help and advice of my Dr.’s and support of my husband (taking me to Dr. appts., supporting my constant need to eat lol) I was able to avoid this. My cardiologists instructions for me to help avoid these vasovagal episodes:
- Eat a TON of salt. People are amazed at how much salt I put on ALL my meals!
- Stay well hydrated – The Nalgene Water Bottle is marked with ounces and milliliters making it easy for you to track your water throughout the day.
- Don’t drink much alcohol
- Try to have a high-fiber diet
- If you ever feel symptoms, lay on the floor and lift your legs straight up. Drawing the blood back down makes it almost impossible for you to pass out. (seriously a life-saver although you may look coo-koo doing this in the mall HA!)
As I’m sure you can imagine, prepping for a fitness competition while living with hypoglycemia l is EXTREMELY difficult. A very strict diet is imperative if you want to do well in a competition. There is no point in entering if you cannot follow the diet. You cannot out-train a poor diet. I push myself as much as I can in terms of diet but my health always comes first. If I ever feel like I’m starting to feel “not right” I let my coach know and we adjust accordingly. You just have to listen to your body.
Here is an example of one of my fitness competition prep meals. It works for me because there is enough protein, carbs and fat.
If you have any symptoms like mine or feel like you may have either of these conditions, go get checked! It’s better to know and learn how to manage it then to struggle with the unknown.