It required some detective work and consulting my diabetes educator to find the causes, but the investigation was worth my time.
You’re doing your best to manage diabetes. You’ve got a great plan that includes a diet plan, medications that work, and exercise. Your blood sugar level is usually in range. But today, it’s out of range, out of nowhere.
You didn’t do anything different. You had your usual breakfast and completed your normal exercise routine. You slept well last night. You’re not sick or hurt.
Feeling totally lost and frustrated, you don’t know what’s going on.
Managing diabetes can be very complex. Your numbers can sometimes fall out of range, no matter how hard you try. Having managed diabetes for almost 5 years, I’m still amazed by the unexpected causes of high blood sugar. When I think about some of the weird things that have spiked my blood sugar over the years, four triggers come to mind.
Every night, I try to have dinner before 9:00 p.m. Whenever I eat dinner, I try not to consume too many starchy carbohydrates and add fiber and protein in balance. However, I’ve noticed that no matter what I eat, I wake up with a high fasting blood sugar number above 120 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).
Recently, our family had a late night out and ate dinner after 9:30 p.m. I was nervous and concerned about waking up with a higher fasting blood sugar number as a result of eating so late. Nevertheless, I ate, slept at a regular time, and woke up with one of the lowest fasting blood sugars ever!
Initially, I thought this was a one-time event. The following week, I ate dinner close to 10:00 p.m., went to bed before midnight, and woke up with fasting blood sugar under 110 mg/dL. It was then that I realized my blood sugar spikes because of the earlier time I chose to eat dinner.
Earlier last year, I was invited to share my health journey on a live broadcast on social media. It’s something I do often as a health advocate.
I had normal blood sugar levels before my interview. I wasn’t nervous. I wasn’t under stress. I felt normal. I made it through the interview without issues. Immediately after the interview, I checked my continuous glucose monitor. I discovered that while I was speaking my blood sugar spiked from 105–155 mg/dL. I was shocked.
During another interview a few weeks later, my blood sugar went up 36 points while speaking. It was then that I realized that public speaking was an underlying source of stress for me, which spiked my blood sugar levels.
I’m the type of person who manages diabetes the same way each day. My blood sugar numbers are mostly in range from what I eat and how much physical activity I do a day. However, at least 5 days out of every month, I wake up to numbers that are between 130–150 mg/dL, no matter what I do.
Two months after first noticing the spikes, I reached out to my diabetes educator. I learned from them that hormonal changes several days before menstruation spike blood sugar levels, which then level off once menstruation begins.
At the beginning of my diabetes journey, I ate a strict low carbohydrate diet that was higher in protein, fat, and nonstarchy carbohydrates. I did not eat any foods that contained corn, rice, potatoes, or flour. I substituted cauliflower, radishes, turnips, and nut flour in their place. Additionally, I did not use seed oils in my cooking. My foods were cooked in olive oil, coconut oil, and tallow. My daily carbohydrate intake was limited to 30–35 grams.
During dinner one night, my husband cooked some delicious fried chicken wings with asparagus. The chicken was coated in almond flour and cooked in tallow. I ate three chicken wings. Two hours after my meal, my numbers trended down. However, at the 3-hour mark, my blood sugar levels spiked 40 points to 163 mg/dL.
The culprit was my meal’s high fat content. I was astounded and perplexed when I discovered this. Then, after hearing from the diabetes community and my diabetes educator that higher fat intake can spike blood sugar hours after eating, it all made sense.
What can you do if your blood sugar level is high without a clear cause? Here’s how I handle unexpected high blood sugars:
Take a look at what you did before the blood sugar spike. Was there something new you ate? Did you change anything in your routine? Did you try any new medications? How were you feeling? By answering these questions, you can narrow down a possible cause.
When you see a high blood sugar number on your meter, try not to jump to conclusions. Keep track of when unexpected blood sugar spikes occur and the possible triggers.
It might be wise to consider it one of those rare instances if it happens only once. However, if the mystery continues to cause an issue, you might have to limit or avoid the unexpected source of your sudden high blood sugar spike.
Once you’ve discovered the exact cause of your unexpected blood sugar spikes, try to avoid or limit it.
Regarding my triggers, I have learned that with mealtimes, I can either eat closer to 9 p.m. or eat earlier and have a small snack closer to or after 9 p.m. If I want to have fried chicken or fish, I can make sure my meal is balanced by adding more fiber and complex carbohydrates.
Since I cannot control public speaking and hormones, there’s little I can do to limit or avoid those particular triggers. Knowing that I will not always be able to manage diabetes perfectly, I offer myself grace instead and try to be extra kind to myself. This includes selecting foods with fewer carbohydrates and managing my stress during these times.
Our blood sugar levels fluctuate for different reasons, so managing diabetes is different for everyone. After successfully managing diabetes, experiencing unexpectedly high blood sugar numbers can seem very defeating.
One or a few unexpected high blood sugar numbers do not mean failure. In order to manage diabetes efficiently, it’s vital to track the triggers of blood sugar levels. However, consult a healthcare professional if you have consistently high blood sugar levels and need help modifying your regimen.
Medically reviewed on October 13, 2023
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