Dealing With Hunger

My friend James usually manages his Type 2 diabetes quite well. He eats right, exercises, and all that good stuff. But last week, something went wrong. He had a tough Thursday at his job, worked through lunch, and got yelled at by his supervisor.

Trying to fix things up, he stayed late doing paperwork and dragged himself home, looking forward to dinner and a quiet evening with his wife, Ellen. But when he got there, Ellen had gone to a program at their daughter’s school. Dinner wasn’t ready. He went to the freezer and grabbed a box of ice cream.

You can imagine the rest of the story. James kept splurging, and his blood glucose levels were out of whack for three days, courtesy of what Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill W.[1] called H.A.L.T.[2] (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired). Bill W. knew that these were four danger situations for drinking. They apply with equal force to smoking, breaking your diet, or almost any other bad habit we are trying to change.


Psychologist and diabetes educator William Polonsky[3] says people who struggle with their diabetes “frequently blame themselves for not having enough willpower. But most people have plenty of willpower. The problem is not understanding and solving the particular problems that interfere with self-care.” Hunger is one of the most common problems. How can we deal with it?

Avoiding Hunger
James moved into the danger zone when he skipped lunch. “I had so much work,” he said, “and I knew the boss wasn’t happy with me. My stomach was all knotted. I didn’t feel like eating.”

Those things happen, but skipping meals, especially breakfast, will lead you to grab concentrated comfort foods like sweets and fats. It will also make you grouchy and miserable.

What could James have done differently? If he didn’t have time or space for a meal, he could have eaten some healthy snacks[4], like fruits or nuts. We should have such foods with us at all times, and people using insulin should also have some glucose tablets or gels in case of lows.

Avoid hunger by eating a good breakfast every day. It’s best if breakfast includes some protein; it will keep you going longer. If you have to prepare it the night before, that’s better than rushing out in the morning without it.

Dr. Polonsky identifies two other types of hunger that can sabotage us, even when we have enough nutrition.

In James’ case, it probably wasn’t just hunger that got to him. “I was angry with my boss for yelling and my wife for not being there,” he said. “I wanted someone to talk to. And I was tired.”

I’ll write about the other elements of H.A.L.T. (angry, lonely, and tired) in coming weeks. But what do you do to avoid hunger or deal with it successfully?

  1. Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill W.:
  2. H.A.L.T.:
  3. William Polonsky:
  4. healthy snacks:
  5. “Try the Tastes Good Diet”:
  6. “Make It the Feel Good Diet.”:
  7. eating with awareness:

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David Spero: David Spero has been a nurse for 40 years and has lived with multiple sclerosis for 30 years. He is the author of four books: The Art of Getting Well: Maximizing Health When You Have a Chronic Illness (Hunter House 2002), Diabetes: Sugar-coated Crisis — Who Gets It, Who Profits, and How to Stop It (New Society 2006, Diabetes Heroes (Jim Healthy 2014), and The Inn by the Healing Path: Stories on the road to wellness (Smashwords 2015.) He writes for Diabetes Self-Management and Pain-Free Living (formerly Arthritis Self-Management) magazines. His website is His blog is

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