Diabetes Mind Games?

Doctors have long known that thoughts and beliefs can have an impact on actual physical outcomes. This is one reason most research studies give a placebo (inactive pill or preparation) to study participants who don’t receive the drug or treatment being tested — simply knowing that they might be receiving treatment tends to improve patients’ conditions. And in the realm of diabetes, it is well established that mental stress and anxiety can have an impact on blood glucose control.


But can expectations about your blood glucose level actually have an impact on it? One Diabetes Flashpoints reader wondered about this and sent us an e-mail. Here is what Rosie P., who is 72 years old and has Type 2 diabetes, wrote:

I have had diabetes for about 10 years now, and it seems to me that perhaps diabetes involves psychological effects. After eating a low-carb or small meal that I think will result in a relatively low blood sugar reading, contrary to my thoughts, I find that I have a high reading! It also works in the other direction: When I do eat a larger portion of food, I think that my blood sugar will be high, but as usual it is the opposite of my thinking. So I am baffled… Perhaps there are some of you out there having the same conflicting thoughts and results?

What do you think? Could Rosie’s expectations of low or high blood sugar levels actually cause the opposite to occur? Or should she look for another explanation for her readings? Have you noticed anything like this? Leave a comment below!

Learn more about the health and medical experts who who provide you with the cutting-edge resources, tools, news, and more on Diabetes Self-Management.
About Our Experts >>

  • Suzanne

    Yes, I have had the same surprise of opposite readings. Sometimes it is the food and sometimes the amount. I haven’t figured it out.


  • mehaki

    Yes, I have also noticed that the readings are higher after eating a perfect portion and when I eat larger meals then the Blood Glucose is less and in target. I wander why and what should I do about it. Also have a question, Does the # matter after 2 hrs of meal if it is not in target??? I have found that if my readings are higher after eating in about 2 hrs and then when I re-test it again after 1 hr and it is very much control so I want to know if the # is higer after 2 hrs of meal does it damages during that time span or what?? please explain..


  • fosterm

    Yes this has happened to me. When I think my level would be low its high, and when I think it will be high its just the opposite. Strange….

  • AnnieG

    I have had this situation occur also, but upon further investigation, I determined that the cause was NOT my expectation. For instance, I eat a piece of pizza expecting my blood sugar to rise, but when I check at around 2 hours after eating, I find that my blood sugar is “normal.” What’s going on? Well, when I check at 3.4 to 4 hours after eating, I find my blood sugar has gone up. Why? The fats associated with the pizza delayed the carbohydrates thus my blood sugar didn’t rise until much later. On the other hand, I eat a small salad w/ tsp of dressing, cup of vegetable soup and a small apple and think my blood sugar will be fine. No, it’s up. Why? I ate this lunch as part of a meeting which was very stressful for me plus I was inactive for over 2 hours during this meeting. The lesson I learned is that multiple factors affect my blood sugar level so I need to see the “big picture” rather than focus on one aspect such as food or expectations.

  • TracieH

    I believe the comment posted by AnnieG has some truth to it. I was diagnosed 18 mos. ago and am having some problems getting my sugar levels on target. I am very active on our farm and with my business, and I am also an author, working on my second book. I believe that stress has a lot to do with the readings. I have a son that is disabled from an injury, that left him paralyzed, and I lost my 41 yr. old sister, from an enlarged heart, this past June, and the diabetes alone is a stressor. I have the same thoughts about the ups and downs of the readings after meals, but I just fight constantly with high readings and maybe the stress of that fact alone is hindering my health. Any advice on stress control?

  • Becky

    I have had the same response. When I analyze the food I ate and the insulin I took, it usually ends up that I ate more fat or protein than I had thought and my glucose is higher for longer. Sometimes my glucose is lower and then I realize that I took too much insulin and perhaps didn’t count the carbs, fiber, fat, or protein correctly. It is very difficult to account for everything in every bite and sometimes I get discouraged. But, tomorrow is another day.

  • Stephen

    I’ve often had unexpected readings. But for me the amount of exercise has a stronger effect than diet. If I get two one-hour brisk walks every day for a week, my glucose level is good even if my diet isn’t perfect.