Eat the Shelf

I Googled the phrase “eat the shelf” yesterday and the search didn’t turn up any references. I couldn’t find people using it in the way that I’ve been using it, which is to describe the desire, when experiencing a low blood glucose, to eat everything on the shelf in the pantry or the fridge.

I don’t know its origin. I do know that my colleague Aaron, who’s had Type 1 diabetes[1] since infancy, introduced me to the phrase many months ago. It’s the quickest and best way to say what I want—and oh how much I really want—to fix a hypoglycemic[2] episode with any and all the food I can find.

I don’t often eat the shelf. And I know it’s not a healthy approach to correcting blood glucose levels. In fact, I’ve done it maybe three times.

But two nights ago, I wanted desperately to eat the shelf.

I was outside weeding the garden, in the heat, in the humidity, still in jeans and a long-sleeved shirt from work, and I wasn’t paying attention to my blood glucose. While kneeling near the tomatoes and some daisies, I felt the woozy warmth of an oncoming low blood glucose. Or was it from the heat and humidity? So I ignored it. My monitoring kit was in my backpack in my car, but my mind stopped doing the rational stuff. So I didn’t check. I pulled weeds for 10 more minutes.

Woozy and warm became really sweaty and shaky, so I went inside to see what was available. There wasn’t much.

We’ve been lax in our grocery shopping this past week, so what to eat? There was yogurt, some milk. And nothing tastes so good to me during a low blood glucose as orange juice or the berries part on the bottom of a cup of yogurt before mixing it up.

And those first few sips of orange juice? Nothing else quite like it during a low.

Before diabetes, I never appreciated how rejuvenating food could actually be, and I’m not sure how to describe it, but the juice or the berries…these things just taste as if it they’re putting life back into my body. The immediacy of the effect is difficult to explain to someone who doesn’t have diabetes.

But sometimes I just want to eat the shelf, and this evening was one of those times. So I sat there, post-yogurt, unsatisfied. I didn’t test. Should I test? Go back outside and get the kit? My mind wasn’t working correctly. Test? I didn’t care. I was home alone, the fan on high two feet in front of me, and all I wanted was more food. Ketones[3]? I didn’t give a crap about ketones. Just give me carbs.

I continued to eat. A little Dove dark chocolate, a tablespoon of peanut butter. Then I realized I hadn’t had much for breakfast, or lunch, so I thought I’d just eat one of the Boca chicken patties in the freezer, with a bun. And then another. And then another tablespoon of peanut butter. Another chocolate. A glass of milk.

Within about 20 minutes I got my wits back about me and bolused for everything I’d just consumed—except for the glass of milk and the yogurt.

Eat the shelf? I came close.

There aren’t too many other words or phrases for the ravenousness that strikes during these moments. There have to be some great euphemisms or acronyms or household words lurking out there, so pass them along if you get a chance. I’m still relatively new to the world of diabetes, and I don’t spend too much time searching forums and looking online for all of the nifty ways to refer to aspects of the condition.

I’ll leave you with another word we use in our household: “Barry.” It’s my wife’s way of asking about or talking about my blood glucose (and the credit is entirely hers).

Barry? you ask. Yes, Barry. Because blood glucose is, of course, “bg,” which is, of course, “bee gee,” and so, you see, from Bee Gees to Barry Gibb to, simply, “Barry.”

And now we’ve got this new person in our house who wears horrible 70s jumpsuits and sings “Night Fever” and “Stayin’ Alive”…with a different meaning entirely.

  1. Type 1 diabetes:
  2. hypoglycemic:
  3. Ketones:

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Eric Lagergren: Eric Lagergren was born in 1974 but didn’t give much thought to diabetes until March 2007, when he was diagnosed with Type 1. He now gives quite a bit of thought to the condition, and to help him better understand his life as a person with diabetes, he writes about it. Eric is the senior editor for the Testing Division at the University of Michigan’s English Language Institute in Ann Arbor. (Eric Lagergren is not a medical professional.)

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