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Weight and Diabetes

Being active and eating healthy are the best ways to manage weight. This advice works for everybody, but it can be particularly helpful for people with diabetes. That's because weight can influence diabetes, and diabetes can influence weight. This relationship may be different for type 1 and type 2 diabetes, but the end advice is the same: Managing weight can really make a difference in diabetes control.

Weight and Type 1 Diabetes

If a person has type 1 diabetes but hasn't been treated yet, he or she often loses weight. In type 1 diabetes, the body can't use glucose (pronounced: GLOO-kose) properly because the pancreas no longer produces insulin. Insulin is the hormone that helps move glucose into the body's cells where it can be used for energy.

Without insulin, blood glucose builds up to high levels. Eventually, the kidneys flush the unusable glucose (and the calories) out of the body in urine, or pee, and weight loss can happen. After treatment for type 1 diabetes, though, a person usually returns to a healthy weight.

Sometimes, people with type 1 diabetes can be overweight too. They may be overweight when they find out they have diabetes or they may become overweight after they start treatment. Being overweight can make it harder for people with type 1 diabetes to keep their blood sugar levels under control.

Weight and Type 2 Diabetes

Most people are overweight when they're diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Along with a family history of diabetes, being overweight or obese increases a person's risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

People with type 2 diabetes have a condition called insulin resistance where their bodies can make insulin, but can't use it properly to move glucose into the body's cells. So, the amount of glucose in the blood rises. The pancreas then makes more insulin to try to overcome the problem.

Eventually, the pancreas can wear out from working so hard and might not be able to make enough insulin to keep blood glucose levels within a normal range. At this point, a person has type 2 diabetes.

People can have insulin resistance without diabetes, but they're still at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Weight loss, eating healthier foods and reasonable portion sizes, and getting exercise can improve and even reverse insulin resistance.

For people with type 2 diabetes, reversing insulin resistance makes it easier to get blood sugar levels into a healthier range. For those who have insulin resistance but not diabetes, reversing insulin resistance can reduce the risk that they'll develop diabetes.

Managing Your Weight

Getting to and staying at a healthy weight helps you feel better and have more energy. Being at a healthy weight also lowers the risk of heart disease and other health problems. It will also help you reduce diabetes symptoms and control your blood sugar levels.

Your doctor will let you know if you should lose weight to control your diabetes. Doctors usually use your weight and height to calculate your body mass index (BMI), which helps them determine whether your weight is healthy.

Your doctor can talk to you about the weight range that is right for you and help you create a meal and exercise plan to stay within that range. Your doctor might also suggest that you and your family work with a dietitian who specializes in healthy eating. Even if your weight is healthy, eating right and exercising regularly can make your diabetes easier to control and prevent problems down the road.

If you're overweight, don't feel bad about it or guilty about your diabetes (lots of people who don't have diabetes need to lose weight too!). Instead, take action. Use your meal plan, exercise, and medicines to reach and maintain a healthier weight. It won't happen overnight, which makes it really challenging for most people. And diabetes can create special challenges for those trying to get to a healthier weight.

Here are some tips:

  • Forget fad diets. The latest fad in losing pounds — whether it involves starving yourself, or using pills or powders — can cause major problems when it comes to controlling your blood sugar. Instead, follow your meal plan — it's made just for you and your unique needs.
  • Stick to the insulin schedule. It's very important for people with diabetes to not skip insulin injections to lose weight. Putting off or skipping injections can lead to very high blood sugar levels and even a dangerous condition called diabetic ketoacidosis (pronounced: keh-toe-as-ih-DOE-sis), which can make you very sick.
  • Watch the snacking. Some people may eat too many snacks because they're afraid that their blood sugar levels will get too low. This can lead to weight gain. Follow your diabetes plan and take your medicines at the right times to avoid these problems.
  • Turn the table on cravings. Everyone has cravings now and then. But when people with diabetes sneak extra candy or sweets, it can push blood sugar levels up. And taking more insulin to bring your sugar back down can lead to gaining extra body fat. Try some tricks for managing cravings like taking a walk, drinking water, or chewing gum.
  • Get your body moving. Try to get about 30–60 minutes of exercise per day Exercise doesn't have to be boring or expensive — for example, play basketball with friends or dance to your favorite music in the privacy of your room.

If you need more info about diabetes and how it affects your weight, or if you're worried about it, talk to a member of your diabetes health care team. Your team can help you learn healthy ways to make it easier to manage your weight, so take advantage of their knowledge and expertise.

When your weight is on track, you'll feel like you're more in control of your diabetes, your body, and your health.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date Reviewed: Feb 7, 2018

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