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Diabetes Basics

Weight and Diabetes

It’s hard to flip through a magazine or surf a health website without getting the lowdown on weight. The general idea: 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 both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, but the end advice is the same: Managing weight can really make a difference in a person’s diabetes management plan.

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 that’s needed to get glucose into the cells.

Then the body flushes the unusable glucose (and the calories) out of the body in urine, or pee. As a result, the person can lose weight. After treatment for type 1 diabetes, though, a person usually returns to a healthy weight.

Sometimes, though, 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. 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 in which their bodies are able to make insulin, but can’t use it properly to move glucose into the cells. As a result, 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 overtime and may no longer be able to produce enough insulin to keep blood glucose levels within a normal range. At this point, a person has type 2 diabetes.

People who don’t have diabetes also can have insulin resistance. People with insulin resistance are at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes if they don’t already have it.

People with insulin resistance are often overweight and don’t exercise very much. But weight loss, eating healthier foods and portion sizes, and getting exercise can actually 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, and being at a healthy weight also reduces the risk of heart disease and other health problems. Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight may 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 judge 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. 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 medications to reach and maintain a healthier weight. It won’t happen overnight.

Learning how to eat right and exercise to get to a healthy weight can be challenging for most people — those who don’t have diabetes, too — because it takes time.

Weight management offers special challenges for people with diabetes. Here are some tips:

  • Forget fad diets. The latest fad in losing pounds — whether it involves starving yourself or cutting out food groups — can cause major problems when it comes to controlling your blood sugar. Instead, follow your meal plan — it’s tailored just for you and your unique needs.
  • Stick to the insulin schedule. It’s very important that people with diabetes don’t 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 lead to coma.
  • 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 medications 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. Then when you take more insulin to bring your sugar back down, it can lead to gaining extra body fat. Talk to your doctor or a parent if you feel like you don’t get to eat sweets or other foods as much as you like. And try some tricks for managing cravings, such as taking a walk or brushing your teeth.

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 don’t hesitate to 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: August 2013