If you have diabetes, know that you are not alone. According to recent statistics, the occurrence of diabetes in the United States has reached 9.4% of children and adults - or about 30.3 million Americans. Before we go into the tips for weight loss and diabetes, it's important to understand the different types and what causes diabetes.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a condition where the body has too much glucose, or blood sugar, in the bloodstream. Usually, the body produces insulin in response to glucose. Insulin is a hormone that moves glucose from the bloodstream into the cells, but with type 1 diabetes, the body no longer produces insulin. In type 2 diabetes, the body either may or may not be making enough insulin, however, the cells don't use the insulin properly. In either situation and without proper management, glucose can build up in the bloodstream. This excess buildup of glucose flows through the blood vessels throughout your body and then eventually can cause damage to your heart, eyes, kidneys and feet.
Although both types have to do with high blood sugar, type 1 and type 2 diabetes differ in a number of ways. Type 1 diabetes, is most often diagnosed in childhood, while type 2 diabetes is more frequently diagnosed in adulthood. However, increasingly, type 2 is being seen earlier on, even being diagnosed in young children.
Type 1 diabetes, unlike type 2, is an autoimmune disease where the body's immune system mistakenly attacks cells in the pancreas responsible for producing insulin. The exact cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown, but genetics do play a role, along with environmental factors such as viruses. There is no cure for type 1 diabetes, but a person can manage their condition by taking insulin injections daily.
Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, is a chronic condition where the pancreas makes insulin, but the body can't use it efficiently. A person's weight is a key factor in the development of type 2 diabetes. If a person is overweight, they are much more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. Other risk factors include a family history of diabetes, having high blood pressure or high cholesterol or even chronic high stress. When it comes to treatment, type 2 diabetes does not require daily insulin injections, although it may be managed by diet and lifestyle alone, or in combination with oral medications or insulin injections. Learn more with these 7 diabetes facts.
Diabetes & Weight
No matter what type of diabetes you have, eating healthy and staying active can help manage blood sugar levels. The approach to weight loss will be different depending on what type of diabetes you have (as well as your age) to make sure it's done in the safest and healthiest way possible. Additionally, taking insulin injections or oral medications can be associated with weight gain, which can make the process more difficult.1
Consistent physical activity can improve insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes, enabling a reduction in insulin requirements. Reducing insulin can be helpful to weight loss as high doses of insulin are associated with an increase in appetite. It can seem difficult to lose weight with type 2 diabetes, as people often experience increased appetites or slowed fat burning. Some diabetes meds are also associated with weight gain.2
Even if you lose a small amount of weight, it will have a positive impact on your blood sugar. Once your blood sugar and insulin levels stabilize over time from a carefully-planned out exercise regimen and balanced diet, the process can seem easier—and most definitely worth it.
Health Benefits of Losing Weight with Diabetes
Physical activity and weight loss can have a very positive impact overall and on your diabetic health, and the good news is, it's never too late to start. An enlightening clinical trial showed how losing just 5-10% of body weight helped lower blood pressure and improve blood glucose levels in those with Type 2 diabetes.3 This means that even making small changes toward being more active and losing weight can produce big benefits.
In addition to helping manage your blood pressure and blood glucose levels, weight loss can also have an effect on your cholesterol levels. When you have diabetes, your "good" cholesterol levels tend to decrease while your "bad" cholesterol levels tend to increase, which can up your risk of heart disease and stroke. Losing weight can help reverse this by lowering your bad cholesterol levels and raising your "good" cholesterol levels.4 This ends up protecting your heart health, which is important for many people with diabetes tend to have heart-related complications.5
The benefits of losing weight with diabetes go beyond just what's happening with your different glucose levels and cholesterol levels — it can affect other areas of your body that you might not realize. One study found that overweight people with type 2 diabetes who lost a modest amount of weight experienced long-term health benefits, such as reducing their risk of chronic kidney disease, depression and eye disease.6
It should come as no surprise that losing weight also helps you feel better physically overall. Once you start losing weight, you also might find that you have more energy. This can not only help you get around more easily, but it can also encourage more exercise, which further helps with diabetes management. Weight loss can also lighten the stress on your hips, knees, ankles, and feet.
Once you've lost some weight, you might also find that it helps you out financially. Research has found that when diabetics lost a moderate amount of weight, they required fewer hospitalizations and had to take less medication, which helps to reduce medical costs.7 They also showed improved quality of life.
In some cases, a large weight loss can even reverse Type 2 diabetes.8 However, that primarily occurs with bariatric surgery or with younger, more obese patients who are able to lose the weight shortly after diagnosis. Although reversing Type 2 diabetes is harder when you've had the disease for longer, that doesn't mean losing weight is without its impactful effects. Shedding weight at any time of your life can help prevent many different types of health complications9.
Losing weight with diabetes or not, it's really about math. Weight loss happens when you burn more calories than you eat. Most people can do this by watching what they eat and increasing their activity levels to burn more calories. There are many ways to burn calories simply by doing more of the everyday activities you like, such as gardening, playing with the kids or walking the dog. The best activities are the ones you enjoy the most! If you are new to physical activity, start slowly and talk to your doctor about medication and/or dietary changes.
How to Lose Weight with Diabetes
- Think about the activities you enjoyed as a child - riding bikes, shooting hoops and playing tennis. It's never a bad time to pick up your old favorite hobbies. When you do something you love, it doesn't feel like as much work, and you're more inclined to do it frequently.
- Start walking more. Walking is a convenient way to increase your activity; just tie on your shoes and go! Using a step-tracker is a great way to track your steps and even challenge yourself to do more each week.
- If you're already exercising regularly be sure to aim for 30 minutes of activity on most days of the week, either in one block of time or in 10 minute spurts. This will add up to burning roughly 200 more calories a day and keep you on your way to meeting your healthy weight loss goal.
- Stick to a healthy diet. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends a diet consisting of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins (beans, fish, poultry), and heart healthy oils and nuts. In addition, people with diabetes should limit sodium, saturated fats, trans-fats, added sugars as well as alcohol. By focusing on a healthy and balanced diet, you can help improve your health, achieve weight goals and potentially delay or prevent complications of diabetes.
- Eat in moderation. It is essential to focus on portion control. Eating any food, no matter how healthy, in moderation is an important factor in achieving your weight loss goals.
- Stick to a routine. As a diabetic, you should eat within a few hours of waking up and eat a snack every 3-4 hours. Also, create a schedule and work on eating at the same time every day. And although this may be obvious, don't skip any meals. While you may think this will be a quick fix for weight loss, it can hurt the health of your body.
- Check your blood glucose levels before and after exercise and discuss with your doctor what ranges are acceptable. This helps you decide whether the levels are too high or too low to exercise safely.
- Always carry a snack with 15 grams of fast-acting carbohydrates for when you exercise in case you feel your blood sugar getting too low. A half cup of fruit juice, 5 lifesavers or 2 tablespoons of raisins work well. Eating frequently not only helps to stabilize your blood sugar, but it prevents you from getting too hungry and overeating later on.
- Don't ignore the importance of sleep, as it is just as important for weight loss as diet and exercise. When you don't sleep well, your levels of the stress hormone cortisol rise, which can actually cause your body to hold onto fat. Loss of sleep can also make you crave unhealthier foods, which can lead you to choose a donut for breakfast over oatmeal.10
- Talk to your healthcare team. If you're feeling lost or unsure where to begin, you don't have to go about the process alone. Consult with your doctor who can not only give you helpful tips, but can help find specific diets and exercise plans that work for you.
- Don't skip breakfast. It's tempting to head out the door in the morning and forego breakfast for more time in the shower, but the first meal of your day is important. Skipping breakfast causes your blood sugar to get low, so you'll want to make sure you eat something in the morning that is a good balance of protein, complex carbohydrates and fat.
- Set Goals. Don't set out to lose all the weight at once and feel discouraged when you don't. Start small, and build from there. Maybe one month you make a point to eat more vegetables, while the next month you add an hour of extra exercise per week.
- Practice Portion Control. Ultimately, cutting calories is especially important in weight loss, but this doesn't mean you have to give up all your favorite foods. Instead, cut down your portion sizes. If you're having a hard time knowing how much of what to eat, practice mindful eating habits to slow your pace.
- Be sure to include fiber in your diet. There's no need to fear carbs, as long as you're choosing the right types of food that are filled with fiber, which can help curb your appetite and help you stay full for longer. Fiber also helps stabilize blood sugar, improves heart health and reduces serum cholesterol.
- Drink water before and after exercise, even if you don't feel thirsty. It not only helps to keep your refreshed during and after your workout, but it can help fill you up and prevent overeating, as sometimes our body mistakes feelings of thirst for feelings of hunger.
With diabetes, the most important thing to keep in mind is the goal of maintaining steady blood glucose levels throughout the day by eating regularly and keeping carbohydrate intake consistent. Both Jenny Craig and the American Diabetes Association consider non-starchy vegetables a great way to fill you up safely, as they have little to no impact on blood glucose.
If you're just starting to look at your eating habits and wondering where to begin, a simple technique is known as the healthy plate method. Fill half your plate with non-starchy, free vegetables (salad greens, broccoli, cucumbers etc.), a quarter of your plate with fiber-rich starches (for example, brown rice), and a quarter of your plate with lean meat (for example chicken breast). With this simple method, vegetables and whole grain starches are maximized, both of which are important in aiding blood sugar control as well as weight loss.
The Jenny Craig type 2 program reflects these recommendations by providing a consistent amount of carbohydrates throughout the day. Incorporating Fresh & Free Additions in your menu is also a great way to eat more food, feel fuller longer and add nutrients with fewer calories. The Jenny Craig for type 2 weight-loss program is also clinically proven to help those with type 2 better manage their diabetes, as our comprehensive program for weight loss gives members the improved glycemic control they're looking for so they can take charge of their health*.
Losing weight is beneficial to many of us, and especially for anyone trying to prevent or reverse diabetes. By making a few adjustments to your current eating style and by becoming more active, you'll be well on your way to a new healthier you.
*Z.W. Chaudhry, R.S. Doshi, A.K. Mehta, D.K. Jacobs, R.M. Vakil, C.J. Lee, S.N. Bleich, R.R. Kalyani, J.M. Clark, K.A. Gudzune. A systematic review of commercial weight loss programmes' effect on glycemic outcomes among overweight and obese adults with and without type 2 diabetes mellitus. Obest Reviews, 2016; DOI:10.1111/obr.12423