Woman cutting vegetables to prepare a healthy meal to lose weight with diabetes


How to lose weight if you’re diabetic

  • If you’re at high risk of developing diabetes, losing 5–7% of your weight can decrease your risk by 58%.
  • If you have Type 2 diabetes, losing weight can reduce or eliminate your need for medication.

Maintaining a healthy weight is important for everyone. But for people with diabetes, it’s even more important. In this article, we’ll explore weight loss for diabetics—and how losing weight is different for people with this common condition.

Weight loss for diabetics

Losing weight can make a big difference for people with diabetes—it can lower glucose levels in the blood, which may decrease the effects of diabetes and make the condition more manageable. But there are added complications and risks, too. For example, making big changes to your diet can cause serious problems. One of these is hypoglycemia, when your blood sugar goes so low that you risk the danger of going into a diabetic coma. If you have diabetes, you have to be especially careful about your weight loss plan.

Losing weight and insulin resistance

Insulin is the hormone that regulates blood sugar (glucose) levels in the body and helps your cells convert blood sugar into energy. In some people with diabetes, however, blood sugar levels are high for a sustained period of time, causing the pancreas to produce more and more insulin. Eventually, the cells stop responding to that insulin—becoming insulin resistant. Losing weight with insulin resistance is more difficult because your body converts blood sugar into fat instead of energy.

The solution? For a start, reducing the sugar and processed carbohydrates in your diet while increasing healthy fats (such as in nuts, avocados, and fish) along with vegetables and whole grains. Even a small improvement can make a big difference. Studies show that a weight loss of just 5–7 percent is enough to reduce the risk of diabetes by 58 percent in a person who has a high risk of the condition.

Diabetic weight loss diet

Diet is a key part of any weight loss plan, but for those with diabetes it’s even more important. Here are some options to consider for a diabetic weight loss diet:

Mediterranean diet. This diet is based on the traditional cuisines of Mediterranean coast cultures—Italy, Israel, Morocco, Spain and more. This approach features fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, seafood, poultry, low-fat dairy, extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, and seeds. It includes very small amounts of red and processed meats, butter, and sweets.

Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH). The focus of this diet is to lower blood pressure and improve heart health by reducing sodium (salt)—but weight loss is often a result, too. This diet emphasizes vegetables, fruits and low-fat dairy foods. It also includes moderate amounts of whole grains, fish, poultry and nuts, while limiting sweets, fats and alcohol.

Paleolithic (Paleo). This diet is based on foods that might have been available to our hunter-gatherer ancestors during the Paleolithic era (from 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago). A paleo diet includes leafy vegetables, lean meats, fish, fruits, nuts and seeds. This diet avoids dairy, legumes, grains, potatoes, sugar and processed foods.

Meal-replacement plans. For many people with diabetes, a good option is to incorporate specially formulated foods for weight loss. The Allina Health OPTIFAST® program, for example, provides meal-replacement products for safe, sustainable weight loss. It also features regular check-ins and coaching from a care team.

Exercising for diabetes and weight loss

Exercise is a key part of any weight loss plan, and for diabetics it offers multiple health benefits:

  • Improves blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity (which means insulin works better)
  • Some types of exercise can help burn extra glucose in the body and also decrease resistance to insulin
  • Lowers your risk for heart disease
  • Improves circulation
  • Reduces stress

Before you exercise, make sure your glucose level is not too low (below 100 mg/dl) or you could risk low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). You should also be cautious if your blood sugar is too high, because exercise can sometimes raise blood sugar. Check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program.

Weight loss options for diabetes

For many people with diabetes, exercise and dietary changes aren’t enough to lose significant weight. Here are some other weight-loss approaches that work:

Medically managed weight loss. This approach involves a team of health care providers, including physicians, nutritionists and more, who create a weight-loss program uniquely suited to you. Support includes a reduced calorie diet that may feature meal-replacement products such as OPTIFAST®, an exercise plan, behavioral counseling and medication.

Weight loss medications. There are many types of weight loss medications—some work by making you feel less hungry, others by making it harder for the body to absorb fat. It’s important that you follow your doctor’s advice, as some diabetes and weight loss medications have serious side effects. Weight loss medications are typically prescribed and monitored through a medical weight loss program.

Bariatric surgery. Also known as weight loss surgery, this approach permanently alters the digestive tract to limit the amount of food you can eat at one time. It has proven to be an effective option, particularly for people with diabetes. Like any significant surgery, there are risks that you should weigh. There are also some lifestyle changes that go along with this type of surgery. Consult your doctor to see if bariatric surgery is right for you.

Diabetes types and weight loss

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition where the body sends antibodies to attack the pancreas, which prevents it from producing enough insulin to regulate your blood sugar. It is not clear what causes Type 1 diabetes, but it is thought to be genetic and is usually first diagnosed in childhood or young adulthood.

Type 1 diabetes is not associated with excess weight. But if you are carrying extra weight, losing it can reduce your risk of complications and reduce your need for insulin.

Type 2 diabetes is where your body does not produce enough insulin and/or your cells may not respond to insulin properly and do not take in sugar from your blood. Type 2 diabetes develops over many years. The cause is not known, but being overweight and inactive are major contributors.

For Type 2 diabetes, weight loss is key. If you have prediabetes—that is, you have consistently high blood sugar but do not yet have diabetes—losing 7-10 percent of your body weight can reduce the risk of developing diabetes. If you already have Type 2 diabetes, losing weight could cause your condition to go into remission, potentially eliminating your need for medication.

If you have diabetes, maintaining a healthy weight is a powerful way to take more control of your wellness. From weight-loss surgery to dietary changes to medical weight management, there are many options to lose weight and improve your health. Explore the nationally recognized weight management programs at Allina Health or call 763-236-0940 to learn more.


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