Diabetes and Your Weight: Healthy Weight Loss Tips

Medically Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on May 18, 2021

If you have diabetes and you're overweight, don't despair. You don't have to get model-thin or fit into skinny jeans to manage your diabetes better and boost your health. Losing any amount of weight can lower your blood sugar levels, improve your blood pressure and blood fats, and make it easier for your body to use insulin.

You can do it by making small changes in what and how much you eat and by getting exercise most days. This can help you lose 1 to 2 pounds a week. In 7 to 10 weeks, you can lose about 10 pounds. You'll improve your health, and you might even be able to cut back on your diabetes drugs if your doctor gives you the OK.

You might be thinking, "Well, I've tried this before and never got anywhere." The key is to think in terms of small steps. You're not trying to lose 50 pounds -- just a few pounds will do.

No matter how much you want to lose, it helps to plan ahead for weight loss before you start trying to drop those extra pounds. Always work with your doctor during the process, especially if you take any drugs. Weight loss is likely to affect them.

Start with these three steps:

  1. Ask yourself why you want to lose weight, and why now.
  2. Set clear goals that you can follow to help you lose weight and keep it off.
  3. Think about the hurdles you might face, and plan ways to get over them.

Here are some tips to help you get started.

Why Do You Want to Lose Weight?

It's not enough to hear from your doctor that you should drop extra pounds. It must be something that you want for yourself. Think about why it's important to you. This will help you keep on track through the tough times of low drive or high temptation. What inspires you to lose weight?

  • Do you want to be able to keep up with your children as they get older and more active?
  • Is there a charity walk or run you've always wanted to join?
  • Are you tired of feeling tired?
  • Do you want to manage your diabetes more easily?
  • Are you planning a big vacation and want to be fit enough to fully enjoy it?
  • Do you want to lower your chances of heart disease and other health problems?

Whatever your reasons, write them down, and post them on the refrigerator door or somewhere you can see them. The list will remind you every day why you're tackling the challenge of losing weight.

Set Eating Goals You Can Meet

Crash diets or those that limit you to a few foods are tough to keep up over the long haul, and your lost weight is likely to come back. In the long run, it's better to start with a smaller goal, like losing 10 pounds. Set a doable date for reaching this goal. Then focus on making healthy changes in your eating and exercise habits.

Try these goals on for size. Which ones fit your lifestyle?

  • I'll eat whole-grain cereal and skim milk instead of a muffin for breakfast 4 days a week.
  • I'll cut back on eating out, or I'll plan before I do by looking at the menu online and deciding ahead of time what to order.
  • I'll eat blueberries and nonfat yogurt instead of ice cream.
  • I'll use the "Plate Method" to help manage my portions. Non-starchy vegetables and fruits go on half the plate, starchy foods such as brown rice go on 1/4 of the plate, and lean proteins such as skinless poultry, fish, and lean meat go on the other 1/4th.
  • I'll write down everything I eat for 2 weeks.

Set Fitness Goals You Can Meet

Be active every day. It will help you control blood sugar levels and boost your energy and overall mood. Moving your body every day will also help you take off extra weight. Look over these goals:

  • I will walk around the neighborhood after dinner for 30 minutes on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
  • I will get off the bus two stops early and walk the rest of the way to work.
  • I will sign up for the weekly low-impact aerobics class at the gym.
  • I will track my exercise every day by writing it on my personal calendar.

To make your own list of goals, think about what will work for you. Be specific about when, where, and how you can reach each goal. It's fine to start slow and build up to 30 minutes of exercise a day, at least 5 days a week.

Mix up your routine. Plan different activities you can do during the week. Experts recommend a mix of aerobic and strength-training exercises. Aerobic exercise could include walking, climbing stairs, dancing, or swimming. Strength training uses weights or exercise bands to strengthen muscles. It should be part of your exercise routine at least 2-3 days a week. Tell your doctor before you start an exercise program to make sure it's safe for you.

Calories and Weight Loss

Keep in mind that you need to burn 3,500 more calories than usual to lose 1 pound. To lose 1 pound a week, you could cut 500 calories a day from what you eat, or bump up your exercise to burn 500 more calories a day. Or you could do some of each.

For instance, if you skip the cheese on your lunchtime sandwich, drink seltzer with lime instead of a regular soda, and eat a fun-sized candy bar instead of a large one, you'll cut out 300 calories. (Food labels and serving sizes can help you know how much you're cutting.) Add a 30-minute brisk walk and you'll burn about 200 more calories. You’ve met the 500 calorie goal!

That's just one approach. To create your own weight loss plan, you might ask your doctor to refer you to a registered dietitian, who can give you eating tips and help you make a plan.

Plan for Weight Loss Challenges

Think about all the things that happen during the day that make you want to overeat or make less-than-healthy choices. Job stress can be one, especially if your office mate keeps a tin of chocolate on their desk. Boredom can also trigger mindless snacking, and so can watching TV.

Create a list of your biggest hurdles and how to deal with each one. At work, for example, vary your path to your desk so you don't see your colleague's tempting chocolate. At home, take on a small project or new hobby that keeps you away from the TV.

Keep on hand healthy snacks that are also tasty and filling for the times when cravings are likely to strike. Keep water handy as well, and don't forget to drink it. Water can make you feel full and has zero calories.

Take a moment to look at each small success. A lifestyle change is hard, and you deserve to feel proud of your efforts. Over time, you'll see the benefits of these changes in the form of better overall health and well-being. Stick with your new healthy habits, and as time goes by, you're likely to meet, and perhaps pass, your first weight loss goal.

Show Sources


American Diabetes Association: "Healthy Weight Loss;" "Setting Realistic Goals;" "Tips to Cut 100 Calories;" "Activities and Calories Burned;" "Create Your Plate;" "Your Weight Loss Plan;" and "Test Your Fitness Knowledge."

CDC: "Losing Weight;" "Getting Started;" and "Improving Your Eating Habits."

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "Guide to Behavior Change."

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