The Right Way to Lose Weight

Carbs, calories and fat all count – and so does exercise.

Medically Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on April 09, 2015
From the WebMD Archives

One of the best ways to manage diabetes is to lose extra weight. Dial back just a few digits on your bathroom scale, and you'll get your blood sugar levels more in check and feel better overall.

Weight loss doesn't have to be dramatic for you to earn big results. "What we found in our research was that when people lose around 7% of their body weight, their insulin sensitivity improves by 57%," says Osama Hamdy, MD, PhD, medical director of the Obesity Clinical Program at the Joslin Diabetes Center. So if you weigh 200 pounds, losing just 14 pounds will make a difference.

When it comes to diet, the key is to strike the right balance between carbohydrates, fats, and protein.

"Cutting the carbohydrates is the No. 1 way to lose weight," Hamdy says. "Carbohydrates cause the pancreas to release insulin." They should make up no more than 45% or so of daily calories for most people with diabetes. But check with your doctor, because your target might differ based on your weight, activity level, and which medicines you take.

When choosing carbs, pick ones that won't make your blood sugar spike -- high-fiber fruits and vegetables, and whole grains. Skip the pastries and white bread.

Another goal is to lower your daily calorie count, but not by skimping on protein. You need protein to maintain muscle, which helps you maximize your calorie-burning potential. At least 20% to 30% of your plate should be made up of lean protein sources like fish, tofu, and skinless grilled chicken breast.

You also need some fat in your diet -- it should contribute about 30% to 40% to your daily calories. But the type of fat you eat matters. Unsaturated fats from foods like nuts, avocado, fish, flaxseeds, and canola oil are much better bets than saturated and trans fats from meat and fried foods.

Pair diet with its partner in weight loss -- exercise. "If people would like to lose weight, they should get 300 minutes of exercise per week," Hamdy says. Split those 5 hours between aerobics and strength training, both of which help your body trim down and use insulin better.

Get Started

Want to see good changes in your weight and blood sugar numbers?

Listen to your "hunger scale." Before you eat anything, think about how you feel. Are you truly hungry? Then have a bite to eat. Do you feel satisfied or stuffed? Step away from the table.

Fill up on fiber. High-fiber foods keep your blood sugar steady and fill you up, so you won't be as tempted by less-healthy options.

Take 10. Stretch for 10 minutes in the morning, take a 10-minute walk during lunch, and do 10 minutes with weights in the evening.

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American Diabetes Association: "Fats," "Low-calorie Sweeteners," "Make Your Carbs Count," "What We Recommend.”

Hamdy, O. Current Diabetes Reports, April 2011.

Joslin Diabetes Center: "How Does Fiber Affect Blood Glucose Levels?”

Ley, S. Lancet, June 7, 2014.

Osama Hamdy, MD, PhD, medical director of the Obesity Clinical Program at the Joslin Diabetes Center; author, The Diabetes Breakthrough, Harlequin, 2014.

UpToDate: "Patient Information: Type 2 diabetes mellitus and diet (Beyond the Basics).”

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