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Will Weight Loss Help With Your Diabetes?

Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on May 18, 2021

There's no question about it. If you're overweight and have type 2 diabetes, you will lower your blood sugar, improve your health, and feel better if you lose some of your extra pounds.

You'll want to work closely with your doctor or diabetes educator, because your blood sugar, insulin, and medications will need special attention while you're losing weight.

You don’t need to lose that much to make a difference for your health. One study found that people with type 2 diabetes improved their blood sugar control when they lost as little as 2% of their body weight. And research shows that losing 5% of your extra weight will make you less likely to get heart disease by improving blood pressure, blood sugar, and HDL cholesterol (the good kind).

So start by focusing on losing that 5% and keeping it off. Later, you can build from that success. Many studies have shown that lifestyle changes such as exercise and weight loss are the most effective and safest ways to manage type 2 diabetes.

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If you drop even 10 or 15 pounds, that has health perks, such as:

After you've lost that first 5% of your weight, press on. To see even more improvements, like a lower risk of heart disease and improved blood sugar over the long term, aim to drop 10% to 15% of your body weight.

Losing this amount of body weight could also be more noticeable. You may lose some inches from your waist, drop a pants size, or just feel better. These changes can motivate you to continue shedding pounds if you need to.

Diet: The Right Balance for Diabetes and Weight Loss

Keep tight control over your blood sugar levels while you lose weight. You don't want to get high or low levels while you change your eating habits.

It’s generally safe for someone with diabetes to cut 500 calories a day. Trim from protein, carbohydrates, and fat. The USDA says that calories for adults should come from:

  • 45% to 55% carbs
  • 25% to 35% fat
  • 10% to 35% protein

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Carbs have the biggest effect on blood sugar. Those that have fiber (whole-grain bread and vegetables, for example) are much better than eating sugary or starchy carbs, because they’re less likely to spike your blood sugar and quickly make it crash.

S.M.A.R.T. weight loss goals: Make losing weight with diabetes easier by setting S.M.A.R.T. goals.

S.M.A.R.T. stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. When your goals are S.M.A.R.T., it will be simpler to stay on track with your diet.

Setting S.M.A.R.T. goals help keep big projects, like losing weight or managing blood sugar, from being overwhelming.

Your steps for success are clearly spelled out so that you know when you’ve met the goal.

The biggest payoff comes from turning short-term goals into long-lasting, healthy habits.

To help manage your diabetes, you need to spread carbs out more evenly throughout the day. So, for example, a S.M.A.R.T. goal could be, “I will eat a breakfast containing 45 grams of carbohydrates every day for the next 2 weeks.”

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Here’s the S.M.A.R.T. breakdown:

Specific: Targeted to breakfast

Measurable: 45 grams, every day

Attainable: Breakfasts with about 45 grams of carbs are very doable. A few options:

  • 1 cup cooked oatmeal (32 grams), ½ medium banana (13 grams), a hard-boiled egg, black coffee
  • 2 scrambled eggs, 1 small whole-wheat pita (15 grams), 1 orange (18 grams), 1 cup 1% milk (14 grams)
  • 3 rye crispbreads (24 grams), ½ cup nonfat cottage cheese (5 grams), 1 cup of blackberries (15 grams)

Relevant: Spreading carbs out is relevant because it helps you curb hunger, so you don’t overeat. To hit 45 grams, you have to plan to eat protein and fat in addition to carbs at a meal. A piece of toast with an egg, for instance, will keep you feeling full longer than two slices of toast with jam. When you’re more satisfied, you’re likely to eat less overall.

Time-bound: This goal will be your focus for 2 weeks. At the end of that time, you can decide if you want to do it again or set a different goal.

How Exercise Helps

One of the many benefits of working out is that it helps keep your blood sugar in balance. You're also more likely to keep the pounds off if you're active.

If you're not active now, check in with your doctor first. They can let you know if there are any limits on what you can do.

Aim to get at least 2½ hours a week of moderate aerobic exercise, like brisk walking, to improve your health. You can split up the time any way you choose.

To help yourself lose weight, you’ll need to do more physical activity. You should also do strength training at least twice a week. You can use weight machines at a gym, hand weights, or even your own body weight (think pushups, lunges, and squats).

Physical activity burns both blood sugar and sugar stored in muscle and the liver. If you use insulin or other diabetes medicines, you should closely watch your blood sugar levels when you start exercising. Over time, as you exercise regularly and work with your doctor, you may be able to lower doses of medications and insulin.

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Each type of exercise affects blood sugar differently.

Aerobic exercise -- running or a treadmill workout -- can lower your blood sugar right away.

Weightlifting or working out hard for a long time may affect your blood sugar level many hours later. This can be a problem, especially if you're driving a car after your workout. It's one of the many reasons you should check your blood sugar before you get behind the wheel. It's also a good idea to carry snacks like fruit, crackers, juice, and soda.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Cathy Nonas, registered dietitian and senior adviser, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Christine Gerbstadt, MD, registered dietitian and author, Doctor's Detox Diet: The Ultimate Weight Loss Prescription; medical director, Mobile Medical Corp.

Luigi Meneghini, MD, endocrinologist, Miami.

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Taking Care of Your Diabetes at Special Times."

Larry C. Deeb, MD, pediatric endocrinologist, Tallahassee, FL.

American Diabetes Association: "Healthy Weight Loss."

American Journal of Health Promotion: “Goal setting as a strategy for dietary and physical activity behavior change: a review of the literature.”

Organizational Dynamics: “Goal Setting: A Five-Step Approach to Behavior Change.”

Patient Education and Counseling: “Goal-setting for behavior change in primary care: an exploration and status report.”

Self Nutrition Data.

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