Losing Weight as a Diabetic

The need to lose weight seems to be a common theme. Doctors tell patients to lose weight. Magazine articles urge readers to shed pounds. Your friends may tell you that ‘their brother’s condition really improved when he lost weight’. But, what does losing weight as a diabetic really mean?

Let’s look at the real reasons for losing weight if you have diabetes or are at risk for diabetes. When you are overweight it is much more difficult to manage your blood glucose levels. The fact is, when you are overweight, it is almost impossible to keep your blood sugar under control.

Weight Issues with Type 1 Diabetes

Weight affects diabetics with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. However, weight issues differ for each diagnosis.

In type 1 diabetes losing weight is often not the issue. If type 1 diabetes is not treated, people with this condition can begin to lose weight. Their body stops making insulin, a hormone the body needs to process glucose.

A type 1 diabetic does not utilize glucose properly. The glucose from the foods a type 1 diabetic eats, (their main source of fuel) are washed out of the body along with their urine.

Type 1 diabetics who are overweight can also experience problems. Type 1 diabetics may be overweight before they develop diabetes, or they may become overweight by mismanaging their eating and work out plans. Even though type 1 diabetes is not normally associated with being overweight, a person can accumulate a large amount of body fat because of their diet making it harder for the body to use insulin and harder for the diabetic to control blood sugar levels.

Weight Issues with Type 2 Diabetics

Losing weight is a real concern for type 2 diabetics. In fact, the majority of patients are overweight before their diagnosis.  Obesity is a risk factor for diabetes. Plus, if a person currently has type 2 diabetes and puts on extra pounds, bona fide problems can arise. It will become very difficult to control blood glucose levels.

If you are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes your body is insulin resistant. Your body produces insulin, but it cannot utilize it efficiently. Type 2 diabetics cannot use insulin to get glucose to their cells. Because of this, their blood sugar rises and the pancreas tries to compensate by producing even more insulin to solve the problem.

Type 2 diabetics are often heavier than they should be and have poor exercise habits. If they learn to eat correctly and exercise they have a good chance of reversing this problem

When a diabetic loses weight great things happen:[1]

  • Blood sugar levels are lowered
  • Insulin resistance is lessened
  • Other health issues are improved – blood pressure, cholesterol, heart health, kidney health, depression
  • Stress on joints is reduced
  • Movement is eased
  • Energy increases

The Diabetes Prevention Program[2]

The Diabetes Prevention Program is a large study that followed diabetics and people at risk for diabetes.[3] One of its most astounding findings was that a person at risk for type 2 diabetes could lose 10 to 15 pounds of weight and increase their activity and actually prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes.

Losing Weight the Healthy Way

There are as many ways to lose weight as there are to gain weight. Your goal is to lose weight in a healthy manner as a part of your self-management program for diabetes.

Set Realistic Goals. The first step in losing weight is to set realistic weight loss goals. You cannot reasonably, or healthily, lose 65 pounds in one month. However, you can lose 2 to 3 pounds a week. Your first goal should be to lose weight and keep it off.

  • Pick a start date for your weight loss program to begin and stick to it, (just because grandma baked a pie does not mean you get to put off your start date)
  • Keep a food journal and write down what you eat religiously, (keep food records about everything you eat and drink, the time of day, who you were eating with, what you were doing, and any other helpful information)
  • Review your food journal every week and use it to help set goals for the upcoming week
  • Be open to change – you will be changing the way you eat, and leaving behind a lot of unhealthy eating habits
  • Be on constant alert – do you need to eat smaller portions? Can you exchange that candy bar for a piece of fruit? Always ask questions!
  • Get physical – any diet will be more successful if you add physical activity, (physical activity is especially important for diabetics)

Ready. Set Go. Prepare for your start date by doing a little housekeeping.

  • Clean out the fridge and cabinets of all unhealthy foods
  • Find healthy recipes and stock your fridge and cabinets with healthy foods and snacks
  • Come up with ideas about how you will deal with food problems when they arise, (when you go to a restaurant what will you order?)

Healthy Eating

Healthy eating is essential to losing weight, and most people know that. The Diabetes Prevention Program developed ideas to help people lose weight in a healthy manner.[4] They encourage people to eat meals at regular times and to eat slowly. When you eat your food slowly you are better able to digest the food and more aware of what you are eating and when you are full, which makes you less likely to overeat. The prevention program study also urges diabetics to not worry about cleaning their plate.

The Plate Method is another brilliant way to manage your meals as you attempt to lose weight. This method divides the plate into three sections.[5] The largest section is for non-starchy vegetables such as lettuce, carrots, green beans, and tomatoes. 1/4 of the plate is for proteins such as poultry, fish, tofu, or lean meat. The final ¼ of the plate is for starches such as a slice of bread or 1/3 cup of cooked pasta.

Are you motivated to lose weight? Losing weight as a diabetic can be life changing. Not only can losing up to 10 pounds help your heart and your cholesterol level, a healthy weight can help you manage your blood sugar.


[1]  Diabetes Prevention Program. (n.d.). Retrieved from National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse: http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/preventionprogram/#points

[2]  ibid

[3]  Ibid

[4]  Healthy Eating. (n.d.). Retrieved from George Washington University Diabetes Prevention Program: http://www.bsc.gwu.edu/dpp/lifestyle/part/english/06healthy.pdf

[5]  The Idaho Plate Method for Diabetes Management. (n.d.). Retrieved from The University of Idaho: http://www.extension.uidaho.edu/franklin/Idaho%20plate%20method%20for%20Diabetes.pdf

This article was originally published July 12, 2012 and last revision and update of it was 9/10/2015.