Diabetes and Weight Loss: When it’s Good vs. Bad, a Guide

Posted March 22, 2021 by Clint Kelly - See Editorial Guidelines

Just prior to my diagnosis, I was 175 pounds and was looking to gain muscle mass. Within a matter of fewer than 2 weeks, my weight was down to 156 pounds. I was at a loss for words and was the sickest I have ever been in my life. The onset of my type 1 diabetes caused me to lose this weight, but how? 

We often assume that all weight loss is beneficial, but what if this wasn’t always the case? Diabetes and weight loss go hand in hand. So, we are going to discuss the positives and negatives of diabetes and weight loss throughout this article, including all the minor details you need to know.

First, let us start with a quick summary before we cover more of the specifics.

Diabetes and Weight Loss: High blood sugar caused by diabetes can lead to unwanted and rapid weight loss, which is unhealthy. On the flip side, losing weight through proper diet and exercise can improve your diabetes condition if you are overweight. Certain diabetes medications can also lead to weight loss.

Diabetes and Weight Loss

With this quick summary in mind let’s cover the details around this topic.

Weight loss caused by diabetes

I can personally speak about weight loss caused by diabetes due to my experience of being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

Unexplained weight loss can occur in individuals with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes; however, it is more common with type 1. It typically occurs just before a diabetes diagnosis.

During my experience of getting diagnosed with type 1, I lost nearly 20 pounds within about two weeks. I was not trying to lose weight at the time and felt very ill.

I was unaware of how severe my condition was until I had bloodwork done and received my diagnosis. My blood sugar was around 750 mg/dL, and I was severely dehydrated.

Diabetes causes weight loss when your blood sugar is chronically high and you aren’t getting enough insulin.

Without enough insulin, the glucose in your bloodstream is not able to be used for energy. Therefore, your body starts to burn fat and muscle for energy, resulting in weight loss.

This type of weight loss is often sudden and is very unhealthy. If left untreated, it can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis and may cause you to go into a coma.

Therefore, if you are experiencing sudden or unexplained weight loss, speak with your doctor right away.

On the flip side of this, there is a positive when it comes to diabetes and weight loss.

Losing weight to improve your diabetes condition

Type 2 diabetes is often the result of certain lifestyle factors, such as being overweight and sedentary. So, losing weight is one way to help improve your diabetes condition.

Weight loss itself and the strategies for losing weight help improve insulin sensitivity, allowing for better control over your blood glucose.

Studies have shown that losing 5% of your body weight if you are overweight can significantly improve your diabetes condition and lessen your risk of having other complications, such as heart disease.

This means that you might not need to be on as many medications. Patients that lose unwanted weight also experience improved mood, energy, and overall quality of life.

However, diabetes and weight loss are not the easiest to deal with. So, below is a breakdown of how you can safely and effectively lose weight when you have diabetes.

How to lose weight when you have diabetes

  • Start small

If you start looking at the big picture without a strategy, it can be daunting, preventing many people from ever confronting their diabetes and weight. Therefore, start small by setting realistic goals.

One goal may be to start going on walks around your neighborhood or block a minimum of three times a week. Another goal may be to have a certain caloric limit per day to prevent yourself from overeating.

  • Start getting physical

Regular exercise is crucial for shedding pounds and improving your insulin sensitivity.

Getting physically active can also do a lot more than just help you lose weight. It can help you improve your mobility and mental health. Exercise can trigger the release of dopamine and serotonin, which are hormones that have positive impacts on your mind and mood.

  • Create a routine and schedule

Many underestimate how important it is to have a consistent routine and schedule when it comes to dieting and exercise. Scheduling your meals out prevents you from making last-minute impulsive eating decisions, which are often unhealthy choices.

Developing a routine around your workouts will also help you stay consistent and allow you to keep track of your progress.

  • Make adjustments to your diet

One of the best things you can start doing with your diet is to cut down on the calories. If you truly want to lose weight, you have to burn more calories than you are consuming a day.

Now, cutting back on the calories is much easier said than done, as it can often leave you feeling hungry. This is why it is recommended to incorporate foods rich in fiber into your life. Fiber-rich foods tend to be lower in calories and can make you feel fuller longer.

For more information about the right diet, consult a nutritionist as the perfect diet must consider the specifics surrounding your body type and condition.

  • Get an accountability partner

Managing diabetes and weight loss are very difficult, and doing it alone will only make it harder. Surround yourself with close friends and family who are willing to support you through all of your failures and successes.

Finding someone that is going through the same thing you are may even be more helpful. This allows you to challenge each other so that you can accomplish your goals faster.

Diabetes and Weight Loss

Weight loss and glucose control

The biggest key when it comes to diabetes and weight loss is strict glucose control.

Controlling your blood sugar levels will prevent you from having unwanted and unhealthy weight loss caused by high blood sugar levels. It will also prevent you from having other health complications down the road.

Good glucose control will also be extremely beneficial when you are trying to lose those unwanted pounds. There are a few reasons behind this.

First, keeping your blood sugar levels in range will prevent you from experiencing hunger. Typically, when your blood sugar levels are too high or too low, you can experience excessive hunger, causing the desire to overeat.

Stabilized glucose will help you keep your energy levels up too. This will help in getting you motivated to get physically active, promoting more weight loss.

Lastly, glucose control will also promote increased protein synthesis. Adequate insulin and insulin sensitivity will ensure proper glucose control. This allows our muscle and fat cells to receive a source of energy for our bodies to burn as well as replenish its stores. Thus, glucose control can help in building muscle while you burn fat.

Your diabetes medications and weight loss

When discussing diabetes and weight loss, we must mention that many medications prescribed to treat type 2 diabetes can aid in weight loss.

One class of drugs that can be used to treat diabetes and promote weight loss is glucagon-like peptide (GLP-1) agonists.  Examples of drugs belonging to this class include:

The other class of diabetes drugs that can be associated with weight loss includes sodium-glucose cotransporter 2 (SGLT-2) inhibitors. Examples of drugs belonging to this class include:

Talk to your doctor about which medication is right for you when it comes to treating your diabetes condition and promoting weight loss if it is needed.

Final thoughts

We hope this article has provided you with an in-depth analysis of diabetes and weight loss. There are many factors to consider, so consult your doctor for information surrounding your specific condition and treatment.

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