If you take insulin, you may be all too familiar with the weight gain that often accompanies insulin therapy. You need insulin to get glucose into your cells for energy, but once you get your blood sugar under control, you may find that you gain weight. You may also gain weight if you need to eat to treat low blood sugar levels. Additionally, increased body weight places you at greater risk for complications related to diabetes. It can be a frustrating process.
The good news is that there are a number of things you can do to lose weight and stay fit while you’re taking insulin.
Diabetes can cause you to have too much glucose in your bloodstream (blood sugar). If you are not absorbing sugar into your cells, your body will depend on fat for energy, and this can cause weight loss. Also, if your blood sugar is high, your body may allow glucose to go out in the urine, increasing the amount of fluid that is lost from the body. This can cause you to become dehydrated, which may make you feel thinner.
When you begin taking insulin, glucose can be absorbed by the cells and used for energy. This helps blood sugars to go down and helps avoid all of the complications of diabetes, but it can make you gain weight if you eat more than you burn in a day.
Read on to find helpful tips for controlling your weight while taking insulin.
Your healthcare team has a wealth of information, experience, and practical tips for navigating the weight control waters. They can help you make a plan for weight loss and for maintaining a healthy weight. This important team may include one or more of the following healthcare professionals:
- primary care doctor
- nurse educator or diabetes nurse educator
- certified diabetes educator (CDE)
- registered dietitian
- eye doctor
- exercise physiologist
- therapist, social worker, or psychologist
Planning for your health and wellness may be the most essential plan you ever make. Talk with your healthcare team, friends, and family. Their input and support will be vital to your success. As with most plans, begin by assessing your current status by answering these questions:
- What’s your body mass index (BMI)?
- What’s your overall health status? Do you have conditions such as high blood pressure, peripheral artery disease, nerve damage, or heart disease?
- What obstacles do you face when it comes to diet and physical activity?
Look to your healthcare team for guidance in setting realistic goals that encompass your physical and emotional health. Make sure to set achievable goals. Your goals may be:
- reaching your ideal BMI
- maintaining your idea weight or losing a set amount of weight
- reaching daily and weekly physical activity goals
- accomplishing your goals by a certain date
Forget the word “diet.” Instead, plan the changes you’re going to make in the types of food you eat. Your dietitian can help you through this process. Explore new foods and recipes and make them part of your shopping and meal-preparation repertoire.
When you are trying to manage your weight on insulin, you need to manage your calorie intake. Most people with diabetes are familiar with managing their carbohydrate intake, but this is not the same thing. To manage your calorie intake, consider using the “plate method” of portion control as well as counting carbs. Here are the basics of plating portion control:
- Visualize a line down the center of your dinner plate. Add a second line across one of the halves. You should have three sections.
- Put non-starchy vegetables that appeal to you in the largest section. Vegetables are “high volume foods” and help to add bulk and size to your meals without adding many calories.
- Grains and starches fill one of the smaller sections, using your carb counting guidelines.
- Place lean protein in the other small section.
- Add a serving of fruit or a low fat dairy product as allowed by your meal plan.
- Add healthy fats but limit the amounts as these can add a lot of calories in a small amount.
- Add a non-caloric beverage such as water or unsweetened coffee or tea.
The portions of food you eat are crucial In America, we supersize food. Research published in Journal of Nutrition confirms that Americans will consume significantly more calories just because they’ve been given larger portions. Be aware of your portion sizes, and be willing to say “no” to more.
The American Heart Association recommends that you get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week. This is the equivalent of 30 minutes of exercise five days a week.
Exercise isn’t defined only as working out in a gym or running a marathon. Exercise can include gardening, dancing, or walking the dog. Choose activities that appeal to you. Also, you’ll be more likely to continue exercising if you share the activity with a friend.
Be sure to consult your doctor before you begin an exercise regimen. Exercise lowers blood sugar, and depending on the type of insulin you are on, you may need to adjust the intensity or timing of your exercise, or adjust your insulin or food intake. Your healthcare team can advise you on when to test your blood glucose levels and when to eat relative to the time you’ve set aside for exercise.
Exercise can also make some diabetes-related eye conditions worse. If you have diabetic retinopathy or other disorders of the eye, it’s important to check with your eye doctor before embarking on an exercise routine.
Be mindful that reducing your insulin is never a solution for weight loss. If you need insulin, reducing your medication to lose weight is dangerous. The side effects that you can experience by limiting your insulin dose are serious and can be long lasting.
Remember to discuss any weight-loss programs with your doctor. They will be able to put you on the right path to maintaining a healthy weight while taking insulin.