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Experts say monitoring blood glucose levels is important for people with type 1 diabetes. nattrass/Getty Images
  • Researchers say only about half of people with type 1 diabetes who have weight issues get proper lifestyle guidance.
  • They recommend that healthcare professionals provided more information to people with type 1 diabetes who have obesity on diet and exercise.
  • Experts say a healthy, balanced diet with portion control along with regular exercise is important to manage weight gain for people with type 1 diabetes.

Overweight or obesity issues are common in people with type 1 diabetes.

However, only about half of them receive advice on lifestyle modifications or engage in behaviors that could improve their weight, according to a study published today in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

In their study, researchers noted that adults with and without type 1 diabetes had the same rates of being overweight or having obesity.

The researchers added that people with type 1 diabetes with weight issues received lifestyle modification recommendations more often than people without diabetes but less often than those with type 2 diabetes.

“In our clinic, we talk about weight management, increasing activity, and controlling food intake, but it is often overshadowed by the amount of time we spend working on carb counting and matching the timing of insulin to food,” said Dr. Kathleen Wyne, an endocrinologist and clinical professor of internal medicine at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

The researchers analyzed the National Health Interview Survey data from 128,571 nonpregnant adults.

Their findings included:

  • Between 2016 and 2021, 64% of adults without diabetes were overweight or obese
  • 62% of adults with type 1 diabetes were overweight or obese
  • 86% of people with type 2 diabetes were overweight or obese

People with type 1 diabetes were the least likely to report increased activity or reduced daily calories to manage their weight.

“Overweight and obesity are major determinants of people developing type 2 diabetes. However, diet and exercise are still very important in those with type 1 diabetes,” said Dr. David Cutler, a family medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.

The researchers said that developing more comprehensive clinical guidelines emphasizing individual patient education could improve weight management in people with type 1 diabetes.

Body mass index (BMI) is one of the tools for measuring healthy weight despite the fact it has flaws and limitations.

It compares your height to your weight and comes up with a score.

The following chart lists BMI and weight status:

UnderweightLess than 18.5
Obesity30 or greater

BMI, however, is only one factor.

Belly fat is also crucial.

Visceral fat is also important. It is deep abdominal fat that surrounds internal organs. When you have a large amount, you have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other health conditions, according to Harvard Health.

Women with a waist circumference of more than 35 and men with more than 40 inches are at a higher risk of health problems, according to the CDC.

The key to weight loss for most people is finding the right combination of exercise, healthy foods, and portion control, according to the American Diabetes Association.

“In my practice, we consider our dietitian and diabetes educators to be a crucial part of the discussion regarding prevention of weight gain and facilitating weight loss,” Wyne told Healthline. “We do not recommend a ‘diet’ for people with type 1 diabetes. We recommend healthy eating. If a person wants dietary guidelines, we recommend ‘heart healthy’ diet plans because of their increased risk of cardiovascular disease and because it is a healthy way of eating.”

According to the National Institutes of Health, a healthy eating plan:

  • Focuses on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and low-fat or fat-free dairy.
  • Includes lean meats, fish, poultry, beans, eggs, and nuts for protein.
  • Limits refined sugars, sodium, and trans and saturated fats.
  • Has healthy portions.

For most women, 1,200 to 1,500 calories per day, and for most men, 1,500-1,800 calories per day should help you lose weight.

“A balanced and nutritious diet is an important aspect of managing type 1 diabetes,” Cutler told Healthline. “There is no one ‘best’ diet for type 1 diabetes, as individual nutritional needs vary greatly depending on factors such as age, sex, weight, and activity level.”

Cutler offers some general dietary guidelines that may be beneficial for people with type 1 diabetes, including:

  • Monitoring carbohydrate intake: Consuming carbohydrates can cause an increase in blood sugar levels. People with type 1 diabetes should aim to eat a moderate amount of carbohydrates to help manage blood sugar levels.
  • Eating a variety of nutrient-dense foods: This includes foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. These foods provide essential nutrients and can help support overall health.
  • Limiting processed foods: Processed foods are often high in added sugars and unhealthy fats, which can negatively impact blood sugar control and overall health.
  • Incorporating fiber-rich foods: Fiber helps regulate blood sugar levels and improves digestion and satiety. Foods high in fiber include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.
  • Staying hydrated: Drinking plenty of water is important for overall health and can also help regulate blood sugar levels.

“It’s important to work with a registered dietitian or healthcare provider to develop an individualized meal plan that meets specific nutritional needs and helps manage blood sugar levels,” Cutler continued. “People with type 1 diabetes should also regularly check their blood sugar levels and adjust their diet as needed based on their glucose readings and other health factors.”

Physical activity is important for health and well-being.

The American Heart Association recommends the following activity levels for adults:

  • 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic exercise or 75 of vigorous activity, or a combination of both.
  • Moderate to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity at least two days per week.
  • Reduce the time you spend sitting.
  • Try to be active for at least 300 minutes per week.

When you have type 1 diabetes, balancing your insulin levels with the food you eat and activity levels matters, according to the American Diabetes Association.

Some people experience a drop in blood sugar when exercising or engaging in strenuous activity. Checking blood sugar before and after activity helps you learn how your body reacts and then adjust insulin doses.

“Exercise plays a crucial role in the management of diabetes,” Cutler told Healthline. “Regular physical activity helps control blood sugar levels, improve insulin sensitivity, and reduce the risk of various diabetes-related complications.”

Exercise benefits people with diabetes in several ways, Cutler said:

  • Regulates blood sugar levels: Exercise can help lower blood sugar levels by increasing insulin sensitivity and glucose uptake in muscle cells.
  • Improves insulin sensitivity: Regular physical activity helps improve the body’s ability to use insulin effectively, which can lead to better blood sugar control.
  • Lowers blood pressure: Exercise can help reduce blood pressure, which is an important factor in the management of diabetes-related complications.
  • Increases cardiovascular health: Physical activity can improve heart health, which is important for people with diabetes who are at increased risk for heart disease and stroke.

“It’s important to remember that exercise should be part of a comprehensive diabetes management plan that also includes a balanced diet and medication as prescribed by a healthcare provider,” Cutler said. “People with diabetes should work with their healthcare team to determine the type and intensity of exercise that’s right for them.”