11 Ways to Gain Weight If You Have Diabetes

Medically reviewed by Suzanne Falck, MD on September 19, 2017Written by Corey Whelan on September 19, 2017

How diabetes can affect your weight

Although diabetes is often associated with being overweight, especially type 2 diabetes, it’s a myth that everyone with diabetes has a high body mass index (BMI). Some people have trouble gaining weight. In fact, unexplained or unintentional weight loss can be a symptom of undiagnosed diabetes.

Issues with weight management center around insulin, a hormone produced by your pancreas. People with diabetes are unable to use or produce enough insulin to transport excess sugar out of their blood and into their cells, where it can be used as energy. This can cause your body to burn its existing fat stores and muscle tissue in order to supply your cells with energy.

If your sugar levels are constantly in flux, your body will continue to chip away at its fat stores, resulting in weight loss.

What you can do

Diabetes food plans are often geared toward helping people lose, rather than gain, weight. This can make it harder to figure out how to gain weight in a healthy way.

Before trying the tips below, talk with your doctor or dietician. They can help you set the right diet and exercise goals for you, as well as answer any questions you may have.

1. Start with an app

There are many apps available to help you manage your condition and make the right food choices. Look for apps that help you track blood sugar and BMI.

Some options include:

GlucOracle: This glucose forecasting app uses crowdsourcing to analyze the estimated amount of carbohydrates, protein, fat, calories, and fiber in each meal. It also predicts what your glucose level will be after eating.

SuperTracker: This app helps you gain weight by providing comprehensive nutritional information on over 8,000 food items. It also tracks your nutritional targets, diet, and activity levels against your goals.

If these don’t appeal to you, we’ve also rounded up the best diabetes management and calorie counter apps of the year.

2. Determine your ideal weight

It’s important to know what your current weight is, as well as establish how much weight you want to gain overall. Setting weekly gain goals can help you chart your progress.

You should also know what the appropriate BMI is, for your frame and height. Plugging your height and weight into a BMI calculator can help you get an idea of where your weight should be.

Your doctor or dietitian can provide you with more specific information about your ideal weight. They can also help you determine what your daily caloric intake should be.

 3. Eat six small meals a day instead of three bigger meals

The only way to gain weight is to increase your calorie consumption. The trick is to eat healthy food every three hours or so, before your body starts burning its fat stores for energy.

Getting used to eating this way takes a bit of practice, as well as planning. It doesn’t mean giving up dinner with the family or not meeting friends for lunch. But it does mean keeping an eye on what you eat, so your intake is as nutrient- and calorie-dense as possible.

Planning out your meals for the week can help. Your meals should be made up of:

  • lean protein
  • mono and polyunsaturated fats
  • whole grains
  • fruits
  • vegetables

Try to drink fluids an hour or more before your meals, or shortly after you finish eating, rather than during meals. This will stop you from filling up on fluids.

Sample meal plan

  • Breakfast: scrambled eggs with turkey bacon and whole grain toast, drizzled with olive oil
  • Snack: cheddar cheese, almonds, and an apple
  • Lunch: turkey sandwich on whole grain bread, plus an avocado salad, topped with seeds and low-sugar dressing
  • Snack: low-sugar Greek yogurt with walnuts and dried cranberries
  • Dinner: grilled salmon with quinoa, and broccoli with cheese sauce
  • Snack: all-natural peanut butter spread on whole grain crackers

4. Get more healthful carbs throughout the day

Eating carbohydrates low on the glycemic index is important for maintaining stable blood sugar levels. Folding healthy carbs into your ‘six meals per day’ plan may help you gain weight, but it’s important to keep an eye on your glucose levels.

Adding a protein or fat each time you eat a carb may help increase caloric consumption, without causing your sugar levels to spike.

Examples of healthy carbs include:

  • whole grains
  • vegetables
  • berries
  • nuts
  • legumes
  • seeds

5. Eat foods high in healthful mono and polyunsaturated fats

Opt for heart healthy fats — such as sunflower seed oil — whenever you can. Adding a portion of healthy fat to each of your meals can help you gain weight without tacking on empty calories.

Some options include:

  • avocado
  • olive oil
  • canola oil
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • fatty fish, such as salmon and mackerel

6. Get more dietary protein

Protein is necessary for maintaining muscle mass. Good sources include:

  • fish
  • chicken
  • beans
  • soy
  • eggs

Talk to your doctor about the appropriate serving size of protein for you, based on your kidney function and weight gain goal. For example, if you currently eat three to four ounces of protein per day, you may need to kick it up to seven ounces.

7. Avoid low-calorie foods and beverages

In order to gain weight, you have to eat at least 500 additional calories per day. Opting for calorie-dense foods will help you meet that goal more easily.

But if you just can’t pass on low-cal faves like celery and lettuce, here are a few ways to boost their calorie count.

If you love the crunch of celery, try putting it in chicken salad. You can also fill a stalk with cream cheese or almond butter, instead of eating it plain.

Can’t give up lettuce? You don’t have to. Just sprinkle on some cheese, seeds, and avocado slices, or enjoy blue cheese dressing on top.

8. Avoid low-fat foods and beverages

You can spice up low-cal foods, but low-fat or no-fat foods are always a hard no. Processed foods often swap fat for sugar, which is lacking in nutritional value.

Common culprits include low-fat cookies, crackers, yogurt, and frozen entrees.

9. Supplement wisely

Supplements may help with weight gain, especially if you lack the appetite to take in enough calories. Look for supplements designed to help build muscle mass, such as casein or whey protein powder.

Check with your doctor before starting any supplement and always follow the directions on the label.

10. Amp up your workout with resistance training

Resistance training with weights and machines can help add lean muscle, as well as increase your appetite. You can also try aquatic resistance training or work with medicine balls.

Upping your workout to include weights doesn’t mean you have to forgo aerobic activity, though. Just be aware that aerobics burns more calories, and be sure to compensate with your diet.

11. Track your progress with a weekly weigh-in

The only way to know you’re gaining weight is to weigh yourself. A weekly weigh-in can track your progress and help you modify your current eating routine, as needed.

If you’re taking in enough calories, you should start to see an increase of about one pound in one week’s time. Target a one- to two-pound weekly increase until you reach your goal weight.

The bottom line

If you have diabetes, gaining weight can be challenging. You’ll have to increase your caloric consumption by at least 500 calories per day, if not more.

Talk to your doctor or dietician about how you can best achieve this. They can help you set weight goals, create a meal plan, and modify your exercise routine to set you up for success.

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