Type 2 diabetes is a serious, long-term medical condition. It develops mostly in adults but is becoming more common in children as obesity rates rise across all age groups. Several factors contribute to type 2 diabetes. Being overweight or obese is the biggest risk factor.

Type 2 diabetes can be life-threatening. But if treated carefully, it can be managed or even reversed.

Your pancreas makes a hormone called insulin. When your blood sugar (glucose) levels rise, the pancreas releases insulin. This causes sugar to move from your blood to your cells, where it can be used as an energy source. As glucose levels in your blood go back down, your pancreas stops releasing insulin.

Type 2 diabetes impacts how you metabolize sugar. Either your pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin or your body has become resistant to its effects. This causes glucose to build up in the blood. This is called hyperglycemia.

There are several symptoms of untreated type 2 diabetes, including:

  • excessive thirst and urination
  • fatigue
  • increased hunger
  • weight loss, in spite of eating more
  • infections that heal slowly
  • blurry vision
  • dark patches on the skin

Treatment for type 2 diabetes includes monitoring your blood sugar levels and using medications or insulin when needed. Doctors also recommend losing weight through diet and exercise. Some diabetes medications have weight loss as a side effect, which can also help reverse diabetes.

If you start eating healthier, get more exercise, and lose weight, you can reduce your symptoms. In fact, weight loss is the primary factor in those who have experienced a reversal of type 2 diabetes, as excess fat in the body affects the production of insulin and how it’s used.

In one small 2011 study, 11 people with type 2 diabetes drastically reduced their caloric intake for 8 weeks, reversing the course of their condition. Researchers noted that this is a small sample, and the participants had lived with the condition for only a few years.

Other research has shown that bariatric surgery can reverse type 2 diabetes, and is one of the few ways to reverse diabetes for an extended period of time.

However, there are less drastic ways that you can lose weight and reduce your symptoms. A commitment to exercise and dietary changes may be all you need.

Starting an exercise routine is important for your overall health, but it’ll also help you lose weight and start to reverse your symptoms. Talk to your doctor before making a plan and keep the following in mind:

  • Start slowly. If you aren’t used to exercising, start small with a short walk. Gradually increase the duration and intensity.
  • Walk quickly. Fast walking is a great way to get exercise. A brisk walk is easy to do and requires no equipment.
  • Check your blood sugar before, during, and after your workout.
  • Keep a snack on hand in case your blood sugar drops while you’re exercising.

Improving the quality of your diet is another important way to help you lose weight, manage your symptoms, and reverse the course of your diabetes. Your doctor can help you plan a healthful and balanced diet, or can refer you to a dietitian.

A diet that helps you manage or reverse your condition should include:

  • reduced calories, especially those from carbohydrates
  • healthful fats
  • a variety of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables
  • whole grains
  • lean proteins (poultry, fish, low-fat dairy, soy, and beans)
  • limited alcohol
  • limited sweets

The American Diabetes Association recommends a low-carbohydrate eating pattern but does not recommend a standard for grams at this time. However, a low-carbohydrate diet would suggest that you eat the same amount of carbohydrates at each meal (around 45–60 grams), for a total of about 200 grams per day (the fewer the better).

Some doctors and scientists support a ketogenic diet as a way to lose weight and stabilize blood sugar levels. This diet markedly restricts carbohydrates, usually to less than 50 grams per day.

Without carbohydrates the body is forced to break down fat for fuel. This does result in rapid weight loss and positive benefits on both triglycerides and blood glucose control.

However, there are some negative effects of this diet including muscle cramps, bad breath, changes in bowel habits, and a loss of energy.

In addition, recent studies suggest that ketogenic diets increase hepatic insulin resistance and may cause a deficiency in some needed micronutrients. More research is needed on the safety and effectiveness of long-term use of this diet.

Reversing type 2 diabetes is possible, but it requires commitment to meal planning, healthy eating, and regular exercise. If you can do these things and lose weight, you may be able to free yourself from diabetes and its complications.

Type 1 diabetes is similar to type 2 diabetes, but it usually develops during childhood and is largely unrelated to weight or diet. The exact causes of type 1 diabetes are unknown. The most important risk factors are genetics and family history.

If you have type 1 diabetes, your pancreas makes little to no insulin. You need to inject insulin regularly to metabolize glucose.

Type 1 diabetes can be managed, but there is no cure and it can’t be reversed. The symptoms are the same as those of type 2 diabetes.

Both conditions can cause serious complications if not managed or treated, including: