Diabetes: Why Am I Gaining Weight?

Insulin is a vital hormone in your body that regulates blood sugar levels. It helps your body turn sugar into energy. Just as a car engine uses gasoline, the body uses sugar to function optimally. It’s a fundamental unit of energy that fuels your body cells. 

According to the New York State Department of Health,¹ about 15% to 30% of people with prediabetes develop full-blown type 2 diabetes in approximately 3 to 5 years when lifestyle changes are not made.

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How does diabetes develop?

After you eat, the body breaks down food into smaller parts. It absorbs nutrients such as glucose (sugar), which then enter the bloodstream.

Your body notices the increased sugar level and signals the pancreas to release insulin, which acts as a messenger between the sugar in your bloodstream and your body’s cells. Once insulin is released, it tells the cells to open up and absorb the glucose and use it to fuel their activities.

If your body is functioning smoothly, your body’s cells do open up, and the sugar in your bloodstream is then reduced, signaling insulin levels to decrease as well because their job is done.

However, when there is insulin resistance, the body doesn’t work as it’s supposed to. Your body’s cells ignore insulin’s instruction to open up and absorb the sugar in your blood.

As a result, the level of sugar in your bloodstream builds up, which, in turn, signals the pancreas to release more insulin to get the cells to respond. As the cycle continues, your blood sugar levels do not go down.

Eventually, the pancreas reaches a point where it is unable to maintain adequate insulin release, which makes your blood sugar levels keep rising. This will put your body at higher risk for prediabetes and, finally, diabetes.

What’s the connection between diabetes and weight gain?

When the bloodstream has excess blood sugar and insulin, the body is signaled to store sugar. Some sugar can be stored in the muscles and liver; however, most sugars are stored as fat when they have nowhere else to go. 

Thus, people with diabetes are more likely to be overweight or obese than those without the disease. 

While weight gain is one of the most common side effects of diabetes, it is not inevitable. One factor is medication. A recent study showed that most antidiabetic agents result in weight gain. This research could have important implications for the treatment of type 2 diabetes.

Weight gain varies from person to person, depending on several factors, including medications. Other factors that affect weight gain include: 

  • Age, sex, height

  • Insulin amount released with each meal and the level of insulin resistance

  • Genetic makeup, family history, and ethnicity

  • Diet and exercise habits

If you’re undergoing diabetes treatment and consume overly fatty foods, you increase your risk of gaining weight. 

The same can be said if you maintain an inactive lifestyle. Currently, this lifestyle is still indirectly affected by COVID-19. With the pandemic, many jobs have become home-based. The increased sedentary lifestyle brought about by working from home has become a menace to weight gain.

How can diabetes affect your health?

Diabetes and its associated diseases are a major cause of death in the United States today. The Centers for Disease Control² (CDC) has reported that without proper care, these diseases can quickly lead to heart disease, kidney disease, stroke, and premature death.

When blood sugar remains at high levels, the body loses its ability to regulate blood sugar levels properly. High blood sugar levels wreak havoc on your organs. 

In fact, people with diabetes have an increased risk of developing conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart and kidney diseases, and liver dysfunction. 

Over time, excess stored fat can also lead to several other health complications, especially fat stored in the abdomen (known as central obesity). For example, the extra fat will increase body inflammation, potentially leading to atherosclerosis and other health conditions such as heart disease.

People with diabetes who are obese are at an even greater risk for developing heart disease, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Kidney Diseases.³ The study showed that people with type 2 diabetes and obesity were almost twice as likely to die from heart disease as people with diabetes alone. 

This risk is likely due to the increased inflammation and oxidative stress that is seen in people with both conditions.

Other health conditions that can occur due to obesity include hyperlipidemia or high cholesterol, obstructive sleep apnea, and many others. Obese individuals are more likely to experience problems with mobility, joint pain, and respiratory disease than people with normal body weight.

The importance of having a healthy weight

A healthy weight is defined as a body mass index (BMI) between 19 and 25 kg/m2. People who have a BMI between 25 and 30 kg/m2 are considered obese, and people with a BMI above 30 kg/m2 are considered morbidly obese. It is important to understand that excess weight can seriously impact your health, even if you do not have diabetes.

Anyone can become overweight or obese if they do not pay attention to their diet, physical activity levels, and overall lifestyle. Obesity is closely related to diabetes, and often a person can develop diabetes due to an unhealthy lifestyle. 

It is, therefore, important to maintain a healthy weight and take steps to address the factors that lead to obesity and diabetes.

Does diabetes make you gain weight?

The short answer is yes, gaining weight with diabetes is possible. 

People with diabetes indeed often struggle with weight gain due to medications plus a sedentary lifestyle. Lack of exercise can contribute to weight gain, which results in higher blood glucose and unhealthy cholesterol levels. 

While most healthy individuals will experience some weight gain as they age, people with diabetes are more likely to gain weight faster. In addition, unhealthy lifestyle choices such as eating a lot of sugar, caffeine, and alcohol and not getting enough physical activity can increase the risk for weight gain. 

What type of diabetes makes you gain weight?

Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are chronic diseases associated with health complications that can lead to weight gain. 

Type 1 diabetes has its origin in an autoimmune disease that damages the ability of the pancreas to produce insulin. It is an autoimmune disease that is usually diagnosed in children and young adults. It is less prevalent and occurs when the body does not produce any insulin.

Type 2 diabetes is caused by the cells’ inability to respond to insulin signaling. It is a metabolic disorder that results in high blood sugar levels and is the most prevalent type of diabetes. It is often associated with weight gain, especially in the abdomen. 

Strategies for losing weight with diabetes

Several strategies can be used to lose weight when you have diabetes. While some of these tips can apply to anyone, they tend to be more effective among people with diabetes. 

Once you know the right method of losing weight, stick with it for several weeks or months before altering your routine. This will help you see consistent results, which in turn will encourage you to keep going. 

Here are some of the key strategies that can help diabetics lose weight:

1. Track calorie intake

A good way to monitor your calorie intake is with the help of a personal dietitian. This person will be able to come up with the right diet plan for you based on your age, physical condition, blood sugar level, and other conditions. 

They will also be able to find out if you are at risk of gaining weight. If your goal is to lose weight, don’t forget to track your daily food intake. Your dietitian can help you determine the best strategy for calculating your caloric intake. 

Avoid foods with high sugar content, especially sugary drinks. These have lately been confirmed to cause colon cancer in young people.

2. Increase protein intake

Studies have shown that when people with type 1 diabetes increase their protein intake, they tend to lose weight faster and easier.

While the exact amount of protein needed for diabetes management is not known, studies have shown that those who eat more than 30 grams of protein per meal have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

3. Choose low-glycemic index foods

Foods with a low glycemic index (GI) should be an important part of your meal plan. Studies have shown that people who eat low-GI foods are at lower risk of developing diabetes and other obesity-related diseases. 

Some foods are better for people with diabetes because they don’t raise blood sugar levels quickly or even at all. The best way to know what foods have a low GI is by reading the label or looking it up online. Foods high in fiber tend to have a lower GI than foods high in fats or carbohydrates. 

4. Exercise regularly

Another way to lose weight is by exercising regularly. If you feel weak or tired, consult your doctor before engaging in any exercise program. The type of exercise you do really depends on your condition. Even though aerobics are great choices, several activities can be done at home, including strength training and kickboxing.

When should I see a doctor?

The best way to prevent and manage weight gain is to see a dietician, exercise regularly, and follow a healthy meal plan. But if you feel that you are still having trouble losing weight or your blood glucose levels are very high, it is best to see your doctor. This may be an early sign of complications from weight gain like diabetes, heart disease, or stroke.

You should also see a doctor if you gain more than 5 pounds or if your waist measurement increases by 2 inches too quickly. It is also recommended that you see a doctor if you notice an increase in your blood pressure or cholesterol levels. 

Finally, you should see a doctor if you have any other concerning symptoms, such as feeling weak or having trouble sleeping.

If you have diabetes, follow your doctor’s instructions for monitoring your sugar level, blood pressure, and daily food intake. Your doctor may also want you to check the A1C test, which measures how often you have a diabetes-related illness. You can also ask your doctor which diabetes medications cause weight gain.

The lowdown

Weight gain is common among people with diabetes, whether type 1 or 2. While this isn’t something you should panic about, it is an issue you must address if you want to maintain your health and live longer.

It is not unusual for those newly diagnosed with diabetes to be confused about what they should and should not eat. People tend to worry that they will gain weight if they don’t follow a strict diet plan. But, as with most things in life, balance is the key. If you are careful about your food choices and monitor your blood glucose levels, you will keep your weight under control.

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