There is a high chance that you or someone you know has type 2 diabetes. Of the 37 million Americans with diabetes (about 1 in 10), 90-95%¹ have type 2 diabetes. People usually develop type 2 diabetes later in life. However, rising cases of childhood obesity mean doctors are diagnosing more and more children with the condition.
After eating, your body breaks down the carbohydrates from your meal into glucose. Glucose makes its way into your bloodstream, and your blood sugar levels rise. When this happens, your pancreas releases insulin into the blood. Insulin "unlocks" cells throughout the body to let glucose in, where they use it for energy.
If you have type 2 diabetes, your cells don't respond to insulin as they should. This is called insulin resistance. When glucose can't get into cells, your blood sugar rises.
Initially, your pancreas makes more insulin to try to overcome this resistance. But your blood sugar stays high when your pancreas can no longer keep up with your body's increased demands. This sets the stage for type 2 diabetes.
Studies have identified a combination of environmental and genetic risk factors in the development and progression of type 2 diabetes. These include obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy eating, blood lipid level, ethnicity, and family history.
While symptoms of type 2 diabetes may be minor or even non-existent during the early stages, there are still some early warning signs.
If type 2 diabetes does cause symptoms, early signs can include:
Constantly feeling hungry
Feeling very tired
Wounds that take longer to heal
Numbness, tingling, or pain in the hands or feet
Patches of dark skin
Unexplained weight loss
If you are experiencing any of the above, discuss them with your doctor as soon as possible.
Without early diagnosis and treatment, you may experience more severe symptoms, including:
Eye disease and loss of vision
Less often, untreated type 2 diabetes may also lead to a diabetic coma. This happens when you lose consciousness due to very high (hyperglycemia) or very low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia).
If you’re over 40, you should undergo regular screening for diabetes. The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF)² recommends screening for 35 to 70-year-olds who are overweight or obese. Talk to your doctor about whether you should start type 2 diabetes screening. You can also ask them how to manage your risk.
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Unexplained weight loss is a symptom of type 2 diabetes. This is when you experience a significant loss of over 10lbs or 5% of your body weight in 6-12 months without major diet, lifestyle, or exercise changes.
This extreme weight loss could be an early symptom of many serious conditions such as cancer, thyroid disease, Parkinson’s disease, or type 2 diabetes.
There are three forms of diabetes: Type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes. The latter is a condition that arises for the first time during pregnancy, and it can cause type 2 diabetes in the future for mother and baby.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition where your immune system attacks the insulin-secreting cells in the pancreas, causing them not to make insulin or make very little insulin. Without enough insulin, your cells cannot take in glucose, which builds up in your blood.
When the glucose doesn't reach your cells, your body thinks it's starving. To compensate, it burns muscle and fat rapidly, resulting in unexplained weight loss.
At the same time, your kidneys work overtime to eliminate the excess sugars in your blood. This further depreciates your body's energy reserves, causing you to lose even more weight.
Type 2 has a similar pattern, but instead of being unable to produce insulin, your body stops properly using its insulin.
While it's true that type 2 diabetes can cause weight loss, it may also lead to weight gain. This is especially the case for patients who take insulin.
When you initially start insulin treatment, the accumulated blood glucose enters your cells for energy. As your body gets better at moving excess glucose into your cells for energy and storage, the more they will store excess glucose as fat.
Many people overeat when they first start treatment because they're concerned about hypoglycemia. This causes them to consume more carbohydrates than their bodies need, leading to their bodies turning the extra glucose into fat.
Other factors that could cause weight gain include a reduction in the glucose excreted in urine and issues with appetite regulation.
Overall, researchers³ estimate that 3-9kg of weight gain could be associated with the first year of initiating insulin therapy.
Some oral medications, such as pioglitazone and glipizide, can cause weight gain. Other drugs, such as liraglutide and metformin, can cause weight loss in some people⁴ but do not affect weight in others. Talk to your doctor to determine if your medication is affecting your weight.
Unexplained weight loss can occur in children with type 2 diabetes, but it's more common in type 1. Parents are often the first to notice unusual weight loss in a child with diabetes.
Despite eating more than usual to relieve hunger, your child may lose weight, sometimes rapidly. Without the energy that blood glucose produces, their body will start depleting fat stores and breaking down muscle.
One of the best ways to manage diabetes type 2 is to lose extra weight. Losing a few pounds can improve your blood sugar levels and make you feel better.
You don’t have to lose huge amounts of weight for significant results. By decreasing your weight by just 5-10%, you may be able to reduce the symptoms of type 2 diabetes gradually. Weight loss can even put the condition into remission, which is where your blood sugar levels are below the diabetes range.
A recent study⁵ concluded that people who lose 10% or more during the first five years of their type 2 diabetes diagnosis double their chance of the disease going into remission.
People with type 2 diabetes reap many health benefits if they decide to slim down. These include:
Type 2 diabetes and sleep apnea (a disorder that causes you to breathe abnormally while asleep) are closely related. On average, 71% of adults with type 2 diabetes have obstructive sleep apnea, according to a 2012 study.⁶ The same study found that weight loss can drastically improve obstructive sleep apnea.
Research has consistently linked obesity and insulin resistance with an increased risk of vascular damage.
Being overweight and having diabetes can lead to inflammation, and these conditions also cause elevated cholesterol and triglycerides.
This combination can eventually lead to atherosclerosis. It's a condition where fat builds up on and inside the walls of your arteries. This plaque build-up stiffens and narrows your arteries, increasing the risk of hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, and stroke.
Eating a healthy diet and losing weight can reduce or eliminate plaques from the arteries, reducing the risk of complications.
Obesity is a common condition among people with type 2 diabetes. Both conditions are risk factors for high levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides, while they lower good cholesterol levels (HDL).
You can reduce your risk by shedding a few pounds. In a 2016 study⁷ of 401 people who were overweight or obese, those who lost 5-10% of their body weight significantly lowered their LDL and total cholesterol levels.
Generally, people with type 2 diabetes are more likely to have mobility-related issues compared to people who don't have the disease.
The good news? If you embark on a serious weight loss journey, day-to-day activities will be much easier. Since exercise, eating healthy, and weight loss can improve your blood sugar, your risk of complications decreases.
Healthier choices can reduce your risk of open sores, nerve damage, and foot issues.
Having diabetes and managing its treatment and symptoms can affect your mental health.
When you lose a few pounds through a healthy diet and exercise, your energy level goes up, your mood can improve, and it can help your confidence. It may improve your symptoms and even cause remission, alleviating your psychological burden.
While losing excess weight can be a challenge or even a struggle, don't let that stop you. You can do it. It’s one of the best tools for managing your condition and improving your overall well-being. Make sure you have the right support to stay engaged and motivated, whether that’s your family, friends, or an online community.
It's important to talk to your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms of type 2 diabetes. Still, you can do things at home to lose weight and manage the condition effectively. These include:
Before eating anything at any time of the day, think about how you feel. Are you truly hungry? If the answer is yes, tuck in. If you’re not hungry, find something else to do. Discipline is paramount in any weight loss journey.
A small, high-fiber breakfast is a great way to start your day. Fiber doesn’t cause blood sugar spikes, and it makes you feel full for longer, decreasing your chances of overeating later. Overeating can affect your weight loss plans and cause you to lose control over your blood sugar.
Physical activity burns calories. The CDC⁸ set a reasonable goal for most adults: At least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intense exercise—such as dancing, gardening, walking, or cycling—plus muscle-strengthening exercises at least twice a week. Speak with your doctor about exercises and activities that are appropriate for you.
Opt for healthier choices, such as vegetables or fruits, nuts, or seeds. High-fiber, low-sugar snacks are best. As all foods contain calories, the more you eat, the more weight you'll gain. So limit yourself to small portions.
Try to limit drinking to special occasions. Avoid drinking more than two alcoholic drinks in one day if you’re a man, and stick to one drink if you’re a woman.
One drink is equal to a 12oz beer, 5oz glass of wine, or 1.5oz shot of liquor. Avoid sugary mixed drinks, sweet wines, or cordials if you must drink.
Don't skip your medication to avoid weight gain. Although you may lose some weight, the consequences of not properly taking your medication are serious. Without enough medicine, your blood glucose will rise, as will your risk of diabetes complications.
How we frame our weight loss journey can significantly impact our progress. Learning some positive self-talk strategies can keep you in the right frame of mind. You can set yourself up for success by constantly thinking things like, "I like walking: It is a good, healthy activity for me."
People with type 2 diabetes become overweight because they consume more calories than they can burn. Even overeating healthy food can result in weight gain. Try eating smaller portions by using smaller plates and bowls. Resist seconds by putting any leftovers in the fridge straight away.
Although your weight loss journey may be well-intentioned, it's essential to understand that you won't make much progress if you don't adopt a healthy diet plan from the onset.
Make your calories count with these nutritious foods:
With such a sharp focus on carbohydrates, cutting back on most carb-containing foods may seem like a good thing to do. However, people with type 2 diabetes need a consistent intake of healthy carbs to manage their weight and balance their blood sugar levels.
Legumes, such as peas and beans
Be careful around canned options: Canned vegetables can have higher sodium, and canned fruit can have higher sugar due to syrup. Instead, look for vegetables labeled 'no added salt' and avoid canned fruit.
Read the labels for dairy products, as many low-fat products have added sugar. Make sure to choose the ones with the least sugar content.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can lower your cholesterol. These foods include:
Olive, peanut, and canola oils
Low-fat dairy products, such as cheese and milk
Be careful not to overdo it, as all fats are high in calories.
High-fiber foods keep your blood sugar steady and fill you up, so you won't be as tempted by less-healthy options. These include:
If you are unsure about the foods to include in your diet, speak with a registered dietician. They can help you create a diet based on your health goals, tastes, and lifestyle. They can also talk with you about how to improve your eating habits, such as choosing portion sizes that suit your needs.
If you're losing weight without trying and you're concerned about it, consult your doctor. As a rule of thumb, unintentionally losing more than 5% of your weight within six or 12 months may indicate a problem. It could be that your type 2 diabetes has advanced and needs medical attention.
If you have any of the symptoms of diabetes, speak to your doctor.
When it comes to type 2 diabetes weight loss, it's important to understand that your journey will differ from others. You can lose those extra pounds by consulting your doctor, eating a healthy diet, and staying physically active. Keeping a careful eye on your weight, activity, and diet will positively impact your diabetes and overall health.
Prediabetes and type 2 diabetes: Screening | U.S. Preventive Services
How much physical activity do adults need? | Center for Disease Control and Prevention