A diabetic diet is a dietary pattern that is used by people with diabetes mellitus or high blood glucose to manage diabetes.
There is no single dietary pattern that is best for all people with all types of diabetes. For overweight and obese people with Type 2 diabetes, any weight-loss diet that the person will adhere to and achieve weight loss on is effective. Since carbohydrate is the macronutrient that raises blood glucose levels most significantly, the greatest debate is regarding how low in carbohydrates the diet should be. This is because although lowering carbohydrate intake will lead to reduced blood glucose levels, this conflicts with the traditional establishment view that carbohydrates should be the main source of calories. Recommendations of the fraction of total calories to be obtained from carbohydrate are generally in the range of 20% to 45%, but recommendations can vary as widely as from 16% to 75%.
The most agreed-upon recommendation is for the diet to be low in sugar and refined carbohydrates, while relatively high in dietary fiber, especially soluble fiber. People with diabetes are also encouraged to eat small frequent meals a day. Likewise, people with diabetes may be encouraged to reduce their intake of carbohydrates that have a high glycemic index (GI), although this is also controversial. (In cases of hypoglycemia, they are advised to have food or drink that can raise blood glucose quickly, such as a sugary sports drink, followed by a long-acting carbohydrate (such as rye bread) to prevent risk of further hypoglycemia.) Others question the usefulness of the glycemic index and recommend high-GI foods like potatoes and rice. It has been claimed that oleic acid has a slight advantage over linoleic acid in reducing plasma glucose.
There has been long history of dietary treatment of diabetes mellitus. Dietary treatment of diabetes mellitus was used in Egypt since 3,500 B.C. and was used in India by Sushruta and Charaka more than 2000 years ago. In the 18th century, John Rollo argued that calorie restriction could reduce glycosuria in diabetes.
More modern history of the diabetic diet may begin with Frederick Madison Allen and Elliott Joslin, who, in the early 20th century, before insulin was discovered, recommended that people with diabetes eat only a low-calorie and nearly zero-carbohydrate diet to prevent ketoacidosis from killing them. While this approach could extend life by a limited period, patients developed a variety of other medical problems.
The introduction of insulin by Frederick Banting in 1922 allowed patients more flexibility in their eating.
In the 1950s, the American Diabetes Association, in conjunction with the U.S. Public Health Service, introduced the “exchange scheme”. This allowed people to swap foods of similar nutrition value (e.g., carbohydrate) for another. For example, if wishing to have more than normal carbohydrates for dessert, one could cut back on potatoes in one’s first course. The exchange scheme was revised in 1976, 1986, and 1995.
Not all diabetes dietitians today recommend the exchange scheme. Instead, they are likely to recommend a typical healthy diet: one high in fiber, with a variety of fruit and vegetables, and low in both sugar and fat, especially saturated fat.
A diet high in plant fibre was recommended by James Anderson. This may be understood as continuation of the work of Denis Burkitt and Hugh Trowell on dietary fibre, which may be understood as a continuation of the work of Price. It is still recommended that people with diabetes consume a diet that is high in dietary fiber.
In 1976, Nathan Pritikin opened a centre where patients were put on programme of diet and exercise (the Pritikin Program). This diet is high on carbohydrates and fibre, with fresh fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. A study at UCLA in 2005 showed that it brought dramatic improvement to a group of people with diabetes or pre-diabetes in three weeks, so that about half no longer met the criteria for the disease.
On the other hand, in 1983, Richard K. Bernstein began treating people with diabetes and pre-diabetes successfully with a very low-carbohydrate diet, avoiding fruit, added sugar, and starch. Both the Pritikin approach and the Bernstein approach prescribe exercise.
An approach that has been popular with some people with type 1 diabetes mellitus since 2000 is known as DAFNE (Dose Adjustment for Normal Eating). This approach involves estimating the amount of carbohydrates in a meal and modifying the amount of insulin one injects accordingly. An equivalent approach has for people with type 2 diabetes mellitus is known as DESMOND, which stands for Diabetes Education and Self-Management for On-Going and Newly Diagnosed (diabetes). DAFNE has a newsletter and has received recommendation.
The American Diabetes Association in 1994 recommended that 60–70% of caloric intake should be in the form of carbohydrates. As mentioned above, this is controversial, with some researchers claiming that 40% or less is better, while others claim benefits for a high-fiber, 75% carbohydrate diet.
An article summarizing the view of the American Diabetes Association contains the statement: “Sucrose-containing foods can be substituted for other carbohydrates in the meal plan or, if added to the meal plan, covered with insulin or other glucose-lowering medications. Care should be taken to avoid excess energy intake.” Sucrose does not increase glycemia more than the same number of calories taken as starch. It is not recommended to use fructose as a sweetener. Benefits may be obtained by consumption of dietary fiber in conjunction with carbohydrate; as Francis (1987) points out, evidence suggests that carbohydrate consumed with dietary fiber will have a lower impact on glycemic rise than the same amount of carbohydrate consumed alone. Due to their high levels of dietary fibre, certain foods are considered particularly beneficial for people with diabetes such as legumes, nuts, fruits, and vegetables.
What has not generally been included in diabetic diet recommendations is the variation in effect from different carbohydrates. It has been recommended that carbohydrates eaten by people with diabetes should be complex carbohydrates.
A low-carbohydrate diet or low GI diet can be an effective dietary option for managing type 2 diabetes. These have been promoted as working by reducing spikes in blood sugar levels after eating. However, the main contribution may be that overweight and obese people with Type 2 diabetes often lose weight while following these diets. Any diet that causes significant weight loss in overweight and obese people with Type 2 diabetes is associated with improvements in blood sugar control.
Richard K. Bernstein is critical of the standard American Diabetes Association diet plan. His plan includes very limited carbohydrate intake (30 grams per day) along with frequent blood glucose monitoring, regular strenuous muscle-building exercise and, for people using insulin, frequent small insulin injections if needed. His treatment target is “near normal blood sugars” all the time.
Another critic of the ADA program is futurologist and transhumanist Ray Kurzweil, who with Terry Grossman co-authored Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever (published 2004). They describe the ADA guidelines as “completely ineffective”. Their observations are that the condition, particularly in its early stages, can be controlled through a diet that sharply reduces carbohydrate consumption. Their guidelines for patients with type 2 diabetes is a diet that includes a reduction of carbohydrates to one sixth of total caloric intake and elimination of high glycemic load carbohydrates. As someone who was diagnosed with diabetes but who no longer has symptoms of the disease, Kurzweil is a firm advocate of this approach. However, Kurzweil’s prescription changed somewhat between his 1993 book The 10% Solution for a Healthy Life in which he recommended that only 10% of calories should come from fat and Fantastic Voyage which recommends 25%.
Based on the evidence that the incidence of diabetes is lower in vegetarians, some studies have investigated vegan interventions. These studies have shown that a vegan diet may be effective in managing type 2 diabetes, as long as the person loses excess weight by following the diet. Plant-based diets tend to be higher in fiber, which slows the rate sugar is absorbed into the bloodstream. Switching people with diabetes to a vegan diet lowered hemoglobin A1C and LDL levels in one study.
Diabetes UK state that diabetes should not prevent people from going vegetarian — in fact, it may be beneficial for people with diabetes to go vegetarian, as this will cut down on saturated fats.
In one study, individuals with type 2 diabetes on a low-fat vegan diet or a diet following ADA guidelines improved glycemic control; however, the changes were greater in the vegan group.
Timing of meals
For people with diabetes, healthy eating is not simply a matter of “what one eats”, but also when one eats. The question of how long before a meal one should inject insulin is asked in Sons Ken, Fox and Judd (1998). It depends upon the type one takes and whether it is long-, medium- or quick-acting insulin. If patients check their blood glucose at bedtime and find that it is low, for example below 6 millimoles per liter (108 mg/dL), it is advisable that they take some long-acting carbohydrate before retiring to bed to prevent night-time hypoglycemia. Night sweats, headaches, restless sleep, and nightmares can be a sign of nocturnal hypoglycemia, and patients should consult their doctor for adjustments to their insulin routine if they find that this is the case. Counterintuitively, another possible sign of nocturnal hypoglycemia is morning hyperglycemia, which actually occurs in response to blood sugar getting too low at night. This is called the Somogyi effect.
In relation to type 2 diabetes, eating most food earlier in the day may be associated with lower levels of overweight and obesity and other factors that reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Special diabetes products
Diabetes UK have warned against purchase of products that are specially made for people with diabetes, on grounds that:
- They may be expensive
- They may contain high levels of fat
- They may confer no special benefits to people who have diabetes
It should be noted that NICE (the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence in the United Kingdom) advises doctors and other health professionals to “Discourage the use of foods marketed specifically for people with diabetes”.
Research has shown the Maitake mushroom (Grifola frondosa) has a hypoglycemic effect and may be beneficial for the management of diabetes. Maitake lowers blood sugar because the mushroom naturally acts as an alpha glucosidase inhibitor. Other mushrooms like Reishi,Agaricus blazei,Agrocybe cylindracea and Cordyceps have been noted to lower blood sugar levels to a certain extent, although the mechanism is currently unknown.
Alcohol and drugs
Moderation is advised with regard to consuming alcohol and using some drugs. Alcohol inhibits glycogenesis in the liver and some drugs inhibit hunger symptoms. This, with impaired judgment, memory and concentration caused by some drugs can lead to hypoglycemia. People with diabetes who take insulin or tablets such as sulphonylureas should not, therefore, consume alcohol on an empty stomach but take some starchy food (such as bread or potato crisps) at the same time as consumption of alcohol.
The Pritikin Diet consists of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and so on, and is high in carbohydrates and roughage. The diet is accompanied by exercise.
G.I. Diet: lowering the glycemic index of one’s diet can improve the control of diabetes. This includes avoidance of such foods as potatoes cooked in certain ways and white bread. It instead favors multi-grain and sourdough breads, legumes and whole grains that are converted more slowly to glucose in the bloodstream.
Low Carb Diet: It has been suggested that the removal of carbohydrates from the diet and replacement with fatty foods such as nuts, seeds, meats, fish, oils, eggs, avocados, olives, and vegetables may help reverse diabetes. Fats would become the primary calorie source for the body, and complications due to insulin resistance would be minimized.
High fiber diet: It has been shown that a high fiber diet works better than the diet recommended by the American Diabetes Association in controlling diabetes and may control blood sugar levels with the same efficacy as oral diabetes drugs.
The Paleolithic diet has been shown to improve glucose tolerance in people with diabetes type 2,ischemic heart disease and glucose intolerance, and in healthy pigs.
A low-fat vegan diet improves glycemic control similar to the ADA diet.
The American Diabetes Association has endorsed a natural foods approach to managing diabetes, advocating “fresh is best” and avoiding artificial sweeteners, instead substituting measured amounts of fresh fruit or raw sugar.
- Diabetes management
- Diabetic diet (low-carb)
- Glycemic index
- Glycemic efficacy
- Low GI Diet
- Low-carbohydrate diet
- National Institutes of Health
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This is not just another general “eat salad and completely avoid carbs” article. I’m tired of seeing generalized diet information that, to be brutally honest, is pointless and inapplicable to most people’s lives. This article is aimed to help the diabetic community focus on and prioritize what works.
Weight loss is science, not magic or voodoo or luck. There is a specific set of requirements needed to lose weight efficiently as a person with diabetes (type 1 or type 2). Yes, you may have heard of your friend’s cousin’s mother doing a no carb detox cleansing bath scrub to lose belly fat who lost 10 pounds, but I highly encourage you to check in with that person who does every fad diet possible in a few weeks or months. Chances are they gained the weight back and then some.
That’s because while some diets cause people to lose weight initially, they don’t employ the basic principles of continued effective weight loss. Whether it’s water weight loss, weight loss from severe calorie deficit, or avoidance of food, a lot of diets promise and sometimes produce acute results — that is temporary or short term results.
From helping hundreds of diabetics lose weight on social media, I was nicknamed the “T1D Fat Loss Coach” and now help people with all kinds of diabetes and chronic illnesses get on effective diets.
I have a 3 “E” rule for an effective diet before you continue on in this article. A diet must be all three of the following for you for it to be effective:
- Easy to adhere to long term
- Enjoyable or at least not miserable and affecting quality of life (socially or mood related)
- Effective in producing results long term (any diet change can produce short term results)
So, in deciding on a diet, make sure you have these rules in mind. These next five components of a diet will determine your success.
Optimal Weight Loss Blood Sugar
Blood sugar management is more important than exercise and diet combined for weight loss. Why? Because chasing blood sugars involves ruining your diet and training effectiveness.
You can’t optimally lose fat, build lean muscle, or get a healthier physique while mismanaging your blood sugars.
When your sugars are low, you are likely to (or at least more at risk to):
- Overeat to correct lows
- Overcompensate the overeating with medication that could lead to another low
- Experience another low in the next 24-48 hours (“lows beget lows”)
- Reduce intensity of exercise
- Experience increased hunger and cravings which can be hard to fight
When your blood sugars are high, you are likely to (or at least more at risk to):
- Overtreat with insulin which could lead to another low
- Reduce nutrient absorption necessary to increase or preserve lean muscle mass
- Decrease effectiveness of a workout
- Experience a false sense of scale weight loss when in reality, you could be losing lean tissue which means reducing your metabolic rate and storing more body fat
In order to improve your metabolic rate and your body’s fat burning capability/processes, blood sugar management has to be a priority. In order to reduce cravings and hypo and hyperglycemic events that negatively affect diet and training, blood sugar management must be a main priority that isn’t overlooked.
Talk to your endocrinologist and diabetes management team as you decide on what the best approach is in conjunction with your changing diet and exercise habits. Then, you can get into specifics on calories and the makeup of those calories for fat loss optimization.
Specifying Calorie Intake
In order for you to lose weight, you have to be in a calorie deficit — that means burning more calories than you take in. You can do this by eating less, burning more calories through activity, or, ideally, a combination of both.
But first, you have to determine what is the appropriate number of calories you should be intaking based on your personal stats and goals. But can’t I just eat “healthy” and lose weight? You can and leave it to chance but even if you eat healthy foods in the wrong quantities, you will gain weight.
There is no universal fix to an individual problem.
That means what works for me doesn’t optimally work for your mom or for you. Specificity is optimal. To figure out how many calories you need to consume, you can find any TDEE calculator online like this one. This determines your Total Daily Energy Expenditure, or the calories you need to eat to maintain your current weight.
Now if you want to lose weight, you need to be in a caloric deficit which means you need to eat less than what you expend daily. My personal, general rule of thumb is:
- If you want to lose 5 lbs/2 kg or less, subtract 250 calories from your TDEE
- If you want to lose 5-15 lbs/2-7 kg, subtract 500 calories from your TDEE
- If you want to lose over 20 lbs/10 kg, subtract up to 750 calories from your TDEE
This is a general rule that has helped hundreds of my type 1 and type 2 online weight loss clients lose between 5-60 lbs/2-25 kg but always be sure to consult your doctor before starting a new diet and training program.
Once you have your daily caloric limits, you can be more specific and determine your macronutrient goals.
Identifying Your Ideal Macro Balance
Calories determine weight change, but macronutrient balance determines the kind of weight change. Macronutrients are your proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.
- Protein has 4 calories per gram
- Carbs have 4 calories per gram
- Fat has 9 calories per gram
Why is macronutrient balance important? Take two people eating a 1500 calorie diet based on the advice above. Person A is eating 90% fat, 5% carbs, and 5% protein while person B is eating a balanced macronutrient diet of 35% protein, 30% carbs, and 35% fat. Who will get better results?
Person A is eating far too little protein and far too much fat. Higher protein diets are effective in helping people lose body fat, reduce hunger and cravings, and manage blood sugars. That little protein intake would increase risk of lean muscle loss which is the exact opposite goal. High protein diets are also proven to not be dangerous or harmful to the kidneys as long as there is no pre existing kidney damage.
That high of fat intake might make person A more hungry too as fat is more calorie dense meaning less total food intake. More hunger = more of a chance to fall off the diet when faced with opportunity to cheat.
The goal is to preserve or even build lean muscle while losing body fat. Losing muscle decreases your metabolic rate and lowers your body’s ability to burn fat. Keeping your protein around 30-40% of your total caloric intake is key for long term fat loss.
What about carbs?
Given that protein is 30-40%, carbs I leave up to my clients’ personal preference. Some people choose a moderate carb intake, some choose a lower carb intake, and some even choose to follow a ketogenic approach.
I personally don’t care as long as you are managing your sugars, eating the right protein amount, and hitting around your decided macronutrient intakes.
In terms of pure weight loss science, hundreds of studies have compared low-carb, high-fat diets to high-carb, low-fat diets and found no significant difference in weight loss when calories and protein are equated.
There may be some instances where clients with insulin resistance or hormonal issues (Type 2, PCOS, Hashimotos, post menopause, etc.) might be encouraged to be on the lower side of carb intake but, for the most part, it is a personal choice.
Carbs and fats usually have an inverse relationship — if one is higher the other is lower. If your protein intake is at 30% and you decide you want to do a moderate carb approach at 30% carbs, then you know your fat intake will be 40% (the remainder).
Some of my preferred macro percentages with my clients are:
- Low-carb: 40% protein/20% carbs/40% fat
- Moderate carb: 35% protein/30% carbs/35% fat
- Moderate carb, high activity level: 40% protein/30% carbs/30% fat
These are just a few of the many possibilities and strategies to elicit fat loss. Simply download a calorie counting app like My Fitness Pal to track these numbers discussed above.
It is not necessarily the choices of food that affect us as much as the quantities of food in terms of weight gain and weight loss, directly speaking. Indirectly, food choice can be a major indicator of adherence to a diet.
Eating processed foods is shown to decrease satiety (feeling of fullness), increase cravings, and increase guilt. These repercussions of not eating healthy can slow or even reverse progress. I like to take an 80/20 approach with my diabetic clientele and myself.
80% of the food eaten should be whole foods. 20% can be your personal indulgent. That means if you are alloted 1500 calories a day, 20%, or 300 calories, can come from your craving foods. I believe this helps people cheat within the diet so they stay on track for longer and get far better results than being extremely strict.
An interesting note, a Kansas state nutrition professor ate twinkies and protein shakes for 10 weeks and lost 27lbs/12kg and improved his metabolic profile in the process. He wanted to show that quantity of food is extremely important when it comes to weight loss. Obviously, I don’t recommend doing this and neither does he, so please don’t replicate his experiment.
Meal Timing & Frequency
One of the biggest myths in the dieting world is having to eat every two hours to “stoke the metabolic fire.” There is no metabolic fire or fire inside of your body — I promise. Daily macronutrient & caloric totals matter most not meal timing or frequency. When you add diabetes to the mix, that’s when these variables become more relevant.
Meal timing prior to cardio or exercise can determine if you are going to have a great workout or diabetic emergency. Both hypo- & hyperglycemia can ruin a workout so timing meals according to your activity level can greatly improve blood sugar management, which indirectly improves your ability to adhere to your diet and training.
Meal frequency is a personal preference but some people with diabetes find it easier to minimize glucose variability with smaller, more frequent meals. Ultimately, that is your decision. Whatever fits into your lifestyle best is what you should do.
Effective Weight Loss With Diabetes
Blood sugar management, proper caloric intake, and macronutrient balance will help you lose body fat long term, the right way. There are tons of advanced strategies I’ve used to help people with diabetes transform their bodies but all progress stems from these basic principles. Yes, it takes some work. Yes, you have to type some stuff and do some math. Yes, it takes conscious, daily effort just like diabetes management. But, in doing so, your body will thank you.
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Diabetes is frequently associated with rapid fluctuations in weight gain or weight loss. Many diabetics, both Type 1 and Type 2, will want to lose weight in order to manage their conditions and optimize health. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes and wish to lose weight or body fat, read on for details on how to manage your condition and lose excess weight in an effective, safe way.
When you are diagnosed with diabetes, you may find yourself amidst a significant amount of confusing medical information, yet one thing becomes crystal clear reasonably quickly: you need to lose weight, preferably in a healthy and easily manageable way.
Those few -or more- extra pounds you’ve been carrying around no longer mean merely aesthetic concerns; you need to redesign your entire life and diet to ensure maintaining optimal health despite having diabetes.
On the other hand, you may have been living with diabetes, battling its effects on your well-being since early childhood. Your weight could be ideal now, but it’s a perpetual battle to keep it that way regardless of medications and meal plans designed with your physical condition in mind.
“What i have come to see is that what we eat truly is a matter of life and death. I have seen the people from my TV show on diabetes make amazing changes by changing the food they consume, i have seen people in my film do the same. We know what the foods and sugary drinks can do to us, we know this all to well. At the end of the day we are in the drivers seat with our health with certain conditions, even if we need meds to help us, we can put our bodies in a situation where the foods we eat are not the contribution factor to our overall health” states Charles Mattocks, Celebrity Chef and Diabetes Advocate.
Perhaps you’ve experienced the other end of the spectrum: a sudden and rapid loss of weight, which caused you to seek medical attention and find out about your condition. At any rate, there is no way around this fact: a balanced, physician-designed, and lifelong weight management plan is needed, one that you can follow even in times of stress or when only a minimal free time is available.
To better understand and combat this disease, you should educate yourself about diabetes and its relation to obesity, which this article should offer help with. Taking control of your health and weight, as you will see, is crucial to prevent worsening physiological problems, further complicating your journey towards an ideal body composition.
What Is Diabetes?
The name diabetes refers to a group of metabolic diseases related to insulin, a hormone regulating blood sugar and created by the pancreas, a glandular, digestive organ that helps to convert food to fuel. To accomplish this, it releases insulin to aid the body in using these nutrients, along with helping fat storage for later use in times of food scarcity to protect the organism from starvation.
After food is digested, Insulin directs nutrients into different cells. This process is called Nutrient Partitioning. Depending on your level of Insulin Sensitivity, ingested nutrients can be partitioned into fat cells, muscle cells, or stored an an energy reserve called Glycogen. Diabetics, due to a condition called Insulin Resistance (a lack of insulin sensitivity), require larger spikes in blood sugar to produce the insulin necessary to partition nutrients. In severe cases, Diabetes stop producing insulin all together, and must take insulin injections. This condition is Type 1 Diabetes.
Type 2 Diabetes is also referred to as “non-insulin dependent” Diabetes. In this case, the body can still produce insulin, but produces it in low amounts or requires large spikes in blood sugar in order to generate adequate insulin. Thankfully, Type 2 Diabetes can be managed with diet and lifestyle factors, and more scientific studies are conducted daily with an eye on managing the condition.
In Diabetics, the normal process of producing insulin is interrupted, leading to the pancreas being unable to produce sufficient amounts of insulin. Other times, there may be enough insulin available, yet the body does not respond to it appropriately, which is the direct reason why high blood sugar levels develop, creating the disease we are referring to as diabetes.
Bottom Line: What is diabetes? Simply put, a metabolic disorder related to insulin and to the body’s inability to remain in sync with the demand for more or the need for less glucose in the blood. There are two types of diabetes, in most cases: Type 1 (insulin-dependent) and Type 2 (non-insulin dependent or adult-onset) diabetes. Each requires different management, but both are disorders in which the ordinary process of releasing insulin is dysfunctional.
Types of Diabetes
Typically, we can talk about three different types of diabetes, two of which that are the most relevant concern for the whole population and crucial to be educated about.
These are the following:
Type 1 Diabetes
In the case of Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas – due to an attack of the immune system- is unable to produce enough insulin.
This usually becomes apparent during childhood or adolescence, requiring medically supervised insulin therapy and permanent changes in dietary and lifestyle habits.
Type 2 Diabetes
The more common type of the disease, also known as adult-onset or non-insulin dependent diabetes, usually emerges as a result of genetic and environmental factors.
This results in physical inactivity and excess weight. This may mean not having enough insulin available, or the body’s inability to utilize what’s present, leading to too much or too little glucose entering circulation.
A temporary condition that affects a number of women during pregnancy, gestational diabetes is not something to worry about for most.
While dietary restrictions recommended by a medical professional are crucial to follow, glucose levels usually return to normal after childbirth, not likely to cause further complications to the mother post-delivery.
Bottom Line: Depending on the time of appearance, diabetes can be categorized as a youth-, adult-, or pregnancy-onset disease, each requiring customized treatment and lifestyle changes. Gestational diabetes afflicts a very condensed portion of the population, and is covered at length elsewhere.
What Are the Symptoms of Diabetes?
In a large percentage of cases, diabetes does not cause obvious symptoms, masking the presence of the disease for a period.
Not knowing the symptoms of diabetes delays diagnosis, treatment, and the opportunity for improvement.
When physical signs do appear, they usually present themselves as the following symptoms:
- Excessive thirst
- Frequent urination
- Blurred vision
- Intense feeling of hunger
- Increasing weight
- Sudden weight loss
- Itchy skin, especially around the genitals and navel
Bottom Line: Diabetes symptoms can vary from none too noticeable problems, especially in the form of hunger, thirst, weight, and bladder problems.
How Does Diabetes Affect Weight?
While most of us associate diabetes with excessive weight gain, this disease can lead to a rapid loss of weight as well.
Diabetes is a condition in which the body does not produce insulin appropriately. This axe swings both ways. Some people rapidly gain weight because nutrients are not appropriately partitioned or converted to energy, while others can have a hard time keep weight on because nutrients are not stored properly.
While many people struggle to keep weight off, it is equally frustrating when a person has to fight to stay at a healthy weight. This condition is extreme in Type 1 diabetics who struggle to stay healthy and stave off injury due to their health condition.
Type 1 diabetics who struggle to keep weight on or off do so especially before diagnosis and the balancing of blood sugar levels. In either case, learning the mechanism behind these weight fluctuations is a crucial step towards successful weight management.
How Does Diabetes Cause Weight Gain?
Diabetes often goes hand in hand with obesity, not necessarily as a direct result of the disease.
There are many overweight or even obese people who may be at risk for Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, but who continue to effectively produce insulin. There are also many people with in-range an Body Mass Index (BMI) or body fat percentage who have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. While excessive weight gain correlates with diabetes, there are other factors such as genetics and lifestyle that play an equally strong role in determining if a person will get the disease or not.
Once it has been determined that a person has Type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetes, their doctor will prescribe insulin in order to help he or she control their condition. Insulin injections help people with Type 1 diabetes to shuttle sugar from their blood into their fat and muscle cells, or to immediately use it as energy.
The problem, however, doesn’t end once your doctor prescribes insulin. In fact, often after beginning to take insulin, weight continues to increase for a while, especially if dietary changes haven’t been implemented in conjunction with beginning your treatment.
After beginning insulin injections, a Type 1 diabetic’s blood glucose levels may suddenly rise too high. If sugar intake is not restricted, the body may store it as fat for later use rather than immediately using it for energy. This can lead to rapid weight gain as a person adjusts their eating habits and lifestyle with respect to the condition.
How Does Diabetes Cause Weight Loss?
Type 1 Diabetes, as described above, is also very capable of causing sudden weight loss when the body’s insulin levels are insufficient.
Chronically-low insulin levels can lead to the urgent need to access previously-stored energy and consequently, burning excess fat or even muscle tissue. This condition – in which tissue, muscle or fat, is broken down to fuel the body, is called Catabolism.
While weight or fat loss may be the overall goal, poorly-controlled or uncontrolled diabetes can lead to rapid weight loss, often to an unhealthy point.
This catabolism results in further problems, undesirable symptoms, and an overall sense of imbalance that prevents the development of long-term and healthy weight management habits. Diabetics who rapidly lose weight after beginning insulin therapy are also at risk for a rapid rebound in weight as their therapy continues.
Bottom Line: Does diabetes cause weight loss and gain? Absolutely; weight fluctuations are the part of this disease, requiring not only medical attention but strict adherence to an insulin-control diet that aids the stabilization of blood glucose levels.
What Are the Benefits of Weight Loss for Diabetes?
When you lose even a modest amount of weight, your blood sugar levels may drop significantly.
The risk of developing cardiovascular diseases or metabolic syndrome decreases, and your symptoms and your overall sense of well-being may dramatically improve as well, even to the point of possibly not needing supplemental insulin in the future.
It is, however, imperative to seek the help of a medical professional since your blood glucose levels are likely to fluctuate during this process, needing special attention and continuously monitoring your insulin dosage.
Do not attempt to change your diet and exercise habits without talking to your doctor first.
This way you ensure maximizing your long-term success and minimizing bothersome symptoms and medical emergencies.
Bottom Line: While losing weight is an ideal way to reduce blood glucose levels and manage diabetes symptoms, it is important to achieve this weight loss with medical supervision to avoid further health complications.
What Is the Best Diet for Type 1 Diabetes and Weight Loss?
When it comes to Type 1 diabetes and weight loss, the primary task is to ensure that you monitor your refined carbohydrate intake closely.
This includes highly-refined grains, breads, vegetables, fruits, dairy products, and refined sugar. The insulin produced by consuming carbohydrates with a high Glycemic Index or high Glycemic Load works in tandem with the supplemental insulin you receive to replace what your pancreas doesn’t create.
Glycemic Index is a value that determines how rapidly a food raises your blood sugar level. White bread is often used as a control group, and has a Glycemic Index of 100. Slower digesting foods such as chicken breast, beans, and almonds have Glycemic Indexes around 20-30, and have a much lower impact on blood sugar levels. In most cases, it is to the benefit of a diabetic to consume foods with a lower Glycemic Index.
Glycemic Load refers to the total volume when factored against the Glycemic Index. Potato chips may have a lower Glycemic Index than raisins, but if you eat a considerable quantity of potato chips, the Glycemic Load is likely much greater.
While the dietary fat in potato chips and similar foods lowers Glycemic Index, dietary fat has a tendency to attach to carbohydrates. If you consume dietary fat and carbohydrates at the same time, your body will be much more apt to store the ingested calories as fat rather than store them as muscle tissue or glycogen, or to immediately burn them for energy.
In a similar vein, with you consume carbohydrate with lean protein (especially after exercise such as strength training), the ingested nutrients are much more likely to be used to rebuild or repair muscle tissue, and much less likely to be stored as body fat. This is Nutrient Partitioning –
So, it can benefit most people – but in particular those managing a diabetic or pre-diabetic condition – to pay attention the way in which they combine macronutrients (carbohydrate, dietary fat, fiber, protein). This is another way in which someone can lose weight and manage blood sugar.
Learning to read food labels, measuring portions, and keeping a food log are all useful steps to take for successful long-term weight management.
Bottom Line: Carbohydrates are not your enemy, but a controlled intake is important to not to exceed your recommended blood sugar levels when taking insulin.
What Is the Best Diet for Type 2 Diabetes and Weight Loss?
The best diet for Type 2 diabetes and weight loss is all about controlling blood sugar levels, avoiding insulin spikes that could lead to further weight gain.
A limited portion of fiber-rich and complex carbohydrates is recommended, sometimes paired with heart-healthy fats and moderate amounts of lean protein.
There are a variety of carbohydrate-controlled diet to choose from. There are older, more studied diets such as the Atkins Diet, and there are diets within the current trend such as the Keto Diet.
The healthiest fats are those that are high in Omega-3 fatty acids. These include most types of cold-water fish such as wild-caught salmon and sardines. Other good sources of Omega-3s include flax meal and flaxseed oil. Supplementing with fish oil caps or a quality Omega-3 supplement is another option.
By adhering to a carbohydrate-controlled meal plan, blood sugar remains well-balanced, and healthy weight loss may gradually begin.
Bottom Line: Controlled carbohydrate intake is the backbone of a Type 2 diabetes diet; this approach leads to balanced and ideal weight management.
How to Exercise to Lose Weight If I Have Diabetes?
Exercise is a crucial component to any diet, especially when having diabetes.
Being active not only promotes weight loss, it further lowers blood sugar levels as your muscles directly uptake glucose from the circulatory system during physical exertion.
Seeking your doctor’s advice is, however, imperative, since blood sugar levels may drop dangerously low during and after exercise.
Make sure you regularly monitor your blood glucose, incorporating a snack as needed, or work with your medical professional to adjust your insulin levels based on your changing physical activity levels.
Don’t forget to start slowly. Pick something you genuinely enjoy doing and allow yourself to gradually adjust to your new lifestyle.
This allows it to become a permanent change for the ideal control of your diabetes.
Bottom Line: Exercise is unavoidable to successfully manage your blood sugar levels in the long run; work with your doctor to observe how your glucose responds to physical activity, and adjust your diet and insulin accordingly.
Can I Use A Diabetes Weight Loss Drug or Supplements?
Drugs that promote weight loss can be extremely beneficial for individuals diagnosed with diabetes, yet individual response rate varies.
The most successful diabetes weight loss drug successfully lowers blood glucose levels, aiding the body in accessing stored fat for its ongoing energy needs.
Talk to your doctor to find the most suitable type for your unique requirements.
When it comes to diabetes, taking over-the-counter weight loss supplements without medical supervision is not recommended.
As much as these have a place in weight management, many of them may contain sugar or other substances known to raise blood sugar levels.
They may also contain herbs or chemicals that could interfere with the absorption of your prescribed insulin.
Always talk to a physician to avoid complications, weight gain, and the worsening of your symptoms.
Bottom Line: Weight loss enhancing drugs should come from your health care provider; these will offer far greater benefits for diabetes than over-the-counter supplements with unknown or problematic ingredients.
What Else Should I Avoid to Maximize Weight Loss with Diabetes?
Aside from avoiding foods containing sugar or simple carbohydrates, there are several other substances or chemicals you should exercise caution with:
- Certain artificial sweeteners
- Medications to control cold, coughing, asthma, high cholesterol and other conditions
All of these are known to elevate blood glucose, thus making weight loss far more difficult.
If you can’t eliminate these, try to decrease the amount or frequency of consumption to see greater benefits.
Bottom Line: Watching your sugar intake may not be enough; pay attention to everything you consume to maintain your ideal blood sugar levels.
Final Thoughts About Diabetes and Weight Loss
Having diabetes likely also means having excess weight to worry about. Yet with a carefully-designed dietary and lifestyle plan that is approved by your doctor, you can manage your condition and lead a very full, happy life.
It doesn’t have to be difficult to shed a few extra pounds. By understanding the nature of this disease, you can master your blood sugar and weight all at once, leading to a healthier, slimmer, and symptom-free version of you.
“Type 1 diabetes stops me from losing weight” is the number one excuse I hear when people say they are struggling to lose weight (seriously, my Instagram inbox is flooded with this statement/question). And while insulin can be a tricky hormone to work around when losing weight with type 1 diabetes, I’ve found that 99% of the time it is because their general dieting techniques are off.
Before reading my three nutrition tricks for losing weight with type 1 diabetes, make sure you are doing the following:
- Weighing and tracking your food intake (My Fitness Pal)
- Eating toward a specifically calculated calorie/macronutrient (IIFYM.com)
- Combining aerobic & anaerobic training
If you aren’t following the above, it is most likely not your diabetes that is stoping you from losing weight– it is the lack of clarity and preparation for your goals.
Once you solidify your general nutrition foundation, now you can go to the next specific tactics related to diabetes management that will help you stay on track.
There is nothing worse than being on track to hit your calories and macros perfectly then being engulfed by an endless food-frenzy brought on by a bad low.
Hypoglycemia is a major reason why people go over their carb & calorie limits for the day as you need carbs to fix the low. But there is a way to work around this issue: Implementing a carb reserve.
A carb reserve is when you reserve 15-30 grams of your total daily carbs for a low blood sugar attack. For example, if your weight loss goal calls for 100 grams of carbs a day, act like you only have 85 grams of carbs for the day and keep 15 grams of carbs just in case of a low. That way, when you treat your low blood sugar, you aren’t ruining your daily goals.
Proper preparation prevents poor performance!
And at night, if you feel your sugar is good and you will not go low, now you can eat those reserve carbs.
Speaking of low blood sugar, hypoglycemia can be a nightmare when it comes to having control over your nutritional intake. Too put that more simply, When you are low, it’s easy to convince yourself that if you don’t eat every damn carb in the kitchen, you are going to die.
It’s not true but, at the time, it seems like it is. The struggle is real.
I have easily binge-eaten 150 grams of carbs in treating a bad low which not only unnecessarily took me farther away from my fitness goals, it brought on a 4 hour blood sugar chasing session.
Those binges happened because I didn’t have a dedicated low blood sugar treatment plan. By picking one specific, controlled treatment food, you limit yourself from ravaging the pantry and refrigerator and control the amount of carbs needed to treat your low.
Think about your carb to blood sugar ration– How many points does your blood sugar raise from 10 grams of carbs? 10? 15? 25 like me? I started planning and committing to controlling my low corrections and it has not only helped me stop chasing blood sugars but it helped me not over do my calories and carbs so that I can still stay on track, even with diabetes.
Some people use juice boxes or gummies or even glucose tabs because they are usually so gross that you don’t want to abuse them like you would an entire jar of nutella. By spoonful #37, you realized you probably screwed up. Pick something you can control.
I’m pretty much known as the go-to fat loss guy and I preach the importance of knowing your caloric needs in order to hit your goal. This is a vital first step in most people… but not in people with type 1 diabetes.
Unlike non-diabetics, calories come second to blood sugar management when it comes to losing weight (and, you know, good health because that’s kind of important too).
If your sugars are all over the place, you can’t expect to lose body fat optimally. Consistent high blood sugar can cause weight loss– just not the kind of weight loss you want. High blood sugar means there is an increased rate of nutrient malabsorption which can lead to losing muscle mass, decreased metabolic rate, and a general increase in fat loss resistance (think skinny-fat).
This high blood sugar weight loss is often seen just prior to type 1 diabetes diagnosis. And as soon as insulin is introduced, weight is gained, causing insulin to incorrectly receive the blame initially.
In reality, your slow metabolic rate combined with the body’s craving for proper nutrient absorption contribute to the weight gain.
In terms of consistent hypoglycemia, regardless if your A1C “seems perfect”, you are more likely to binge eat and over consume calories & carbs. Lows require carbs regardless of your daily caloric goals.
If you truly want to lose body fat, you need to improve your diabetes management. These are three of many techniques that will help you in losing weight without letting diabetes stop you!