Diabetes and weight loss: what you need to know
- Weight loss can reverse type 2 diabetes, help control blood sugar levels, and prevent complications from arising
- But high-sugar diets, emotional eating, and lack of nutrition education make it hard for diabetics to lose weight
- Lifestyle changes—like food logging and exercise—are effective ways to lose weight with diabetes
If you have diabetes, you’ve probably considered weight loss to manage your condition and prevent further health complications.
But making the changes you need to lose weight is easier said than done.
Diabetes weight loss challenges are common—whether you’re struggling to break lifelong high-sugar eating habits or finding it difficult to control emotional eating.
That’s why we talked to Dr. Betul Hatipoglu, professor of medicine at Case Western Reserve University and medical director for Diabetes and Obesity at University Hospitals, to break down diabetes and weight loss.
Note: Consult with your medical provider before making dietary changes.
How does weight loss help diabetes?
For type 2 diabetics, Dr. Hatipoglu says that losing weight can lead to diabetes remission, help with blood sugar control, and prevent complications from arising.
And in some cases, weight loss can help overall diabetes management for type 1 diabetics.
Type 2 diabetes remission
“Weight loss can actually reverse perhaps type 2 diabetes,” Hatipoglu says.
In fact, a UK clinical trial examined type 2 diabetes remission throughout a primary care–led weight management program.
Research findings from the study concluded that “sustained [diabetes] remission was linked to the extent of sustained weight loss.”
Better maintenance of blood sugar levels
A study in the International Journal of Clinical Practice found that weight loss improved glycemic control—or how well your body manages blood sugar levels—in those with type 2 diabetes.
Since type 2 diabetics are more prone to high blood sugar, this can lead to serious health issues.
Losing weight can help keep blood glucose levels where they should be.
Prevention of related health complications
“You have many lifestyle intervention studies scientifically showing that even a weight loss of 5% [of body weight] improves your blood sugars in a way that it can indeed help prevent complications,” Hatipoglu says.
These type 2 diabetes health complications include eye or kidney disease, nerve damage, and heart issues.
Type 1 diabetes management
Hatipoglu explains that type 1 diabetics aren’t immune to weight gain, and the extra pounds may make it more difficult to control their diabetes.
In this case, the benefit of weight loss is that it helps with diabetes management.
But it’s important to note that this is not the case for everyone with type 1 diabetes.
Hatipoglu explains that weight loss isn’t necessary for type 1 diabetics already at a healthy weight.
In fact, there are people with the condition who should not try to lose weight, which is why it’s best to consult with your doctor first.
Why is weight loss with diabetes challenging?
Hatipoglu shared three common factors that make weight loss particularly challenging for diabetics:
Lack of nutrition education
It’s hard to make the lifestyle changes necessary for diabetes care when you don’t have the knowledge to do so.
“Understanding the groups of food that are not beneficial to your blood sugars and overall health is very important,” Hatipoglu says.
Once you know the different food groups and how they affect your body and blood sugar, you can start modifying your diet to meet your needs (more on this below).
High-sugar dietary habits
We’re exposed to high-sugar, low-nutrient foods everywhere in society—from media, culture, and beyond.
Hatipoglu explains that it’s just the way we’ve been programmed to eat. And breaking those dietary habits is difficult and takes time.
“The foods that are addictive, that are not nourishing your body, and are full of non-food items within the food are so inclusive in our diet that our diabetics are so used to. It’s hard to detox them in a way and separate their habits of eating sugar and not whole foods.”
It’s okay to eat sugary foods or carbs in moderation. And when you learn to do that, it’ll be easier to lose weight and prevent high blood sugar levels.
Food intake is closely connected to our emotions. We eat when we’re happy and spending time with others. But we also eat for relief from anxiety, anger, boredom, and sadness.
“Usually, the food that’s going to calm us down is more sugary,” Hatipoglu says. “No one goes and eats broccoli heads when they’re anxious or nervous.”
The default choices are likely foods like chocolate chip cookies or a bag of chips.
But it’s not about staying away from these foods completely.
You just need to find alternative ways to cope with emotions—like going for a walk, painting, or doing something else that you love.
How to lose weight with diabetes
You can overcome the challenges of weight loss and diabetes by changing your mindset and behaviors.
Here are a few steps Hatipoglu recommends to get started:
Understand your eating behaviors
There’s more to why we eat than just hunger.
Eating is also a response to how we feel—and there are so many triggers that lead to emotional eating.
Hatipoglu says that the first step toward healing is understanding the emotions that trigger you to reach for the food that calms you.
You might be upset that you aren’t losing weight, so you turn to ice cream for comfort. Then, you feel disappointed in yourself for eating the bowl of rocky road. And the cycle continues from there.
“It’s not about blaming ourselves, but understanding ourselves—so that when it is happening consciously, you are there and say, ‘I am eating this cookie because I am hurting, and this makes me feel better because I don’t want to feel hurt,’” Hatipoglu explains.
The key is to find alternatives to eating that will soothe you the same way food does. Resources from a program like Noom Weight can help.
Noom Weight’s daily lessons guide you through understanding your eating behaviors.
The short lessons walk you through why you eat when you’re not hungry.
They also show you how to overcome triggers and thought distortions that get in the way of weight loss. And all it takes is 5 to 15 minutes of reading a day.
Work toward a healthy calorie deficit
Calorie deficits play a key role in losing weight—whether you’re diabetic or not.
After all, for weight loss to happen, your body has to burn more calories than it takes in.
If your body is burning 1,800 calories a day and you eat 1,600 calories, the total deficit would be 200 calories.
But the calorie deficit must be maintained in a sustainable way to see long-term results.
Say you love sweets but decide you’re cutting out sugar to achieve a calorie deficit and lose weight. Are you really going to be able to say no to cake forever? Probably not.
If you’re overly restrictive, you may end up back in square one. You can still achieve a calorie deficit if you’re eating sweets from time to time (and in moderation).
You may notice that you’re shedding pounds quickly at first, and then it slows down. That is normal and part of the journey.
The calorie deficit you’re able to achieve depends on your age, metabolism, genetics, and other factors. At Noom, we help you discover what your calorie deficit should be by asking you about your age, metabolism, activity level, and more.
But make sure you talk to your healthcare provider about a calorie deficit that is right for you, too.
Be mindful of calorie density in foods
Not all calories are equal. A 100-calorie cookie serving will not fill you up the way 100 calories worth of grapes will.
And it all comes down to calorie density.
Calorie density is determined by the number of calories in a given portion of food.
This doesn’t mean foods are “good” or “bad.”
Foods with higher calorie density just have more calories packed in a smaller amount, while those with lower calorie density have fewer calories in larger portions.
“We have to teach individuals that they have choices, and they can just eat a bigger amount with a lot of satisfaction and the same calories,” Hatipoglu says.
With this awareness of the foods you’re eating, you’re able to make the food choices that satisfy your hunger (and your cravings).
“If you’re really hungry, would you want to eat just a little bit of something that’s going to just increase your sugar and insulin secretion, and you’re going to be even hungrier? Or do you want to just eat a really fulfilling large amount of food that’s going to be exactly the same calories?” Hatipoglu asks.
A weight loss program, like Noom Weight, can make it easier to identify high and low-calorie dense foods. Noom’s color-coded food tracker categorizes food by caloric density:
- Green foods are your least calorie-dense foods, like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
- Yellow foods are somewhere in the middle and include chicken, low-fat dairy, and soups.
- Red foods are your highest calorie-dense foods, such as red meats, donuts, and white bread.
And that doesn’t mean no red foods or only green foods. It’s all about a balanced diet.
If you fill up on green foods throughout the day, you’ll probably have room in your calorie budget later for dessert.
Prioritize daily food logging
You may be eating much more than your body really needs without even knowing it.
A simple solution is to log what you eat every day, so you are always conscious of your food intake.
Research actually suggests a link between food logging and weight loss.
“It’s important really to get back to basics and measure and log your food,” Hatipoglu recommends.
“You will be surprised that you are eating much more calories than you thought you were just because of estimation or forgetting or not knowing how dense the food is when you cook or you buy it.”
A food-tracking app, like Noom Weight, can help you consistently log the food you eat throughout each day.
Just search for the foods you’re going to eat and select the serving size.
There’s also a built-in barcode scanner in the app to scan the barcode of prepackaged foods and track them. From there, you’ll see how many calories it is and how much of your daily calorie budget it takes up.
And don’t forget that everything you log is categorized as green, yellow, and red—so you see the types of food you’re eating, too.
The American Diabetes Association has helpful diabetes diet guidelines to use alongside Noom Weight as you choose your foods for the day.
Don’t do it all on your own
When you’re not getting the results you want, it’s easy to get frustrated and want to stop. That’s why you need someone to keep you on track when weight loss gets hard or discouraging.
You need a person in your life who will fill that accountability role for you and remind you why you started this health journey in the first place.
According to Hatipoglu, diabetics should partner with healthcare professionals, support groups, or programs with knowledgeable team members who can guide them on their weight loss journey.
Noom Weight is one such program.
“Any program with group support seems to be really a plus for the individuals with diabetes who want to lose weight,” Hatipoglu says. “And what Noom also has is one-to-one coaching, which is also important to keep an eye on the needs of the patients.”
Have trouble with stress eating? Ask your Noom coach for stress management tips. Feel alone in your weight loss struggles? Share that with your support group, and you’ll quickly realize that’s not the case.
You don’t have to lose weight on your own. There are people who are happy to guide and encourage you every step of the way.
Work exercise into your daily routine
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, exercise boosts insulin sensitivity and maintains blood sugar levels to better manage diabetes.
Work physical activity into your day-to-day, and you’ll see progress on the scale and maintain the weight loss, too.
But if exercise hasn’t been part of your routine for a while, it’s hard to know where to start. And even the very idea of working out may sound overwhelming.
You don’t have to go straight for the high-intensity workouts on the treadmill. Start at a pace that works for you.
If you’re not comfortable running yet, start by walking 200 steps each day and gradually increase it from there.
Many weight loss apps (including Noom Weight) have fitness trackers and step counters to make exercise another regular part of your day.
Achieve your diabetes weight loss goals with Noom Weight
Weight loss makes it possible for you to manage—and even reverse—your diabetes. It won’t happen overnight, but you are one step closer with each change you make.
And Noom Weight can help you get to where you want to be.