How to Manage Insulin Related Weight Gain
For people living with Type 2 diabetes, the goals of eating right, getting enough exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight are paramount. They should be because they are so important to effectively controlling blood sugar and managing diabetes. But what if the very treatment you take to help manage your Type 2 diabetes can also contribute to you gaining weight? This is the often-frustrating side effect many diabetics using insulin are facing.
How Does Insulin Cause Weight Gain?
Insulin is the hormone created by the pancreas that enables the cells of the body to accept and process blood sugar and turn it into energy. In those with Type 2 diabetes, either the body doesn’t produce enough insulin or is unable to effectively use the insulin it does produce. Either way, if left untreated the result is an increase in blood sugar, which can lead to serious diabetes-related consequences, including heart disease, kidney disease, eye problems, nerve damage and other conditions.
Insulin treatments, usually administered by syringe or insulin pen, are often prescribed by physicians to compensate for a Type 2 diabetic’s insulin resistance. This additional insulin allows the glucose in the blood stream to enter the cells, be used as energy, and help the body maintain blood sugar levels in the healthy range. Sounds perfect right? This is exactly what you want from an insulin treatment.
However, when the body suddenly is able to process blood sugar it does one of two things. First, it transfers a good amount of this blood sugar into the energy you need to function properly. Second, it stores any remaining and unused blood sugar as fat.
When the latter happens, so does weight gain. It’s that simple.
Yes, Gaining Weight Can Be a Sign Insulin Is Working.
The fact that your body is able to store blood sugar as fat could very well be a sign that your insulin treatment is working. It might sound counterintuitive, but it’s true. Here’s something else to consider. When blood sugar is high, as it is without proper blood sugar control at the onset of Type 2 diabetes, it tends to increase appetite. Therefore, people are usually eating more than their bodies require at the onset of Type 2 diabetes.
When insulin treatments and proper diabetes management are added to the equation, a person is suddenly able to process blood sugar and store the excess as fat. Therefore, food consumption, both in quantity and quality, will probably have to be adjusted to maintain weight and avoid gaining unwanted pounds.
Never Stop Taking Insulin Due to Weight Gain.
It can be understandably frustrating to find yourself gaining weight when you’re trying hard to shed a few pounds or maintain a healthy weight. However, this is no reason to stop taking your doctor-prescribed insulin injections. In fact, it is important to take all your medications as prescribed by your diabetes physician and test your blood sugar regularly. Otherwise, you run a far greater risk of your blood glucose spiraling out of control, which puts you at a far greater risk for serious diabetes-related health complications, including:
– Cardiovascular disease
– Diabetic neuropathy
– Kidney disease
– Infection and slow-healing wounds
What Can You do to Avoid Weight Gain While on Insulin?
The two most important variables you control of in terms of managing your weight are what you eat and how much physical activity you get. Let’s dig deeper.
The reason insulin causes weight gain in the first place is because it allows you to absorb extra glucose derived from food and store it as fat. So, it only makes sense that if you consume fewer calories, you’ll have less excess blood sugar. Here are a few things to consider when monitoring your diet.
- Watch your portion sizes and the types of food you eat.
A diabetes-friendly diet is one that controls portions and includes foods that help you prevent elevated blood sugar. Try to eat mostly vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins like chicken and fish, fruits, and healthy fats, such as nuts, avocado, peanut butter and eggs.
- Don’t skip meals
Skipping meals is a weight loss myth. Here’s why. When you skip one meal it often leads to overeating and bad food choices when the next mealtime rolls around simply because you become so darn hungry. So, in the end, you’re likely to gain weight rather than lose it. Additionally, skipping meals when you’re also taking insulin can lead to dangerous low blood sugar episodes (hypoglycemia).
- Count your calories
The number of calories you need each day is a decision that should be made alongside your diabetes physician. However, once you have a plan in place, it’s not a bad idea to carefully count the calories you’re consuming each day. Most foods are clearly labeled and when you get into the habit of counting calories, it makes it easier to manage your diet.
The weight gain equation is a pretty simple one. If you eat more calories than you burn, you’re going to put on the pounds. Physical activity not only can help you manage weight by burning off those excess calories, but it also has a positive impact on managing your blood sugar.
150 minutes per week
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends fitting in about 150 minutes of activity each week. You don’t have to start out running marathons. If it’s been a while since you’ve been active, take it slow with a nice walk around the block or an easy-going bike ride. If you have a hard time sticking to a fitness plan, make it fun - play a sport, join a class, take up yoga, do yardwork, play a fitness video game. The more you enjoy it, the likelier you are to keep up your activity routine.
If you’ve been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and your doctor has recommended insulin as part of your diabetes treatment plan, you might find yourself gaining weight. If you begin noticing a few extra inches, skipping your insulin injections is not the answer. In fact, avoiding prescribed medication is never the answer to any diabetes-related issues you might be having.
The first step is to talk to your doctor about the situation and your options. If you are unable to control weight with diet and exercise, your physician might recommend adding a nutritionist to your care team. There are also new medication options that might work for you. The point is to formulate a plan alongside your doctor, so you know it’s both safe and effective.
Remember, maintaining a healthy weight is important for managing diabetes, but you must always do it while adhering to the treatment and medication program prescribed by your doctor.
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I enjoy reading your blog as the topics covered are very informative. I would really enjoy reading not only about Type 2 diabetes but also about Type 1 diabetes. I have been a Type 1 diabetic for almost 59 years and am finding my diabetes more and more difficult to manage as the years go by. Any ideas?