Diabetes is a condition that involves problems regulating blood glucose levels. Weight can play a key role in the disease, as type 2 diabetes can lead to both weight loss and weight gain.

Statistics show that 34.2 million people in the United States have diabetes. This represents 10.5% of the population. Type 2 diabetes can cause weight loss if a person does not receive treatment.

On the other hand, weight gain may also occur once a person starts insulin therapy. In fact, virtually every person who takes the therapy experiences this side effect. But there are other medications for type 2 diabetes that can cause weight loss or no change in weight.

After a person develops type 2 diabetes, following a balanced diet is important for controlling blood sugar levels and helping prevent weight gain, which, according to this 2011 study, worsens the progression of the disease. This involves eating balanced meals of nutritious foods and watching portion sizes.

Keep reading to learn more about type 2 diabetes and weight loss, as well as diet tips and recommendations.

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Insulin is a hormone that allows sugar to exit the bloodstream and enter the cells that use it for energy. In type 2 diabetes, the cells do not respond to insulin as they should. This is called insulin resistance.

As a consequence, the pancreas produces more insulin to overcome the resistance. Eventually, the pancreas is unable to make enough insulin to get a sufficient amount of sugar into the cells. This causes blood sugar levels to rise.

Since the cells cannot get the energy they need from glucose, the body breaks down fat to use for energy instead. This can result in weight loss.

Weight loss without obvious causes may be a symptom of type 2 diabetes. Obvious causes of weight loss include intentionally dieting, exercising regularly, or taking diuretics, which are medications that increase urination.

When medication and other therapies for type 2 diabetes fail to control blood sugar, doctors typically recommend insulin therapy. This happens in about 25% of people with the condition, and most people who begin insulin therapy gain weight.

There is also evidence that weight gain is less pronounced in people who already have obesity. When a person needs insulin therapy, the benefit of controlling blood sugars far outweighs the risk of weight gain. A person can take steps to help limit weight gain by following moderate diet recommendations such as those discussed below.

Insulin resistance, which is a hallmark of type 2 diabetes, may also lead to weight gain. When the pancreas produces more insulin in response to insulin resistance, the hormone signals the muscles and liver to store blood sugar. After the muscles and liver are full, the liver sends excess blood sugar to fat cells for storage. This can also lead to weight gain.

Some oral medications, such as glipizide and pioglitazone, can cause weight gain as well. Other medications, such as metformin, liraglutide, and dapagliflozin, may cause weight loss in some people and have no effect on weight in others. It is important for each person to talk with their doctor about what treatment options might be best in their circumstances.

Learn more about medications for diabetes here.

Nutrition is a vital part of a balanced lifestyle for a person with type 2 diabetes, notes the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). It helps keep blood sugar levels in the target range, as well as promoting weight loss or weight maintenance. These benefits increase energy and help delay the development of diabetes complications.

The optimum diet for people with diabetes involves eating nutritious foods from all food groups in the correct quantity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advocate for The Plate Method as a meal-planning guide. The Plate Method involves:

  • Filling one-half of a 9-inch dinner plate with non-starchy vegetables: Examples include broccoli, carrots, green beans, and cabbage.
  • Filling one-fourth of the plate with carbohydrates: This includes grains, at least half of which should be whole grains, such as oats, quinoa, and brown rice. Other carbohydrates include fruit, yogurt, milk, and starchy vegetables such as corn or potatoes.
  • Filling the other fourth of the plate with lean protein: Examples include beans, tofu, chicken, turkey, or eggs.

A person may drink water or unsweetened iced tea with their meal.

Learn more about the best vegetables for type 2 diabetes here.

The NIDDK advises limiting the following:

  • foods high in sodium (salt)
  • sweets, such as ice cream, candy, and baked goods
  • fried foods and foods high in saturated fat, such as fatty cuts of meat, or trans fat, such as processed foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oil
  • beverages with added sugar, such as sweetened iced tea, regular sodas, and regular energy drinks

In addition, if a person consumes alcohol, females should limit intake to one drink per day, and males should limit intake to two drinks per day.

A note about sex and gender

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Other CDC dietary recommendations include:

  • Focus on whole foods: As much as possible, avoid highly processed foods.
  • Minimize the rise in blood sugar that results from eating carbohydrates: To help prevent or reduce this spike, eat carbohydrates with foods containing fiber, protein, or “good” fat, such as avocados and olives. For instance, eating whole fruit is more beneficial for blood sugar than drinking fruit juice because it includes fiber.
  • Watch carbohydrates: Eat approximately the same amount of carbohydrates at each meal. Counting and setting a limit on them can help control blood sugar.
  • Limit portion size: Since most restaurant meals contain very large portions, wrap up half of the meals to take home and eat later.

Planning meals that meet a person’s health needs and budget may pose a challenge, so consulting with a registered dietitian can be helpful. Another option involves asking a doctor for a referral to a diabetes self-management and education service. This program teaches people how to eat healthily, check their blood sugar, and emotionally cope with diabetes.

Learn about dinner ideas for type 2 diabetes here.

Other symptoms of type 2 diabetes include:

  • tiredness
  • increased thirst and urination
  • blurred vision
  • numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
  • increased hunger
  • sores that do not heal

The symptoms often develop slowly over several years. Many people do not have symptoms, and some experience symptoms that are too mild to notice. Sometimes individuals do not discover they have diabetes until they develop one of the complications, such as heart disease.

Learn more about the early symptoms of diabetes here.

In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas either does not make insulin, or it makes very little, notes the CDC. This causes blood sugar to rise because insufficient insulin is available to allow it to enter the cells.

As in type 2 diabetes, because the body cannot get enough of the glucose it needs for energy, it breaks down body fat to use as energy. This can cause weight loss.

Type 2 diabetes can cause weight loss. Some treatments for type 2 diabetes can also cause weight gain or loss.

If a person has type 2 diabetes, diet plays a critical role in blood sugar control. In addition, when someone has overweight, the loss of even a few pounds can help them manage their condition. With this in mind, an individual’s eating plan is very important because it affects blood sugar and weight, both of which determine the progression of diabetes.

People with diabetes may wish to consider consulting a registered dietitian to get personalized recommendations and help in following a balanced eating plan.

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