Losing weight has many benefits for people with type 2 diabetes, including better control over blood sugar levels.
Losing weight by making small tweaks to your diet may reduce insulin resistance.Everyday Health
Losing weight is at the top of many of our to-do lists. But for people who have type 2 diabetes, weight control is especially important. “Carrying excess body fat increases the body’s resistance to insulin, making blood glucose management more challenging,” says Sue McLaughlin, RD, CDE, a board member of the American Association of Diabetes Educators and a certified diabetes educator at Burgess Health Center in Onawa, Iowa.
According to the World Health Organization, 90 percent of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese. Some research indicates that the longer someone has a high body mass index, or BMI (a common measure of being overweight or obese), the greater their risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Fat tissues are active, releasing and responding to hormones that increase the risk of metabolic syndrome, which can include diabetes. But losing even 10 to 15 pounds can make a big difference in improving your health and blood sugar levels.
Anyone who’s tried to lose weight — and keep it off — knows it isn’t easy. It is possible, and the benefits for people with diabetes are great, but how do you get started? Experts say the right way to lose weight is to incorporate a healthy diet into your overall diabetes management plan.
Here’s how to get started on the path to weight loss success.
1. Set small and realistic goals
Losing the weight is one thing; keeping it off is another. While everyone wants to see the pounds fall off in the first days of a diet, drastic diets and extreme exercise plans aren’t sustainable. Try to focus on changes you can maintain for the long haul.
“Don’t try to transform your body all at once,” advises McLaughlin. “That can be a recipe for failure.” Instead, set small, realistic targets, such as walking around the block four times a week or having dessert only on the weekend rather than every day.
After these goals become habits, move on to your next objective. You’ll have a feeling of accomplishment as you progress toward your ultimate weight loss goal. And remember that setbacks happen to everyone, so don’t give up!
2. Get active
Studies suggest that diet is hands-down the most important factor for losing weight, but exercise is key to successfully keeping the pounds off over time. “Research shows that people who increase physical activity along with reducing calorie intake will lose more body fat than people who only diet,” says McLaughlin.
One small study published in March 2019 in Obesity found that exercise was actually more important than diet for weight loss maintenance among people who lost 30 or more pounds. Just look at the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR), a database of 10,000 men and women who have lost a significant amount of weight and kept it off: About 90 percent of people who reached and maintained their weight loss goal said they exercise, on average, about an hour a day. Most people in the registry chose walking as their form of exercise.
Aim for 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, or 30 minutes per day at least 5 days a week. And remember, fitness doesn’t necessarily have to involve sweating for hours at the gym. Try to find ways to stay active throughout the day. To hit the American Diabetes Association’s (ADA) goal of watching less than 10 hours of TV per week, take a 10-minute walk around the block after dinner instead of hitting the couch. Park farther away from each destination to add more steps, and take the stairs when possible. All of these incremental changes can make a big difference over time.
3. Schedule your meals, including breakfast
A common characteristic among the NWCR participants is that most of them ate breakfast. Skipping breakfast is thought to possibly lead to overeating later in the day, which can sabotage weight loss plans and cause blood sugar levels to fluctuate. People who eat breakfast may also have more energy to stay more active throughout the day.
The importance of a morning meal for weight loss has been debated. One meta-analysis published in September 2014 in Advances in Nutrition showed that eating breakfast was associated with better weight loss, but another review of studies, published in January 2019 in BMJ, found that breakfast may not always lead to weight loss. Still, the ADA recommends eating breakfast every day. Experts say an effective diabetes diet involves eating three meals at regular times of the day to help the body better use insulin.
Breakfast should include fiber-rich, healthy carbohydrates, such as whole grains, fruits, and low-fat dairy, to help keep blood sugar levels in check. Always review labels before you buy packaged foods, and skip cereals and other breakfast foods with added sugar.
4. Cut calories
Eating too many calories and too much fat can raise blood glucose levels. Cutting back on calories is key to losing weight.
It’s a good idea to work with a registered dietitian or diabetes educator to figure out a diet plan that works for your lifestyle, goals, and tastes. They can help you find the right number of calories to consume, depending on a number of factors — age, gender, current weight, activity level, body type — while managing your blood sugar levels.
5. Feast on fiber
Cutting calories isn’t always easy, especially if you’re hungry shortly after you finish your meal. Enter fiber: Your body can’t break down this plant-based carbohydrate, so it slows the digestion process as it moves through your system, which helps control blood sugar levels.
Foods that are high in fiber tend to be lower in calories, so you can eat a larger volume than other foods for the same number of calories. Since they take longer to eat and digest, they can help you feel fuller for longer. A study published in June 2019 in The Journal of Nutrition shows that people who eat more fiber are better able to stick to a lower calorie diet and lose more weight.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, women 31 to 50 should aim for at least 25 grams of fiber daily, while men in that same age range should eat about 31 grams. With age, calorie and nutrient requirements drop; women 51 and over require about 22 grams daily, while older men need at least 28 grams.
Most of us don’t get anywhere near the USDA’s guidelines. Try to find ways to incorporate fiber-rich foods, including whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes (beans), and nuts into more meals. Add chickpeas and black beans into salads, soups, and chili. Toss spinach into pasta sauce. Or snack on an apple with a tablespoon of nut butter.
6. Keep track of your goals and progress
Writing down the details of your weight loss journey helps you set healthy targets and notice patterns. You’ll be able to appreciate your progress over time, as well as notice when your diet might have gotten a bit off track.
Try jotting down all of the foods you eat, including the serving sizes, in a journal every day. Not a fan of pen and paper? Try one of the many free apps. It’s a good idea to weigh yourself at least once a week, per your doctor’s or diabetes educator’s recommendation, to keep track of your progress. You might also want to write down when you exercised, what you did, and how you felt after.
7. Get support
Staying motivated to stick with a weight loss plan can be difficult when you’re going it alone. Connecting with others can provide the emotional support you need to avoid giving up. Many weight loss programs are founded on the concept that support networks aid motivation.
Keep in mind that support comes in many different forms. “For some people, online support groups can be just as effective [as in-person support groups], as well as more convenient and less costly,” says McLaughlin.
8. Use tricks to prevent overeating
These sneaky strategies can help keep you from overdoing it on diet-damaging foods.
- Fill up on low-calorie foods first. “Start every meal with the foods on your plate that are lowest in calories,” suggests McLaughlin. Non-starchy vegetables make the perfect low-calorie starter. By the time you get to the other foods, you won’t be so hungry.
- Change your salad dressing system. Instead of sprinkling or pouring dressing on your salad, dip your fork into a side dish of dressing and then your salad with each bite. You’ll be amazed how much less you use and how many calories you save.
- Take up a busy-hands hobby. If you’re idle, you’ll be more prone to eating when you’re not really hungry. Keep busy with activities like walking, knitting, scrapbooking, doing crossword puzzles, or gardening.
- Carry a toothbrush and toothpaste. Keep them in your purse or briefcase. When cravings hit, brushing your teeth with peppermint-flavored toothpaste can dampen your desire to eat.
- Arrive fashionably late to parties. Without as much time near the buffet table and calorie-rich appetizers, you’ll likely eat less.
It’s important to continue to eat healthy and exercise regularly even after reaching your weight loss goal. That’s why it’s so important to set realistic goals from the get-go: The healthy habits you initiate to lose weight should last a lifetime so you can keep it off.