Type 2 diabetes affects tens of millions of Americans. And the number of cases grows by year. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 29.1 million Americans have diabetes, with type 2 diabetes accounting for roughly 90 to 95 percent of cases. Even more troubling, nearly one-third of Americans have prediabetes—and it’s likely this figure is much higher since many are unaware they have it.
While there are several risk factors for type 2 diabetes, excess weight is one worthy of additional attention since it can be managed through improved diet and exercise. But before diving into the benefits of weight loss for those who have diabetes or are at risk for it, it’s important to examine the link between obesity and type two diabetes.
Obesity and insulin resistance
Obesity is arguably the nation’s most pressing public health issue. Over 40 percent of the U.S. population can be considered obese or severely obese.
The nation’s high obesity rates offer at least a partial explanation for the similarly high rates of diabetes. Diabetes is characterized by high levels of glucose, or sugar, in our bloodstream. Our bodies have processes in place to move excess glucose out of the bloodstream and store it for future use. Obesity can disrupt this process.
The Pancreas plays arguably the biggest role in controlling glucose levels in our bodies. It releases a hormone called insulin that moves excess glucose out of our bloodstreams and into either our muscles for immediate energy or into our livers for energy our bodies can use in the future.
Obesity puts up barriers that prevent our muscles and liver from absorbing and storing glucose. For one, it creates insulin resistance in cells. But perhaps even more alarming, excess fat takes up space in the liver in which glucose is typically stored. The body’s lack of storage capacity forces it to remain in the bloodstream. This, in turn, forces the pancreas to generate more insulin. Over time, this can lead to the pancreas overexerting itself until it eventually produces less insulin.
Fortunately, there is hope for those with diabetes. Even shedding a few pounds can significantly improve health outcomes among diabetics and lessen the effects of the disease in both the short- and long term.
Benefits of weight loss for diabetes patients
A healthy diet and regular exercise can pay dividends for diabetes patients. In fact, experts say a weight loss goal of losing 5 to 10 percent of your current weight can make it much easier to manage blood glucose levels. And while it’s important to shed weight at a reasonable pace, the benefits of additional weight loss are even more impressive.
Some individuals with diabetes take one or more medications to promote insulin production within the pancreas. By reducing one’s weight by 15 percent or more, diabetes patients may be able to reduce the number of medications they need to take. In some cases, weight loss can even cause diabetes to go into remission, which occurs when glucose levels remain below the range for diabetes without the assistance of medication.
All of this raises the question, however, of how you should go about reaching your weight loss goals. Here are a few tips.
Reduce the number of sugars and carbohydrates in your diet
Diabetes is caused by the body’s inability to manage its blood sugar levels. One simple solution is reducing the amount of sugar your body ingests.
Many of us consume diets rich in carbohydrates and sugars. From bread and other baked goods to sugary drinks and snacks, we force our bodies to process an excessive amount of sugar daily. Consuming fewer sugars and carbs is a good idea not only for diabetes patients, but for everyone who wants to manage their weight and reduce the likelihood of developing other ailments such as high blood pressure, better cognitive performance, and higher levels of good cholesterol.
You don’t need to entirely cut carbs out of your diet. Instead, you can replace bad carbs such as white bread, pasta, and white rice with “good” carbs that are high in fiber. These include:
- Sweet potatoes
- Brown rice
Increase your activity level
Consistent, moderate exercise is arguably the most important side of the equation for diabetes patients hoping to lose weight. A recent study found exercise played a more important role than diet among those who lost 30 pounds or more. Others have confirmed those who maintain an active lifestyle are more likely to reach and maintain their weight loss goals.
But how much exercise should diabetes patients try to get every day? Experts recommend 150 minutes of exercise a week, or 30 minutes of exercise over the course of five days. Keep in mind, that these 150 minutes don’t need to consist entirely of vigorous exercise. A simple walk is often enough to do the trick.
Consider advanced weight loss treatments
Sometimes, diet and exercise alone are not enough for diabetes patients hoping to reach a goal weight.
Every person’s body is different. For some, weight loss can be incredibly difficult using traditional measures. Those who have tried strict diets and consistent workout regimes but haven’t made progress toward their weight loss goals should consult with their doctor about alternative options.
In some cases, a doctor may refer diabetes patients to a medical weight loss center. At these centers, weight loss experts can recommend and perform treatments on patients, using procedures such as GLP-1 Semaglutide injections and bariatric surgeries such as gastric bypass and sleeve gastrectomy. These procedures can have a transformative impact on diabetes patients who are struggling to lose weight.
Diligence is key
Diabetes can be a challenging condition to manage. Sometimes, it can feel as though the effort you put in isn’t worth it. But with a bit of persistence, you’ll begin to see progress over time.