Expert-reviewed by Ashwini S.Kanade, Registered Dietician and Certified Diabetes Educator with 17 years of experience
People with diabetes often have to struggle with other issues that come with it, foremost being weight gain or loss. Either of those conditions suggests a deterioration in health. Usually, rapid and unexplained weight loss indicates prediabetes or is a symptom of diabetes itself. Furthermore, obesity is also a risk factor for diabetes. On the other hand, weight gain is also seen as an issue with people already living with diabetes. No matter what stage of diabetes or which end of the weight spectrum you are at, we know it is important to deal with these issues without stressing yourself too much.
While there are several guidelines out there to help regular adults with weight loss or gain by way of diets and a plethora of options for physical activity, they might not directly apply to people with diabetes. Hence, we have tried to answer an array of questions about weight, diabetes and their correlation, which bother people with diabetes. With a condition like diabetes, it is essential to understand the physiology of weight issues to be able to manage them efficiently. Let’s take a look at your diabetes-related weight issues and how to handle them effectively.
Physiology of Weight Gain
“If you are overweight or obese, you are at the risk of developing diabetes” – You have probably heard this statement already if you are familiar with diabetes. Obesity and excess weight are standard issues which can lead to diabetes. However, they do not necessarily work alone at this stage. Several other risk factors can contribute, and one could develop this condition without being overweight as well.
The second association of diabetes with weight occurs when weight loss manifests as a symptom of diabetes. This mainly happens when the pancreas is not producing enough insulin, or when insulin is not doing its job right. As a result, the body is deprived of glucose and starts using up fat cells and muscles for energy. This is how one loses weight in these stages of diabetes.
Can Diabetes cause you to gain weight?
Diabetes is symptomized by a rapid weight loss, along with other symptoms like frequent urination, increased irritability, and fatigue. This certainly makes it easier to associate the identification of diabetes with weight loss. However, this turns out to be limited to the earlier stages of diabetes or during prediabetes. The full-fledged manifestation of diabetes can display some significant weight gain issues.
While your blood sugar levels are high, there is also an increasing store of insulin lying unused (because it is not working effectively). This unused surplus of insulin deters the breakdown of fats in the body, which then ends up being stored in your muscles as excess, unused body fat. This is the easiest way that people with diabetes can begin putting on weight.
Another cause of weight gain in diabetes is also related to increased sugar levels. These high levels of blood glucose (or blood sugar, which is needed for energy) are not put to their intended use as they are not effectively absorbed by the body’s cells. Consequently, they are thrown out of the body through urine. However, the body is still deprived of glucose, sending signals for more of it, making us believe that we need more sugar. This translates to a person feeling hungry, i.e. an increased appetite, which if left unmanaged and unaddressed can easily lead us to eat more, possibly unhealthily. Needless to say, weight gain is the most obvious consequence of this cycle.
However, you might be wondering how weight gain is an issue with you if your blood sugar levels are under control. On most such occasions, this could be attributed to your diabetes medications or even some other conditions you are treating.
How to control weight gain in diabetes
In this day and age, the prevalent lifestyle and diet heavily contribute to the weight issues faced by every person, even when in the peak of their health. Considering this situation, a person with diabetes should be more careful about their weight gain and start taking measures to lose fat and get healthier.
While it certainly gets more difficult with a condition like diabetes, controlling weight gain in diabetes or losing weight requires a few primary steps that everyone can follow. Here are a few basic habits that people with diabetes trying to lose weight can start to develop:
- Firstly, a conscious focus on diet is essential not only to lose weight but also to get healthier. Eating a balanced diet and choosing healthy snacking options are some of the things that one should follow. Apart from that, having small meals frequently is key to maintaining your blood sugar levels and your weight. It might seem contradictory, but having small meals every 2-3 hours keeps you nourished without leading to hunger pangs and consequential overeating.
- Secondly, drink enough water. More often than not, we tend to read our body’s requirement for hydration as its want for food. Water does the vital job of flushing out toxins from the system, keeping our body healthy and nourished. Six to eight glasses of water every day is usually recommended. If that already looks too much to you, remember to take a water bottle with you everywhere and start with small sips now and then.
- Thirdly, get that body moving! Irrespective of what measures you are taking to shed those kilos, getting some physical activity must be part of your plan. Getting some exercise for those muscles not only helps your weight loss, but it also helps keep other health conditions at bay, relieves stress and improves your mental health. Also, physical activity does not have to be some rigorous exercise regimen that leaves you drained. Opt for things that you like or used to do, e.g., jogging, playing a sport, dancing, yoga, etc. The choice is yours!
Furthermore, if you’ve been sedentary for a while now, start slowly. Your age or weight is not a factor, your willingness for well-being is what should guide you.
- Most importantly, consult your nutritionist. Nutritionists are equipped to understand your conditions and your health requirements. They can not only guide you with the right kind of diet for your body, but they can also recommend some superfoods best suited to you that help you with weight loss as well as other issues that you might want to beat.
Additionally, make sure you keep track of your blood sugar levels regularly. Consult your doctor to know how often and at what times you need to monitor your blood glucose.
Is Putting On Weight a Sign of Diabetes?
Weight fluctuations are one of the earliest and most noticeable signs of diabetes. This is usually seen when diabetes is unregulated, or there are no external efforts at controlling it. While we know rapid weight loss to be a symptom of early diabetes, weight gain can be viewed as the next step. At this stage of diabetes, you are losing all unutilised glucose via urine because insulin is unable to perform its functions properly. Here, you are also losing calories. This is how your weight loss occurs.
Meanwhile, as your unchecked diabetes progresses, your body does not get enough sugar or glucose for its everyday functions. It interprets this as a need for more food and communicates the same to your brain. Your brain then suggests to you that the body needs more food, and you end up reaching for that extra snack which only adds to your calories. And this how you gain weight during diabetes.
If you have not been diagnosed with diabetes yet, this could indeed be a signal of the condition for you. To avoid such weight issues that could only contribute to your condition, it is advisable to consult your doctor at the first sign of unexplained weight loss. You can take a healthy step further towards prevention by reducing your weight and reaching normal Body Mass Index (BMI) before the onset of diabetes.
To sum it up, weight gain is definitely a sign of diabetes which has already established itself. The sooner you take remedial steps, the sooner you will achieve good health.
How can people with diabetes who experienced weight loss gain healthy weight back?
Tipping the scale below the normal BMI range is as unhealthy as being overweight or obese. For an Indian adult, a BMI signifying a healthy weight begins at 18.5; anything below that is considered underweight. So don’t be too happy about being underweight either.
For underweight people with diabetes or those looking to put on a few extra kilos for their health, it is advisable to start slow. Be it weight gain or weight loss, rapid results are neither practical nor sustainable in the long run. The best approach is to start with small steps.
As with weight loss, diet plays a vital role in weight gain as well. Here are a few things you can do to make your diet weight-gain friendly:
Plan your meals for the day in advance and carry them along with you, if possible. You do not have the option to indulge in sugar-laden unhealthy foods; it is best to avoid them. Even without diabetes, you should prevent overindulging in them.
- Opt for foods that are high in healthy calories. Proteins and healthy carbs are something you should include on your plate in appropriate proportions, without compromising on other nutrient groups.
- Eating small meals frequently is crucial. Yes, that is what we said about weight loss too. But eating healthy, small portions of food at appropriate intervals works both ways. It is about nourishing your body when it needs the same, and definitely before it retaliates. Don’t go hungry!
- Physical activity is the next most crucial inclusion in your lifestyle you ought to make, even when you want to gain weight. Gaining weight with a sedentary lifestyle can tend towards obesity, and we certainly do not want that. However, if you choose to exercise, you are gaining muscle weight, which is what you want at this stage. So, let’s get moving!
- Drink enough water! Flush out all toxins and let your body feel hydrated. If you are already dealing with low body weight, let us not add the burden of dehydration to it. Lack of water in your body could also cause fatigue, lightheadedness, constipation, muscle pain and cravings for foods. So don’t forget your water.
- Get a good night’s sleep. Shut off all distractions and get the best sleep you can afford. Skimping on your rest hours means you are directly affecting the quality of your day. Studies suggest that it can also weaken your immunity, and lead you to develop conditions like hypertension as well as an increased risk of heart disease.
- Regular blood sugar monitoring is advised. Your weight fluctuations and related measures are bound to impact your diabetes. Regular blood glucose checks help you keep track and tailor your activities accordingly.
Diabetes makes weight gain and weight loss situations trickier. Nonetheless, it is vital to maintaining your weight in the healthy range by adopting a combination of diet, physical activity, and other measures as suited to your needs. You can undoubtedly aid yourself with apps that can keep track of your diet and physical activities, tailored especially to suit the needs of people with diabetes. Furthermore, consult your doctor and nutritionist to know how diabetes is affecting your weight.