Weight loss with diabetes can be tricky, but these tips will ensure you don’t run into to complications with blood sugar control.
When you get a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes, the initial advice doctors give almost always includes these two words: lose weight. For good reason—taking off pounds helps manage, and can even help eliminate, diabetes. For some patients, losing an average of 30 pounds was enough to reverse diabetes diagnoses in a study published in the medical journal the Lancet. Even reducing your body weight by 5-10% can improve your heart health and help you better control blood glucose levels.
Unfortunately, losing weight when you have diabetes isn’t necessarily as easy as eating salad and working out a little more. “People with diabetes have altered metabolism, and this can create challenges when trying to lose weight,” says Jessica Crandall, RDN, CDE, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Taking certain diabetes medication can also make it tougher to lose weight, as can a decrease in calories burned that people experience when diabetes their well controlled (oh, the irony). What’s more, tempting quick-fix weight loss plans that drastically cut calories or food groups are a no-no, since they are likely to throw your blood sugar out of whack.
What does work for losing weight with diabetes? “A carbohydrate consistent diet that is healthful and balanced,” says Crandall.
Of course, knowing the basics of what to eat is only part of the equation. Figuring out how to eat—along with other lifestyle changes—is key to safely take off pounds. Here are eight research-backed ways to stay blood-sugar stable and lose weight and when you have diabetes.
1. Get to bed earlier
Burning the candle at both ends may be taking a toll on your weight. Women who slept five or fewer hours per night had a 32 percent higher risk of gaining 30 pounds over 16 years compared with women who got 7 hours of sleep per night, according to Harvard’s Nurses’ Health Study. Tucking in sooner than later keeps you from late night snacking, sure. But getting enough sleep may also impact your metabolism, say researchers. Learn more here about how eating late at night affects your health.
2. Cook dinner at home
The more people eat out, the more likely they may be to put on pounds. For every additional meal per week eaten out of the home, regardless of whether they ate at a fast-food or sit-down restaurant, adults were likely to have a higher body mass index (BMI)—by 0.8 and 0.6 kg/m2, respectively (a healthy BMI is 15.5-24.9), according to a study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison published in the American Journal of Health Promotion. By staying home and cooking for yourself, you’re more likely to use more healthful ingredients and serve moderate portion sizes. (If you do eat out, check this advice on ordering diabetes-friendly meals at Italian restaurants.)
3. Be smart about alcohol
Since alcohol contains 7 calories per gram—plus the calories in mixers like juice and soda along with the extra slices of pizza you might eat after a night of drinking—it’s no surprise that heavy drinking is linked with weight gain. Light-to-moderate drinking, however, does not seem to significantly impact weight gain, according to researchers. Choose your drinks wisely and sparingly to help slim down. There are also some other factors to think about when it comes to drinking alcohol safely with diabetes; alcohol can spike your blood sugar initially, but may cause a bout of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, hours later.
4. Keep a journal
Writing down what you eat is a smart strategy for staying accountable to yourself. It may also be a powerful way of jump-starting your weight loss. Keeping a food diary can double a person’s weight loss, according to a study from Kaiser Permanente’s Center for Health Research, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Use old-fashioned pen and paper or an app on your smartphone to keep track of your food.
5. Start meals with a salad
When you think about losing weight, you probably focus on what you *shouldn’t* be eating. But in some cases, adding food to your diet might actually help. Starting meals with a salad as your first course can decrease overall calorie intake at your meal by as much as 12 percent, according to research from Penn State University. Fill your salad bowl with non-starchy vegetables like spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumber to make it a blood-sugar friendly appetizer.
6. Lift weights
Resistance training—anything that improves muscular strength and endurance—can add muscle to your body and even help improve metabolic function in people with diabetes, according to researchers. What’s more, building muscle actually helps you burn more calories 24/7, meaning you will naturally burn fat, even if your caloric intake stays the same. Try adding weights to your workout routine, doing pushups, or signing up for a class like barre or spin that uses weights or other forms of resistance to strengthen muscles. Make sure to follow these tips to prevent hypoglycemia when you exercise.
7. Swap pretzels for popcorn
This crowd-pleasing snack is a good source of filling fiber. Aiming to eat 30 grams of fiber each day can help you lose weight just as effectively as a more complicated weight loss diet, according to a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Aiming to increase fiber can also help lower blood pressure and improve your body’s response to insulin. A four-cup serving of air-popped popcorn has around 5 grams of fiber and only 124 calories—compare that with a one-ounce serving of pretzels, which has roughly the same number of calories but only 1 gram of fiber.
8. Eat a big breakfast
There may be something to the expression “breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.” When adults with type 2 diabetes ate a larger breakfast, an average-sized lunch, and a small dinner, they lost 11 pounds over three months, compared with people who ate six small, evenly-spaced meals throughout the day who only lost 3 pounds, according to a study from Israel presented at the 2018 annual meeting of the Endocrine Society. The big breakfast group also had less hunger and better control of their diabetes, according to researchers. If you give this approach a try, remember that quality still counts and balanced meals are key—no matter their size. Here are more clues your go-to breakfast is diabetes-friendly.