Counting/limiting carbs and taking medication to control blood sugar and insulin are go-to treatments for managing diabetes. However, studies consistently show that weight loss—even in small amounts—might be the one of the best tools of all.
“Weight loss is crucial in diabetes management because excess weight is really the thing that fuels [type 2] diabetes,” says Paul Knoepflmacher, MD, a clinical instructor in medicine at The Mount Sinai Hospital.
In a 16-year study from the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health followed nearly 85,000 female nurses, none of whom had heart disease, diabetes, or cancer at the start. By the end of the study, 3,300 of the participants had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. The researchers concluded that excess body fat was the “single most important determinant of type 2 diabetes” and attributed 61 percent of the diabetes cases to having a body-mass index (BMI) of 25 or higher.
“When you are overweight, there is more insulin resistance,” explains certified diabetes educator and nutritionist Sandra Arévalo, RDN, a spokesperson for the American Association of Diabetes Educators. “That means you don’t manage your sugars as well as your body should.” (Get more details on what insulin resistance is here.)
“Losing about five to seven percent of your body weight actually translates into having a tighter glycemic control,” says Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe, MD, an internist in New York City. That’s right: You don’t have to lose every niggling extra pound to see a difference in your health. Dropping even as little as 10 to 15 pounds can improve blood sugar control, according to the American Diabetes Association.
Eating a healthier diet and exercising regularly are two major pillars for long-term weight loss, according to Dr. Okeke-Igbokwe. Even if you’re taking insulin injections or oral diabetes medications, a healthy lifestyle is probably the most powerful way to manage diabetes in the long run.