Starting Weight Loss for Diabetes

by Lisa Fields Health Writer

When you’re newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, your doctor may tell you to lose weight to help improve your symptoms. Research has shown that people with type 2 diabetes who lose small amounts of weight (5 to 10 percent of their body weight) can improve their health and reduce the risk of complications.

“Weight loss of around 7 percent improves the body's sensitivity to its own insulin by about 60 percent,” said Osama Hamdy, MD, PhD, medical director of the Obesity Clinical Program and director of the Inpatient Diabetes Program at Joslin Diabetes Center, in an e-mail interview.

Some people have success losing weight on their own. Consider the following advice:

Consult an expert

Keep in mind that a do-it-yourself approach doesn’t mean doing it completely alone. It’s difficult to lose weight if you’re unsure how to eat healthily. If you Google weight loss advice or read a diet book, your efforts may be off-target. You may succeed if you’re motivated and you’ve got doctors or registered dietitians giving you sound advice.

You can relearn shopping and eating habits while choosing foods that still satisfy your taste buds. Dietitians consider your likes, dislikes, and cooking preferences to ensure that you’ll stick with the plan.

“Going grocery shopping is part of what we have to learn, seeing a dietitian,” said Namita Gupta, MBBS, assistant professor in the division of diabetes, endocrinology, and metabolism at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, in a phone interview. “She can go through what can be changed. The patient says what they could change and what they could not. That’s the process.”

Check in regularly with your doctor or dietitian who provides guidance.

“Frequent encounters with a health professional [are] associated with greater weight loss, as well as a person’s ability to adhere to the plan,” said Jamie Mullally, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, an endocrinologist specializing in obesity medicine at the Columbia Weight Control Center, in an e-mail interview. “I encourage frequent follow-up.”

Your doctor or dietitian’s tailor-made plan will probably include fewer carbs.

“Carbohydrates in the meals should not exceed 40 to 45 percent of calories,” Hamdy says. “[It’s helpful] reducing carbohydrates intake from sugar, white flour products and starch, moderately increasing protein and increasing fiber intake.”

Make small changes

Eliminate empty calories from your diet to create long-term healthy habits that encourage weight loss.

“This could be an effective plan, or at least a great first step in the weight-loss process,” Mullally said. “If someone is consuming a lot of sugar-sweetened beverages, then reducing or eliminating them can be a great first step and result in significant weight loss and improvements in blood sugar.”

Writing down what you eat can help and remind you when it’s time to stop.

“Logging food is very valuable to track caloric intake and also to learn from the trends,” Hamdy said. “A lot of people use apps to track their food and exercise, which are good tools.”

Get active

If you’re too focused on diet, you may overlook the importance of physical activity on weight loss.

“I recommend gradually increasing to 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week for health benefits; and if possible, eventually increasing to 300 minutes each week to help maintain weight loss,” Mullally said. “Some exercise is always better than none though, so even getting started with a few minutes of walking every day can be very beneficial.”

If 150 minutes sounds overwhelming, break the time into manageable chunks.

“It is easy to do short bouts of 10 minutes each distributed through the day,” Hamdy says. “If a person stretches for 10 minutes in the morning, walks fast for 10 minutes after lunch and uses stretching bands or light weights for strength exercise for 10 minutes in the evening while watching TV, this is simply 30 minutes per day and 210 minutes per week that can gradually increase.”

Find appealing ways to get moving that fit your lifestyle.

“Everybody can’t be just walking – a lot of time, back pain or knee pain is a big issue,” Gupta said. “Use resistance bands for the upper body. They can burn calories. It’s about getting any level of activity.”

Seek help

Losing half a pound to 2 pounds per week is reasonable for someone with type 2 diabetes. If you hit a plateau, your doctor or dietitian may offer tweaks to your weight-loss plan.

Do-it-yourself weight loss doesn’t work for everyone. Some diabetes medications, including insulin, can make it harder to lose weight, despite your efforts.

“There are many medications that make weight loss difficult, not only because they cause weight gain but also because they may cause hypoglycemia, which forces people to eat more,” Hamdy said.

If you try but can’t lose 5 percent of your body weight in 6 months, tell your doctor.

“He/she may prescribe a weight-loss medicine to help or refer [you] to a structured multidisciplinary program,” Hamdy said.

Lisa Fields
Meet Our Writer
Lisa Fields

Lisa Fields is a full-time freelance health writer based in South Jersey who writes about chronic diseases, sleep problems and ways that stress and emotions can impact health. She writes frequently for WebMD and Reader’s Digest. She has also been published by The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Women’s Health, Redbook and many other publications.