Young adults with type 1 diabetes have a high chance of gaining excess body fat or obesity. At least 85% of people with type diabetes are either overweight or have obesity, according to this research. Gaining weight is a common side effect of insulin therapy. Insulin treatment manages blood sugar levels, but the body stores excess glucose (sugar) as fat. This article talks about the well-established relationship between insulin and weight gain. We will also discuss how to avoid weight gain and effectively manage weight.

The Science Behind Insulin

Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. Blood sugar is the same as glucose. Insulin helps absorb glucose during digestion by stimulating liver cells, muscles, and fat. The glucose is either used for energy or the body stores the fat.

With type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce enough insulin. With type 2 diabetes, the pancreas makes enough insulin, but the body's cells do not use it properly. The pancreas reacts by making more insulin. This is insulin resistance. Insulin resistance, ultimately, diabetes can be managed and reversed by losing weight.


How Insulin Makes You Gain Weight

High blood sugar levels can be caused by more carbohydrate intake than the body can process. The body breaks down carbohydrates into simple sugars if the cells do not remove the glucose from the blood; tissues in the body store the glucose as fat.

The body absorbs glucose and converts excess blood sugar to fat when taking insulin for diabetes management. Blood glucose levels can be very high if treatment is not working effectively for diabetes; this can cause weight gain.

A diabetic on insulin therapy may be eating more to avoid hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Increased calorie intake can lead to weight gain.

Lifestyle Factors To Avoid Insulin Weight Gain

Diet

What you eat and how you eat greatly impacts weight gain. High carbohydrate intake, processed foods, and sugary drinks increase weight gain. It is important to have a low-calorie diet and engage in physical activity when you use insulin to manage diabetes.

Sustainable diet tips

Eat for your physical hunger: Several emotions aside from actual hunger make you want to eat. Emotions like boredom, depression, and stress make you want to eat. Eating for physical hunger will help you not overeat.

Choose satisfying and nutritious foods: Foods high in fiber and healthy fats keep you fuller for longer. Eat foods from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. If you indulge in a treat or craving, eat a small portion.

Track calorie intake and portion control: It is helpful to track your calorie intake so you do not eat more calories than your body needs or even fewer calories because you are avoiding gaining weight. Watching your calories will also help you learn the portion sizes that work for you and how often you must eat daily to make up for the calories you need.

Don't skip meals: Skipping meals as a diabetic on insulin could cause low blood sugar. You may be tempted to skip meals to help you lose weight. When you skip meals, you will most likely overeat in your next meal because you are very hungry.

The American Diabetes Association recommendation: The ADA recommends a Diabetes Plate Method when meal planning. Use a plate about 9 inches wide and adapt these simple steps.

  • Fill half the plate with non-starchy vegetables. These include leafy salad greens, peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, and Brussels sprouts. These are lower in carbohydrates and high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
  • Fill one-quarter of the plate with complex carbohydrates like whole grain bread or pasta, brown rice, quinoa, oats, and dairy products like low-fat yogurt.
  • Fill the other quarter of the plate with lean protein like fish, turkey, chicken, tofu, tempeh, and beans.

Stick to water or unsweetened tea always.

Avoid added sugars, refined carbohydrates, processed foods, high-fat foods, like:

  • fast foods
  • fried foods
  • cookies
  • candy
  • cakes

Exercise habits

Regular exercise and physical activity burn calories, promote fat and weight loss, and regulate high blood glucose levels.

A 2019 study suggests that a regimented exercise schedule could have significant benefits for people who are insulin-resistant and have type 2 diabetes.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise weekly for adults 18 to 64.

Exercising improves blood sugar levels, so discussing with your healthcare provider how exercising will affect your blood sugar levels and medications is best. You may need to adjust your medications or take some snacks to avoid low blood sugar levels.

Your weight loss journey can be achieved through aerobic and resistance exercises. Aerobics help burn calories and glucose, and resistance helps build muscle. Glucose fuels muscles, so the more muscle, the more healthy weight you have. Strength training preserves lean body mass as you age.

Aerobic activities can be anything that raises your heartbeat, like:

  • Walking
  • Biking
  • Running
  • Dancing
  • Rigorous house chores
  • Stair steppers
  • Elliptical machines

Strength or resistance training involves:

  • Bodyweight exercises
  • Free weights
  • Weight machines

Other Lifestyle Factors:

  • reducing body inflammation
  • getting enough sleep
  • moderating stress levels

Insulin and Weight Loss

Weight loss is often a symptom of untreated type 1 and 2 diabetes. With type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks cells of the pancreas that make insulin, so it doesn't make insulin. There is no insulin to move the glucose into the body's cells; the glucose builds up in the bloodstream. The sugar is removed by the kidneys during urination. Sugar is not used for energy; the body makes up for energy by burning fat and muscle for energy, causing weight loss. Not using insulin as required can cause high blood sugar levels, diabetic ketoacidosis, and potentially lead to death.

People with type 2 diabetes have insulin resistance. In this case, the pancreas typically can make insulin, but the body can't use it well. This makes the pancreas produce more insulin, and it eventually wears out. Obesity and overweight can increase a person's risk for type 2 diabetes. Research shows you may reduce the chance of developing type 2 diabetes by over 50 percent in adults at high risk by losing 5 to 7 percent of body weight.

Personalized Approaches to Insulin and Weight

Your healthcare professional can help you plan for weight loss and maintain a healthy weight. Your team can help you set realistic weight goals to reach your ideal body mass index. Your doctor may also be able to recommend other diabetes medications so you can reduce your insulin dose. This may help you with less weight gain. Medications like exenatide (Bydureon), Metformin (Glucovance), and pramlintide (SymlinPen) can help regulate blood sugar levels and help with weight loss. Your healthcare professional can tell you what medications are the best for you.

Common Missteps in Managing Insulin and Weight

If you are on insulin therapy, it is for a good cause; you should not stop taking insulin to prevent weight gain. You can have complications like kidney diseases, peripheral neuropathy, and poorly healing wounds. Insulin therapy may be the best way to reduce blood glucose and manage diabetes. If you have weight gain concerns, talk to your doctor and adopt a healthy lifestyle.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does high insulin make you gain weight?

High insulin levels signal the liver to store excess glucose to use as energy later as glycogen. Excess glucose is stored as fat. When your body needs energy, your liver releases glucose into your blood for your cells to use. Your cells do not respond well to insulin when you have insulin resistance, and this causes elevated glucose and insulin levels in the blood and promotes fat storage in your liver. With more cycles of weight gain and high insulin levels, it will become harder for you to maintain a healthy weight.

Can Metformin make you gain weight?

Metformin is a commonly prescribed pill medication for people with type 2 diabetes. Usually, Metformin is associated with weight loss or stable weight because it regulates blood sugar. But sometimes, weight gain can happen in some people taking Metformin. Recent data explains that weight gain is likely if you have experienced significant weight loss before starting Metformin. This can be caused by metabolic changes with weight loss and the body's attempt to regain lost weight. Other factors are lack of regular exercise and poor diet.

What is a diabetic belly?

A diabetic belly refers to excessive abdominal fat even if you are not living with diabetes. It is visceral fat. This type of fat develops deeply in your abdomen and surrounds your stomach, intestines, and liver organs. If you have type 2 diabetes, you are more likely to gain visceral fat around your stomach because your pancreas is working overtime to make insulin to overcome your body's resistance.

Conclusion

Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood glucose levels, helps break down fats and protein, and promotes fat storage. High insulin levels in the body because insulin resistance or treatment can lead to weight gain.

Some strategies can help you avoid gaining weight because of insulin therapy. Physical activity, exercise, and a healthy diet can help you not gain weight.

You should talk to a healthcare professional about your options and what is best for you.

Sources

At Diabetic Me, we are committed to delivering information that is precise, accurate, and pertinent. Our articles are supported by verified data from research papers, prestigious organizations, academic institutions, and medical associations to guarantee the integrity and relevance of the information we provide. You can learn more about our process and team on the about us page.

  1. National Library of Medicine Exercise and insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes mellitus: A systematic review and meta-analysis
  2. World Health Organization Physical activity
  3. Annals of Agriculture and Environmental Medicine Gender and Age – Dependent effect of type 1 diabetes on obesity and altered body composition in young adults
  4. National Library of Medicine Epidemiology of Obesity and Diabetes and Their Cardiovascular Complications
  5. National Library of Medicine Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP)
  6. National Library of Medicine Long-Term Safety, Tolerability, and Weight Loss Associated With Metformin in the Diabetes Prevention Program Outcomes Study
  7. National Library of Medicine Effects of GLP-1 on appetite and weight
  8. National Library of Medicine Effects of SGLT2 inhibitors on weight loss in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus
  9. American Diabetes Association What is the Diabetes Plate Method?

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About the Author

Ely Fornoville

Hi, I'm Ely Fornoville, and I am the founder of Diabetic Me. Being a type 1 diabetic since 1996, I developed a passion to help people learn more about diabetes. I write about diabetes and share stories from other diabetics around the world. I currently use a Medtronic Guardian 4 CGM and a MiniMed 780G insulin pump with Humalog insulin.

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