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Does Diabetes Cause Weight Gain? What to Know

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways

  • Several factors may contribute to weight gain in type 2 diabetes, such as insulin resistance, certain medications, genetics, and diet and lifestyle habits. 
  • Being overweight can increase your risk of health conditions related to type 2 diabetes, like heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke. 
  • You can manage your weight by prioritizing balanced nutrition, exercising regularly, taking your diabetes medications as prescribed, and working closely with your healthcare team.

With many people experiencing both type 2 diabetes and obesity, you may wonder if diabetes can cause weight gain. 

Though this is a complex subject that requires more research to understand fully, some factors have been linked with weight gain in diabetes, such as insulin resistance and certain medications. 

Continue reading to learn more about why some people gain weight with diabetes and how to manage weight in a healthy way.

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Does Diabetes Cause Weight Gain?

The relationship between type 2 diabetes and body weight is complex.

Type 2 diabetes is characterized by insulin resistance, which is when your body's cells don’t respond as well to insulin, leading to an increase in blood sugar levels over time. 

Obesity is strongly associated with insulin resistance and is a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes.

As insulin resistance worsens in the case of type 2 diabetes, it can lead to further weight gain. 

Additionally, certain medications used to treat diabetes can contribute to increases in weight. 

While some experts argue that obesity causes insulin resistance, others suggest insulin resistance occurs first and encourages weight gain.

More research is needed to understand the impact of diabetes on body weight.

Causes of Weight Gain in Diabetes 

Several factors can contribute to weight gain in type 2 diabetes, from medical treatment to lifestyle habits, making it important to discuss your weight trends with your doctor if you’re concerned. 

Insulin Resistance 

Insulin resistance typically occurs up to 15 years before type 2 diabetes develops.

As insulin resistance progresses, the pancreas produces more insulin in an attempt to bring down the elevated blood sugar levels. 

This leads to a state of hyperinsulinemia, which makes insulin resistance worse and can contribute to weight gain. 

Eventually, the pancreas can no longer keep up, and blood sugar levels rise into the diabetes range.   

Medications

Certain medications used for treating diabetes have been linked with weight gain. These include:

  • Insulin.
  • Sulfonylureas.
  • Meglitinides. 
  • Thiazolidinediones. 

If you have concerns about your weight, talk with your doctor about the pros and cons of different medication options. In some cases, these medications may be necessary to manage your diabetes. 

If these medications are part of your treatment plan, you can work with a registered dietitian to understand how diet and lifestyle changes may help reduce the risk of weight gain. 

Genetic Factors 

Research shows that specific genes can promote insulin resistance and obesity, making it more likely that a person will develop type 2 diabetes and gain weight.

Genetic makeup is considered a non-modifiable risk factor, meaning you can’t change it with diet and lifestyle habits. 

The good news is that your genetics and family history aren’t the only factors that determine your risk of diabetes and weight gain.  

Diet and Lifestyle

Certain diet and lifestyle habits are associated with an increased risk of weight gain in type 2 diabetes.

These include a sedentary lifestyle and eating too many foods rich in added sugars and fats. 

On the other hand, healthy diet and lifestyle habits can help reduce insulin resistance, improve blood sugar levels, and manage weight in people with type 2 diabetes. 

You can work with a registered dietitian to create realistic and sustainable goals around the following habits:

  • Eating balanced meals and snacks.
  • Getting regular physical activity. 
  • Prioritizing 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
  • Managing stress levels. 

These changes can also help you manage your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. 

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Risks Associated with Excess Weight in Diabetes 

Having an elevated body weight can increase the risk of developing other health concerns in people with type 2 diabetes. These include: 

Research shows that a 5-10% reduction in body weight can decrease your risk of developing these conditions and other health complications associated with type 2 diabetes. 

Tips for Preventing Weight Gain with Diabetes 

Taking steps to prioritize your health by managing your diabetes, eating balanced meals, and exercising regularly can reduce the risk of weight gain.

Work with a healthcare team to create a plan to meet these goals. 

Follow a Balanced Diet

Choosing nutritious meals and snacks can help you manage diabetes and weight.

Try using the diabetes plate method to guide your meals. 

On a nine-inch plate, include:

  • ¼ plate lean protein, like chicken or fish.
  • ¼ plate high-fiber carbohydrates, such as brown rice or quinoa.
  • ½ plate non-starchy vegetables, like broccoli or spinach. 

Limiting foods high in added sugars, like baked goods, ice cream, juice, and soda, can also help with diabetes and weight management. 

Incorporate Regular Exercise

Regular physical activity has been shown to help lower blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes and manage weight.

Experts recommend 30-60 minutes of moderate exercise daily, five days a week. 

Start slowly with five to ten minutes at a time to prevent injury and build sustainable physical activity habits.

Incorporate a combination of aerobic activity, strength exercises, and stretching.

Monitor Blood Sugar Levels

If your doctor recommends checking your blood sugar levels daily, following these instructions is important.

This information can help guide your treatment plan, food choices, and activity level. 

Most people monitor their blood sugar at home with a glucose meter (glucometer) or a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). 

Talk to your doctor about your target blood sugar ranges and what to do if you get a reading that is too high or too low. 

Stay Consistent with Medication and Treatment Plan 

Being consistent with taking your medications can help you manage your diabetes, as well as guide your doctor in determining the best treatment plan for you.

If you struggle to take your medications due to side effects, cost, or weight gain concerns, talk to your doctor about your options. 

Seek Support from Healthcare Providers and Loved Ones

It’s important to see your doctor regularly so they can optimize your treatment plan and help you reach your health goals. 

Some healthcare offices offer free support groups for people with diabetes.

Talking with people going through the same thing as you can be helpful. 

Enlist friends and family to support you in meeting your goals.

This may look like asking your partner to help prepare meals or meeting a friend for a weekly walking date. 

Work with a Dietitian

The American Diabetes Association recommends all people with diabetes consult with a registered dietitian for education and guidance on a balanced eating plan.

Many insurance companies, including Medicare, will cover medical nutrition therapy (MNT) for diabetes. 

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Medications to Help Manage Weight in Diabetes

In some cases, your doctor may recommend a medication to help with weight management.

The FDA has approved specific weight loss medications for use in type 2 diabetes.

These include:

  • Phentermine-topiramate.
  • Naltrexone-bupropion.
  • GLP-1 receptor agonists.

GLP-1 medications, such as Ozempic and Mounjaro, can treat type 2 diabetes while assisting with weight management.

They work by mimicking the body’s natural GLP-1 hormone, which helps increase insulin production and reduce blood sugar levels. 

GLP-1’s also slow digestion, which can help with appetite control and weight management when combined with diet and lifestyle changes.

Takeaway

Weight gain may occur in type 2 diabetes for several reasons, including insulin resistance, genetic factors, medication therapy, and diet and lifestyle. 

Elevated weight can increase your risk of developing certain conditions linked with type 2 diabetes, like high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol.

You can manage your weight in a healthy way by focusing on eating a balanced diet, engaging in regular exercise, monitoring your blood sugar levels, and taking your diabetes medications as prescribed. 

In some cases, you may be eligible for weight loss medications that can work in conjunction with diet and lifestyle changes. 

How a Dietitian Can Help

If you have diabetes and weight concerns, you can ask your doctor for a referral to see a registered dietitian.

A dietitian can guide you in developing a balanced eating plan that feels sustainable and helps you meet your health goals. 

Your dietitian can also support you in building healthy lifestyle habits around regular exercise, stress management, and prioritizing sleep. 

Find a dietitian specializing in diabetes to learn more about your condition and take steps to feel your best. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can diabetes make you gain weight?

Specific factors related to type 2 diabetes can contribute to weight gain.

These include insulin resistance, certain medications, and genetic factors.

You can minimize diabetes-related weight gain by prioritizing a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, and working with your healthcare team to optimize your treatment plan.

What is a diabetes belly?

Visceral fat, which is fat accumulated in the midsection, can be a symptom of type 2 diabetes.

Excess belly fat has been linked with insulin resistance and heart disease.

Work with your doctor and dietitian to develop a treatment plan for your diabetes and weight management.

Is it harder to lose weight with type 2 diabetes?

Factors like insulin resistance and certain medications may make it more difficult to manage your weight if you have type 2 diabetes. 

Work with a registered dietitian to establish healthy eating and exercise habits to counteract the increased risk of weight gain.

Talk with your doctor about medication options for diabetes that support weight management goals, such as GLP-1 receptor agonists.

References

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