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How to Gain Weight With Type 2 Diabetes

Published on
Updated on
How to Gain Weight With Type 2 Diabetes

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways

  • You might want to gain weight if you have type 2 diabetes and have experienced unintentional weight loss. 
  • To gain weight with type 2 diabetes, focus on eating frequently throughout the day and adding high-protein and high-calorie foods to your diet while limiting sugary foods and beverages. 
  • Minimize intensive cardiovascular activities and prioritize strength exercises to help rebuild muscle mass. 

If you have type 2 diabetes and have been told you need to gain weight, you may have a hard time finding eating plans online that aren’t focused on losing weight. Though type 2 diabetes is associated with having a higher body weight, there are cases where a person with diabetes may need or want to gain weight. 

Whether it’s due to newly diagnosed diabetes or an underlying condition like hyperthyroidism, gaining weight with type 2 diabetes can be challenging because of the need to keep blood sugar levels in check. 

Continue reading to learn more about how to gain weight in a healthy way if you have type 2 diabetes. 

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Reasons You May Need to Gain Weight With Diabetes

There are a couple of reasons why a person with type 2 diabetes may need to gain weight to improve their health. 

Some people experience unintentional weight loss before receiving a diabetes diagnosis, which may result in them becoming underweight. This is caused by insulin not working properly to help your body use glucose for energy. Your body ends up burning fat and muscle instead to get the fuel it needs, resulting in weight loss. 

Other conditions may cause weight loss in people with diabetes, like hyperthyroidism. Loss of appetite due to depression, aging, or an underlying disease like cancer may also result in unintentional weight loss. 

Determining How Much Weight To Gain

If you’re unsure how much weight you need to gain, talk to your doctor about the best goal for you. Your provider may calculate your ideal body weight or use the body mass index (BMI) scale to identify a healthy weight for your height. 

Creating a Healthy Eating Plan for Weight Gain

It can feel daunting to create a meal plan for weight gain that’s healthy and blood-sugar friendly. Many foods often recommended for weight gain are high in sugar or refined carbohydrates. Adding too many of these foods can spike blood glucose levels in people with diabetes who are trying to increase their body mass. 

The first step to creating a healthy eating plan for weight gain is to adjust your typical eating schedule. It can help to eat five to six times per day (three meals with two to three snacks). Especially if you struggle to eat enough during meals, adding snacks can give you more opportunities throughout the day for added nutrition. 

This schedule may feel difficult if you are also experiencing a loss of appetite. Try setting reminders or eating by the clock rather than waiting until you feel hungry to eat. 

If you take insulin, talk to your doctor about how you might need to adjust your insulin dosing to account for this change. 

Foods to Eat for Weight Gain

The best way to gain weight with type 2 diabetes is to eat a high-protein and a nutrient-rich, high-calorie diet. Your meal plan should incorporate a variety of food groups, including lean proteins, healthy fats, high-fiber and whole-grain carbohydrates, fruits, and vegetables

Increase Calories

Every time you eat, think about high-calorie ingredients or condiments that you can add to your meal or snack to boost nutrition. The goal is to increase the calorie density without increasing the volume of the meal too much, so you don’t get overly full.  

For example, if you usually eat a bowl of oatmeal cooked in water for breakfast, you could instead cook your oatmeal in whole milk, mix in nut butter, and add some banana slices to boost the nutrition.  

Examples of high-calorie add-ons include:

  • Avocado or guacamole.
  • Olive oil.
  • Nuts or nut butter.
  • Seeds.
  • Milk powder. 
  • Full-fat dairy.  
  • Hummus.
  • Full-fat salad dressing.

Increase Protein

Eating enough food to gain weight can be challenging, especially if you have a low appetite. Ideally, every meal should include protein, carbohydrates, and fat for optimal blood sugar balance. Prioritize eating the protein foods off your plate first to ensure you get enough nutrition before getting too full. 

Examples of high-protein foods include:

  • Chicken
  • Turkey. 
  • Fish
  • Lean ground beef. 
  • Beans and lentils.
  • Soy protein, like tofu or edamame. 
  • Eggs
  • Nuts or nut butter. 
  • Full-fat dairy.

Try Nutrition Supplements

If you’re having a hard time eating enough even after implementing these tips, your doctor or dietitian may recommend protein supplements or nutrition drinks. There are ready-made nutrition drinks specifically for people with diabetes, that may help add calories and protein without spiking blood sugar levels. 

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Foods to Limit

When adding more calories to your diet for weight gain, minimizing simple sugars and refined carbohydrates is important.

Even though foods like ice cream, milkshakes, and cookies can help with weight gain, they will likely spike your blood sugar levels

It’s also helpful to limit low-fat and low-calorie foods, like fat-free yogurt, plain steamed vegetables, and sugar-free jello.

These foods fill you up without providing the calories you need to gain weight. You can make simple swaps, such as choosing full-fat yogurt or roasting vegetables in olive oil, to add nutrition to lighter foods. 

People with type 2 diabetes have an increased risk of heart disease. Experts recommend limiting saturated fat in the diet to help reduce this risk.

However, talk to your healthcare team about what is best for you. Being able to add calories in the form of butter, mayonnaise, coconut oil, and full-fat dairy can help your weight gain efforts in the short term. 

Exercise's Impact on Weight Gain

In addition to a healthy eating plan for gaining weight, it’s important to be mindful of your activity level and the types of exercise you engage in.

An active lifestyle is recommended for blood sugar management in type 2 diabetes, but when trying to gain weight, you want to avoid burning too many calories from exercise. 

Especially if you participate in endurance exercises, like running, biking, or hiking long distances, it can be hard to eat enough calories to make up for what you burn while also gaining weight. You may want to talk to your healthcare team about reducing your activity level in the short term. 

Which Exercises are Best for Weight Gain?

The best exercises for weight gain are resistance exercises, low-intensity cardio, and stretching.

You may have lost muscle mass if you’ve dropped weight unintentionally. Resistance exercises like weight lifting, exercise bands, and body weight exercises like lunges and pushups can help your body build back lean mass.

Low-intensity cardio, like walking or riding an exercise bike, can help you stay active without burning too many calories.

These activities may even give your appetite a boost. Gentle yoga and stretching can help with relaxation and prevent injuries. 

Other Ways to Gain Weight With Type 2 Diabetes

If you’ve been trying to gain weight with type 2 diabetes and are not seeing results, talk to your doctor.

It’s important to take your diabetes medications and monitor your blood sugar levels as prescribed. Your provider may want to adjust your medications if they suspect your diabetes is not being well managed. 

Takeaway

You may need to gain weight with type 2 diabetes if you’ve experienced unintentional weight loss from diabetes or another underlying condition. Talk to your doctor for guidance on the healthiest weight for you. 

Focus on eating five to six times daily and adding high-calorie and high-protein foods to your diet. Emphasize high-fiber and whole-grain carbohydrates rather than increasing calories by adding sugary foods like milkshakes and other desserts. 

How a Dietitian Can Help

It can be challenging to gain weight while keeping your blood sugar levels in check. A registered diabetes dietitian can create a blood-sugar-friendly plan to boost your nutrition and help you reach your ideal weight. 

Find a dietitian near you that accepts insurance using Nourish.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How can I stop weight loss from diabetes?

Weight loss is a common symptom of undiagnosed diabetes. Before diabetes is treated, your body has a hard time using glucose for energy, which sometimes results in muscle and fat loss. If you’re losing weight unintentionally, talk to your doctor about optimizing your diabetes treatment, and consider meeting with a registered dietitian to help you create a high-calorie, high-protein meal plan.

Why is it hard to gain weight with diabetes?

It can be difficult to gain weight with diabetes because many high-calorie foods typically recommended for weight gain can spike blood sugar levels, like juice, milkshakes, and desserts. To reach your ideal body weight while keeping your diabetes managed, focus on meals that include high-fiber carbohydrates balanced with lean protein and healthy fats.

How can a person with diabetes gain weight at home?

If you have type 2 diabetes and need to gain weight, you can make some changes to your diet and lifestyle under the supervision of your doctor and dietitian. Eating five to six times per day, adding high-calorie condiments to your meals, eating enough protein, and minimizing high-intensity cardiovascular exercise can all help your weight gain efforts.

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