When it comes to reining in high blood sugar, insulin is a magic bullet. But there can be a downside: weight gain. Read on to find out how to keep the pounds at bay and reap all the benefits insulin has to offer!
Let’s get something straight. Insulin doesn’t actually make you gain weight; it simply makes blood sugar available to the cells as energy, something your body isn’t used to when your diabetes is unmanaged.
Here’s the thing: When blood sugar levels are sky high, much of the excess glucose in your system gets flushed through the urine instead of nourishing your body. That explains why you may feel hungry and thirsty, urinate frequently and even drop weight without trying. Add insulin to the equation and the story is quite different: Suddenly, the food you eat gets metabolized properly—and if you take in more calories than you burn, the pounds can creep on.
So if you’ve started insulin, and the scale has been sliding upward, don’t panic. First, remember that the benefits of better blood sugar control outweigh any potential weight gain.
And believe it or not, over the long term insulin can actually help you manage your weight. “Glucose control is most important when trying to lose weight,” says Gary Scheiner, MS, CDE, in his book, Until There Is a Cure: The Latest and Greatest in Diabetes Self-Care. “Elevated blood sugar levels drive hunger and sap energy, which makes it difficult to eat right and exercise. So, blood sugar management needs to take precedence.”
Luckily, you can fend off weight gain with these tips:
Eat small, frequent meals. If you continue to eat the same amount as you did before using insulin, you’ll gain weight. Work with your diabetes educator to find foods that fill you up without providing lots of calories. For guidance on healthy portion sizes, download our chart.
Make a move. Shoot for at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as brisk walking. All that physical activity will not only burn calories but also make your body’s cells more responsive to insulin, helping to drive your blood sugar down to
Talk it over with your doctor. Can’t seem to rein in insulin-related weight gain? Tell your doctor. Say: “I’ve noticed since starting insulin that I’ve been gaining weight. What can I do?” He may suggest other diabetes meds or lifestyle changes that can help.
Take insulin only as directed. Talk to your healthcare team in advance about times you might want to lower your insulin dose (like before exercise); otherwise, never lower your dose without talking to your endocrinologist or diabetes educator. Sure, the tactic could help you drop pounds, but the consequences—high blood sugar levels that could lead to heart disease, kidney disease, ketoacidosis, coma and other problems—could be dire.