How can I lose weight safely if I have diabetes?

Typically, a 1,500-calorie diet is prescribed for weight loss. For someone with diabetes, the carbohydrates in the diet should be spread out over the day to avoid spikes in blood glucose (sugar) levels.

Most of your carbohydrate selections should be those that are digested slowly—high-fiber foods, such as whole fruit, whole grain breads and cereals. Your fat choices should come from mono- and polyunsaturated fats such as olive oil and nuts.

How many servings of each category of food in your meal plan will be based on the minimal requirements for a healthy diet, the amount of carbohydrate you can tolerate based on your blood glucose levels and your personal preferences. An example of such a diet is: six servings starch, two servings fruit, four servings fat, three servings vegetables, six servings protein and two servings milk.

Some tips for helping with your weight loss efforts:

  • Preplan and prepare meals and snacks ahead of time. This helps when you are too tired to cook and can keep you on track.
  • Shop from a list, and shop when you are not hungry.
  • Eat slowly so your brain can get the message when you've become full.
  • Eat more vegetables. Cover half of your plate with greens. Take seconds of vegetables or salad instead of more meat and potatoes.
  • Snack sensibly, such as raw vegetables with salsa.
  • Choose smaller servings, get to know what a serving size is and weigh and measure portions if necessary.
  • Cut back on carbohydrates. Studies show that individuals eat too many carbohydrates, so reducing portion size should help with weight loss and better blood glucose control. But remember that portion sizes of all foods, not just carbohydrate foods, should be controlled.
  • Find support. Seek out some type of group support, such as a meeting or an online chat group.
  • Keep a food diary. Writing down what you eat, when you eat, how much you eat and why you eat can help you make changes that lead to weight loss.
  • Engage in some type of physical activity most days of the week. Physical activity is crucial to weight loss efforts.

Finally, work with a registered dietitian or diabetes educator to establish a meal plan, which is a guide that tells you how much and what types of food to eat at meals and snack times. Together, you can design a meal plan that's right for you and includes foods that you enjoy.

If you're overweight and you have diabetes, losing 10 to 15 pounds can help you reach your goals for blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Slow and steady weight loss of one or two pounds a week has many benefits. You can work with your dietitian or diabetes educator to design your weight loss plan.

Losing weight has become especially complicated with all of the weight loss programs and products out there. Despite all the options available, more and more people are struggling with their weight. Perhaps we need a different approach.

Let's get back to basics with how we eat and exercise. One truth remains in the battle of weight loss: you must eat and drink fewer calories than your body burns off.

No matter what path you choose, make sure you use a safe weight loss plan that will support your ultimate health goals. Losing weight too quickly is not good for you. Aim to lose 1/2 to 2 pounds per week. This means you would need to cut out 250-1,000 calories from what you would normally eat in a day.

There are many ways to tackle improving your health. But there are no miracle pills—you need to make permanent changes to your lifestyle if you want to lose weight safely and keep it off. It doesn't happen overnight; losing weight gradually over time is the best and healthiest way to go.

Different strategies work for different people, so you may have to try a few different approaches or a combination of techniques to be successful.

When you're trying to lose weight, it's important to look at which medications that you're on to see if any of them can be reduced or eliminated with lifestyle changes, particularly ones like Actos that may cause weight gain.

That having been said, keeping your emotional problems under better control can help with weight loss as well. Mental stress causes the release of extra cortisol, a natural hormone that increases insulin resistance (making you need more medications or higher doses) and that contributes to weight gain. Again, healthy lifestyle choices can reduce stress and lower your medication needs.

As for lifestyle changes, what will benefit you the most is regular physical activity. The recommended amount is 150 minutes a week of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity (like brisk walking), along with some resistance training 2-3 days per week. You should also just try to be more active all day, including standing more and taking more steps.

You also want to take a good look at your diet to see where you can make small changes that have a big effect. If you cut back on refined carbohydrates in particular, your body can get by with less insulin, and your blood glucose levels will be better controlled. Avoid eating the "white" foods, including those made with white flour, white sugar, white potatoes, white rice, etc. The more refined the food, usually the greater impact it will have on your blood sugars.

Once you start on your healthier lifestyle, check with your doctor to see if you can modify your medications or lower your doses. All of these changes together will help you lose the weight you want to lose.

Laura Motosko, MSEd, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

If you are overweight and have type two diabetes, weight loss can improve your blood glucose control and therefore reduce complications of diabetes. Weight loss can help your body to use the glucose in your blood more effectively and may decrease the need for some diabetic medications. Weight loss can reduce inflammation in your body and may decrease your risk of heart disease.

Dana Artinyan
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

If you have diabetes, the best way to lose weight and to control your blood sugar is to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet and to exercise regularly. Losing 5 to 10 percent of your total body weight can dramatically improve your blood sugar levels. If you are taking a medication that can cause low blood sugar and you have to continually treat those low blood sugar with carbohydrates, this can make weight loss difficult. Talk to your doctor if this is an issue in order to prevent lows caused by medications.

Continue Learning about Living with Diabetes

How to Build Your Diabetes Healthcare Team
How to Build Your Diabetes Healthcare Team
Type 2 diabetes is a complex disease that affects multiple systems in your body. One of the most important things you can do when managing type 2 diab...
Read More
How can I reduce the cost of my diabetes?
The following tips may help you reduce the cost of your diabetes: Check your health insurance to...
More Answers
Living With Diabetes: 9 Ways to Change Your Health Habits
Living With Diabetes: 9 Ways to Change Your Health HabitsLiving With Diabetes: 9 Ways to Change Your Health HabitsLiving With Diabetes: 9 Ways to Change Your Health HabitsLiving With Diabetes: 9 Ways to Change Your Health Habits
You've just been diagnosed with diabetes, now what?
Start Slideshow
What Is Community-Based Diabetes Care?
What Is Community-Based Diabetes Care?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.