Diabetes and weight loss: It is the yin and yang of optimal health. There's no question about it. If you're overweight and have type 2 diabetes, dropping pounds lowers your blood sugar, improves your health, and helps you feel better.
But before you start a weight loss plan, it's important to work closely with your doctor or diabetes educator -- because while you're losing weight, your blood sugar, insulin, and medications need special attention.
Make no mistake -- you're on the right path. "No matter how heavy you are, you will significantly lower your blood sugar if you lose some weight," says Cathy Nonas, MS, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association and a professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.
A National Institutes of Health study found that a combination of diet and exercise cuts the risk of developing diabetes by 58%. The study involved people who were overweight (average body mass index of 34) and who had high -- but not yet diabetic -- blood sugar levels.
"We know it's true -- that if someone with diabetes loses 5% to 10% of their weight, they will significantly reduce their blood sugar," Nonas tells WebMD.
"We see it all the time. People can get off their insulin and their medication," she says. "It's wonderful. It shows you how interwoven obesity and diabetes are."
Even losing 10 or 15 pounds has health benefits, says the American Diabetes Association. It can:
- Lower blood sugar
- Reduce blood pressure
- Improve cholesterol levels
- Lighten the stress on hips, knees, ankles, and feet
Plus, you'll probably have more energy, get around easier, and breathe easier.
Diabetes, Weight Loss, and Changes in Blood Sugar
Cutting back on just one meal can affect the delicate balance of blood sugar, insulin, and medication in a body with diabetes. So it's important to work with an expert when you diet to lose weight.
Check with your doctor before starting a weight loss plan, then consult with a diabetes educator or nutritionist, advises Larry C. Deeb, MD, a diabetes specialist in Tallahassee, Fl.
"Don't try to lose weight on your own," says Deeb. "With a doctor and a good nutritionist, it's very safe to do. This is very important if you're taking insulin or medications."
The Right Balance for Diabetes and Weight Loss
Christine Gerbstadt, MD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, warns that if you have diabetes, "you don't want to run the risk of high or low blood sugar while you're dieting. You want tight glucose control while you lose weight."
Gerbstadt suggests cutting 500 calories a day, "which is safe for someone with diabetes," she says. "Cut calories across the board -- from protein, carbohydrates, and fat -- that's the best way." She recommends that people with diabetes maintain a healthy ratio of carbs, fat, and protein. The ideal:
- 50% to 55% carbs
- 30% fat
- 10% to 15% protein