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What to know about insulin and weight gain

Insulin therapy, a common treatment for diabetes, can cause people to gain weight. People taking insulin can manage their weight with certain diet and lifestyle strategies.

Insulin is a hormone that regulates the levels of glucose in the blood. Another name for this is blood sugar. The hormone works by helping the body’s cells to absorb glucose.

Insulin causes weight gain when the cells absorb too much glucose and the body converts this into fat.

In this article, we look into this effect and explore the relationship between diabetes and weight. We also give tips to avoid insulin-related weight gain.


The link between insulin and weight

man using insulin injection
Insulin therapy can cause a person to gain weight.

Insulin plays a role in regulating blood sugar levels and converting food energy into fat. It also helps break down fats and proteins.

During digestion, insulin stimulates muscle, fat, and liver cells to absorb glucose. The cells either use this glucose for energy or convert it into fat for long-term storage.

Eating more calories than the body needs will lead to excess glucose levels. If the cells do not remove glucose from the blood, the body will store it in the tissues as fat.

When a person takes insulin as a therapy for diabetes, their body may absorb too much glucose from food, resulting in weight gain.

Untreated diabetes can cause weight loss because the body is not converting food into energy correctly. Taking insulin solves this problem. This is why people may notice weight gain when they start to take insulin.


Diabetes and weight gain

Weight gain is a common symptom of diabetes and other insulin-related medical conditions.

Compared with people who do not have diabetes, young adults with type 1 diabetes have a higher risk of developing excess body weight or obesity.

According to 2003 World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, 90 percent of people with type 2 diabetes are either overweight or have obesity.

People who have diabetes may experience weight gain as a side effect of insulin therapy. Although insulin help regulates their glucose levels, it also promotes fat storage in the body.

Reducing excess body weight can help people manage diabetes symptoms and even reverse prediabetes and insulin resistance.

Tips to avoid weight gain on insulin

People who take insulin to manage their glucose levels may experience weight gain. However, people should not stop taking insulin or skip doses, as this can cause long-term complications.

Effective ways to avoid insulin-related weight gain include:

Tracking calories

People who have diabetes often focus on managing their carbohydrate intake. However, it is just as important to track overall calorie consumption.

Eating too many calories can lead to excess blood glucose levels and increased fat storage. This may be especially true while taking insulin.

Premeasuring portions and keeping a food log can prevent a person from eating more calories than their body needs. Over time, people learn what portion sizes work best for them and no longer need to measure and track their food intake.

Exercising regularly

Regular exercise keeps the body healthy and strong. It also helps burn calories, regulates blood glucose levels, and promotes fat loss.

The WHO recommend that adults aged 18 to 64 aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week.

Findings from a recent review suggest that structured exercise programs could offer significant benefits for people who have insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.

Working with a healthcare team

Healthcare providers can share valuable resources with people struggling to maintain a healthy body weight.

The American Diabetes Association’s 2019 guidelines state that “There is not a one-size-fits-all eating pattern for individuals with diabetes, and meal planning should be individualized.”

Registered dietitians (RDs) can advise people about what foods to eat and avoid based on their current health status and goals. RDs can even develop personalized meal plans.

Healthcare providers can also recommend ways for people to improve their health while lowering their risk of developing diseases, such as diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.

They can test people’s glucose and insulin levels, as well as their lipid profiles. These tests can give people an idea of their overall health status. People can use this information to track their progress toward achieving their health goals.


Foods to eat

friends making a healthy salad
Eating a balanced, healthful diet can help prevent weight gain.

Certain foods can help prevent weight gain. Developing a meal plan with a balance of nutritious foods can help. Speak to a nutritionist about this, if possible.

High-quality, unprocessed foods contain less added sugar and fat. These foods increase feelings of fullness and help avoid overeating.

Foods to eat include or contain:

  • whole grains
  • vegetables
  • fruits
  • yogurt
  • healthful fats, such as avocados, nuts, and plant-based oils

Foods to avoid include or contain:

  • refined carbohydrates
  • packaged or processed foods
  • added sugars
  • trans fats

Summary

Insulin plays several essential roles in the body. It regulates blood glucose levels, promotes fat storage, and even help breaks down fats and protein.

However, excess insulin, due to insulin resistance or taking diabetes medication, can lead to weight gain.

People can use dietary and lifestyle changes to prevent insulin-related weight gain. Getting regular exercise and eating unprocessed foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, may help prevent excess fat storage.

For anyone struggling to maintain a healthy body weight after making dietary and lifestyle changes, it may be a good idea to consult a healthcare provider. They can offer valuable guidance for people trying to maintain or lose weight.

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