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Diabetes and Weight Loss: Strategies and Tips


Losing weight can be difficult for anyone, but having diabetes on top of shedding extra pounds may seem overwhelming. Upon receiving a diabetes diagnosis, there are many lifestyle changes you may try to adopt, making losing weight on top of everything else seem overwhelming.

It can often be stressful to hear from your healthcare providers and family and friends that you need to lose weight. You also may be one of the many people who have tried to lose weight in the past and weren’t successful. Or, you lost weight and gained it back, which can be disappointing and not motivating. But it doesn't have to be this way! Following a few tips and guidelines, you can set yourself up for weight loss success, which will lead to overall health improvements.

Weight loss success

Two elements of losing weight are healthy eating and regular physical activity. Doing either of these can be difficult, so getting support from family and friends and professional guidance from a nutritionist or exercise physiologist for individualized recommendations is helpful. Often these professionals work in the doctor’s office, or your healthcare provider can refer out to one with expertise in diabetes. Since weight management, nutrition, and exercise are important to diabetes management, most insurance providers will pay for their services.

Tips for successful lifestyle changes for weight loss:

  1. Write down your reasons for losing weight: These are not your healthcare provider's goals, but rather yours. An example includes: “I want to feel comfortable in my dress at the wedding.” Set goals that make you feel excited, determined, hopeful, and motivated.
  2. Get support: Buddy, up with a friend or family member who also wants to be more active and eat better.
  3. Set SMART goals (more on this below).
  4. Review your goals regularly: Your goals may change during your weight loss journey. Adjust them accordingly.
  5. Identify issues and solutions: Especially, in the beginning, spend time identifying and solving problems so when they come up, you have a plan. An example includes when you want to snack, instead of having cookies or candy handy, have popcorn or carrots and guacamole.
  6. Try phone apps: Some apps track food's nutrition content, including food diaries to track how much you are eating and physical activity monitoring.
  7. Be realistic: Know that setbacks are normal and you are human, so you don’t have to be perfect. Weight loss is not a game of perfection, but one of living a healthy lifestyle.

Setting S.M.A.R.T. goals

For success with a larger goal, you need to break it up into smaller achievable goals. Small changes can add up to achieving your big goal! Focusing on one step at a time is the most effective way to complete any goal, rather than getting overwhelmed by a larger one. For example, you don’t graduate from high school all at once. It is a day-by-day process of going to class, doing homework, and studying that adds up to the larger goal of graduating.

(S) Specific: Goals need to be specific and include information on the what, where, when, and how long (if it applies) you will do something. For example: “I will walk at the park after dinner Monday, Wednesday, and Friday this week for 20 minutes.”

(M) Measurable: You can measure the time you walk and when you do it.

(A) Achievable: Walking three days a week for 20 minutes seems achievable, but running five miles five days a week may set you up for failure in the beginning.

(R) Realistic: The goal needs to be something you think you can do. If 20 minutes is too long, shorten the time until you work up to it. Achieving success at your goals is important.

(T) Timed: For example, committing to walking twenty minutes Monday, Wednesday, and Friday provides a time guideline.

Once you achieve your goal, reward yourself. Go out with friends, buy a new shirt, or go to a movie you want to see! Setting yourself up to achieve your goals and rewarding yourself are keys to success.

What does healthy eating mean?

A healthy diet for people with diabetes is the same for those without diabetes. This includes:

  • Eating foods low in saturated and trans fat.
  • Sticking with a moderate salt and sugar intake.
  • Focusing on meals based on non-starchy vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, fruit, and healthy fats.
  • Avoiding foods labeled as “sugar-free.” These typically do not offer any benefit because they still have carbohydrates in them, which will raise blood sugar, and they have sugar alcohols in them that can upset your stomach or have a laxative effect.

Physical activity

Following these physical activity guidelines will help you reach your healthy living goals. They include:

  • Reduce sedentary behavior by planning movement every 30 minutes. This can be as simple as getting up and walking around.
  • Exercising daily is ideal, but strive not to go more than two days between exercising.
  • Adults should aim for 150 minutes/week of physical activity.
  • Physical activity should include different types of activities, including aerobic exercise, balance exercise, strength training, flexibility exercise, and lifestyle activity, such as walking.
  • Note that depending on a person’s diabetes complications, as well as other medical issues, there may be some precautions or modifications for exercise, so ask your health care provider before beginning an exercise program.

References:

Colberg, S. R., Sigal, R. J., Yardley, J. E., Riddell, M. C., Dunstan, D. W., Dempsey, P. C., ... & Tate, D. F. (2016). Physical activity/exercise and diabetes: a position statement of the American Diabetes Association. Diabetes care.

Diabetes Care (2021). Improving Care and Promoting Health in Populations: Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes.

Look AHEAD Research Group. (2013). Cardiovascular effects of intensive lifestyle intervention in type 2 diabetes. New England Journal of medicine.

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