How to Lose Weight with Diabetes: 10 Tips for Success

By Irmanie Hemphill, MD, FAAFP
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
November 16, 2022

Key takeaways

  • Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes, affecting many people.

  • Many factors can contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes, including having overweight or obesity.

  • Weight management is an important part of type 2 diabetes treatment, and in some cases, people with type 2 diabetes who lose weight are able to stop taking their medication.

Type 2 diabetes affects an estimated 415 million people around the world and about 30 million Americans. When left untreated, type 2 diabetes can lead to serious health risks, including an increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and death. 

There are several risk factors that can increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, including if you have a family history of the disease. But being overweight or obese can also increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

In this article, I’ll explain the connection between type 2 diabetes and weight. I’ll also cover different strategies for safe and sustainable weight loss in people with diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition that affects the way the body regulates and uses sugar. When a person has type 2 diabetes, their pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin, and the cells in their body don’t respond correctly to insulin, which is called insulin resistance.

Over time, insulin resistance leads to high levels of sugar in the bloodstream, which can eventually damage blood vessels, impact blood circulation, and negatively impact organs throughout the body.

Several factors can contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes, including genetics, activity level, and nutrition. But having excess body weight, particularly around the waist, is also a common risk factor for diabetes. Fat cells can make it harder for insulin to work on their receptors to lower blood sugar levels effectively. According to one systematic review, having excess abdominal fat can double a person’s risk of type 2 diabetes. 

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Tips for Losing Weight with Diabetes

Losing weight can help manage type 2 diabetes and improve your metabolic health. However, losing weight safely and sustainably is important for your overall health. Crash and fad diets that result in short-term weight loss can be harmful to your health in the long run. Below are some recommendations that can support weight loss when you have type 2 diabetes.

Follow a Healthy Eating Plan

Following a customized healthy eating plan is an important component of most type 2 diabetes treatment strategies. In fact, your doctor or nurse may suggest that you talk to a registered dietician to make a plan for healthy eating that fits your needs and situation. 

Eating plans for type 2 diabetes generally prioritize foods that help keep blood sugar levels low. Foods that can help you accomplish this include:

  • Most fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Fiber-rich foods
  • Fish and lean meats

It’s also a good idea to avoid or limit any foods with added sugars.

Get Regular Physical Activity

Regular physical exercise helps control blood sugar levels and lower your risk of heart disease and nerve damage. Also, staying active can help you manage your weight. A healthy goal to aim for is to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity every week. This can include brisk walking, dancing, swimming, bicycling, or playing sports.

Lose Weight Slowly and Safely

Safe and sustainable weight loss can help manage type 2 diabetes and improve metabolic health. Research shows that even losing 5–10% of your body weight if you are overweight or obese can improve your health. 

Avoid Fad Diets

Extreme weight-loss measures, including crash and fad diets, can negatively impact your heart and overall health. If you’re unsure how to safely and sustainably lose weight, reach out to your healthcare provider for guidance.

Try GLP-1 Agonists

Glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonists are a class of medication. Several GLP-1 medications are indicated for treating type 2 diabetes, including Victoza and Ozempic. They help to improve insulin production in the pancreas and slow down the emptying of the stomach. These medications are approved to treat type 2 diabetes, but they have also been shown to aid in weight loss.

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Manage your Stress Levels

Living with diabetes can be stressful, but chronic stress can cause additional harm to your physical and emotional health. Learning how to manage your stress effectively can benefit your mood, sleep, and weight loss goals.

Get Support from Others

Losing weight can be difficult and frustrating. It’s not uncommon to experience setbacks and periods of feeling overwhelmed or deflated. Gathering support from friends, family, or other people going through a similar journey can help you stay motivated and on track.

Monitor Your Blood Sugar Levels

Monitoring your blood sugar levels is an essential component of type 2 diabetes management, but it can also help support your weight loss goals. Talk with your healthcare provider about how best to monitor your blood sugar levels.

Take Your Medications as Prescribed

In some cases, your provider may also recommend taking medication. Medications used to treat type 2 diabetes include alpha-glucosidase inhibitors, biguanides, dopamine agonists, dipeptidyl peptidase-4 (DPP-4) inhibitors, GLP-1s, meglitinides, sodium-glucose transporter (SGLT) 2 inhibitors, sulfonylureas, and thiazolidinediones. If you’re prescribed medication, be sure to take the medication exactly as recommended by your provider.

Get Support from Your Primary Care Provider

Losing weight when you have type 2 diabetes can significantly impact your overall health. But keeping your primary care provider in the loop is important to ensuring that you’re pursuing safe and sustainable weight loss. When in doubt, reach out to your primary care provider for help.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What can people with diabetes take to lose weight?
Glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonists are a class of medications, many of which are indicated for treating type 2 diabetes and weight loss. If you have diabetes and a BMI of 27 or greater, talk to your provider about whether or not GLP-1s are right for you.
Why is it hard for a person with diabetes to lose weight?
People with type 2 diabetes have insulin resistance, which can make it more difficult to lose weight. If you have type 2 diabetes and are trying to lose weight, reach out to your provider for safe strategies for healthy and sustainable weight loss.
What is diabetes belly fat?
A larger waist circumference is associated with a greater risk of type 2 diabetes. In some cases, this is referred to as ‘diabetes belly fat.’
Will I lose weight if I have diabetes?
Some people may lose weight when they have diabetes, especially with dietary and lifestyle adjustments, but many people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes have overweight or obesity. Taking insulin can also result in weight gain in some people.

K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Irmanie Hemphill, MD, FAAFP

Dr. Hemphill is an award winning primary care physician with an MD from Florida State University College of Medicine. She completed her residency at Halifax Medical Center.

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