Explaining the Correlation Between Diabetes and Weight Loss

Discover how type 1 and type 2 diabetes affect your weight and why certain diabetes medications can contribute to weight loss.

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by
April Benshosan
— Signos
Health Writer
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Reviewed by

April Benshosan
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Updated by

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Science-based and reviewed

Published:
May 20, 2024
August 6, 2023
— Updated:
August 7, 2023

Table of Contents

Living with diabetes isn't a one-way ticket to weight gain. The link between weight and diabetes is very much bidirectional, as changes in weight can affect diabetes, and diabetes can, in turn, influence weight. 

And it gets even more complicated: Whether you lose or gain weight also largely depends on the type of diabetes you have.

To cut to the chase, people living with type 1 diabetes may notice unintentional weight loss more often than folks living with type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is often associated with weight gain because being overweight or obese increases your risk of getting the disease. 

However, managing the number on the scale is just one piece of the puzzle when you have diabetes. Keeping tabs on your weight and blood glucose levels can help you gain more control of your weight and, ultimately, your overall health. 

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How Diabetes Causes Weight Loss and Other Symptoms to Watch Out For

First, it's important to understand how diabetes affects the body before diving into how it affects your body weight. 

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body creates little to no insulin, a hormone in the pancreas that helps your body use glucose in your bloodstream for energy. On the other hand, people living with type 2 diabetes can create insulin in their pancreas; however, their bodies can't use that insulin. Instead of shuttling the energy-filled glucose to the body's cells, the glucose builds up in the blood, and then the body works overtime to remove all that glucose through urination. 

Because people living with type 1 or type 2 diabetes have trouble using the food they eat for energy, the body begins to burn fat and muscle for energy instead, which is why people living with diabetes may lose weight. (1) (2)

But gaining or dropping pounds isn't the only symptom of diabetes. Other side effects of diabetes to watch out for may include:

  • Feeling very thirsty
  • Feeling very hungry
  • The frequent urge to pee 
  • Itchy skin
  • Darker skin around the neck and underarms
  • Cuts and bruises heal slowly
  • Frequent yeast infections or other infections
  • Constantly feeling extreme fatigue
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Blurred vision or changes in vision
  • Numb or tingling hands or feet

Is Losing Weight with Diabetes Necessarily Bad? 

While unexpected, drastic weight loss warrants a visit to your doctor, losing weight with diabetes isn't always a cause for concern.

Obesity puts you at a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes. If you don't have diabetes but are at high risk, losing weight can slash your chances of getting this chronic condition. Research shows that people who lost about 7% of their body weight and maintained that weight loss were able to cut their risk of getting diabetes by half. (3)

If you already live with diabetes, dropping some pounds (safely) might also help you better manage your condition. The keyword here is safe. If you have type 1 diabetes, taking insulin might cause you to gain weight, but skipping the medication can lead to much worse consequences, including super high blood sugar and diabetic ketoacidosis, a potentially life-threatening complication where the body breaks down fat too fast and causes the blood to become acidic. (4)

Now, back to safe weight loss: Folks can lose some body fat and achieve a healthy weight by optimizing their diets and making exercise part of their lifestyle. 

Some of the benefits of losing weight in a healthy way if you have diabetes include:

Better insulin sensitivity

Carrying excess body fat can lead to insulin resistance, so reaching a healthy weight can improve insulin sensitivity.

Improves energy levels

Losing weight can lead to better blood glucose control (i.e., fewer blood sugar spikes and dips), leading to more stable energy levels throughout the day.

Boosts mood

Shedding excess weight can lead to more energy and better mood stabilization and, in turn, help motivate you to sustain these healthy lifestyle choices that help you better manage your diabetes. 

Improves mobility

Weight loss can help reduce the strain on joints, muscles, and bones, making movement easier. With less body weight to support, everyday activities (walking to the store, carrying groceries, and climbing stairs) can feel more manageable.

Lowers total cholesterol levels

Losing excess body fat can help lower your "bad" LDL cholesterol while increasing your "good" HDL cholesterol levels, leading to better heart health.

Promotes kidney health

Too much body fat strains the kidneys, so losing weight can help you preserve your kidney function.

Might contribute to remission

In some cases, losing weight when you have type 2 diabetes can help balance your blood sugar levels to a healthy range without medication, leading to remission

Keep Track of Your Weight in a Healthy Way

Maintaining a healthy weight is key when you live with diabetes because it can help improve blood glucose control, reduce insulin resistance, and lower your risk of comorbidities (such as heart disease, kidney disease, and high blood pressure) and diabetes-related complications. If you have excess body fat, losing weight can help improve your quality of life. 

Ready to get started with your weight-loss journey? Follow these strategies to help you lose weight in a sustainable and healthy way:

Move your body

Regularly exercising is one of the best things you can do for your body, whether you live with diabetes or not. Physical activity burns calories and helps you lose weight. Even better: Incorporating strength training into your routine can increase your muscle mass, which revs up your metabolism and helps your body burn more calories at rest. 

Eat the rainbow on time

Eating balanced meals with nutrient-dense carbohydrates, proteins, and fats helps regulate blood glucose levels, preventing dangerous spikes or drops. Skipping meals can cause your blood sugar to drop to dangerously low levels when you have diabetes, so you'll want to stick to a regular eating schedule that fuels you. 

Increase your fiber intake

Aim to eat 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories daily. If you eat 2,000 calories a day, your daily fiber goal should be 28 grams. Fiber helps regulate your blood sugar levels and keeps you satiated. (5)

Keep track

Keeping a record of your progress and overall weight loss journey helps you recognize trends and appreciate your wins and areas of improvement. But that doesn't necessarily mean you must keep an ongoing weight loss journal. A continuous glucose monitor (CGM) can make keeping track easier by providing valuable insight into your body’s glucose management, helping you make better and more informed decisions.

Which Diabetes Medications Cause Weight Loss

Certain diabetes drugs might cause weight loss, and dropping excess body fat can help improve your overall health. However, diabetes meds aren't a magic pill; you should expect to take your meds for at least a few months before noticing weight loss.

Here are the most common diabetes medications that may also lead to weight loss: 

Metformin

The most commonly prescribed drug for diabetes, metformin helps people with diabetes maintain safe blood sugar levels. It's available in brand names such as Fortamet, Glucophage, Glucophage XR, Glumetza, Riomet, and Riomet ER. 

GLP-1 agonists

Glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor (GLP-1) agonists are generally taken as an injection every day or every week. They lower blood sugar levels by releasing more insulin into the bloodstream, and they also help with weight loss. Some common GLP-1 agonists include Ozempic, Trulicity, Bydureon, and Victoza.

SGLT2 inhibitors 

Sodium-glucose cotransporter 2 (SGLT2) inhibitors come in tablet form that you take by mouth, and they help lower blood sugar and may lead to weight loss in some people with type 2 diabetes. Common SGLT2 inhibitors include Invokana, Farxiga, and Jardiance.

If you're considering taking medication, always discuss the benefits and risks with your healthcare professional. If your doctor decides to put you on any of these drugs, you must follow up regularly to ensure your treatment plan is as effective as possible and make adjustments and lifestyle changes as needed. (6) (7)

Learn More About How Diabetes and Weight Loss Affect Health with Signos’ Expert Advice 

Monitoring your blood sugar levels is vital to managing your diabetes, but doing so isn't always easy. Signos' continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) can help you gain valuable insights into the factors influencing your blood sugar levels, empowering you to manage your health. By recording your food intake with Signos, you can track blood sugar levels and conveniently keep tabs on your body's reactions to certain foods. You can learn even more about diabetes-related nutrition and healthy habits on Signos’ blog.

Ready to try CGMs? Take this quick quiz to find out if Signos is right for you.

Discover how to live well with diabetes with the help of Signos wearable CGM.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can diabetes cause rapid weight loss?

Rapid weight loss is more commonly associated with type 1 diabetes. That's because folks with type 1 diabetes make little to no insulin, which prevents the body from using glucose from food as energy. As a result, the body starts burning fat and muscle for energy, leading to weight loss. Getting an insulin prescription can help correct this, and working with a healthcare professional to lose weight safely (if you need to) is your best bet for staying healthy. 

What happens when a diabetic loses weight?

People with type 2 diabetes can benefit from losing excess body fat. Doing so can lead to better cholesterol levels, improved heart and kidney health, reduced insulin resistance, better mobility, improved mood, and more perks.

How can I stop losing weight with diabetes?

Work with your healthcare provider to ensure your diet is filled with enough calories from nutrient-dense carbs, proteins, and fats. Regular resistance training can also help you build muscle, increasing your weight and body composition. 

Can type 2 diabetes cause rapid weight loss?

Rapid weight loss is more commonly associated with type 1 diabetes, but it is also possible in people with type 2 diabetes. Taking medication to control your type 2 diabetes can also help you lose weight if needed. 

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References

About the author

April is a writer, editor, and content strategist with a Master’s degree in Publishing.

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