Does insulin cause weight gain is a question our daughter was obsessing over when her four-year-old son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes back in June of 2019?
Our daughter takes great pride in feeding her family healthy snacks and meals and everyone maintains a healthy weight.
Learning that her son required several daily insulin injections really troubled her because she had heard that insulin can cause weight gain.
Just imagine trying to learn a whole new way of taking care of your child.
She needed to learn how to test his blood glucose levels(do the finger pricks), count his carbs at mealtimes, calculate his insulin dose based on his carbs eaten, and administer that insulin effectively to name a few.
All this is just to keep her son alive.
The whole time she is second-guessing herself at every turn because when it comes to insulin getting the dose wrong could have serious consequences.
Not enough insulin and his blood sugars remain too high risking DKA(diabetic ketoacidosis).
Too much insulin and his blood sugars could drop too low risking severe hypoglycemia or even diabetic coma.
Isn’t it ironic that the life-saving medication required by type 1 diabetics and some type 2 diabetics causes weight gain as a normal side effect yet maintaining a healthy weight is a significant part of a good diabetes management plan?
So what can we do about it?
How can we maintain a healthy weight despite taking several daily insulin shots?
Why does insulin cause weight gain?
Weight gain is a normal, unpleasant side effect of taking insulin.
Our body requires insulin for our cells to absorb the glucose (sugar) from the food we eat for energy.
Without insulin our cells would not get the fuel they need to function properly and the glucose would accumulate to dangerously high levels in the blood potentially causing DKA.
Our bodies try to eliminate the excess sugar through urine and you will also eliminate some water risking dehydration.
This is what causes frequent urination and excessive thirst that is so often telltale symptoms of diabetes.
Unmanaged diabetes can also make you very hungry, which often leads to increased eating even after insulin therapy has begun.
When you begin insulin therapy, the glucose in your body is absorbed and stored,
Naturally, this causes weight gain if you are eating more than you require for the day.
You mustn’t go off your insulin if you notice weight gain. While you may initially lose weight you are risking other serious and possibly life-threatening complications and once you resume taking insulin the weight will return.
There are other more effective ways of losing weight and it is important to work closely with your diabetes team to determine what works best for you.
Your healthcare team can offer valuable advice
Your healthcare team will be able to offer a wealth of information, advice, experience, and practical tips to help you with your diabetes journey. They can assist you in developing a weight loss plan that still allows you to properly manage your diabetes.
Your diabetes healthcare team may include:
- your family doctor
- diabetes nurse educator
- certified diabetes educator
- registered dietician
- optometrist (eye doctor)
- podiatrist (foot doctor)
- exercise physiologist
- therapist, social worker, or psychologist
Your healthcare team will work closely with you and each other to formulate a plan that best suits you.
They can guide for setting realistic goals based on their professional assessment.
Those goals may include:
- achieving your optimal BMI
- losing a set amount of weight or maintaining your ideal weight
- reaching daily and weekly physical goals
- changing lifestyle habits to improve your overall health
- accomplishing your goals by a certain date
In some cases, you can ask your doctor about other diabetes medications and possibly reducing your insulin. Your doctor will let you know what is best in your particular case.
Create a meal plan
Work closely with your dietician to formulate the best diet plan for you.
They will help you create an individualized meal plan that will help you know what types of foods to eat, portion size, and when to eat. They may even give you tips on food shopping and meal preparation.
Most people with diabetes are very familiar with counting their carbohydrates but if losing weight is your goal you will also need to watch your overall calorie intake as well. That would include watching your protein, fat, and alcohol intake as well.
To lose weight the trick is to burn more calories than you consume.
This does not mean skipping meals. Skipping meals can cause low blood sugar and even weight gain. Your body uses energy less efficiently when you are skipping meals.
North Americans have trouble recognizing a proper portion size because we are so used to restaurants super-sizing everything.
Trimming down the portion size can help with losing weight.
A handy guide is to picture a line down the center of the plate, then add a second line through the center of one of the halves. This gives you three sections.
Put non-starchy vegetables in the largest section. These vegetables will add bulk and fibre which will fill you up.
Grains and starches in one of the smaller sections. Be sure to use your carb counting guidelines for this.
A lean protein goes into the last section.
You can add a serving of fruit or low-fat dairy as determined by your meal plan.
Add a zero-calorie drink such as a glass of water or black tea or coffee and you have a complete meal.
Without a doubt, the best way to burn calories and unused energy is through exercise.
The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes (30 minutes-5 days a week) of moderate exercise each week for adults and 60 minutes of moderate to high-intensity exercise daily for kids aged 6 – 17 years old.
Research shows that after just one week of regular exercise insulin sensitivity can be improved.
A combination of aerobic and resistance training can help with weight loss.
Aerobic activities include:
- running or walking
- stair steppers or elliptical machines
Resistance training includes:
- bodyweight exercises
- using weight machines
- using free weights
Some people find working with a trainer beneficial especially when first starting although it isn’t a necessary expense.
We now have answered the question does insulin cause weight gain.
We have also learned that we can develop an actionable plan to either lose weight or maintain our current weight.
It is important to work closely with our health care team when determining that plan.
Learning proper portion control will go a long way towards achieving that healthy weight that is so desirable.
Regular exercise is important. Try to achieve the recommended 150 minutes/week for adults and 60 minutes/day for kids aged 6 – 17.
I am not in any way a medical practitioner, please do not rely on the information on our website as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or another healthcare provider. We only share our experiences.
Have you managed to lose weight while taking insulin?
What is your favourite exercise?
Please leave any helpful tips or advice in the comment section below.