Does diabetes cause weight gain?

Does diabetes cause weight gain?

Medically reviewed on February 15, 2022 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.


Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show about 34.2 million people in the United States, roughly about 10.5 percent of the population, have diabetes. Of those, about 7.3 million people are believed to be undiagnosed. An even larger number of the population, about 88 million adults, have prediabetes, which increases their risk of type 2 diabetes and other health problems [1].

Diabetes can come with a wide range of potential symptoms, one of which can be weight gain. Learn more about the relationship between diabetes and weight gain below (and consider learning more about the at-home HbA1c Test).

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What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease that is characterized by excess levels of blood glucose. Glucose is the most accessible energy source for the cells in your muscles, tissues, and brain. Without enough glucose reaching these cells, you can suffer a wide range of consequences. At the same time, the buildup of glucose in your blood can also contribute to problems [2].

Diabetes comes in a few different forms, but they all involve how your body uses insulin. Insulin is what helps to transfer glucose from your blood to your cells.

Prediabetes

This condition is primarily known as a precursor to type 2 diabetes because the blood sugar levels are more elevated than normal. Prediabetes can be reversed in many cases, primarily with exercise and a healthy diet.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is characterized by a malfunctioning immune system that mistakenly attacks the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. This essentially leaves you with not enough insulin to deal with your blood glucose [2].

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, where your body builds up insulin resistance. Over time, regardless of how much insulin your pancreas produces, it can’t overcome the resistance. Sugar can’t move to your cells, so it stays in your blood and gradually builds up to unhealthy amounts [2].

Gestational Diabetes

During pregnancy, your placenta naturally produces hormones to support you and your developing fetus. A potential side effect of these hormones is increased insulin resistance. Your pancreas can respond by making extra insulin to overcome that resistance, but for some people, the pancreas is unable to keep up, preventing sugar from reaching your cells [2].

Diabetes and Weight

Weight gain is commonly associated with an increased risk of diabetes. The reasons for this are variegated, but it largely comes down to the idea that fatty tissue can increase your cells’ resistance to insulin. With enough fat, that can lead to extreme insulin resistance associated with type 2 diabetes [2]. That said, it’s important to understand that many people are diagnosed with diabetes regardless of their weight. While there are links and associations with weight, diabetes is largely about blood glucose and your body’s reaction to insulin.

Diabetes can potentially contribute to a sudden and unintended weight loss, as well. The way your body works, your cells take in glucose with the help of insulin. Glucose gets burned as fuel for any immediate energy needs, and any excess glucose gets stored as triglycerides (or fat). Without enough insulin, you don’t get much of any glucose entering your cells, meaning that you don’t absorb any glucose. Without glucose to use as energy, your body may break down other components for fuel, particularly fat and muscle tissue, which can result in weight loss. This is more common with type 1 diabetes, though some with type 2 diabetes may also experience weight loss [3].

Weight gain can be difficult to determine when it comes to diabetes. It becomes something of a chicken-and-egg scenario. Does weight gain contribute to diabetes, or does diabetes cause weight gain? Experts know that insulin resistance can potentially contribute to increased lethargy and hunger, giving way to increased weight, specifically around the belly, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol [4].

Insulin and Weight

A common treatment for both types of diabetes is insulin therapy, which can help you manage your blood glucose levels. This can come with a variety of side effects, including weight gain. In reality, gaining weight while using insulin therapy simply shows that it’s working. Glucose is entering your cells, and your blood sugar levels are evening out [5].

Keep in mind that one of the symptoms of diabetes is increased hunger. Even with insulin therapy administered, you may not have adjusted your food intake out of habit. You may still be eating more, but now that your cells can absorb glucose, they can develop a surplus of glucose, resulting in potential fat stores [6].

Thankfully, it’s possible to maintain a healthy weight while using insulin.

Diet and Exercise

Maintaining your weight starts with diet and exercise. Exact adjustments will vary from person to person, and it’s important to talk to your doctor and a nutritionist to develop a diet plan that works for you and takes into account your insulin medication. Remember: depriving yourself will do just as much damage [6]. Generally, you’ll want to focus on more fruits and vegetables, lean sources of protein, and whole grains, but follow your doctor’s orders.

Exercise is a great way to regulate your blood sugar levels. Consult your doctor about adjusting your insulin dosage when exercising [6]. You generally don’t have any limits on the type of activities that you do, but again, follow your doctor’s orders. The most important thing is to find something fun and sustainable that you can stick with.

Reconsider Your Medication

Insulin therapy comes in several different forms. If diet and exercise aren’t helping to balance out your weight, talk to your doctor about adjusting your dosage or using another type of insulin. Some medications may actually cause weight loss [6].

Talk to Your Doctor

Understand all the potential reasons for weight gain, the medications that may contribute to weight gain, and alternative medications to try. You might also want to ask your doctor to get your thyroid hormones tested.

Managing diabetes can come with plenty of challenges, and fluctuating weight may be one of them. Make sure that you monitor your blood sugar levels with an HbA1c test with Everlywell, where you’ll be able to determine if lifestyle changes are needed.

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References

1. National Diabetes Statistics Report. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed February 15, 2022.

2. Diabetes. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed February 15, 2022.

3. What You Should Know About Unexplained Weight Loss and Diabetes. Cleveland Clinic. URL. Accessed February 15, 2022.

4. Verkouter I, Noordam R, le Cessie S, et al. The Association between Adult Weight Gain and Insulin Resistance at Middle Age: Mediation by Visceral Fat and Liver Fat. J Clin Med. 2019;8(10):1559. Published 2019 Sep 28.

5. Insulin and weight gain: Keep the pounds off. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed February 15, 2022.

6. My Diabetes Is Controlled — But Why Am I Gaining Weight? Cleveland Clinic. URL. Accessed February 15, 2022.

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