Insulin and weight gain are tightly connected, indeed. Everyone with Type 1 diabetes has to take insulin to stay alive. Furthermore, insulin is also given to millions of Type 2 diabetes patients in the United States alone. However, just as any pharmaceutical drug, it comes with its share of side effects. One of the most commonly reported disadvantages is that it causes weight gain. In this article, we are going to reveal why insulin and weight gain can sometimes go hand-in-hand, and how you can keep your weight in check when taking this drug.

insulin and weight gain might be connected

What Is Insulin?

Insulin is a peptide hormone made in the pancreas. It is highly important for metabolism, as it allows your body to use sugar from the carbs in the foods you eat for energy. It can also help store the glucose for future use. Why is it so important for diabetics? Because it keeps the blood sugar level from getting too low or too high.

When insulin is insufficient, it leads to a condition called diabetes. There are two main types of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 diabetes develops where there is limited or no insulin production from the pancreatic beta cells. This is why patients with this type of diabetes depend on insulin for survival and must take it throughout their whole lives in order to stay alive.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body requires more insulin than that produced by the pancreatic beta cells. This issue is known as insulin resistance. Some may call it relative insulin deficiency. Patients with this type of diabetes require insulin if they couldn’t control their blood glucose levels with other medications.

Various types of insulin are used to manage the symptoms of diabetes: rapid-acting, short-acting, intermediate-acting, and long-acting insulin. This hormone is given either by syringe, injection pen, or  pump. What type of insulin is given and the delivery method are all determined by a doctor. It depends on the type of diabetes, the blood sugar levels, and the patient’s lifestyle.

How Are Insulin and Weight Gain Connected?

Insulin and weight gain are two related issues, as the latter usually precedes the first. But why? As previously discussed, insulin promotes the uptake of sugar of most of the body’s cells. Our cells are burning glucose for fuel, but if the calories we eat are greater than the calories burned, then we store more glucose than we burn.

Our muscles and liver cells accumulate the glucose in the form of glycogen.  This is a very compact form of glucose. As for the fat cells, they store the unnecessary glucose as fat. This leads us to a few frequently asked questions. Does diabetes cause weight gain? Yes, it can. Does insulin cause weight gain? Yes, and no.

How come diabetics that do not take insulin lose weight? Many people suffering from Type 2 diabetes do not treat their condition accordingly because they fear of gaining weight. However, poorly controlled diabetes only causes an artificial weight loss. This is due to the high blood sugars and the insufficient insulin. When our body does not produce enough insulin, our body cannot store all the food we ingest. When the glucose levels are high, the excess glucose also passes into the urine. This means that some of the foods we eat pass away through excessive urination. This is why some people lose a few pounds before going on insulin.

But when a diabetes patient begins insulin therapy, their blood glucose levels come to a normal. Consequently, the excess urination stops. Our cells then resume on storing all the food we ingest in the form of glycogen or fat. The weight we might have lost due to inadequately managing our diabetes returns. This is rather normal, actually, as the weight we put on is appropriate for our calorie intake and calorie expenditure.  So, you see, insulin and weight gain are indeed connected, but not quite as you have imagined. Given that your blood glucose is now at a healthy level, it’s your lifestyle that needs to be changed.

woman using a blood glucose meter

Do I Really Need the Insulin?

Never let the link between insulin and weight gain take over your decisions regarding the treatment required for your diabetes. Don’t view insulin as the enemy that causes weight gain. This hormone only restores you to a natural weight based on nothing else than your lifestyle choices. Yes, weight gain may also cause insulin resistance, but it can overcome this issue because it’s a very strong hormone. Consequently, don’t look at the negative aspects and think of it as an investment towards a better health.

Normal blood sugar levels are essential for our wellbeing, and they are also crucial for making lifestyle changes. Following a healthier diet and including physical activities into your life will help you lose the extra pounds and maintain a proper weight. Since high blood glucose levels tend to make us both lethargic and hungry, we need the insulin to bring it back to a normal level. It’s diabetes that keeps you from finding the energy to exercise and increases your cravings, thus allowing weight gain.  Consequently, don’t fear the extra pounds because you will manage to shed them off with the proper motivation.

How Can I Control My Weight?

1. Medicate wisely

Taking the correct doses of insulin, in any given form, does not cause weight gain. Follow the doctor’s orders and don’t self-medicate. Many people take large doses of insulin after overeating. This will not “cover” the food you have overly indulged in. It’s a factor that contributes to weight gain.

Many diabetics take other medications for their condition along with insulin. This helps reduce the required doses of insulin. Rosiglitazone and pioglitazone are such agents that can reduce insulin requirements. Pramlintide is a medicine that can slow digestion, decrease the appetite, and block the secretion of glucagon. Exenatide can improve insulin sensitivity, enhancing the body’s natural insulin production after each meal.

Discuss reducing doses with your doctor. A natural way you can do this is by cutting back on the carbohydrates you eat. You can start by eliminating the drinks that contain carbs and replacing the unhealthy snacks with something low-carb. Then, start working on changing your diet by eliminating high-carb foods. But we’ll discuss this too.

You should also avoid hypoglycemia by cutting back on insulin if you are experiencing low blood sugars. As always, discuss this with your doctor. If you feel the need to eat in order to prevent low blood sugar, then chances are you are taking too much insulin. Too much insulin promotes the buildup of fat stores, thus leading to weight gain.

medicines for diabetes

2. Eat correctly

Insulin and weight gain are mostly linked by unhealthy eating habits. Healthy eating helps you lose weight and keep the extra pounds away. Weight loss also helps insulin work better. And when the insulin does its job accordingly, it will further stimulate shedding weight. The best way you can start changing your diet is seeking professional expertise. Schedule a meeting with a dietitian with expertise in diabetes. They can provide you with guidance and a meal plan that will keep your weight at a normal level. They will also choose portion sizes depending on what suits your needs best.

Generally speaking, your diet should include the following: healthy carbs, fiber-rich foods, fish, and good fats. This means vegetables, whole grains, fruits, beans, lean meats, poultry, and non-fat dairy products. Avoid saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol-rich foods, and sodium. This means that you should stay away from hot dogs, beef, sausage, bacon, processed snacks, margarine, baked goods, egg yolks, organ meats. Keep your sodium intake to a maximum of 2,300 mg per day.

3. Don’t stress

You may want to lower your stress level if you have diabetes. Emotional stress can cause insulin resistance. Consequently, learn to relax and avoid stressful situation to reduce your insulin needs.

4. Start exercising

Physical activity will always help you with your weight loss goal. The American Heart Association recommends a minimum of two and a half hours of physical activity for people with Type 2 diabetes each week. We’re not talking vigorous activity. You can practice moderate-intensity physical exercises and they will still help with your insulin resistance. It may seem like a lot, but if you practice it daily, it will definitely won’t take too much of your time.

Incorporate physical activity into your life gradually. Discuss this with your doctor, and get their OK before increasing the intensity of the exercises. Furthermore, you must avoid certain activities if you have diabetes complications. Remember that physical activity will most likely lower your blood glucose levels. As a result, do take the necessary steps to prevent hypoglycemia. You will either have to cut back on insulin or have a snack before or after exercising.

woman stretching before exercising

5. Lower the alcohol intake

Heavy alcohol intake can lead to weight gain. This is due to the fact that these beverages are high in calories, and mixing them with other non-alcoholic drinks will only raise the calorie count.  Alcohol can also cause hypoglycemia. Many people cut back on certain foods to accommodate the calories brought by alcohol.  This is obviously the wrong way to go about this, especially if you suffer from diabetes. Do discuss alcohol intake with your doctor. It can also interfere with some diabetes medicines and can worsen some complications of the disease. It would be best not to drink alcohol at all.

Insulin and weight gain don’t necessarily have to be associated one with the other. If your doctor has decided that the right treatment for your condition is insulin, then do follow their orders. To prevent putting on weight due to your condition, you must change your lifestyle. Fortunately, the changes you’ll be making will not only help manage diabetes but also improve your overall health.

IMAGE SOURCE: 1, 2, 3, 4