Is Insulin Making You Gain Weight?
Could taking insulin be making you gain weight?
Let’s explore……….Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas in the body. This hormone helps your body absorb and use glucose from the foods you eat. When you don’t have enough of this hormone in your body or this hormone is not working properly, it leads to a condition where the sugar level in the blood is too high – hyperglycemia, or too low –hypoglycemia.
A lot of people with hyperglycemia need insulin to maintain normal blood sugars. Unfortunately, studies show that more insulin in the body can result in weight gain. To make matters worse, more weight makes diabetes worse, and this leads to a need for more insulin, and the deadly cycle continues.
The Science behind Insulin, Weight Gain, and Diabetics
Though studies show that most people with diabetes also suffer from obesity, and obesity is a predisposing factor in people who already have diabetes, there are different ways through which diabetes can cause weight gain. The problem with this gain in weight is the fact that it increases the risk of complications related to diabetes.
Before you start looking for ways to lose this extra weight, it is important to understand why people with Type 2 diabetes tend to gain weight, especially when using insulin. There are two ways in which insulin can contribute to the addition of extra pounds in the body:
- Insulin Resistance : The first thing you need to know about insulin is that it a fat storing hormone (1). High insulin levels in the blood mean that a lot of sugar is being turned into fat. If you eat as you were eating before the use of insulin, chances are that the excess sugar will be stored as fat in the cells. This will lead to weight gain. Normally, your body is extremely efficient in using the sugar from your food without converting into fat. When you start using the insulin for your diabetes, your body is unable to use all the sugar and starts to convert the excess of it into fat. This is how excess fat comes around.
- A Side Effect of Insulin Therapy : When you use insulin, it stabilizes your blood sugar levels. But, at times, it causes a sudden decrease in your blood sugar levels, something called hypoglycemia. To prevent hypoglycemia, people with diabetes eat more food because when your blood sugars are low it gives your body the feeling that you are hungry. Insulin has been found to increase the feeling of hunger and this also contributes to more weight gain (2). Additionally, insulin is known to reduce your metabolism rate, which further increases the stored fats.
The science is simple, if there is increased intake of food, then there is an increase in absorption of sugars. When you use insulin, you might eat more than usual and the foods you eat will be stored in the body as fat because of the high insulin levels that you are injecting yourself with.
People living with diabetes are at a significantly higher risk of dying from a heart attack than just from their diabetes alone. This increase in weight gain and stored fat further increases this risk of heart problems.
Other Causes Of Weight Gain For People With Diabetes
Apart from the insulin use and the resulting weight, there are two main reasons that make people with diabetes more prone to weight gain.
- Food Choices : With or without diabetes, the choices of food you make can greatly affect your weight and sugar hemostasis. This is why there are diets designed for people prone to have these issues. If you have diabetes, then you can follow a diet which includes foods that lower blood sugar levels and are more conducive to better health. Just because someone is taking insulin, and the insulin helps “control” blood sugars, this does not give people a free hall pass to eat whatever foods they would like. While blood sugar may be more controlled with insulin, the bigger risk is heart disease.
- Lack Of Exercise : When sugars are stored in the body as fats, they are only used when energy is required. If your daily activities are not enough to encourage your body to start burning off these fats, chances are that you will only continue to add extra pounds. Even if you are sticking to a healthy diabetic diet, if there is not enough physical movement, your calorie expenditure will be low. This translates to more fats being stored in the body and a general increase in weight over time. Whether you do proper exercise or increase your daily steps; using more calories will keep your weight in check. One caveat to this is that if you find yourself exercising and becoming overly fatigued because of this exercise, you could be struggling with inflammation inside the body. This inflammation should be addressed and controlled first before continuing with exercises where you feel “overexerted”, as this will only make the inflammation worse and cause more fatigue.
Damages Caused By Increasing Then Reducing Insulin For Weight Loss
There are people who skip insulin pumping or injections as a way of losing weight. As discussed, the use of insulin can cause weight gain. Naturally, the lack of insulin will have the opposite results. There have been many cases of people with diabetes not using insulin or reducing the use of it to lose a few pounds. Though it does generally deliver, there are other effects that are not all that desirable and this is not a particularly safe method for weight loss.
Your body uses insulin to aid the delivery of blood sugar into your cells where it is used or stored. If there is a need for energy, the sugar is used. If there is no need for energy, the sugar is converted into fats and stored. When people with diabetes reduce the use of insulin, the blood sugar is not absorbed and is eliminated through urine. This can cause great weight loss and explains why people with diabetes use this as a weight loss option but because of the side effects, this is not a suggested method because it can be quite dangerous.
Even though you might get the results you want, chances are that you will develop other health issues in the process. Excess sugar in the blood can damage your organs. The following are some of the risks of decreasing or skipping the use of insulin for weight loss or for whatever reason.
- Reduction or lack of insulin can lead to increased diabetic ketoacidosis. This is a condition where acids build up in the blood and can lead to a comma or be fatal.
- You risk having more emergency visits to the hospital.
- You will be at a higher risk of infections.
- The risk of developing early diabetes complications is high. This includes kidney disease, heart disease and nerve damage among others.
When you shift back to the use of insulin, now your body needs a lot more insulin to keep your blood sugar levels under check. As a result, you again start gaining weight and the cycle continues. This is called the ‘yo-yo effect’ (3).
Natural Ways To Lose Weight For Diabetics
It is important to understand that decreasing or skipping the use of insulin will not help you lose weight in a healthy way. You will lose weight but will also increase the risks of developing other conditions as well as damaging your body.
Healthy weight loss has a number of benefits. If you lose between 10 to 15 pounds, you might benefit from lower blood sugar, better cholesterol level, lower blood pressure, increased energy, brighter moods and reduced stress on your feet, ankles, knees, and hips.
The following are some of the natural weight loss methods that can be used by people with diabetes
- Start eating a more healthful diet:
- Fresh vegetables, raw, grilled or boiled
- Dairy, especially greek yogurt, organic or grass-fed
- Fresh fruits, raw or as a salad
- Natural sweeteners, instead of white sugar or artificial sweeteners
- Whole grains, like quinoa and brown rice
- Seafood and fish oil (particularly salmon)
- Vegetable and fish oil for cooking
- Unsalted and unroasted nuts and seeds
- Chicken, grilled or boiled (nitrate free, grass fed)
- Start Incorporating more “Movement” into your life
- Other Suggested Lifestyle Modifications
- Reduce stress by doing yoga and meditation. Stress is a known risk for weight gain and increased inflammation.
- Eat five or six small meals instead of eating two or three big ones which can help balance out the highs and lows of your blood sugar swings.
- Drink plenty of fluids to improve your blood sugar control, prevent dehydration and improve metabolism.
- Natural items like cinnamon, turmeric, garlic, ginger, and apple cider vinegar are known to help with weight loss and sugar levels.
The first place to start is eating right. Food plays a major part in the levels of blood sugar in your body. This is why you should choose foods that are in line with what is required by the body. Instead of eating sugary or starchy carbohydrates, you should concentrate on those with fiber such as vegetables and whole grain bread.
Here are some of the suggested food choices for people with diabetes (4):
Below is a food pyramid that we created specifcally for people with diabetes that gives you a better idea as to what foods and food groups you should be eating to better manage a diabetic diet and to reduce inflammation.
Working out has many benefits including the maintenance of normal blood sugars. If you are active enough, you will keep the extra pounds off. Weight is not a friend of diabetes and any extra can lead to complications. If you are currently not active, you will need to talk to your doctor to get an idea of the limits you should not cross. If you are already active, you can aim for about 2.5 hours every week of moderate exercises such as aerobics and brisk walking. Keep in mind what we suggested earlier about not exercising strenuously to the point you are tired until you get your inflammation under control first.
When you are ready, to lose weight, you will need more physical activities and this can include strength training. You can use hand weights, machines, and your own body. Exercises help in burning the sure in your blood as well as the stored sugar in the form of fat. A good workout plan will make sure you are not gaining weight and you remain healthy.
A number of lifestyle choices can help you lose weight and reduce reliance on insulin:
Let’s be honest. There is not a person on this planet that wants to take insulin unless they absolutely have to. I have been fortunate enough to have clients who were on insulin and we able to come off of it…so I know it’s possible. No one ever said it was easy….although it could be (depending on how long you have been insulin reliant)!
Whether you just started taking insulin, you have been taking it for years, or you are someone who never wants it to come to that point, the sooner you are able to implement any of the suggested lifestyle changes mentioned above, the more likely you are able to reverse this problem. Implementing the suggestions mentioned above by itself will very likely help you start losing weight, but by avoiding ever having to take insulin or by reducing the amount that you have to take, this will only help you further improve your ability to lose weight. Please note that I am not suggesting you just stop taking your insulin, I am only suggesting you speak with your doctor and come up with a plan for making that happen.