Controlling Weight Gain from Insulin

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You may have heard that using insulin to control your diabetes could lead to weight gain. There is some truth to that, but rest assured: There’s still plenty you can do to manage your weight if your doctor puts you on insulin.

How Can Insulin Cause Weight Gain?

Doctors know that prescribing insulin may affect your appetite and cravings. In addition, a potential side effect of insulin is that it can cause hypoglycemia, or low blood glucose levels. Defensive eating, or eating to make sure you don’t experience this low blood sugar, could also contribute to extra pounds.

What Can I Do to Avoid Weight Gain?

It’s a tough situation to be in: The medication you take to help control your diabetes—insulin—could lead to weight gain. At the same time, being overweight increases your risk for complications when you have diabetes. Fortunately, there are things you can do to keep extra pounds at bay and aid your glucose control.

Eat less. To lose weight, you need to consume fewer calories. One of the best ways to do this is by controlling your portion sizes to avoid overeating. At each meal, look at your plate and imagine a line down the middle. Make sure it's a normal-sized cheating! Fill half your plate with nonstarchy vegetables, such as spinach, peppers, tomatoes, or broccoli. Now, divide the remaining half in half again. Fill one of the small sections with starchy food, such as whole grain bread, potatoes, or beans. The final section is for lean meats or other types of protein, such as eggs, tofu, or low-fat cheese. Eliminate the snacks, junk food, and sweetened beverages.

Move more. Physical activity helps you burn calories. Choose activities that you enjoy, such as walking or biking. Start slowly and gradually increase the amount of activity. If you get bored or have trouble sticking to an exercise routine, consider finding a friend or partner who will exercise with you.

Although experts recommend that you exercise for 30 minutes on most days, it’s okay to divide the 30 minutes into three 10-minute periods. That may make it easier to fit activity into your schedule. The goal is to achieve slow and continuous weight loss, 1 to 2 pounds per week.

Talk with your doctor. If you’re concerned that your medication is making you gain weight, continue taking your medication, but talk with your doctor. He or she may prescribe a different type of insulin that has a lower risk of weight gain. Your doctor can also help you understand your target blood glucose levels before and after meals, so you can better match your insulin doses to your body’s insulin needs.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Jun 26

  1. Bloomgarden Z. Diabetes and Obesity. Diabetes Care. 2008; 31(1):176-182. 

  2. Insulin Myths and Facts. Clinical Diabetes 2007;25(1):39-40. 

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  5. Overcoming Barriers to Activity. American Diabetes Association. 

  6. Weight Loss. American Diabetes Association.

  7. Create Your Plate. American Diabetes Association.

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