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Reaching and Maintaining a Healthy Weight

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: February 2021.

If you have diabetes, losing extra pounds and maintaining a healthier body weight are important goals. Being overweight, especially if you carry fat around the belly, increases your body's need for insulin. Losing weight helps you manage your diabetes and reduce the risk of complications.1

Benefits of losing weight and getting fitter

About 9 out of 10 people who have diabetes are overweight or obese. This means that nearly everyone with diabetes needs to lose weight to stay healthier, longer. The many benefits of losing weight and becoming more active include:1,2

  • Lowers your risk of sight and hearing loss, heart and blood vessel disease, and nerve and kidney damage
  • Lowers your risk of heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol
  • Lowers the amount of medicine you have to take to control your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol

Are you are overweight or obese?

Body-mass index (BMI) is a formula to decide if someone is at an ideal weight, overweight, or obese. BMI is figured by dividing how tall you are by how much you weigh. For example, an adult who is 5 foot 9 inches tall and weighs 200 pounds has a BMI of 29.5. This number means the person is overweight. Here is what BMI numbers mean for adults:3,4

  • Underweight – Under 18.5
  • Normal – 18.5 to 24.9
  • Overweight – 25 to 29.9
  • Obese – 30 to 39.9
  • Extremely obese – 40 and above

BMI has some limits. First, it does not allow for differences in gender or muscle mass. This means that BMI may underestimate body fat in older adults with low muscle mass. It may also overestimate it in young, muscle-bound athletes.3

Setting a weight loss goal

The first step in losing weight is to find your target or goal. Your dietitian or nutritionist will work with you to set a target weight. Your target weight will tell you how many calories you will need each day to reach this weight.1

Weight loss does not have to be dramatic to improve your health. Many studies show that losing even a few pounds can help prevent or delay type 2 diabetes.2

One study found that losing 10 percent of body weight over 5 years doubles the chances diabetes will go into remission. For a person who weighs 200 pounds, that means losing 20 pounds. That is just 4 pounds a year. The key is that the weight loss needs to start soon after first developing diabetes.2

Even a 5 percent loss in weight improves blood glucose control and physical fitness.2

Finding your calorie count

Once you know your weight loss goal, you need to find out how many calories a day you can eat. To lose weight, you will need to take in fewer calories than you use during the day. A general guide for how many calories adult men and women need each day are:1

  • Men and active women – 15 calories per pound
  • Most women, inactive men, and those over age 55 – 13 calories per pound
  • Inactive women, obese adults – 10 calories per pound
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women – 15 to 17 calories per pound

To use these numbers, set a weight goal. For example, a woman who weighs 200 pounds will stay the same weight by eating 2,600 calories a day. To lose weight, she will have to eat fewer calories and exercise more. For every 3,500 calories she avoids or exercises away, she will lose 1 pound.

Who can help you lose weight?

Your doctor may have some ideas for how to safely lose weight. Your doctor may also send you to a diabetes educator or dietitian. These healthcare workers specialize in helping people with diabetes and pre-diabetes.

A dietitian can help you choose a weight loss plan that works for you based on your age, physical fitness, budget, and other health issues. They can help you find lifestyle changes that make the biggest difference in your weight and overall health, such as:

  • Setting realistic weight loss goals
  • How to spot healthier food options
  • Ways to get more physical activity into your day
  • How to read food labels
  • Tips on portion control
  • Eating out while maintaining your diet
  • Ways to reduce stress and emotional eating

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