By Glenn Mueller
Learning you have type 2 diabetes can be overwhelming, but recent research suggests that the initial period after your diagnosis may be the most critical time to lose weight. In fact, dropping those extra pounds with the proper diabetes care may help you maintain better control over your blood pressure and blood sugar — even if you gain the weight back!
That’s according to a study published in the journal Diabetes Care by the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research, a nonprofit research institution. This four-year study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, is the first clinical study to show that the health benefits of weight loss may remain even if patients regain the weight.
The sampling population included more than 2,500 adults with type 2 diabetes. The patients monitored in the study were between the ages of 21 and 75, and all of them were diagnosed with diabetes between 1997 and 2002. According to the researchers, diabetes patients who lost weight within an average of 18 months after diagnosis were almost twice as likely to achieve their target glucose (also called blood sugar) and blood pressure readings. Surprisingly, these blood pressure and glucose targets were measured during the final year of the study and, by that time, most of them had gained the weight back.
“Our study shows that early weight loss can reduce the risk factors that so often lead to diabetes complications and death,” says the study’s lead author Dr. Adrianne Feldstein in a press release. “We’ve known for a long time that weight loss is an important component in diabetes treatment and prevention. Now it appears there may be a critical window of opportunity following diagnosis in which some lasting gains can be achieved if people are willing to take immediate steps toward lifestyle changes.”
Though the researchers aren’t sure exactly why the benefits of weight loss remained for the patients who regained the weight, they believe it may be related to increased insulin sensitivity. Christine Miller, a diabetes care educator, explains that losing weight after being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes may make the body more receptive to insulin. When a person loses weight, she says their cells often become more responsive to smaller amounts of insulin.
“While it is somewhat surprising that there were still benefits when patients regained the weight, it could be that the initial weight loss helped preserve the functioning of the pancreas,” Miller says.
Another possible explanation for the benefits the patients who dropped pounds after being diagnosed with diabetes received could be related to the lifestyle changes accompanying weight loss. Miller says that switching to a healthier meal plan can often improve blood sugar and blood pressure even if no weight loss occurs.
“Eating proper portion sizes and including more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in your diet has often been shown to improve blood pressure and blood sugar control,” Miller says.
Regardless of the factors behind the improved blood pressure and blood sugar numbers, Miller finds the results of the study very encouraging. When a patient is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, there is now positive research to help motivate them to adopt a healthier lifestyle.
“The study seems to support that the sooner a person takes on a healthy lifestyle and achieves moderate weight loss, the more beneficial it is going to be for their condition in the long run,” she says. “It also tells us that all is not lost if a patient regains some weight.”
Managing blood sugar and blood pressure effectively may prevent or delay the development of other health complications related to diabetes, such as heart and cardiovascular disease, blindness, nerve damage and kidney damage. Reducing these diabetes risks can help people enjoy longer and more active lives.
According to the American Diabetes Association, following a healthy meal plan should help you to drop those extra pounds or maintain a healthy weight. Whatever meal plan you decide to follow, they suggest you include a wide variety of foods, such as vegetables, whole grains, fruits, non-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, poultry and fish.
If you have questions about meal planning for diabetes, don’t hesitate to email email@example.com.
To learn more about meal plans designed specifically for people with diabetes, visit the Living with Diabetes meal plan report card. The Living with Diabetes meal plan supports the current recommendations of the American Diabetes Association. This meal plan may be a good choice if you want to learn portion control and healthy eating behaviors that can have a positive impact on blood sugar and diabetes care.