The role weight plays in diabetes
One of the most positive steps you can take towards managing your diabetes and reducing your risk of complications is to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. The reason for this is that when you carry excess weight (especially around your middle) it changes the way your body recognises hormones such as insulin. Insulin then has to work much harder to move glucose into your cells and consequentially doesn't work as efficiently. As a result, glucose backs up in the bloodstream (just like boxes on a conveyor belt) causing your BGLs to rise too high. Losing some excess weight can, therefore, give insulin a better chance of keeping up.
It is never too late or too early to start making positive lifestyle changes. Ideally, the most beneficial time to lose weight is the phase before type 2 diabetes develops (known as pre-diabetes). Several large clinical trials have found the progression of pre-diabetes to type 2 diabetes can be delayed, or even prevented, in people who are overweight by making some simple lifestyle changes, including increased physical activity and a weight-loss of just 5–10 per cent.
Two hallmark trials, one in Finland and the other in the US, also found lifestyle changes involving modest weight losses can make a dramatic difference (up to 58 per cent) in preventing diabetes among people who are at a high risk of developing the disease.
Unfortunately, most people with pre-diabetes do not experience any symptoms and are unaware they have it, which is why regular blood glucose tests are important, especially if you have one or more risk factors.
Losing weight when you already have diabetes can be beneficial, too. Studies have shown that even a small weight-loss of just 5–7 per cent of initial body weight can reduce the risk of diabetes-related death by 25 per cent.
Are you overweight?
When you have diabetes, your diabetes health professional is the best person to assess your weight and help you decide how much to lose. Sometimes they may set a goal body weight that is outside the healthy weight range to take into account your particular circumstances.
One of the most popular methods of assessing body weight is the Body Mass Index (BMI), which is the ratio of your weight to your height. A BMI above 25 is considered overweight (try our free BMI calculator). Other methods include measuring your waist (ideally it should be below 94cm for men and 80cm for women).
Tip: Remember to consult your diabetes healthcare professional to discuss your health goals and work together to set an appropriate goal body weight.
Risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes
- Family history
- Developed diabetes during pregnancy
- Are over 40 years of age
- Are of Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, Pacific Islander or Maori descent
- Were born in Asia, Middle East, North Africa or Southern Europe
- Are overweight
- Don’t get enough physical activity
- High levels of cholesterol (blood fats)
- High blood pressure
- Have polycystic ovarian syndrome
The WW effect
Some diets, such as fasting or limiting carbs, aren't suitable for people with diabetes as they need regular balanced meals to manage their BGLs. The science behind WW, however, allows members to develop healthy habits, lose weight steadily and – most importantly – keep it off long term.
In fact, research has shown that a partnership between your doctor and WW can be very effective. In a first-of-its-kind study spanning England, Germany and Australia, scientists found people referred to WW by their doctor were three-and-a-half times more likely to lose 10 per cent or more of their initial weight (and three times more likely to lose at least five per cent) than people who simply followed advice from their healthcare professional. Those who followed the WW program also experienced greater reductions in waist circumference and body fat percentage, plus greater improvement in insulin and serum cholesterol levels.
Tip: If you decide to join WW, be sure to share your program materials with your doctor, accredited practising dietitian (APD), healthcare professional or certified diabetes educator.