How Much Weight Loss Can Actually Reverse Type 2 Diabetes?
Managing diabetes can be challenging, but the good news is losing weight can help increase the odds of remission -- and it doesn't have to be drastic. New research published in Diabetic Medicine shows people who lost 10% of their body fat in the first five years following a Type 2 diabetes diagnosis were more than twice as likely to put the disease into remission than those who maintained their weight. What's more, participants in the 2019 study were not required to follow specific diets or exercise routines.
"The existing evidence for achieving remission suggests extreme levels of exercise and rather restrictive diets; this is simply not realistic or achievable for my patients, especially in the longer-term [and] it is de-motivating for patients when they are unable to achieve large amounts of weight loss," says lead author Dr. Hajira Dambha-Miller, PhD, a clinical lecturer in general practice at University of Cambridge. "Our study shows that small changes over a long period of time can be really meaningful."
WHY DIET PLAYS AN IMPORTANT ROLE
Type 2 diabetes is diagnosed when fat builds up in the liver and pancreas, switching off the genes that control insulin production. "In order to prevent diabetes, or reverse it once it happens, we need to decrease the need for insulin and therefore decrease the need for the pancreas to have to make so much of it," explains Sarah Hallberg, medical director at Virta Health. Her research found a low-carb diet of less than 130 grams of carbohydrates per day helped with long-term remission."Carbohydrates cause insulin and blood sugar to rise," explains Hallberg. "If someone has insulin resistance long enough and continues to eat carbohydrates, especially refined carbohydrates, the pancreas can't keep up with the demand for all additional insulin it needs [and] blood sugars start to rise." That's why it's a good idea for those with diabetes to limit carb intake and, whenever possible, stick to complex carbs from whole grains and veggies, which don't cause drastic spikes in blood sugar levels.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Adding more movement to your life and adopting a low-carb diet can help with sustainable weight loss and contribute to remission for people with Type 2 diabetes, says Hallberg. Aiming to lose 10% of your body weight over the course of five years from your diagnosis is a good place to start. Focus on setting realistic, sustainable calorie and macro goals and track your food intake with an app like MyFitnessPal. You can also use the app to monitor your blood sugar levels, note the timing of your meals and make adjustments from there. At the end of the day, the key to creating healthy habits is making them easy and enjoyable.
Originally posted February 2020, updated November 2022
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