Why you're struggling to lose weight on insulin...

Updated: Feb 2

My education: BSc Microbiology, MBiol Biology, University of Leeds

What is insulin?

Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) is an auto-immune condition whereby the pancreas (that’s an organ in your body) is no longer able to produce the hormone insulin; molecules extremely important in the body’s ability to use glucose in the blood for energy.

How does Insulin work?

Consider Insulin as the key to unlocking a cell. Insulin opens the doors to the cell and allows glucose in the blood to enter, and to be used for energy. Insulin is a hormone that regulates the levels of glucose in the blood. One of the most common ‘complications’ of starting insulin therapy is gaining weight, or more specifically, fat. Insulin causes weight gain when too much glucose is allowed to enter the cell. Instead of this excess glucose being used for energy, it is stored as fat reserves. The main difference between diabetics and non-diabetics is that we are constantly adjusting our bolus and basal insulin to achieve optimum control. During this adjustment you’ll find yourself giving too much or too little insulin. The consequences for this are both hypoglycaemia and hyperglycaemia, both of with require treatment with either sugar or insulin - the two things that in excess, lead to fat gain!

What do most people associate carbs with?

Why might you be struggling to lose weight?

From my personal experience, the triangle of fat gain as a Type 1 diabetic is hypo’s, hyper’s and over-eating. The first two are complicated and are not always the fault of the individual, but the over-eating is all on us unfortunately.

Fat gain from Hypo’s and hyper’s is sadly a situation of running in circles. There are so many scenarios that cause hypo’s and lead to you having to eat sugary, calorie dense foods. Doing cardio is one of the most common causes of this. Other causes are from changes in diet, increase in insulin and going without food for a long period of time. On the flip side, blood glucose that runs high requires more insulin. From experience, what I’ve discovered is that low levels of activity combined with a high carbohydrate diet is what leads to a decrease in insulin sensitivity and ultimately requires your basal and bolus doses to be higher. When I increase my level of activity, I have found that in the long term I’ll need significantly less basal insulin, and sometimes less bolus. This also applies for a low carbohydrate diet.

An important point to remember...

Everyone needs insulin to live. The difference between us diabetics and those without diabetes is that whilst their bodies produce it naturally, we have to put it in ourselves. For a lot of people this can be a real gamble; constantly struggling to find the right balance between your insulin, carbohydrate intake and blood glucose.

My solution to avoiding excess weight gain with insulin is NOT restricting insulin all together, instead it involves adopting a lifestyle whereby you reduce your daily insulin requirements. A non-diabetic will still get 'fat' from eating too many carbohydrate dense foods all the time. This is also the same for us! The more carbohydrates someone ingests, the more insulin their body will require. Fortunately, a non-diabetics body is readily able to adapt to intense exercise, fasting or a low carbohydrate diet without the real risk of having a hypo. For us, this risk increases, and with that comes the likelihood of having to eat more sugary foods to keep our sugars afloat - the last thing you'll want if you're trying to lose weight!


Therefore, to summarise my point, a lifestyle of good physical activity in combination of a low to moderate carbohydrate diet may leave you needing less insulin in the long run, and thus will help you manage your weight as well as your glucose control.

Insulin isn't usually the culprit for my weight gain - It's my lifestyle!

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