Weight management and blood glucose control go hand in hand with type 2 diabetes. Losing weight can make the condition easier to manage, and significant, lasting weight loss may even lead to remission of symptoms. One study found that 46 percent of people who lost more than 22 pounds and kept it off for 12 months achieved remission, requiring no other treatments for diabetes beyond regular monitoring by their primary care providers.

Although the health benefits of losing weight for people with type 2 diabetes are clear, the best way to reach a healthy weight may not be as clear. These steps can put you on the path to successful weight loss to improve your health and well-being.

Step 1: Establish a SMART goal.

Setting a goal gives you something to work toward so that you can stay focused and motivated to stick with your weight loss plan. The best goals follow the SMART rule, meaning they are:

  • Specific: your goal should clearly state what you wish to achieve in concrete terms
  • Measurable: goals that include a measurable metric of success are simpler to track
  • Achievable: your goal needs to be realistic so that you don’t become discouraged
  • Relevant: achieving your goal must provide real benefits
  • Time-bound: placing a time frame on your goal makes it easier to develop your strategy and monitor your progress

For weight loss with type 2 diabetes, an example of a SMART goal is:

I will lose 48 pounds within one year, so my clothes will fit better and my A1C numbers will improve.

Once you have your SMART goal set, break it down further into months or weeks. With the above example, you could establish a goal to lose 4 pounds per month. Setting small milestones helps you to continue seeing your forward momentum.

Step 2: Focus on food quality, not calorie quantity.

Calorie counting is one of the most frequently recommended methods of weight loss, but it may not be the best approach for sustainable, long-term weight loss. Losing weight happens when you consume fewer calories than you burn. However the quality of the foods you eat determine how easy it is to restrict your calories, which usually translates to how sustainable your diet plan is. Counting calories can help keep you accountable, but can be tedious to sustain long-term, and if the underlying diet is not healthy, then it is easier to regain the weight once you stop counting the calories. 

Filling your diet with healthier foods is more likely to result in lasting weight loss without requiring a lot of effort. A healthy diet for weight loss for people with type 2 diabetes should include:

  • Lean proteins like poultry, fish, lean beef cuts, lean pork cuts, eggs and tofu
  • Whole grains like whole wheat bread, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, barley, bulgur, quinoa and farro. Because many diets for diabetes restrict carbohydrates you can eat per meal, it’s especially important to choose starchy food wisely. 
  • Fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors
  • Low-fat dairy products like milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, and cheese
  • Small amounts of healthy, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats like olive oil and corn oil

In addition, cut down on the number of processed foods that you eat, and avoid foods that contain added sugar or high fructose corn syrup. Small changes, like using cooking spray instead of oil, can also contribute to your weight loss success. 

Step 3: Mind portion size.

Overeating can undermine your weight loss efforts, even if you choose nutritious foods over processed ones. The plate method is a simple way to control your portion size. To follow it, fill a standard 11 to 12″ dinner plate like this:

  • Cover half of it with non-starchy vegetables.
  • Cover a quarter of it with lean protein.
  • Cover a quarter of it with starchy vegetables or whole grains.
  • Optional: Add fruit or a dairy product on the side.

With some foods, you may need to visualize the plate and consider what ingredients are in the dish. For example, a turkey burger on a whole-grain bun would likely fulfill the starch and lean protein sections of your plate, so you could top it off with vegetables like grilled peppers or raw tomatoes and eat a green salad on the side. You could add a slice of cheese to your burger or sprinkle shredded cheese on your salad for your dairy product.

When considering portion size, you may need to adapt the plate method to follow the guidelines recommended by your dietitian or doctor.

Step 4: Get moving.

Regular exercise encourages your body to burn fat—and it makes your body more sensitive to insulin for better blood sugar control. Aerobic exercise is beneficial both for weight loss and managing diabetes. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you strive for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week. You can break down the total exercise however you wish—for example, you can divide this into daily 20- to 25-minute sessions, or exercise for 30 minutes five days per week.

Choose forms of moderate-intensity exercise that you enjoy, such as:

  • Walking briskly
  • Swimming
  • Aerobics
  • Dancing
  • Playing sports
  • Hiking

Household chores also provide opportunities for exercise. Mowing the lawn with a push mower, walking briskly while you vacuum and mopping floors can factor into your weekly exercise.

In addition to moderate-intensity exercise, your weight-loss fitness routine should include two to three full-body strength-training workouts per week. You can use dumbbells or resistance bands at home, or join a gym to gain access to exercise equipment.

Strength-training encourages your body to burn fat instead of muscle. As you develop more lean muscle mass, your metabolic rate will increase, so you will burn more calories even at rest.

Step 5: Keep tabs on your health.

As you begin to focus on improving your diet and level of physical activity, don’t forget about your type 2 diabetes treatment plan. Continue to take your medicine or use insulin, and check your blood sugar levels as recommended by your doctor. Because you may be more prone to low blood sugar, especially during exercise, make sure you have fast-acting carbohydrates with you when you’re on the go.

Keeping up with your medical appointments is also crucial for weight loss. When you begin to shed pounds, your primary care provider may need to alter your treatment plan. Your doctor may also advise you to take your insulin or time your meals on a different schedule based on when you exercise.

Step 6: Support your mental health.

Weight loss involves your mind as much as your body. Some ways to support your mental health while you’re working toward your weight-loss goals include:

  • Talking to friends and family: reach out to people you trust when you feel discouraged or tempted to deviate from your program.
  • Seeking therapy: therapy allows you to explore the reasons why you may overeat. A therapist can help empower you to make positive behavioral changes to ensure weight loss success over the long-term.
  • Managing stress: not only can stress lead to binge eating, but studies show it may also contribute to weight gain. Hobbies, deep breathing exercise, yoga, mindfulness meditation, and acts of self-care like taking a long bath are powerful ways to de-stress. Managing stress can also lead to improvements in your blood sugar levels.
  • Tracking your emotional state: when you have the urge to eat between meals, examine the reasons why before you reach for a snack. Are you stressed? Bored? Upset about something? If something other than hunger is behind your craving, turn to your support network.

Step 7: Strive to get enough shut-eye.

How much sleep you get can impact your weight loss efforts in more than one way. When you don’t get enough sleep, your body can’t manufacture enough of an appetite-controlling chemical called leptin. Research shows that low levels of leptin often contribute to overeating—and people with diminished leptin levels are more likely to have a high body mass index (BMI). Another study found that people who didn’t get enough sleep were more likely to choose unhealthier snacks than those who did. Plus, studies show that sleep disturbances or lack of sleep may undermine efforts to regulate your blood glucose.

Poor sleep quality can also undermine your fitness efforts. Failing to get enough rest consistently can lead to fatigue, making it more difficult to get through workouts. The mental and emotional effects of feeling tired may also make you less motivated to exercise.

To support your weight loss efforts, strive to get seven to eight hours of sleep every night. Make modifications to your bedroom, or use an eye mask or earplugs as needed to support restful sleep.

Step 8: Monitor your progress, and recalibrate as needed.

Monitor your progress by weighing yourself daily, but don’t read too much into day-to-day changes. Examine your weekly averages, and compare your progress to your short-term goals. 

Generally, strive for 1 to 2 pounds of weight loss per week. If your diet and exercise plan aren’t getting you to your goals, look for ways to improve. Should you continue to struggle, you may need to revisit your goals to ensure they are achievable.

When you do reach a milestone on your weight loss journey, celebrate—but choose rewards that don’t involve food. Plan a fun activity with your friends or family, or buy something special for yourself. Also, share your success with others to receive ongoing encouragement and support.

Also, use your blood sugar levels as a tracking tool to monitor your progress. As you lose weight, observe how your numbers change overtime. Seeing the health benefits of weight loss can encourage you to stick to your diet and exercise plan.

How Forward can help you lose weight and improve your health

Our 12-week, doctor-led Weight Management Program takes you through the necessary steps to weight loss success. As your primary care provider, we’ll help you manage both your treatment plan for type 2 diabetes and monitor your weight loss progress to help you achieve both your weight loss and health goals.

No long waits. No surprise bills. No copays — ever.

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