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Insulin, a protein/peptide hormone, is produced in the Islets of Langerhans, the beta cells of Pancreas. Insulin plays a major role in regulating blood sugar levels in the body. It also regulates how our body stores and uses fat and glucose.
When we consume carbohydrates, fats and proteins, the sugar from them are metabolized using insulin. After a meal, when the sugar level in the blood is high, the beta cells of the Pancreas are signalled to release insulin. This insulin then triggers the liver and muscles to absorb sugar. Sugar can be stored in two ways - either it is converted to glycogen by the process of glycogenesis or the sugar is converted to fat by lipogenesis. This normalizes the blood sugar level after a meal, keeping it in check.
The body's inability to adequately respond to the signals sent by insulin or a lack of insulin results in hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) or hyperglycemia (high blood sugar). Type 1 Diabetes is caused when the beta cells of the pancreas don't produce enough insulin and Type 2 Diabetes is caused when the body doesn't respond to the insulin produced in the body. Both of these conditions require the affected population to opt for external sources of insulin. This external help that the patients take might lead to weight gain for a few of them.
A patient who has an existing condition of diabetes would know that it's impossible to manage one's weight with diabetes. The blood sugar levels are continuous because your cells are not absorbing the sugar in the blood, worsening the conditions of diabetes. Now, when you start taking insulin to control the blood sugar, your cells start absorbing the sugar as glycogen. When the cells have taken up their maximum capacity of glycogen, these sugars get stored as triglycerides or fats. When your body gets the energy it requires, you become less hungry, and your body starts to retain more fluids to make up for the dehydration.
Accumulation of fats and fluids continues for as long as you are on insulin, leading to generalized weight gain and in some cases, this weight gain is specific to certain parts of the body. The more insulin you use, the more weight you could gain, they are both directly proportional.
We could be tempted to limit or stop the usage of insulin knowing it leads to weight gain. But that's not the answer to this type of weight gain. It's best to consult your regular doctor, who is fully aware of your history. The doctor will either recommend some diabetes medications or will further direct you to a dietician to help you manage your weight which comes with insulin. Other doctors who could help you out are diabetes nurse educators, therapists, endocrinologists, exercise physiologists, etc.
The most common advice or the most common tips for managing weight are:
1. Don't try to be your own doctor!
2. Increase insulin sensitivity
3. Managing the diet
4. Exercise, exercise, exercise
1. Don't Try To Be Your Own Doctor!
Limiting your doses of insulin due to the fear of weight gain is a very bad idea. The side effects could be long-lasting and fatal. Take your insulin regularly, but opt for other options like diet and exercise to manage your weight.
2. Increase Insulin Sensitivity
There are various ways to increase your insulin sensitivity. Some basic ways are - getting enough sleep and rest, indulging in interval training, taking a step to reduce stress and by easing any inflammation in the body. The most effective way is interval training, i.e., by doing physical activities in short but intense ways.
3. Managing The Diet
Again, skipping a meal is not the answer. Your blood sugar levels could dip to dangerously low levels making it even harder to manage your diabetes and weight. And a smarter approach to weight loss is having regular meals to keep your metabolism active. Cutting down on the size of food portions is a good idea, to begin with. If you're someone who loves your food in large portions and you also take insulin, then that's what is causing all the weight gain. You need to limit your calories. Consult a dietician to get the numbers right and formulate a plan for meals.
Foods to eat - vegetables, fruits, small quantities of nuts, whole grains, yogurt.
Food to avoid - food that comes in cans, refined sugars, potatoes, starch rich foods, artificially sweetened beverages, processed or unprocessed red meat.
4. Exercise, Exercise, Exercise
We all know very well that physical activity burns calories. And if you're looking to lose weight then all physical activities are your best friends. Physical activities also help your body use insulin efficiently. Walking, jogging, cycling, aerobics, zumba, dancing, HIIT workouts, etc., are some good options to add to your day. This could also mean you'll require less insulin.
If you formulate a plan of action keeping all of this in mind you should be able to manage weight gain caused by insulin better. Don't be afraid to reach out for help if you need it.
Make healthy choices!