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Will insulin make me gain weight?

Whether you’re a type 1 diabetic who’s been on insulin for as long as you can remember or a type 2 diabetic who’s been newly placed on insulin therapy, you must have heard from your surroundings - or noticed - that taking insulin makes you gain weight.

There are many contradicting opinions about the relation between insulin and weight. But before we say if it causes weight gain or not, let’s talk science:

  • What is insulin?

Insulin is a hormone that lowers the level of glucose in the blood by acting as a key to help it enter the body's cells. It's released into the blood after having a meal containing carbohydrates.

  • How does someone gain weight?

No, it doesn’t have to be that one burger you ate, or the piece of cake you had the other day. Simply put, gaining weight comes from consuming more calories than you burn - for both diabetics and non-diabetics.

That being said, insulin is not actually responsible for weight gain - consuming more than your daily caloric needs is. However, insulin does make you susceptible for “fat gain” and changes in body composition since it’s an anabolic hormone and one of its roles is to store extra glucose consumed as fat for later use, which may or may not affect your weight depending on the amount of calories you are consuming and burning throughout the day. When a non-diabetic person eats carbs, their body automatically releases insulin so that glucose doesn’t accumulate in the bloodstream and cause hyperglycemia. Same thing goes for diabetics; only we have to take the needed dose of insulin by ourselves.

But still, even if insulin is not the reason behind weight gain, it is important to keep blood glucose levels as stable as possible in order to maintain a normal appetite, body weight and body fat percentage, because somehow it’s all related; when you control your blood sugar it means your diet has improved and vice versa.  And this is achieved through the following:

  • Watching out for the quantity AND quality of the carbohydrates consumed.

Always go for wholegrain options, whole fruits and vegetables as they contain fibers that help stabilize blood glucose levels over time and keep you full longer instead of simple carbohydrates (white flour, sugar, candy bars, etc…)

  • Making sure you are not exceeding your daily caloric needs by planning your meals well and eating the right amount of food at the right times throughout the day, to minimize unhealthy cravings and overeating late at night.

  • Taking the right dose of insulin at each meal to avoid hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia which necessitates eating extra in order to correct it.

  • Staying active even if it’s for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercises on most days of the week as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO); it helps you burn calories plus, it increases your body’s insulin sensitivity which allows it to use glucose more efficiently.

To sum it up, the best way to avoid weight gain is to keep your diet, physical activity and diabetes always working hand in hand, and focusing on improving your lifestyle and eating habits in favor of your health rather than blaming insulin therapy for weight changes.

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Written by Hiba Ayoubi

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