How To Lose Weight With Type 1 Diabetes: Personal Tips

Written By:
Cazzy Magennis
Last Updated:
May 2, 2021

Are you struggling to lose weight the type 1 diabetes? Don't worry! I've been there. Below I take you through some of my tips to help lose weight with t1d!

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Can I lose weight with type 1 diabetes?

It’s one of the most common questions I get asked from new diabetics.

There is a lot of misconceptions and confusion around whether insulin causes weight gain, whether it’s difficult for type 1 diabetics to lose weight, and what type of diets (if any) should we be doing?

As someone who has lost weight with type 1 diabetes, I thought I’d give you some personal insight into the topic from what I have learned over the years. 

Background context: My story

So before I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes I was quite thin (too thin), and one of the symptoms of type 1 diabetes is weight loss, so that exaggerated my weight loss further. This meant that when I started using insulin, I naturally gained some weight alongside it.

I had put on extra weight when I was at university and decided I wanted to lose that weight. So, this is about what I did. 

Does insulin cause weight gain? 

Yes and no. Because people who are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes have lost a lot of weight before diagnosis, they naturally regain that weight when they take insulin, so as a result it’s associated with weight gain. However, insulin isn’t directly what’s causing your weight gain. It’s a factor in what will be a roller coaster of blood sugar issues. 

So, higher doses of insulin (regardless of whether you’re diabetic or not) will help to increase muscle and aid the storage of fat in our bodies. Now, we need insulin for carbohydrates, so naturally, you assume that the more carbohydrates, the more insulin, the higher risk of weight gain. 

If you consume 55% or more of your total calorie needs from carbohydrates, then this will dramatically increase the insulin that your body needs. Increased background insulin and increased daily can lead to more carbohydrate metabolism from foods you eat and from glycogen that is stored in your muscles.

Due to these higher levels of insulin throughout the day , this will eave little time when fat from the body can be metabolized or burned. Remember that insulin tells the body to “store” fat and “burn” glucose from the muscles.

So all these factors contribute to weight gain with type 1 diabetes, and carbohydrate DO play a large role in losing weight with type 1 diabetes and maintaining weight with type 1 diabetes. But it does NOT mean that carbohydrates are the enemy. 

Things that Impact weight loss for type 1 diabetics:

  • Basal and bolus amounts and timing
  • Insulin on board
  • Nutrient shifting and timing (planning out of meals)
  • Total daily fat intake and calories
  • Total Activity Level
  • Sleep quality and duration
  • Quantity of sugar in the diet
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Stress levels

Does a low carb diet work for weight loss with type 1 diabetes? 

This is a common question, and there are pros and cons to every type of lifestyle. I’ve always found a lower carb lifestyle easier to manage with diabetes, simply because there is less insulin to play with, so there’s less chance to mess things up with blood sugars, causing highs or lows, etc.

BUT, a no-carb diet is not the key, a balanced diet is. 

My diet nowadays consists of lower-carb choices when possible. For example, I never eat carbs in the morning as I find it helps get my blood sugars under control. I’ll typically have around 30-40g of carbs at lunch if I’m active and doing something.

And for dinner, it swings between a low carb option, or a normal dinner with around 40-50g carbs depending on if I’m traveling or if at home, etc. I don’t tend to snack between meals, but if I do, then it’s on something low carb or no carb. 

When I first started losing weight with type 1 diabetes, I worked out how many calories I should be consuming to lose weight safely (1-2 pounds per week), and I stuck to that. So for example, if it was 1400 calories, I would plan my meals around that number, and I would like 100-150 aside for hypos.

Hypos are an annoying aspect of any weight loss plan, but you can prepare for them if you count calories. 

Nutrition is great, but I think it’s also important to be active to help aid weight loss. If you’re having a higher carb meal, and you want to balance your blood sugars better, I often think it’s good to do 30 minutes of activity either before, or just after your food intake, and this usually reduces my insulin intake. 

Some tips for weight loss with type 1 diabetes 

1. Set realistic goals 

If you can gain half a stone in a week, you shouldn’t expect to lose it just as quickly. Weight loss is a long-term goal, and it can be sustained, it’s simply about living a healthy lifestyle. Having treats and cheat days is completely fine, but the better you eat, the better your blood sugars, and the better you will feel. Weight loss of around 1-2 lbs weekly is a good goal to have. 

2. Opt for low carb snacks 

If you are trying to lose weight with type 1 diabetics and you’re partial to a snack, I would suggest using no carb or low carb snacks that don't require any extra insulin on board. Some of my favourites include: 

  • Cheese based snacks (low-fat versions) 
  • Chicken pieces (I use vegetarian equivalents) 
  • Boiled eggs
  • Stuffed mushrooms 
  • Stuffed avocado 
  • Celery sticks with cream cheese
  • Carrot sticks with dips 

3. Allow yourself a treat 

tips for losing weight with type 1 diabetes
Just because your losing weight doesn't mean you have to deny yourself everything!

When you’re trying to lose weight, once you tell yourself you “can’t” have your favorite treats, your mind will automatically rebel and you’ll break eventually. But you won’t just break easily, you’ll likely over binge. So, the best way to stop this is to allow yourself treats. Some people have a cheat day, or others just simply allow themselves a small treat whenever they’re craving it! 

4. Move more 

diabetes weight loss
Get moving!

Changing your diet has a lot to do with losing weight with type 1 diabetes, but exercise also plays a role. If you move more, you’ll burn more calories. But obviously, when we move more as diabetics, we can end up going into hypo, which isn’t perfect as it requires us to consume calories to avoid hypo. It takes some practice to learn how much you will need to reduce your insulin to exercise and it's different for everyone.

I typically reduce by around 30-50% depending on the type of exercise I am doing and the duration I am exercise for. But if you are trying to lose weight with type 1 diabetes, then getting at least 30 minutes of exercise daily will help. You could take a walk, go to the gym, do a home workout video, head to a fitness class, or go swimming! 

If you're struggling to regulate your blood sugar levels with exercise, then a good idea is to use a Freestyle Libre, or Miao Miao to help give you alarms and more data to work with.

So there you have it. My story and tips for losing weight with type 1 diabetes. I will say it one more time, I am NOT a medical expert and before you make any changes to your diabetes regime, it's always advised that you chat to your diabetes team for advice. 

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Cazzy Magennis

Living with type 1 diabetes for over 10 years has given me a lot of life experience, challenges and opportunities. I’ve had ups and downs, but I’m proud that I can live out my dreams whilst managing t1d. I hope my stories can help your daily life with diabetes too!

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