Insulin is the most potent and effective treatment to control elevated blood glucose levels, which is why doctors often recommend insulin therapy, when diet, exercise and oral medications aren’t enough to control the high blood sugar levels. However, while insulin is imperative for the survival of people suffering from type 1 diabetes, it does come with its own side effects.

“One of the most common side effects of insulin treatment is weight gain, especially for people with type 2 diabetes,” points out Dr Romy Block, an endocrinologist and assistant professor at the University of Chicago.

Why Insulin Causes Weight Gain
Gillian Arathuzik, Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) at Joslin Diabetes Centre, explains, “Insulin is a growth hormone which manages your elevated blood sugar levels by promoting the uptake of sugar (glucose) in your body’s cells, including muscle, liver and fat cells. While this is the desired therapeutic goal, if you eat more calories than you spend, your body tends to store all the excess glucose in the form of glycogen or fat, causing weight gain.”

An Easy Solution To An Unavoidable Problem   
“Many diabetic patients are not willing to start insulin therapy as they fear it will make them put on weight,” says Block. However, while weight gain may be an unpleasant side effect of insulin therapy, there is no reason to abandon the treatment option, adds Arathuzik.

According to Holly Stokes, a health coach from Greater Salt Lake city, “It would be better to take it as ‘blood sugar management’ than weight loss. When we adopt methods to keep our blood sugar stable, the body releases the excess weight and we slim down naturally.”

Tips To Control Weight While Using Insulin
Simple lifestyle changes in addition to a diabetic-friendly diet and a daily dose of exercise can be your best bets to avoid and control the unwanted weight gain. This will make your body more insulin-sensitive and reduce your insulin dose. Talk to your doctor about your diet on every visit. Make sure to discuss healthy eating in general and don’t just limit it to your carbohydrate intake.

However, if insulin is a part of your diabetes treatment plan, here are some tips that can help manage your weight better. .

  • Eating Right: Keep a tab on what you eat. Work out with your doctor or nutritionist to assess your calorie intake. Stock up on fruits, veggies and whole grains. Keep away from refined and processed foods that might spike your blood sugar levels . However, DO NOT skip meals if you’re on insulin, as this can make your sugar levels dip drastically. Instead keep your metabolism in control by eating small, frequent meals during the day. Here are some diabetic-friendly recipes you can add to your diet.
  • Exercise: Burn off extra calories with the right amount of physical activity. Recent research has shown that a 15-minute walk right after a meal significantly reduces blood sugar levels and is even more effective than 45 minutes of sustained walking at other times. [2] Regular to moderate physical activity improves the uptake of blood glucose into the muscles and increases sensitivity to insulin, thus boosting its effectiveness. [3] Here’s how you can stay fit in the digital age.
  • Forget The Stress: Stress can have a huge impact on how your body utilizes glucose and insulin. It can hamper your pancreas and other organs and make them sluggish. Mind body techniques such as yoga and meditation will not only help you unwind and get your sugar levels on track, but also help you lose excess weight.
  • Medicate Wisely: Regardless of the type of diabetes you have, the type of insulin you use and the doses you take are equally important in the overall management of both diabetes and body weight. Do not skip your insulin doses in an attempt to ward off weight gain. Low insulin levels can put you at a bigger health risk than those few extra kilos.

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1. McFarlane SI. Insulin therapy and type 2 diabetes: management of weight gain. J Clin Hypertens (Greenwich). 2009 Oct;11(10):601-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1751-7176.2009.00063.x. Review. PubMed PMID: 19817944.

2. DiPietro L, Gribok A, Stevens MS, Hamm LF, Rumpler W. Three 15-min bouts of moderate postmeal walking significantly improves 24-h glycemic control in older people at risk for impaired glucose tolerance. Diabetes Care. 2013 Oct;36(10):3262-8. doi: 10.2337/dc13-0084. Epub 2013 Jun 11. PubMed PMID: 23761134; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3781561.

3. Wojtaszewski JF, Richter EA. Effects of acute exercise and training on insulin action and sensitivity: focus on molecular mechanisms in muscle. Essays Biochem. 2006;42:31-46. Review. PubMed PMID: 17144878.