Insulin and weight gain: Keep the pounds off

Insulin and weight gain often go hand in hand, but weight control is possible. If you need insulin therapy, here's how to minimize — or avoid — weight gain.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

People who take insulin often gain weight. Insulin is a hormone that regulates how the body absorbs sugar, also known as glucose. The weight gain can be frustrating because keeping a healthy weight is important to manage your diabetes. The good news is that you can maintain your weight while taking insulin.

The link between insulin and weight gain

When you take insulin, sugar can enter your cells. This makes the sugar levels in your blood go down. This is the goal of treatment.

But if you take in more calories than you need to keep a healthy weight, your cells will get more sugar than they need. This happens in people who don't have diabetes, too. How many calories you need depends on how active you are. Sugar that your cells don't need to use becomes fat.

Avoid weight gain while taking insulin

Eating healthy foods and being physically active most days of the week can help you not gain weight. The following tips can help you keep the pounds off:

  • Count calories. Eating and drinking fewer calories helps you prevent weight gain. Keep fruits, vegetables and whole grains in your refrigerator and pantry. Plan for every meal to have the right mix of starches, fruits and vegetables, proteins, and fats. Generally, recommended meals would consist of half nonstarchy vegetable, one-quarter protein and one-quarter a starch, such as rice, or a starchy vegetable, such as corn or peas.

    Shrink the sizes of your portions, don't take second helpings and drink water instead of high-calorie drinks. Talk to your health care provider, nurse or a dietitian about how to plan meals and where to find resources.

  • Don't skip meals. Don't try to cut calories by skipping meals. When you skip a meal, you're more likely to make unhealthy diet choices at the next mealtime because you're too hungry. Skipping meals can also cause low blood sugar levels if you don't adjust your insulin dose.
  • Be physically active. Physical activity burns calories. A recommended goal for most adults is at least 150 minutes a week (or 30 minutes five days a week) of moderately intense aerobic activity plus muscle-strengthening exercises at least two times a week. Aerobic activities can include walking, bicycling, water aerobics, dancing or gardening. Talk with your provider about activities and exercises that are right for you.

    Also, ask your provider how to handle exercise. Physical activity helps your body use insulin more efficiently. Depending on how much exercise you're planning on doing, you may need to cut back on your insulin dosage or have a snack. It's possible for your blood sugar to drop even hours after exercise.

  • Ask your provider about other diabetes medicines. Some diabetes medicines that help regulate blood sugar levels may help you lose weight and lower your insulin dosage. Examples of these medicines include metformin (Fortamet, Glumetza, others), exenatide (Byetta), liraglutide (Victoza, Saxenda), dulaglutide (Trulicity), sitagliptin (Januvia), saxagliptin (Onglyza), canagliflozin (Invokana), dapagliflozin (Farxiga), empagliflozin (Jardiance) and pramlintide (Symlin). Ask your provider if these or other medicines should be part of your diabetes treatment plan.
  • Take your insulin only as directed. Don't skip or reduce your insulin dosages to stop weight gain. Although you might lose pounds if you take less insulin than prescribed, the risks are serious. Without enough insulin, your blood sugar level will rise — and so will your risk of diabetes complications.

From Mayo Clinic to your inbox

Sign up for free, and stay up to date on research advancements, health tips and current health topics, like COVID-19, plus expertise on managing health.

To provide you with the most relevant and helpful information, and understand which information is beneficial, we may combine your email and website usage information with other information we have about you. If you are a Mayo Clinic patient, this could include protected health information. If we combine this information with your protected health information, we will treat all of that information as protected health information and will only use or disclose that information as set forth in our notice of privacy practices. You may opt-out of email communications at any time by clicking on the unsubscribe link in the e-mail.

Sept. 01, 2022 See more In-depth

See also

  1. Medication-free hypertension control
  2. A1C test
  3. Alcohol: Does it affect blood pressure?
  4. Alpha blockers
  5. Amputation and diabetes
  6. Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
  7. Angiotensin II receptor blockers
  8. Anxiety: A cause of high blood pressure?
  9. Artificial sweeteners: Any effect on blood sugar?
  10. Bariatric surgery
  11. Beta blockers
  12. Beta blockers: Do they cause weight gain?
  13. Beta blockers: How do they affect exercise?
  14. Blood glucose meters
  15. Blood glucose monitors
  16. Blood pressure: Can it be higher in one arm?
  17. Blood pressure chart
  18. Blood pressure cuff: Does size matter?
  19. Blood pressure: Does it have a daily pattern?
  20. Blood pressure: Is it affected by cold weather?
  21. Blood pressure medication: Still necessary if I lose weight?
  22. Blood pressure medications: Can they raise my triglycerides?
  23. Blood pressure readings: Why higher at home?
  24. Blood pressure tip: Get more potassium
  25. Blood pressure tip: Get off the couch
  26. Blood pressure tip: Know alcohol limits
  27. Blood pressure tip: Stress out no more
  28. Blood pressure tip: Watch the caffeine
  29. Blood pressure tip: Watch your weight
  30. Blood sugar levels can fluctuate for many reasons
  31. Blood sugar testing: Why, when and how
  32. Bone and joint problems associated with diabetes
  33. Pancreas transplant animation
  34. Caffeine and hypertension
  35. Calcium channel blockers
  36. Calcium supplements: Do they interfere with blood pressure drugs?
  37. Can whole-grain foods lower blood pressure?
  38. Central-acting agents
  39. Choosing blood pressure medications
  40. COVID-19: Who's at higher risk of serious symptoms?
  41. Diabetes
  42. Diabetes and dental care
  43. Diabetes and depression: Coping with the two conditions
  44. Diabetes and exercise: When to monitor your blood sugar
  45. Diabetes and fasting: Can I fast during Ramadan?
  46. Diabetes and foot care
  47. Diabetes and Heat
  48. 10 ways to avoid diabetes complications
  49. Diabetes diet: Should I avoid sweet fruits?
  50. Diabetes diet: Create your healthy-eating plan
  51. Diabetes foods: Can I substitute honey for sugar?
  52. Diabetes and liver
  53. Diabetes management: How lifestyle, daily routine affect blood sugar
  54. Diabetes: Eating out
  55. Diabetes nutrition: Sweets
  56. Diabetes symptoms
  57. Diabetes treatment: Can cinnamon lower blood sugar?
  58. Using insulin
  59. Diabetic Gastroparesis
  60. Diuretics
  61. Diuretics: A cause of low potassium?
  62. Do you know your blood pressure?
  63. Erectile dysfunction and diabetes
  64. High blood pressure and exercise
  65. Exercise and chronic disease
  66. Fatigue
  67. Free blood pressure machines: Are they accurate?
  68. Frequent urination
  69. Home blood pressure monitoring
  70. Glucose tolerance test
  71. Glycemic index: A helpful tool for diabetes?
  72. Hemochromatosis
  73. High blood pressure (hypertension)
  74. High blood pressure and cold remedies: Which are safe?
  75. High blood pressure and sex
  76. High blood pressure: Can you prevent it?
  77. High blood pressure dangers
  78. What is hypertension? A Mayo Clinic expert explains.
  79. Hypertension FAQs
  80. Hypertensive crisis: What are the symptoms?
  81. Isolated systolic hypertension: A health concern?
  82. Kidney disease FAQs
  83. L-arginine: Does it lower blood pressure?
  84. Late-night eating: OK if you have diabetes?
  85. Low-phosphorus diet: Helpful for kidney disease?
  86. Medications and supplements that can raise your blood pressure
  87. Menopause and high blood pressure: What's the connection?
  88. Infographic: Pancreas Kidney Transplant
  89. Pancreas transplant
  90. Pulse pressure: An indicator of heart health?
  91. Reactive hypoglycemia: What can I do?
  92. Reading food labels
  93. Resperate: Can it help reduce blood pressure?
  94. Sleep deprivation: A cause of high blood pressure?
  95. Blood sugar testing
  96. Stress and high blood pressure
  97. The dawn phenomenon: What can you do?
  98. Unexplained weight loss
  99. Vasodilators
  100. Vegetarian diet: Can it help me control my diabetes?
  101. How diabetes affects your blood sugar
  102. How to measure blood pressure using a manual monitor
  103. How to measure blood pressure using an automatic monitor
  104. What is blood pressure?
  105. Can having vitamin D deficiency cause high blood pressure?
  106. Weight Loss Surgery Options
  107. What's your high blood pressure risk?
  108. White coat hypertension
  109. Wrist blood pressure monitors: Are they accurate?