While there are several factors which increases someone’s chance of developing type 2 diabetes such as age, family history, ethnicity and long-term steroid use; our diet and lifestyle are also major contributors.
Diet & lifestyle predominantly contribute to our type 2 diabetes risk via our weight status. This is because being overweight or obese affects how well our body operates, particularly with regards to how we process food.
Diabetes is a condition where there is too much sugar, often referred to as glucose, circulating in the blood which can cause complications if not properly controlled with diet & lifestyle measures and sometimes medication. This is because the sugar (glucose) we get from food is not being utilised properly for energy. In order for the body to do this correctly, we usually produce a hormone called insulin in response to eating certain foods called carbohydrates. This insulin acts like a key, and helps unlock the cell to allow the glucose to be moved in for energy.
In type 2 diabetes however, this process is not working effectively as the body either does not produce enough insulin; or it continues to produce the right amount of insulin but our body is not very receptive to it. This is known as insulin resistance and occurs when we have an excess of fat stores, particularly around our middle, as our cells change shape and the key (insulin) no longer fits the lock on the cell door. The result is a raised blood sugar level, which can progress into type 2 diabetes as the body struggles to cope with the demand placed on the pancreas.
This is why weight loss can play a key role in managing type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, we cannot do anything to change our genetics or age therefore our diet & lifestyle are the only factors we can control to improve our diabetes management.
If you are overweight, which is determined by your body mass index (BMI), aiming to lose even 5-10% will likely greatly improve your diabetes control. You can calculate your BMI by dividing your weight (kg) by your height squared (m). For example, someone weighing 80kg with a height of 1.65m would have a BMI of 29.4 kg/m2 and a 5% weight loss would equal 76kg, or a -4kg weight loss. A BMI greater than 25 kg/m2 indicates an overweight status for White European populations, or 23 kg/m2 for Black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups (BME). If you are not overweight but still have a type 2 diabetes diagnosis, making sure you eat a healthy, balanced diet to maintain your healthy weight is equally important in controlling your diabetes.
There is no one set diet or method to achieve your weight loss goals, and what works best for someone else might not be what works for you. When you are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, you should be offered a place on our group education sessions, Diabetes & You, and/or referred for a one-to-one appointment with our Dietitians. These sessions will provide you with the knowledge & skills to attempt weight loss in a healthy manner. You can ask your GP or Practice Nurse to be referred to a Dietitian if you think you need more individualised support.