Weight Loss and T1D: Beyond Nutrition and Exercise

In a society that idealizes thinness, weight loss is a hot topic. Most weight loss advice focuses on two common factors: exercise and diet. 

But eating less and exercising more isn’t always a healthy or sustainable solution. This is especially true for people living with type 1 diabetes who are trying to maintain stable blood sugars at the same time.

So what’s a T1D to do? 

Well, if you’ve tried the diets and you’ve tried the workouts, you’ve done the juicing and the fasting and the sprinting and the lifting, maybe it’s time to look a little deeper… 

One of the most overlooked and underestimated variables connected to weight loss is STRESS. Stress isn’t something you can weigh or count, but it is directly related to how your body responds to exercise and nutrition. 

If you are open to reframing your mindset around fitness and food and their impact when it comes to our bodies, then read on to learn how sometimes less is more when it comes to weight loss. 

Instead of pushing harder, maybe we need to pause more. 

Instead of cutting out, maybe we need to add in.

Instead of restricting, maybe we need to relax. 

Instead of telling our body what to do, maybe we need to listen to what it wants.  

EXERCISE: Fitness has always been seen as one of the keys to weight loss. Maybe you’ve been told before that burning calories with lengthy cardio sessions or torching fat with high intensity interval training will help you achieve your body composition goals. While movement definitely plays a role in a healthy lifestyle and can assist in helping you to achieve your weight loss goals, it is not the star of the show. 

When vigorous exercise is positioned as the best way to lose weight, what gets neglected is how the body’s stress response perceives some exercise.

Meet Cortisol. Cortisol is one of the body’s stress hormones that triggers the “fight or flight” protective instincts when the body senses danger. This is a healthy and helpful system that mobilizes our fuel sources so we have plenty of ready available fuel to protect us and prepare us. Once out of danger, cortisol levels drop back down. 

Moderate to high intensity workouts also increase cortisol levels. And in modern times, we might not be out running a tiger, but too much intense exercise (heart rate spiking cardio, high impact workouts, extremely long distance or duration) means that the body is operating under that fight or flight mode frequently. This can have negative effects on hormone and thyroid health and then cause metabolism to down regulate, leading the body to retain weight. 

While this does NOT mean you should NEVER do a HIIT workout or go for a run, it’s important to understand how exercise impacts all of the body’s systems, not just calorie burn. 

So, how can you know if you’re overdoing it at the gym? One thing to consider is how you feel after your workout. Do you feel energized and ready to carry on with your day or do you feel exhausted and drained? This could be a sign that it’s time to mix it up with low impact exercise like walking or restorative movement like yoga. 

FOOD: Are you restricting certain food groups or your amount of food? The diet industry loves to tell us that one specific way of eating will guarantee weight loss, but it’s way more complex than that. It’s common to fall into the trap of eating less in order to lose weight, but that method is not sustainable, physically or mentally. 

Physically, when we restrict our food intake,this can have a negative impact on nutrient intake, sleep quality, thyroid health, digestion, sex hormones, and overall contribute to a down regulation of your metabolic processes. Mentally, a limited diet can make us only want whatever we are restricting even more and can lead to overeating or bingeing. That’s why this strategy for weight loss is only temporary and will ultimately backfire. 

Something else we don’t often take into consideration is that following a strict meal plan can add stress to our lives. Constantly having to plan ahead, check menus, analyze ingredients, and tally up daily macros or calories puts a lot of pressure on us and our food. How can you decrease the number of food rules you follow to make eating a little easier? 

If exercise and diet have been your main tools for losing weight, your hormonal health will be worth paying attention to.

Managing stress might actually feel HARDER at first than running or lifting weights because it’s not tangible the way that exercise and diet plans are. It requires you to intentionally slow down and listen to your body.

But in the end, it’s an essential part of learning to work with your body.

Share in the comments below: How can you soften up a bit and stop pushing yourself so hard on something related to food or exercise?  What is your reframe from what you SHOULD do today to what would FEEL GOOD today? 

  1. Amy says:

    This is so true! I struggled a lot putting a lot of pressure on exercise and diet causing more stress to my already stressful life. It’s all about balance and listening to your body. Some days a walk is just what is needed!

  2. Lisa says:

    Your timing is always perfect and I have taken this advice to heart! Thank you Lauren.
    Walking has replaced kick boxing on some days for me and I’ve added yoga to my routine.

  3. Hilary W says:

    Awesome article, Lauren! Thanks for sharing with the community. This resonates with me on so many levels. You taught me during the DCB how important mindfulness, stress relief, and restorative movement like yoga, walking, and stretching can be for overall health and prioritizing these activities has helped me so much!

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