Weight Gain

Why treating exercise-induced lows can lead to weight gain and how to prevent it.

Sheri Colberg-Ochs By Sheri Colberg-Ochs, PhD

Over the years, many exercisers with diabetes have asked me why they're gaining weight instead of losing it. There are two possible answers to that question. One answer, which is more applicable to new exercisers, is that muscle weighs more than fat (for an equivalent amount). Consequently, if you are gaining muscle while losing some fat weight due to your new exercise regimen, then your scale weight is likely not reflective of the positive changes in your body composition (i.e., less fat, more muscle).

The second possible answer is more applicable to people who are not new to exercise, especially anyone who may have recently changed the amount or intensity of training that they're doing. I first ask them, "Have you been treating a lot of low blood sugars recently?" When they invariably reply, "Yes," then I know to tell them that they have simply been taking in too many extra calories while treating hypoglycemia.

Of course, you have to treat a low if you have one! However, every calorie counts, even the ones that boost your blood sugar back to normal (and beyond). People with diabetes often reach for candy, cola, juice—or other high calorie, high fat, and high sodium foods—to correct lows, which can lead to rebound high blood sugars, unhealthy eating, and weight gain. What you use to correct a low is often just extra calories not accounted for in your daily meal plan.

What can you do to avoid weight gain when you have frequent lows? The best advice is to treat them with something low in calories, but with enough glucose to bring your sugars back to normal. When you have a hypoglycemic reaction, do not binge on candy bars, cookies, and other high calorie, high fat foods. These "treats" take longer to raise your blood sugar than pure glucose and usually contain calories (like ones from fat) that do not raise blood sugar levels effectively. You are almost certain to eat too much of them waiting for your blood sugar to rise and consume unnecessary extra calories that will cause weight gain—and excess weight gain can lower the ability of your insulin to keep blood sugars in check. You can also end up with rebound hyperglycemia, which may increase your insulin needs and promote fat storage.

Okay, I'm going to sound like a walking advertisement for glucose products from here on out, but I fully understand from both professional and personal experience how critical making smart choices is when you want to keep exercising regularly and avoid weight gain. Using fast-acting glucose to raise your blood sugars is likely to contribute the fewest extra calories. Why? Pure glucose contains only 4 calories per gram, so a 15-20 gram treatment has 60-80 calories, and every single calorie goes directly to rapidly correcting your blood sugar levels.

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Last Modified Date: January 28, 2014

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