Being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes is like having to relearn how to live all over again. Suddenly there are new rules for eating, exercising, and even sleeping. It can take a lot of time to adjust to all these new demands.
But diabetes doesn’t just change how you have to live. It can also have a huge impact on your physical and emotional self.
Weight gain is a common phenomenon in T1D people just starting insulin treatment. And the same swings in blood sugar that come with those treatments can also cause emotional changes including a tendency toward anxiety and depression.
You also need to know why these symptoms occur and how best to counteract them without putting your blood sugar management at risk.
The first step, however, in living well with T1D is becoming aware that you have joined a community of many other people who have had to deal with these same issues.
Insulin and Weight Gain
The first major hurdle many newly diagnosed people with diabetes have to deal with is the connection between insulin and weight gain.
This can be especially difficult for teenage girls and other adolescents.
Why new T1Ds often experience weight gain isn’t as straightforward as some like to think. Dealing with it is certainly not as simple as reducing your insulin dose.
Here are the most common reasons for weight gain after diagnosis and how you can approach each in the safest way possible.
You May Have Been Underweight When You Were Diagnosed
For so many of us, diagnosis comes only after weeks or even months of unexplained symptoms. One of the most common being weight loss.
Once insulin treatment begins and blood sugars come down, your body will work hard to replace all those fat deposits that were spent while you were ill. The natural effect of this is weight gain.
But it’s important to remember that this weight gain is necessary to get you back to health. While you may have enjoyed your thinner frame, it was the result of sickness and not something that should be idealized.
Your weight may fluctuate for some time as you get the hang of insulin dosing and your body recovers and enters into the honeymoon phase. As your sugars and insulin need level out, so too will your weight. And once you feel comfortable with your new treatment, you’ll be better able to tackle exercising and getting active which will allow you to achieve a more ideal weight in a healthy way if you still feel that’s necessary.
Hyperphagia May Still Be Playing a Role
Another common symptom in undiagnosed T1Ds is hyperphagia or extreme and constant hunger. In your body’s bid to provide your cells with the energy they don’t have access to, your hunger hormones go into overdrive, even when your stomach is full.
For some, the hormone pathways that control hunger get so worn out that they continue to misfire even after insulin treatment has begun. This can lead to a constant feeling of hunger that results in overeating and weight gain.
Eventually, your appetite will return to normal, but it can take time. The best way to combat this phenomenon is to focus on following your carb goals for meals while limiting fat intake and to choose healthy snack options to quell your hunger in between meals.
Insulin Facilitates Fat Storage
In addition to helping cells use glucose, insulin also helps the body store fat. Insulin can also prevent the body from breaking down fat when excess insulin is circulating in the blood.
Both of these factors contribute to weight gain in insulin-dependent diabetics. For many who are desperate to lose weight, cutting down on insulin seems the best course of action. Not only is this unsafe because it can lead to high blood sugars that will damage your heart and kidneys, but it will only set you up for a rollercoaster of weight loss followed again by weight gain.
Instead of cutting down on the insulin your body needs to maintain normal blood sugars, focus instead on increasing your body’s insulin sensitivity.
By eating a clean diet free from processed foods and saturated fat and staying active, your body will naturally need less insulin to achieve normal blood sugar numbers.
This natural drop in insulin will, in turn, lead to less fat being stored and more healthy weight loss.
Blood Sugar and Emotions
Beyond the physical changes, your body may see after diagnosis, you may also experience a range of mental and emotional shifts.
While some of these changes are the natural result of being diagnosed with a life-altering condition, others actually have their roots in the physiological processes that come with fluctuating blood sugar.
How Highs and Lows Affect Your Mood
Most of the cells in your body rely on insulin in order to utilize glucose. But the brain does not. That sets this particularly valuable organ up to be highly affected by swings in blood sugar.
- When blood sugars are high, the amount of glutamate, a chemical linked to depression, increases in the area of the brain associated with emotional regulation.
- When sugars are low, neurotransmitters that control functions like breathing and heart rate are affected. As glucose levels continue to drop, areas of the brain begin to shut down in order to preserve vital functions. This can lead to confusion and the inability to recall memories.
One area that continues to fire, is the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for fight or flight reactions. This is one reason you may feel anxious or angry during lows.
There is no way to predict or control how your emotions will change during high and low blood sugars. But you can take steps to reduce how often you feel these uncontrollable emotions by working closely with your team to reduce blood sugar swings.
While your emotions are likely to level out as your blood sugar becomes more stable, you can experience some long term emotional changes if you continue to have frequent bouts of high and low blood sugars.
How These Emotions Play Into Diabetes Burnout
Every person with diabetes, at some point in their journey, will experience some degree of burnout.
Type 1 diabetes is a full-time condition that requires almost constant attention and work. It makes sense that at some point you will want to throw your hands in the air and take a break from it.
But diabetes burnout can also be driven by the natural chemical reactions that occur in the brain during uncontrolled blood sugars. If you are constantly feeling depressed or anxious or overwhelmed because you are experiencing emotional lows and highs, you are more likely to struggle to care for yourself. And you may even give up diabetes management altogether.
Feelings of depression only tend to worsen with prolonged high blood sugars, so taking a break from diabetes management is likely to exacerbate those feelings of hopelessness.
If you are overwhelmed by feelings that make it difficult to take care of yourself, you need to seek help. There are steps you can take to work through burnout. You may even need to find a safe way to take a vacation from diabetes to give yourself a break and get back on track. But the last thing you want to do is give up on taking care of your diabetes altogether.
Change Is Inevitable
When you receive a type 1 diagnosis, it’s almost as if the old you has died. It’s okay to take a moment to mourn that version of yourself. And it’s okay to be upset with the changes the new you has to deal with.
- Accepting the limitations of how much you can control these changes is key to living well with this condition long term.
- You may gain some weight.
- You may not act like yourself or even feel like yourself some of the time.
- All of this is not just okay, it’s expected.
By taking time to understand why these changes occur, you can better prepare yourself to deal with them in a way that is both healthy and productive over the long term.