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What to eat to lose weight with diabetes: everything you need to know

In this series of articles about fat loss and diabetes, we’re looking at what to eat to lose weight. Nicholas Caracandas from Diabetic Athletic is sharing his top tips for weight loss and diabetes – read on!

what to eat to lose weight

How much should you eat to lose weight?

Here’s how you can calculate how much you should be eating to reach your goals with better diabetic control and fat loss. These tips will help you calculate the amounts you require per day of not only calories but protein, fat, and carbs. 

How to get lean:

Consistently eat nutrient-dense foods while staying under a given daily target or calories.

Your consistent daily movement will determine what that daily ‘target’ is. 

High quality food:

  • Generally lower in calories.
  • Higher in protein, essential fats and fibre.
  • Better sources of vitamin and minerals.
  • Tasty (depending on cooking method)
  • Typical examples are unprocessed meats, fish, eggs, wholegrain and vegetables, fruit
healthy food to eat to lose weight

Low quality food:

  • Typically higher in calories.
  • Lower in protein, essential fats and fibre.
  • Lower vitamin and mineral content.
  • Delicious
  • Convenient and quick to prepare.

Examples of low quality food:

  •  highly processed snack foods,
  •  sugar-sweetened beverages, 
  • refined (white) grains, 
  • refined sugar, 
  • fried foods, 
  • foods high in saturated and trans fats, 
  • and high-GI foods such as potatoes.

Keep calories low while keeping food intake high. This is done by eating more high-quality foods and avoiding low-quality foods at all costs.

Diabetic Athletic

Some simple rules

Food and drink provide energy to the body in the form of calories. Calorie intake and expenditure are essential to consider when it comes to shredding fat and building muscle. 

The right amount of food to eat falls between two extremes of a spectrum:

  • Eat too many calories, you’ll gain weight and jeopardize your health. 
  • Eat too few calories, you’ll increase the risk of hypos (low blood sugar), nutrient deficiencies, get tired quicker, lose valuable muscle tissue and burn yourself out mentally.

To build a successful diet, you need to take into account several key factors, most importantly the total amount of calories and also the source of calories. 

  • Calories come in several different forms. These are known as macronutrients: protein, carbohydrate, fat, fibre and alcohol, and can be sourced from various foods. 
  • Protein and fat are essential for human health, whereas carbs, alcohol and fibre are not. 

To put your calories and macronutrients to good use, there are 5 key steps you must follow for building a successful diet that burns fat and supports lean muscle with balanced diabetic control.

5 steps to a successful diet to lose weight

5 steps to a successful diet

Step 1: Establish how many calories you need to maintain your body weight

There are a host of calorie equations available to estimate caloric needs of an individual. While none of them are specific to people with diabetes, they can be used to establish a rough starting point to work from. 

To keep things ultra-simple: 13-16 kcal per lb. of body weight is a decent starting point for maintenance. 

To get pounds from kilograms just divide pounds by 2.2 (100lbs divided by 2.2 = 45kg)

  • Highly active: 16 kcal/lb. 
  • Moderately active: 15 kcal/lb. 
  • Lightly to moderately active: 13 kcal/lb. 

The main mistake people make when using most calculations is to overestimate their activity level. Even though I live a very active lifestyle and work out almost every day, I still only use the “Light Activity” multiplier. (And that may even be on the high side because I also spend a too much time in front of a computer.)

The higher multipliers are for people who use their bodies almost constantly throughout the day, like construction workers, pro athletes, etc.

If you are pretty fit and active, you should probably use the “Moderately active multiplier. If you are just starting a fitness program, use the “Light” multiplier.

Any value you obtain from a calorie equation is a rough estimate. 

Step 2: Create a deficit (lack)

Once you get your maintenance calorie intake, you need to cut it further to create a deficit (reduce your calories). 

Now that you know how many calories you burn in a day, the next step is to decide if you want to lose or gain weight.

How much do I need to cut? 

If you are trying to lose weight, I recommend you eat around 400 to 500 calories less than you burn each day. That should lead to a weight loss of about 1 lb/ 0.5kg. per week, which is a very healthy and sustainable rate.

If you want to gain muscle, start at 500 calories a day more than you burn and see what happens. If you find that you are also putting on a little too much fat, decrease your calories slightly.

Step 3: Establish a macronutrient intake. 

After setting your calories, you need to work out how many macronutrients to consume. You can do this in the following order. 

  1. Establish protein intake


  • Muscle growth and recovery
  • Appetite regulation
  • Hormone and enzyme production
  • Transport
  • Immune function


If you suffer from kidney issues, you may need to consume less protein. It is advised you consult with your medical professional before consuming a higher protein intake than you are now.

  • Set protein at (1.5 to 2.2g/kg) body weight. 
  • The leaner the individual, the larger the calorie deficit. 
  • To maximize the anabolic response of protein, consume the required intake over 4 meals in the day. 
  • Feedings after training should be 0.4g of protein per kg of body weight
  • If you like carbs or fats more, consume the lower end of the protein intake scale to provide calorie ‘room’ for the others. 
  • If you suffer from kidney issues you may need to consume less protein. It is advised you consult with your medical professional before setting your protein intake.


  • Animal sources are superior to vegetable sources.
  • If you are vegetarian, a combination of legumes, vegetables, soy and meat alternatives are suitable. 
  • Vegan strength trainers may want to supplement with leucine to enhance the anabolic response of their protein feeds. 
  • If you suffer from kidney issue,s you may need to consume less protein. It is advised you consult with your medical professional before setting your protein intake. 

2. Establish carb intake. 

Carbohydrate is the most controversial macronutrient in diabetes nutrition. Glucose, the simplest form of carbohydrate, is of greatest importance in diabetes management due to its effect on blood glucose levels and medication needs. 


  • Provide energy, as they are the body’s main source of fuel, needed for physical activity, brain function and operation of the organs. 
  • A common source of micronutrients (trace minerals, vitamins and phytonutrients) 
  • Digestive health and waste elimination. 

The context of most diabetes nutritional research is performed in non-physically active individuals who have no interest in gaining muscle mass for performance or aesthetic purposes. 

While there is plenty of evidence suggesting that replacement of carbohydrate with fat or, in some cases, protein, is beneficial in both types of diabetes (leading to better blood sugar control, weight loss, cardiovascular risk markers and reduction in medication), this research doesn’t take into account the goal of mass gain. 

Individuals must consider the context of the research before deciding how many carbohydrates to include in their diets.


  • Make up the remainder of your calories from carbohydrate. 
  • Cravings for carb-based food, performance dips and fatigue may signify carb intake is too low. 
  • Aim for around 30g of fibre from fruit and veg every single day, unless advised by a medical professional to limit intake for certain issues like IBS. 
  • If so, consume the lower end range for protein and fat and increase carbohydrate intake accordingly. 
fibre is important to lose weight

The difference between carbs, calories and fibre

There are three types of carbs –  sugar, fibre and starch. Sugar and starch are turned into glucose for energy. Fibre doesn’t break down as we lack the enzyme to digest it. And so, it doesn’t increase blood sugar levels, it passes to the digestive system and forms bulk to be expelled as waste. Fibre doesn’t contribute to the calorie count. For this reason, diabetics are recommended to eat more fibre to keep blood sugar levels under control. 

As for the carbs, they convert to sugar, so it’s important to choose carbs wisely. Pick complex carbs as they undergo slow digestion with steady increases in glucose levels instead of spiking glucose levels.

Eat enough fibre!

Rather than worrying about the accuracy of calorie-counting and the relatively small differences in calorie estimates contributed by the fibre in your diet, it may be best to focus on eating the recommended amount of fibre each day, which is 14g of fibre for every 1,000 calories you consume.

For those that track calories or energy balance, it may be better to count the calories from fats, proteins, and total carbohydrates and try to increase physical activity to burn more calories. These are activities you can modify and control. Control the elements you can. Everything else will fall into place. 

Step 4: Choose your foods carefully

When it comes to getting leaner and packing on muscle, the type of food you select doesn’t matter as much as consuming the ‘right amount’ of calories and macronutrients. 

However, this isn’t an excuse to cram down junk food. People with diabetes need to be mindful that junk food can jeopardize blood glucose control more than whole, minimally processed food, because it’s high GI. 

Poor quality food choices like sweets and processed fast food should be consumed within reason and kept to an absolute minimum in people with diabetes. 

You can eat all the clean foods you want, but if they’re outside your calorie allowance you’ll gain body fat and slow progress. Also, if you don’t look after your blood sugar, all your ‘clean’ food won’t be metabolized properly and your blood sugar will go high. This isn’t good for health or for the muscle-building process.

The majority of your diet should come from minimally processed food: vegetables, fruits, fish, meats, legumes, nuts, whole grains, rice, oats and dairy. Only exclude particular food groups if you have a clinically diagnosed intolerance. 

Step 5: Meal timing

The timing of your meals is only really important when it comes to controlling blood sugar levels and not optimizing body composition. 

Eat at times that suit you and help keep your blood sugar levels stable. 

What about fats?

Once you’ve established your daily calorie targets, your daily protein targets and your carb targets, the rest of the daily calories you consume can be made up of fats. This is the simplest and least complicated way to get your daily targets on point.

Two ways to structure your meals around training:

diabetic athletic training 1

diabetic athletic training 2

Daily meal planning priorities

Remember: this won’t happen overnight. If this is all slightly overwhelming, always remember that exercise, training and nutrition are all to do with complimenting your life and not complicating it!

Here is a list of priorities for daily meal planning: 

  1. Keep your diabetic control and blood sugar levels at the top of this list. 
  2. Figure out how many calories you should be consuming per day and stick to that amount with discipline and dedication for at least 6 to 10 weeks. 
  3. Figure out how many grams of protein you should be eating per day. Factor these into your daily calories. 
  4. Sticking to steps 1 to 3 above is usually enough for most people. Stay consistent, keep active and stick to steps 1 to 3 long enough to see results. 

Free diabetic guides

If you have made it this far on this article or perhaps have read all 4 articles in this fat loss and diabetes mini-series, I just want to say thank you.

I appreciate your time and attention. Diabetes can be overwhelming at times (most of the time), not only because I work with diabetics daily, but because I have been dealing with the very same ups, downs, highs, lows, anxiety, good times and bad that we diabetics go through almost daily. 

Here’s a gift that I am sure will serve you well on your journey to thriving with diabetes and not just surviving with diabetes. 

Here are a few of my Diabetic Athletic guides that you can use to learn more about how diabetes works with exercise, how to better understand vegetables (the good and the bad), a complete guide to hypos and some added extras for you to enjoy. You can download these for free here:

Fat loss and diabetes: 4 parts

Mindset and motivation. I am a huge believer in setting a solid foundation and promoting methods that are simple, tried, tested and easy to action.  Read: Fat loss and diabetes.

How much to eat. How to calculate how much you should be eating in order to reach your fat loss goals with better diabetic control. Read: How much to eat to lose weight.

Popular diets for diabetics. Everything you need to know about fat loss and why it does or doesn’t happen. Read: Popular diets for diabetics: why they don’t work

Resources and tools along with four important principles of weight loss for life. Read: What to eat to lose weight.

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Sweet Life is a registered NPO/PBO (220-984) with a single goal: to improve diabetes in South Africa. We are funded by sponsorships and donations from aligned companies and organisations who believe in our work. We only share information that we believe benefits our community. While some of this information is linked to specific brands, it is not an official endorsement of that brand. We believe in empowering people with diabetes to make the best decisions they can, to live a healthy, happy life with diabetes.