Obesity, Diabetes & You: How To Take The Best Care Of Yourself

By Robert Ehrman, MD


There’s no doubt about it: the number of Americans today living with diabetes is greater than it’s ever been. The same is true for obesity. And, you probably know that being overweight or obese can increase your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

What you might not know, however, is that the American Heart Association (AHA) says that healthcare providers should consider obesity a disease. That’s right, it’s a disease, just like high blood pressure or high cholesterol!

If you want to learn more about obesity, the health problems it can cause, and what you can do to help fight this disease, then the following information is for you!


What does saying “obesity is a disease” actually mean?

            Healthcare providers use a measurement called “Body Mass Index” (BMI), which uses your height and weight, to determine if you are obese. If your BMI is over 30, you are considered obese. There are more than 78 million adults in the United States (US) today who are obese!

By calling obesity a disease, the AHA hopes that people who are obese, and their healthcare providers, will take the condition very seriously. They want people to know that being obese is a medical condition that needs treatment. The AHA hopes that when people who are obese hear that they actually have a serious medical condition, they will talk to their healthcare provider about how to treat it, and what the best treatments are.

The AHA also hopes that this new approach will help change how the general public and those with the disease view obesity. Many obese people view their condition in a negative way, and say things like “It’s my fault I’m this way.” Others may see obese people and think, “they did that to themselves.” Instead of these ideas, the AHA hopes people with obesity will say, “I have a disease, just like high blood pressure or arthritis, and I need treatment.”

Not viewing obesity in a very negative way is important, according to a new study. This study found that obese or overweight women who felt that the condition was their fault, or that the public saw them in a negative light because of their weight, actually ate more snack food than women who had a more positive outlook about their weight!


Does being obese really cause health problems?

            Yes! The number one killer of people in the US is heart disease, and the number 4 killer is stroke. Being obese can increase your risk for both of these conditions. Worse than that, being obese is a risk factor for getting other diseases like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Having any of these conditions can further increase your risk for heart disease and strokes.

In addition, people who are obese are more likely to suffer from a problem called “sleep apnea.” This is a condition in which you stop breathing for short periods of time during sleep. This can give you headaches, make you feel tired all the time, or even make it hard for you to concentrate during the day. Sleep apnea also increases your risk for heart failure, abnormal heart rhythms, and stroke!

People who are obese tend to suffer more often from chronic pain (especially in the hips, legs, and feet) and arthritis than people who have a healthy weight. The pain tends to get worse the heavier you are, and the older you get.

Finally, some new research has found that being obese can actually increase your risk of death! The study followed 11,000 people with type 2 diabetes for 16 years. During this time, about 3,100 people died. After looking at the BMIs of all the people who died, the researchers found that the higher a person’s BMI, the more likely they were to die from any cause.


How can you treat obesity?

            After saying that healthcare providers should treat obesity as a disease, the AHA also released a “road map” for what they should do to help treat the disease. This includes:

  1. Checking your BMI once a year; obesity is defined as a BMI above 30.
  2. Having obese people take part in a medically-supervised weight loss program 3-4 times each month. The point of this is to have healthcare providers own some of the problem—it’s not enough just to tell a person to lose weight! Your healthcare team needs to be actively involved!
  3. Healthcare providers should talk to you about weight loss surgery if you are obese and have one or more obesity-related health problems like high blood pressure, sleep apnea, or diabetes.


In addition to the treatments that your healthcare provider can help you with, there are also many things that you can do to help treat your obesity. These include lifestyle changes, such as:


  • Staying positive! Keeping a positive outlook about your disease will help you stay motived to treat your disease and help you feel better about yourself overall
  • The key to treatment is weight loss, and experts say being successful requires:
    1. Eating fewer calories than your body needs
    2. Exercising more
    3. Changing unhealthy behaviors (like smoking)
  • Be sure that your diet includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy fats like avocados, walnuts, and olive oil, and lean protein like fish, beans, and fish
    • Consider seeing a registered dietician who can help you make healthy food choices and count calories
    • Studies show the you are more likely to be successful with weight loss if you see a counselor who can help you on your journey—ask your healthcare provider for a suggestion
    • Avoid drinks with lots of added sugar like soda, fruit punch, and energy drinks
  • Getting to and maintaining a healthy weight will help lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and stroke
    • Losing even 5-10 pounds can make you feel better and give you lots of health benefits!
  • Setting weight loss goals, keeping track of the calories you eat, weighing yourself regularly, and following a meal plan are healthy behaviors that can help your treatment be successful
  • Get moving! The AHA says you should get at least 150 minutes each week of physical activity (30 minutes, 5 days each week). You can swim, run, or ride a bike at the gym. Or, you can be active at home: walking the dog, gardening, playing in the yard with your kids, and dancing in your living room all count towards your weekly goal.


Remember, treating the disease of obesity won’t always be easy, but you can do it! At your next office visit, tell your healthcare provider that you want to lose some weight, and ask for their help! The sooner you ask, the sooner you can start your journey to becoming a happier, healthier you.

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Constance Brown-Riggs, MSEd, RD, CDE, CDN—an award-winning RD, certified diabetes educator, and past national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, is the author of The African American Guide to Living Well With Diabetes, which received the Favorably Reviewed designation from the American Association of Diabetes Educators, and Eating Soulfully and Healthfully with Diabetes.

Dr. Lori Shemek, PhD, CNC, CLC, the best-selling author of “Fire-Up Your Fat Burn! and leading health and weight loss expert, is also known as “The Inflammation Terminator.” She has made it her mission to educate the public on the toxic effects of certain foods and lifestyle choices and how they create inflammation in the body. She is a leading authority on inflammation and its role in weight loss, preventing disease and optimizing health.

Rebecca Bitzer – MS, RD/LD, CEDRD is an award-winning Registered Dietitian, writer, speaker, blogger, and REBEL Dietitian business owner. Rebecca and her team of six Registered Dietitians have counseled thousands of clients struggling with diabetes for over twenty-five years. They work closely with each other along with internists, endocrinologists, therapists, and families.

Maureen Sullivan – RN, CDE has worked for many years as a Registered Nurse, most of them in emergency and trauma services. She is a Certified Emergency Nurse, Certified Diabetes Educator, and the former manager of a hospital stroke program. Maureen’s wealth of knowledge, passion for nursing and education, and ability to engage people makes her an excellent teacher and a captivating lecturer. Recently, Maureen has been concentrating on writing, speaking and teaching, as well as working on her award-winning weekly podcast, “The Health and Humor Show.”

Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN is a nutrition communications specialist, registered dietitian in private practice, social media consultant, speaker, spokesperson and corporate consultant. She is currently the owner of Nutrition Starring YOU, LLC and www.NutritionStarringYOU.com. Lauren strongly believes that we should “Think Healthy, not Skinny”, and “EveryBODY is unique, your diet should be too”. Lauren was co-host of the Family Food Experts Kitchen radio show, available for listening on iHeart Radio and iTunes. Also known as one of the “NutritionBabes”, Lauren co-founded NutritionBabes.com, a popular Health and Wellness website in 2009. NutritionBabes.com was voted one of Healthline’s Top 100 Health Blogs in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

Mark Heyman, PhD, CDE is a clinical health psychologist and the director of the Center for Diabetes and Mental Health (CDMH). In addition to treating patients with type 1 and type 2 diabetes, Dr. Heyman provides training for health care providers on how to identify and address the emotional and behavioral aspects of diabetes in their patients. He also works with pharmaceutical and medical device companies to help them understand these issues and incorporate this information into their sales, marketing, and patient education materials. He is particularly interested in empirically supported behavioral interventions that promote behavior change and improve physical and mental health in people with diabetes.

Katie Ferraro, MPH, RD, CDE is a nationally-recognized registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and author with an expertise in nutrition communications and curriculum development. She is the co-author of “Diet Therapy in Advanced Practice Nursing” (McGraw Hill, 2014) and an Assistant Clinical Professor of Nutrition at the University of California San Francisco and University of San Diego’s graduate schools of nursing.

Dr. Beverly S. Adler, PhD, CDE (aka “Dr. Bev”) is a clinical psychologist and certified diabetes educator, author and speaker. She specializes treating the emotional issues of people with diabetes. In her private practice, she provides individual, family and/or group therapy utilizing a cognitive behavior therapy orientation, combined with a spiritual approach. Her goal is to empower her patients to manage their diabetes.

Dr. Bev is the author of two self-help diabetes books. She has written numerous articles which are published in print and online – always focused on diabetes from the emotional perspective. She also speaks to audiences of people living with diabetes, as well as, to audiences of healthcare professionals and diabetes educators. Dr. Bev, herself, has been living successfully with type 1 diabetes for 40+ years.

In August 2016, Dr. Bev was honored to receive the “CDE Entrepreneur of the Year” Award from her Metropolitan NY Association of Diabetes Educators.

Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, FAND is an internationally recognized nutrition and diabetes expert with more than two decades experience. Through writing, speaking and one-on-one coaching, Jill empowers people to grab control of their health. She has worked as both a nutrition counselor and a diabetes educator in the hospital and research settings, and now in private practice in Newport News, VA. Jill is known for her practical approach and caring attitude. Her no-nonsense strategies to eating well include foods that both taste good and are good for you.

Marlene Koch (pronounced ‘cook’) is a nationally recognized nutritionist, popular TV personality and New York Times bestselling author. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from UCLA with a Bachelor’s degree in Nutritional Science. She is a registered dietitian and one of a select group of dietitians to hold an advanced certificate in Child and Adolescent Weight Management from the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics.

Marlene has taught professional chefs from the American Culinary Federation the principles of healthy cooking and eating. She has been adjunct Nutrition professor and cooking instructor for Columbus State College and the Columbus State Culinary Academy, and she is a nationally recognized expert in weight loss, diabetes, child and adolescent nutrition, and sugar substitutes.

Marlene has sold over one million cookbooks, and is a regular guest on QVC.

Barbara Ruhs – MS, RDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and owner of Neighborhood Nutrition LLC, a consulting firm focused on providing solutions to help food companies and supermarkets improve consumer health & wellness. She’s a former supermarket dietitian and has run a successful business for 17 years. A leader in the field of nutrition, her mission is to help people by impacting the way food is produced, marketed and sold. She’s a strong advocate for supermarket dietitians and believes the retail food industry has the greatest potential to impact public health.

Cheryl Orlansky has over 25 years of experience in health promotion and chronic disease prevention and management. Her first career as a registered dental hygienist led her towards a path of wellness and nutrition! Her expertise is in diabetes, weight management and cardiovascular disease for individuals and groups. She works in a large private practice including endocrinology, internal medicine, rheumatology, neurology and sleep medicine. She is an award winning dietitian with current leadership positions in state and local dietetics organizations.

She has been interviewed and quoted in media outlets for WebMD, Atlanta Sports and Fitness, Georgia Public Broadcasting, and the Atlanta Journal and Constitution. She has partnered with V-103 Radio to lead supermarket tours as part of a community outreach during National Nutrition Month.

Cheryl helps her clients reach balance through lifestyle choices: cooking and eating, activity and purpose in life.

Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist and classically-trained chef. With a passion for helping people (including her father) with diabetes, she’s author of The With or Without Meat Cookbook: The Flexible Approach to Flavorful Diabetes Cooking and the award-winning The All‐Natural Diabetes Cookbook, both published by the American Diabetes Association. Jackie is also author of 1,000 Low-Calorie Recipes and Big Green Cookbook. Her next book, The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook—2nd Edition, was published in 2015.

Nutritionist Rania Batayneh, MPH is the author of the best-selling book, The One One One Diet. She holds a master’s degree in public health nutrition from the University of Michigan School of Public Health and is also a Wellcoaches Certified Health and Wellness Coach endorsed by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).

OmnichannelHealth Media, publisher of DiabetesDigest.com, does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. See additional information.