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How long does it take to reverse type 2 diabetes?

We know now that, with the right lifestyle and diet plan, type 2 diabetes is reversible. But how long can you expect to wait for type 2 diabetes reversal to actually have its full effect?
Simon Lovick
10/19/2022
9
min read
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Quick summary

  • Understanding how type 2 diabetes reversal actually works
  • Identifying the timeline for how long type 2 diabetes reversal takes, beginning within weeks and taking up to three months
  • Some of the challenges you might face with changing bad behaviours, and how you can expect your brain to react
  • Why committing to type 2 diabetes in the long term is so important

The process for reversing type 2 diabetes requires a great deal of commitment, hard work, and diligence. Do you think you’re ready for it?

In essence, you are looking to transform your lifestyle, removing all of the factors that are potentially a risk to your diabetes condition—whether that’s risk factors such as unhealthy food, excessive drinking, smoking, or a lack of regular exercise—and replacing them with positive, healthy habits. Those looking to reverse their type 2 diabetes diagnosis must be willing to do so wholeheartedly—no half-measures.    

But how long can you expect this journey to take? In this article, we look into how long type 2 diabetes reversal actually takes before you can start to see the positive impacts on your condition and your overall quality of life. 

Type 2 diabetes reversal: a quick recap

There are a number of things that contribute to type 2 diabetes reversal. There is certainly a strong correlation to weight loss. Weight loss is obviously linked to other factors, such as regular exercise.

When you lose weight, you not only shed the visible fat on the outside of your body, but also the fat that exists inside your body. This is particularly important with regard to the fat that covers your liver and pancreas, which are the organs responsible for glucose and insulin balance. The reduction in fat sees these organs more able to fulfil their function in balancing blood sugar levels. 

Type 2 diabetes reversal isn’t permanent—hence why most are reluctant to call it a ‘cure’.  Just as easily as you lose that weight, you can put it back on, seeing a resumption of the same imbalance that caused your diagnosis. 

To sustain reversal, you need to implement a number of lifestyle changes in the longer term, including dieting and regular exercise, as well as drastically reducing or quitting bad habits like drinking alcohol and smoking. 

How long does type 2 diabetes reversal take? 

Every treatment plan is different for each individual—as such, the time it takes to reverse type 2 diabetes can differ for each individual. There are still some ways to map out your progress on a timeline though. 

Sixteen weeks is the duration that we set for the Habitual type 2 diabetes reversal programme. To break this down—the ‘Health Reset’ takes 12 weeks, which is where you consume around 800 calories a day and build new habits with our app; subsequently, the ‘Health Maintenance’ period takes an additional 4 weeks, over which duration you gradually increase your calorie intake back to a normal amount. 

This is firmly rooted in scientific research. Some of the major studies into type 2 diabetes reversal show that following an 800kcal/day eating approach followed by the reintroduction of normal foods, as well as accompanying behavioural change, can lead to roughly 15kg in weight loss.[1-3] This is believed to be the golden weight to put type 2 diabetes into remission. 

Blood sugar levels can significantly fall after just 1 week on a low-calorie diet

Lim et al., Diabetologia

Yet some might argue that actually type 2 diabetes reversal can start to happen even sooner than 3 months. The process described earlier, reducing your daily calorie intake to 800kcal can see you starting to shed some of the fat on your liver and pancreas, can have a surprisingly fast impact on your blood sugar levels. Blood sugar levels can resume to normal in as little as 1 week, sometimes slightly longer, to get to non-diabetic levels.[4]

This can be hugely promising for those looking to put their type 2 diabetes into reversal: the official criteria for type 2 diabetes remission is having an HbA1c level (the haemoglobin test which measures the amount of blood sugar attached to your haemoglobin) below 6.5% (48mmol/mol) for a least 3 months, without having taken any medications to manage their blood glucose levels during this time.[5]

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Longer-term commitment to type 2 diabetes reversal

Type 2 diabetes reversal can last for a number of years: key studies showed that, of people who had lost that critical 15kg and gone into remission, after 2 years, 70% who had gone into remission were still in remission.[1]

But if you’re thinking, “3 months and then I’m cured”, unfortunately, you should probably think again. As earlier outlined, type 2 diabetes cannot be cured; it can simply be put into remission. This underlines the fact that, if you lapse back into old bad habits, your type 2 diabetes can return. 

Type 2 diabetes remission is not the same as a lifelong cure

Part of understanding this is considering how your brain responds to forming new habits, as well as the time it takes to change your behaviour. Psychological studies show that it can take anywhere between 18 and 254 days to form a new habit—on average, around 66 days.[6] For Habitual users, that’s just over 9 weeks into your 16-week remission plan. This might seem like a short time, but you still have to be prepared to put the care and diligence in over that time period when you are forming new, healthier habits. This is combined with the fact that your natural instinct is to return to old habits. Pleasure-based habits release dopamine, which makes these much harder to break and forge cravings. Unfortunately, many unhealthy habits happen to be pleasure-based habits. 

There are certain things that can aid you with implementing lifestyle changes. Keeping a journal can be a powerful companion to helping you change your habits: after all, if you’re committing to this in the long term, you’ll need structured ways to implement your new routine. It might also be good for posterity, to see how far you’ve come when you look back on your journey.

A key part of journaling is ‘self-monitoring’, which is a very practical process for helping you identify your bad habits, and replace them with good ones. It means recording everything you are eating and doing (including exercise), and holding yourself to account for missing your targets. This will help you identify certain weaknesses—whether this is midnight snacking or sitting in front of the TV all weekend—and help you think of how to combat them. 

If you’re committing to this in the long term, try and think of ways to keep your approach fresh and renewed, so that you don’t get bored of it. Look to be as creative as possible, so that your remission plan doesn’t feel like a chore. Check out some of our tips for creative approaches to exercise as part of your remission plan.

long-termIn sum, reversal certainly isn’t a quick win: coping with your type 2 diabetes diagnosis is much more a long term commitment. You have to be willing and able to commit for a much longer duration, even a lifetime, to keep the risks at bay. 

References

[1] Lean, M.E.J., Leslie, W.S., Barnes, A.C., et al. (2019). Durability of a primary care-led weight-management intervention for remission of type 2 diabetes: 2-year results of the DiRECT open-label, cluster-randomised trial. Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol 7(5):344-355. Accessible here.

[2] Morris, E., Aveyard, P., Dyson, P., et al. (2019). A food-based, low-energy, low-carbohydrate diet for people with type 2 diabetes in primary care: A randomized controlled feasibility trial. Diabetes Obest Metab 22(4):512-520. Accessible here.

[3] Taylor, R., Ramachandran, A., Yancy Jr, W.S., Forouhi, N.G. (2021). Nutritional basis of type 2 diabetes remission. BMJ 374:n1449. Accessible here.

[4] Lim, E.L., Hollingsworth, K.G., Aribisala, B.S., et al. (2011). Reversal of type 2 diabetes: normalisation of beta cell function in association with decreased pancreas and liver triacylglcerol. Diabetologia 54:2506-2514. Accessible here.

[5] Type 2: experts agree global definition for type 2 diabetes remission. Diabetes UK. Retrieved August 24th 2022. Accessible here.

[6] How Long Does It Take for a New Behavior to Become Automatic? Healthline. Retrieved August 24th 2022. Accessible here.

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