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Lifestyle Changes – Obese Women with Type 2 Diabetes

If you’re a woman with type 2 diabetes, you might be familiar with the sexual problems that can result. Poor lubrication, painful intercourse, decreased desire and arousal, and emotional issues are all common. Some problems are easier to work through than others.

Many experts advise lifestyle changes like a healthier diet and increased exercise. But just how effective are such changes in alleviating sexual issues?

Recently, a study published in Diabetes Care considered this question. Today, we’ll take a closer look at this research and see how it might apply to your own sexual health.

The Study

For the study, researchers from medical institutions around the United States worked with 375 overweight and obese women with type 2 diabetes. Their average age was 61 years and their mean body mass index (BMI) was 36.4. (According to the National Institutes of Health, a person with a BMI greater than 30 is considered obese.) The study period lasted a year.

About two thirds of the women were sexually active. Of this group, about half had some form of sexual dysfunction as determined by an assessment tool called the Female Sexual Function Index.

The women were randomly divided into two groups. One group, called the Diabetes Support and Education (DSE) group, attended three meetings in which they learned about diet, activity, and social support. However, these women did not given any behavioral strategies.

The other group, called the Intensive Lifestyle Intervention (ILI) group, had many meetings throughout the year. Each woman learned how to cut calories and fat from her diet and aimed to lose 10% of her body weight. The women also increased their physical activity.

How did the study turn out? The women in the ILI group generally fared better. ILI women who had been diagnosed with sexual dysfunction at the start of the study were more likely to stay sexually active over the study period. They were also more than twice as likely to have their sexual dysfunction in remission.

Lifestyle Changes

Can similar lifestyle changes help you? What kinds of lifestyle changes should you make? These questions are best answered by your doctor, who knows your personal situation. Before making any dietary changes or starting any exercise program, you need to make sure that path you choose is the right one for you. Your doctor can help you learn more about good nutrition and physical activity.

Of course, it’s fine to say, “Eat right and exercise.” How can you stay motivated? Here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Choose physical activities you enjoy. If you don’t enjoy a certain kind of exercise, it’s going to be a lot tougher to stay motivated. Do you prefer exercising outdoors? At the gym? With a group of people? By yourself? Whatever you choose, make sure it’s something that suits you.
  • Work out with a buddy. Exercising with a friend can make it a lot more fun. Find an activity both of you like and stick to a schedule. Perhaps you’ll walk in your local park first thing every morning. Or you might meet for a group exercise class twice a week after work. Be sure to keep up a routine. Being accountable to each other can be a powerful motivating force.
  • Experiment with new meals. Your doctor or nutritionist may recommend foods or ways of cooking that you’re not accustomed to. Ask for recipes and look for cookbooks that reflect healthy choices.
  • Socialize. Have your friends and family join you on this journey. For example, if you find a new recipe you love, have people over for dinner. You’ll likely find that you have a great cheering section rooting for you. Socializing can also help alleviate depression, which can interfere with your sex life.
  • Consider a support group. While friends and family can be wonderful supporters, they might not always understand what you’re going through. Some people find it helpful to join a group of similar individuals who can understand the successes and setbacks. Your doctor or clinic can help you find one. If there isn’t a group available, think about starting one of your own.

Remember, too, that these changes can also lead to better sex and that can be quite a motivating factor in itself. Think ahead to the intimacy you’ll share with your current partner (or a new one, if you’re single). The lifestyle changes you make can benefit your overall health, your sexuality, your relationships, and your happiness.


Diabetes Care

Wing, Rena R., PhD, et al.

“Effect of Intensive Lifestyle Intervention on Sexual Dysfunction in Women With Type 2 Diabetes - Results from an ancillary Look AHEAD study”

(Full-text. Published online before print: June 11, 2013)

Nugent, Brenda

“Lifestyle Change Can Lessen Sexual Dysfunction in Type 2 Women”

(June 29, 2013)

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

“Calculate Your Body Mass Index”

Sexual Medicine Society of North America

“Diabetes and Female Sexual Satisfaction”

(August 23, 2012)

“How is Diabetes Affecting Your Sexual Health?”

(March 12, 2013)