I have invited my friend, fellow health coach, and RD Stacey Frattinger to join us for a series on hormones and the impact different hormones can have on our waistline.
It’s time to learn how insulin impacts your waist line.
Insulin is one of the most widely talked about hormones in weight management. If you can’t seem to get to your ideal shape or size, insulin could be playing a part in preventing you from meeting that goal.
Insulin is produced by your pancreas, the organ that sits behind your stomach. Anytime you eat or your body detects that your blood sugar is rising, your pancreas will release insulin into your bloodstream. Insulin receptors respond to the insulin release and then allow insulin to do its job.
The hormone insulin helps keep your blood sugar stable and at healthy levels throughout the day, but what happens when your body doesn’t respond to circulating insulin in the way it is designed to do?
The scientific name for this is called “insulin resistance,” this can lead to difficulty managing hunger and cravings, leading to undesirable changes to your waistline.
What insulin does to your body:
Insulin helps send the sugar circulating in your bloodstream to your cells so that It can be used for energy. Your cells will then put that sugar, in the form of glucose, to good use and help your blood sugar stay stable or regulated properly.
Insulin takes the sugar from your bloodstream and sends it to muscle, fat cells, or the liver for use at a later time. When your body and cells don’t require immediate access to sugar, this is when storage occurs and it turns to glycogen.
So what does it mean to be insulin resistant? Your receptor sites stop responding to insulin appropriately. Instead of your cells being sensitive to insulin and sending it along to do its job, your cells become resistant to insulin, causing sugar to stay in your bloodstream.
What causes insulin resistance?
Being overweight or obese.
A sedentary lifestyle.
Poorly managed chronic stress.
A high carbohydrate, high sugar diet.
Certain medications, like steroids.
Other health conditions, namely PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome).
A family history of insulin resistance or diabetes.
What are the symptoms of insulin resistance?
Unfortunately, insulin resistance doesn’t always produce noticeable symptoms. Some people will feel like they are excessively thirsty, experience frequent urination and headaches. You may also start to feel like no matter what you do. Your weight won’t budge.
While you may not have insulin resistance symptoms, unfortunately, the condition may start to impact other aspects of your health, leading to things like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, prediabetes, and an expanding waistline.
If you are concerned about insulin resistance being part of the reason you can’t lose weight, ask your doctor to have your fasting insulin tested along with a standard fasting blood glucose and hemoglobin A1C.
If you are diagnosed with insulin resistance or suspect this is impacting your health, here are a few things you can do:
Aim for around 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week. Exercise, including walking and weight training, is an effective way to reverse insulin resistance. Try to fit this in 5 days per week, experiment with different things until you find something you like. The exercise that works is the exercise you will do.
Eat three meals a day without snacking— lower your carbohydrates and simple sugars, and increasing your protein consumption. Protein can help ensure your blood sugar stays stable throughout the day and is one of the most satiating macronutrients. Compare this to higher sugar, lower fiber carbohydrates, which tend to cause your blood sugar to spike and rise higher than desired when insulin resistance is a factor. This roller coaster ride with your blood sugar can make hunger and cravings much more difficult to control.
Add in plenty of plants to your diet—even adding in 1-2 days/week of only plant-based eating. By focusing on a plant-based diet, you’ll naturally boost your fiber intake, and as a result, you’ll feel a greater sense of satisfaction after your meals. Part of the reason this happens is the combination of fiber and water to fill your stomach and small & large intestines, signaling your brain to shut off the hunger signal. Focusing on a plant-based diet can also help you to keep your carbohydrates low naturally.
Be mindful of your calorie intake. Losing weight around your middle alone can improve insulin sensitivity. This might require taking a closer look at your calorie intake. Understandably weight loss may be more difficult when you are dealing with insulin resistance. Still, it may be helpful to log your foods into an app like MyFitnessPal as a way to assess your total calories and macros for the day. At the end of the day, a calorie deficit is required to lose weight.
If you think that insulin resistance may be part of what you are dealing with, focus on making 1 or 2 small, specific, and realistic changes to your lifestyle. This could be in the form of increasing your consumption of plant-based foods at meals, bulking up your protein intake at breakfast, tracking your calories and macros in an app, or adding in more walking to your weekly routine.
As you implement some of these changes, make sure to notice if you experience a change in hunger, cravings, and energy, and don’t be surprised if you start to lose weight and see a change in your shape.
If you’re looking for more hormone knowledge, I’ll be coming back to you with another from this series on Cortisol. If you’re in the market for more awesome nutritional knowledge that gets dropped by your inbox every week, sign up for the Well Newsletter right here.
More about the author:
Stacey Frattinger is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Integrative Health Coach, Certified Holistic Nutritionist, and a Nationally Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach.