Why Insulin Resistance Is Affecting Your Weight Loss

Want to know why that pesky pouch of belly fat won’t go away?

Chances are you might be someone who suffers from insulin resistance!  

Insulin resistance is very common, affecting at least 1 in 3 adults

While many of us probably see comments on the internet about insulin resistance and have conversations with our doctors about it, few actually know the effect it has on the body. 

Even if your doctor says that your blood sugar is normal, insulin resistance could still be impacting your metabolic health!

Insulin resistance is a very important topic, especially among people going through perimenopause, as it can play a major role in weight gain. Not to mention the impacts on our long-term health!

So I took to my friend, Dr. Stefania Tiveron to explain more about insulin resistance, how it works, and what you can do to help balance out your insulin levels.

Grab a notebook, this one is important! 

** Stefania is typing now***

What is insulin?

Insulin is a hormonal messenger, made by the pancreas, that acts as a shuttle, helping your liver and muscles absorb sugar (glucose) from the food you just ate. It also helps store glucose for later when more energy expenditure is needed. 

I like to picture insulin as a courier, shuttling energy around the body on a mint-colored vintage Vespa. 

How insulin works in the body…

In metabolically healthy people, blood sugar levels rise in response to eating, which signals the release of insulin. 

Insulin then stimulates your liver and muscle cells to take up food energy (glucose) from your blood and convert it into energy that your cells can then use as fuel. After all of this is said and done, blood sugar levels and insulin fall back down. 

While many people experience this normal up and down with insulin, there are many others whose bodies do not regulate insulin the same way. 

Remember that statistic I told you about earlier?

1 in 3 people suffer from insulin resistance?

Let me tell you more about how that works… 

What is insulin resistance?

Insulin resistance is when cells in your body don’t respond normally to insulin and cannot absorb glucose, aka sugar, from your blood.  

Here’s the thing, insulin-resistant people have naturally high insulin.

Why?

Insulin has a very important message to deliver. When the liver and muscle cells fail to respond properly to that message (insulin), the metabolism continues sending messages. Eventually, that person’s insulin levels are going to rise significantly, leading to insulin resistance. 

This will keep blood sugars in check for a while, but it’s not a long-term solution for people. For this very reason, insulin resistance is usually a precursor to Type 2 diabetes.

What causes insulin resistance?

There is no one answer to this question. The reality is there are many things that cause insulin resistance.

Allow me to name a few…

  • Ultra-Processed Food
  • Nutrient Deficiency
  • Chronic Inflammation
  • Poor Gut Health
  • Environmental Toxins Medications
  • Circadian Rhythm Disruption
  • Energy Excess
  • Sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass and strength) 

While insulin resistance can be caused by our own doing, it isn’t always a result of doing something wrong. Sometimes, it’s simply the environment we are placed in.

Ever heard the term “obesogenic environment”?

It refers to an environment that promotes gaining weight and one that is not conducive to weight loss within the home or workplace. Simply put, if the people you surround yourself with (at work, home, and other places) are not practicing healthy habits (whole food nutrition and regular exercise) you in turn could suffer the consequences like insulin resistance.

What relationship does insulin have with sugar?

People always ask, “how does sugar impact insulin levels?” 

Sugar, or more specifically, fructose, impairs insulin sensitivity significantly compared to other food. It can throw your hunger and cravings out of check because it stimulates your appetite, leading to an insatiable desire for more sugar. 

The impact of fructose on your metabolism and biofeedback depends on the amount you consume.

Small amounts of fresh fruit with natural sugar are fine. 

It’s the large amounts of fruit juice, dried fruits, and high fructose corn syrup foods (soft drinks, candy, chocolate, desserts, sweetened yogurts, and breakfast cereals) that can drastically impact your insulin resistance and or make it worse. 

Short-term effects of insulin resistance…

Insulin resistance can be a significant barrier to weight loss and also has some pretty immediate short term effects like:

  • Weight Gain
  • Fatigue
  • High Stress
  • Poor Sleep
  • Decreased Energy
  • Increased Inflammation
  • Brain Fog

Long-term effects of insulin resistance…

Just like any metabolic dysfunction that goes untreated, insulin resistance can also cause long-term effects on our health. Here are a few that are common: 

  • Fatty Liver Disease 
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Cardiovascular Disease 
  • Obesity
  • High Cholesterol 
  • High Triglycerides (increased risk of stroke or heart attack)

How to know if you have insulin resistance?

There are two ways to indicate if you are experiencing insulin resistance. While the physical signs and symptoms may be easier to see, I always recommend getting bloodwork done to determine exactly what is going on with your insulin levels. 

Physical signs & symptoms of insulin resistance…

Signs of insulin resistance include weight gain in the upper body and around the middle, skin tags, and a skin condition that causes darkening of the skin in the armpits and around the neck. 

Note: It is possible to have insulin resistance without having these physical signs. However, if you do have them, please speak to your Primary Healthcare Provider (PHP)—it could be the first step toward a laboratory workup and diagnosis of insulin resistance. 

Insulin resistance testing…

The assessment of metabolic syndromes—insulin resistance and diabetes—by your Primary Healthcare Provider should include an analysis of carbohydrate metabolism and lipid metabolism. 

Here are some blood tests to discuss with your doc: triglycerides and cholesterol, liver enzymes, inflammatory markers, blood glucose, and insulin. 

To read more about them, check out this helpful resource from Stanford Health

This is not an exhaustive list, nor is it appropriate to test all of these markers all at once. Your doctor should help you decide what tests are personally relevant and necessary for you.

6 ways to holistically reduce your insulin resistance

In order to reduce the influence of metabolic dysfunction and insulin resistance, we need to think about improving insulin sensitivity from a holistic perspective. What we eat and how we eat, are foundational elements in this equation but there is more! 

A holistic approach includes diet, but also the lifestyle elements like stress management, recovery, and sleep!

Here are 6 ways to reduce your insulin resistance. 

Note: Start with 1-2 of these strategies at a time. Layer in more as you see fit. 

1. Stabilize Blood Sugar Levels 

Reduce consumption of refined carbohydrates, simple sugars, processed foods, and convenience foods that are high in fat, salt, and sugar. Rather, complex carbohydrates with a low glycaemic index should be emphasized. 

That includes our favorite starchy vegetables like potatoes, squash, carrots, and pumpkin—yum!

Also, make sure you eat enough protein! 

I can’t emphasize this one enough, the current recommendations are much higher than you’re probably familiar with. We all need closer to 1.5-2 grams per kilogram or about a gram of protein per pound of body weight!

2. Build Muscle
Move the body to build muscle. More muscle mass is associated with greater insulin sensitivity!

Studies show that since insulin-induced glucose uptake occurs in skeletal muscle, high muscle mass might result in a stable control over glucose levels.

Simply put, you can drastically improve your insulin sensitivity the more active you are

3. Improve Gut health
Inflammation from the gut can cause or worsen insulin resistance. Address any potential underlying gut problems by restoring the health and diversity of your gut microbiota, which will help to lower levels of whole-body inflammation.

4. Promote Circadian Entertainment

Support a healthy circadian rhythm with morning light and evening light exposure. Two walks twice a day, timed accordingly, can support the timing and release of hormones that support our sleep/wake cycle.

Eat at approximately the same time every day, which also supports the circadian rhythm.

Get enough sleep, or work on sleep quality if you’re tired despite sleeping enough. Stabilizing blood sugar levels will help you get more restful sleep.

5. Stress management
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention stress in this discussion. Chronic low-grade stress is implicated in almost every hormonal disturbance. Insulin is no exemption. Not to mention, stress is a significant source of inflammation, which can muck up hormonal communication.

Reduce or buffer stress in ways that support and enhance your stress response system. If you can’t avoid or eliminate stressors, find ways to buffer the effects of stress. 

For example, get a massage or spend time with friends. Connection and contact boost “feel-good” hormones like oxytocin.

6. Hormonal balance

Estrogen and progesterone enhance insulin sensitivity. Conversely, too much testosterone can reduce insulin sensitivity. 

Start by getting your hormone levels assessed (salivary or blood), then discuss the results with your PHP. Interventions to support hormone levels, including HRT, depend on your life stage and personal preferences. 

By improving insulin sensitivity, insulin levels can finally come down, which can help to restore metabolic function to a healthy, balanced place for the brain and body. Meaning, you’re in a better position to support weight loss if that was your goal. 

The more pieces you address, the more metabolically flexible you can become. This gives your brain and body the advantage to burn fat or glucose (sugar) for energy, keeping your mood, energy, appetite, and sleep in check! 

Are you insulin resistant? 

As you can see, insulin resistance can have a major impact on our bodies. The problem is that many of us have no clue whether we are experiencing it or not. 

I encourage you to look at your lifestyle and habits, see if any of the symptoms we talked about are present, and consider scheduling a call with your PHP to talk more about potential testing. 

And if you have questions about insulin or insulin resistance, I’d love to chat more about it with you! 

Tap right here to send me an email!

See you next time!

Dr. Stefania

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