A Hidden Key to Weight Loss: Insulin Resistance
“I’ve tried everything…I don’t understand why I can’t lose weight.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard these words from my health coaching clients. Many of them were exercising 5-6 days a week, cutting calories, fasting, and more in the name of weight loss, to no avail.
There is a common metabolic condition unknowingly affecting countless women: insulin resistance. If you suffer from the inability to lose weight, feel tired all the time, or want to optimize your health to prevent developing pre-diabetes/Type II diabetes (and cardiovascular disease), please read on about what insulin resistance is and what you can do to start reversing it today.
What is insulin resistance?
Insulin is an important hormone that we need for our metabolism. It helps move glucose into the energy house of our cells to fire our cellular metabolism via insulin receptors on our cells. When our blood sugar is chronically elevated, however, our cells’ insulin receptors can wear out, and we develop insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance is a very common metabolic dysfunction. Although it can easily be tested by your doctor, it’s not part of the standard panels given at annual exams, and is a precursor to developing pre-diabetes and Type II diabetes.1
Some of the common symptoms of insulin resistance are fatigue and inability to lose weight.2 Caveat: there can be other hormone imbalances, nutrient deficiencies, and factors at play. Insulin resistance causes fatigue because the glucose, which our cells need for energy, is not able to get into the cell to drive our cellular metabolism. With our circulating blood sugar level then elevated, insulin will turn off our body’s ability to use our fat stores for energy, as it works to burn the inflammatory sugar in our blood. This is the mechanism by which insulin resistance can work against weight our loss goals.3
What should I do if I think I have Insulin Resistance?
The good news: insulin resistance (and in most cases, Type II diabetes in fact) is completely reversible with targeted diet changes and supplementation. Although it would be helpful to work with a functional medicine doctor and/or health coach to identify what your unique causes of dysfunction within your body are, you can safely make the following changes in your diet in the absence of data to improve your insulin sensitivity.
A big part of the game is to get your blood sugar into an optimal zone, and stabilize it to prevent large spikes from food intake. Ideally, you would want to completely remove all grains, flour and sugar from the diet for a period of 3-6 months to allow your body to regain insulin sensitivity. These foods are simple carbohydrates that spike blood sugar, without fiber to help buffer the glycemic effect. If that’s too daunting, you could include complex carbohydrates with a 6:1 ration of carbohydrates to fiber, which will have less of a glycemic effect than more simple carbs. Including lots of vegetables and some fiber-rich fruits like berries in the diet will give you lots of phytonutrients to fuel your body.
Anchoring the diet with high quality protein and healthy fats will keep you satiated and help fight inflammation, which also can work against weight loss goals. I advise many of my clients to forego oatmeal or cereal for breakfast, and instead opt for a high protein breakfast that will help better control appetite throughout the day.
Restaurants and packaged food manufacturers tend to use vegetable oil and other pro-inflammatory oils. Olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil are great anti-inflammatory oils for cooking and salad dressings. Bonus: reducing inflammation also helps to prevent the development of many diseases, including cancer and cardiovascular disease!4
Alpha lipoic acid especially helps to improve insulin sensitivity. This can be found in flax and cinnamon. My go to breakfast almost every morning is my grain-free blueberry protein pancake. You can find the recipe for it here as one of the bonus recipes in my immunity boosting meal plan.
“What kind of exercise should I do to lose weight?” is another common question I get. Did you know muscle burns 3 times the amount of energy at rest as fat? By increasing our lean muscle mass, we can increase our resting metabolism to burn more fat while we are sitting around or sleeping. Resistance training is where it’s at! If you haven’t done any resistance training, you could ramp up to it starting with body weight exercises like push-ups, squats, lunges, and planks. Interval training (periods of higher and lower exertion) also helps promote the excess post oxygen consumption or “after-burn effect,” so you can continue to burn fat after your workout.5
Making it all happen
Making changes to our diet can feel extremely daunting, especially in times of high stress, like many of us are in now. Many of us have a little more free time on the weekend – this is a great opportunity to put a plan in place for the week ahead to make healthy eating and workouts happen.
Many of us have suffered from the “weight loss yo-yo,” losing weight on some crazy program just to gain it back (and maybe then some) when we got back to our normal way of living. In order to make changes sustainable, I help my clients choose one to a few small things maximum to change at one time. This way, change isn’t overwhelming and can be sustained for the long haul. For example, you may start by reading food labels before you purchase things at the store, or creating a weekly meal plan with metabolism-friendly meals to cook at home.
I hope that you’ve found this article helpful, and I applaud you for taking the time to learn about this condition that is unknowingly affecting so many of us. You’ve already taken a step toward improving your long term health, for you and all the people who depend on you.
Insulin Resistance References
- Peterson, Max C and Shulman, Gerald I, Physiol Rev. 2018 Oct 1; 98(4): 2133–2223
- Dolson, Laura What Is Insulin Resistance? verywellhealth.com
- Glund, S Krook, A Role of interleukin‐6 signaling in glucose and lipid metabolism, Acta Physiologica Oct 2007
- Hyman, Mark The One Test Your Doctor Isn’t Doing That Could Save Your Life, drhyman.com
- Jellyman, C et al The effects of high-intensity interval training on glucose regulation and insulin resistance: a meta-analysis
Obes Rev 2015 Nov;16(11):942-61. doi: 10.1111/obr.12317.