Frequently, a new client will walk into my office knowing he or she needs to lose weight, get in shape and improve their health. Perhaps they feel sluggish and are hungry a good part of the day, and nothing they do makes a difference. Multiple diet regimes, exercise programs, lose-weight-quick gimmicks – they’ve tried them all and are just fed up.
With no visible results, many are still searching for the root of the problem, which could actually be insulin resistance. Not until the last 10 years did many health care professionals really understood what it is and its impact on the body. It affects metabolism, hunger levels and zeal for life, and if untreated, can turn into diabetes.
A Key That Won’t Turn
Simply put, insulin is the key that unlocks the cell for sugar to get in, which in turn enables your body to use the food you consume. However, somewhere along the line, the key either gets stuck or has difficulty getting into the lock. Or, if it does get in, it can’t turn the lock, hence the term “resistant.” If your body develops a resistance to insulin, you are not able to utilize the food you take in, which can increase your fatigue and your cravings for ever-increasing amounts of carbohydrates.
Why is this a problem? Well, if your insulin is not working properly, it sets up a cascade of effects which are not in your favor. This includes the ability to store fat more easily, as well as increases in blood pressure and cholesterol or triglycerides, which can lead to fatty liver.
Lifestyle or Lifelong?
Is insulin resistance a lifestyle issue? The answer is yes, but …
Insulin resistance is associated with a sedentary lifestyle – a diet high in processed carbohydrates and calories beyond one’s metabolism – but it can be present at birth.
Research now shows what a mother eats or how much she exercises during pregnancy affects the child’s genetic tendencies toward weight issues, insulin resistance or possibly diabetes.
The classic insulin-resistant body has thin arms and legs and stores much of its fat in the abdominal region, which many of us know as “belly fat.” This type of body is also known as apple-shaped. If you have a different body shape, you may still be insulin resistant, but to a lesser degree.
Get the Facts and Turn the Tide
What can you do if you think you are insulin resistant and want to avoid diabetes as well as lose weight and increase your energy? Work with your doctor to get some data.
Have your physician monitor not only your cholesterol panel, but your fasting blood sugar, insulin levels and your three month average blood sugar, called the glycosylated hemoglobin A1C.
Here’s what you want to see:
* A fasting blood sugar less than 100 mg/dl. (A level of 100-115 mg/dl. indicates pre-diabetes)
* Fasting insulin levels should be less than 10
* The glycosylated hemoglobin A1C should be within a range of four to six
Changing three major ingredients of your lifestyle – eating healthy meals, exercising and getting enough high-quality sleep – can make a huge impact on these values.
Make Systematic, Healthy Meals
A proper diet is very effective at calming the system down, and can be achieved by eating regular, nutritionally-rich meals.
A healthy way to put together a meal is:
1. Start with a healthy source of protein such as organic and/or grass-fed meat, poultry, wild fish, organic eggs, plain yogurt, cheese, raw nuts/seeds and natural nut butters.
2. Balance it with a natural carbohydrate, such as fresh fruit and vegetables. Carbohydrates coming from fruits and vegetables seem to have less of an effect on insulin resistance than starches, even if they are whole grains.
3. Round out the meal with a healthy fat such as avocado or olive oil.
Foods that contain omega-3 fats such as olive oil, nuts, fish, fish oil and ground flax seed have been shown to make insulin more efficient, which can lead to increased fat loss.
Exercise Turns the Key
Research shows that exercise can make your insulin work up to 50 percent better.
According to Glen Gaessar, Ph.D., a professor of kinesiology at the University of Virginia, “Exercise is essential because muscle is the biggest tissue in the body, making up 30-40 percent of body mass. It’s the major site of glucose (sugar) disposal. Inactive muscle is not as sensitive to insulin.”
Exercise literally opens up the flood gates of the cells and allows the glucose or sugar to get in. When people ask if there is a magic pill for insulin resistance, I tell them that exercise is that pill!
Count Your Sheep
What if your diet and exercise are in line, but you don’t get enough rest? If you are lacking sleep, the hormone that increases your appetite – called ghrelin – increases. Higher levels of ghrelin in combination with insulin resistance are a perfect combination for weight gain and fatigue.
So, where does all this information leave us? Even if you have a genetic tendency for insulin resistance and diabetes you can still control the symptoms and have good health. You may have to work harder than those who are insulin sensitive and naturally thin, but results are achievable.
Your recipe for life is a combination of lifestyle factors that include diet, exercise and sleep. The goal is to have these elements work together in concert to achieve optimal health and vitality.
Susan B. Dopart, M.S., R.D.