Insulin resistance is a term often associated with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, but could it be the reason you’re not seeing the number on the scales go down?

Insulin resistance is a metabolic imbalance that is often overlooked as a key contributing factor of weight gain and preventing weight loss. So if you’ve made healthy lifestyle changes and still not seeing the weight fall off, understanding more about insulin levels and blood glucose control could help you reach your weight loss goals.

Insulin: the basics

First, let’s start with the basics. Insulin is a growth hormone that is made by the pancreas when you eat or during your stress response. It’s a normal response to an increase in your blood sugar (glucose) levels which allows the glucose to be used by your cells for energy.

Ideally, your body will produce the same amount of insulin as the amount of glucose in your body. By matching the levels, your body is able to keep your blood sugar levels balanced and your energy stable.

Carbohydrates drive the largest production of insulin to help ensure your blood sugar levels don’t get out of control. High stress also does the same. Protein-rich foods only elicit a small amount of insulin release. And dietary fats don’t affect the insulin response.

Insulin resistance: how it works

Insulin is essential to keep our blood sugar levels in check but it’s when we have too much circulating insulin that there is a problem.

Large fluctuations in insulin or constantly high insulin production causes the receptors of your pancreas cells to stop responding effectively. Your body then has to make more and more insulin to help you avoid high blood sugar levels. This is what is known as insulin resistance.

When you have high levels of insulin and your cells are unable to absorb the glucose, your level stores it as body fat. So not only is your pancreas tiring and your blood sugar levels are out of control, you’re experiencing weight gain.

More often than not, these fluctuations of insulin are associated with dietary choices, but stress and physical activity can also play a role.

Am I insulin resistant?

It’s not uncommon for people to be insulin resistant for years and don’t even know. That’s because there are not a lot of noticeable signs and symptoms. It’s well-known insulin resistance is associated with medical conditions including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high triglycerides and metabolic syndrome.

If you have been consuming a heavily processed diet with lots of refined carbs, chances are you will be experiencing blood sugar imbalances, if not insulin resistance.

If you’re overweight, particularly with a generous amount of belly fat, you are at a higher risk of being or becoming insulin resistant.

Darkening and thickening of the skin can be an indication you’re insulin resistant.

Insulin resistance may also play a key role in the development of female reproductive abnormalities such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

How can I maintain healthy insulin levels?

If you suspect you might be insulin resistant or experience blood sugar fluctuations throughout the day, there are some healthy eating and lifestyle habits that can help keep the negative effects of insulin imbalance at bay.

  1. Eat a diet of whole foods
    Ditch the packaged and processed foods to reduce your intake of highly refined carbs and trans fats. Focus on whole foods in their most natural state to help prevent large spikes in your blood sugar and trigger the release of more insulin.
  2. Consider fasting
    Intermittent fasting may not only help you normalise your blood glucose levels but also help you achieve a healthy weight. The theory is that it helps to reduce your insulin levels and essentially allows your body to reset itself. Having an eating window also helps to prevent overeating.
  3. Make reducing your stress a priority
    Your blood sugar levels increase when you’re stressed due to the release of the hormone adrenaline. This process is to help provide you with more energy so you can fight or flee from danger. Too much stress results in blood glucose imbalances so incorporating relaxation activities into your daily life will help prevent insulin resistance and weight gain.
  4. Get moving more often
    Exercise, particularly an increase of muscle mass, helps improve your insulin sensitivity, meaning your pancreas will make less insulin and your overall levels will decrease. There will be reduced insulin need to transport the glucose to your cells and less fat storage causing weight gain.
  5. Get a good nights sleep
    Lack of sleep not only affects your blood sugar regulation but it also leads to poor food choices, overeating and cravings. You’re also less likely to exercise and more likely to be stressed. All of this coupled together, it’s no wonder your body weight increases.