Have you worked hard to reach your desired weight goal only to find you have entered a plateau trying to conquer the last remaining kilos? Your healthy diet and exercise may not be the only reason why you are struggling to shift that last bit of fat. Insulin sensitivity could be your biggest obstacle. Let’s discuss insulin sensitivity and how it could be hindering your weight loss success.
What exactly is insulin?
Insulin is a peptide hormone produced by the pancreas. It is responsible for regulating the metabolism of carbohydrates and fats. It also has a protective role, so that the body can repair and maintain the health of the internal system whilst keeping energy stores at an optimum level.
When you consume food, your body converts carbs into glucose which circulates the bloodstream for use by all the cells in the body. It also inhibits the liver from producing extra, unwanted glucose.
Insulin is produced in proportion to the removal of excess glucose from the blood. Excess glucose that the body hasn’t used for energy is stored as glycogen. When blood glucose levels fall, glycogen is broken down into glucose to be used by the body as an energy source.
Higher insulin levels equals more fat storage
When the body can’t store any more glycogen, insulin takes up the excess and stores it as fat. Those people who are highly insulin sensitive, require very little insulin during this process of storing carbohydrates. People who have a low insulin sensitivity or are insulin resistant on the other hand, require larger amounts. When control of insulin levels fail, diabetes mellitus can occur.
Ideally, you want to have high insulin sensitivity so that you are able to eat carbohydrates without a large rise in insulin. You lose fat when fatty acids are released. In order for you to lose fat, your body requires low insulin levels and high growth hormone, which is largely responsible for metabolic functions, in particular, the release of fatty acids. In order for you to lose fat, your body requires low insulin levels and high growth hormone, which is largely responsible for metabolic functions, in particular, the release of fatty acids.
When insulin levels get too high, fat loss stops. This occurs as a result of poor diets that are made up of high-glycaemic carbohydrates and processed foods. Over time, the body becomes resistant to the effects of insulin and when carbs are consumed, a larger release of insulin takes place and fatty acids are inhibited. This will make it difficult for you to lose weight.
Your diet and weight could be affecting your insulin levels
When you consume a meal that is made up of carbohydrates and protein, insulin is released. The amount of insulin released is determined by the number of carbs you eat as well as the glycaemic index (GI) of that particular carb. For example, you consume a serve of white rice, say, 150g, the GI is 89.
For a simple understanding, the GI refers to how quickly your body digests that carbohydrate. The higher the GI of the carbohydrate, the quicker your blood sugar levels increase causing your body to respond by releasing more insulin to store energy.
The more insulin required to store the carbs, the harder it is going to be for you to lose fat. Insulin directly affects your fat cells!
What we also know is that our insulin sensitivity actually increases when you reduce your weight and your body fat percentage. Research suggests the leaner and lighter you are, the stronger your insulin sensitivity levels will be, meaning you will be much more likely to reach your weight loss goals.
Everyone’s insulin sensitivity levels are unique to their metabolic type. The vast majority of people struggling to control their weight is due to a poor insulin sensitivity. Our bodies have simply adapted to the amount and sweetness of the carbs we eat and have become stubborn fat burners!
It is not just weight gain that results from a poor insulin sensitivity. Long-term disrupt can lead to Type 2 diabetes, thyroid problems and several types of cancer.
Insulin resistance isn’t just caused by lifestyle
Sure, if you consume a diet of highly processed foods and sugary snacks you are going to have a problem with your insulin levels and in most cases, will also be struggling to combat fat. But it isn’t just about your lifestyle.
Research suggests insulin resistance can be present at birth with genetic factors being significant. What a mother eats and how much she exercises during pregnancy can affect the child’s future weight issues, insulin resistance and can possibly lead to diabetes.
Infections or severe illness are also linked to insulin resistance as well as some medications and steroid use.
Don’t just go ditching the carbs
Your body needs carbs, especially when you have just completed some exercise, so ditching the carbs can be counterproductive. Insulin sensitivity tends to increase during your workout and continues to increase 30-45 minutes post exercising. What is important is choosing the right carbohydrates to fuel your body with and your timing. Here are some tips on how to consume carbs to give your body energy and at the same time, keeping the insulin levels low enough that you can still lose weight.
- Your inulin sensitivity is at its peak when you first get up in the morning and immediately after a workout. So try to consume most of your carbs in your first meal and straight after you exercise.
- Whole foods with fibre slow the digestion of carbs and as a result, your body releases a steady flow of glucose, rather than the sharp spike that would occur from an influx of sugar.
- Consume fresh fruit, veggies, legumes and whole grains that are high in fibre and nutrients.
- Steer clear of “healthy” fruit juices that lack fibre and are more like sugary water.
- Ditch the sauces and heavily processed foods with added chemicals.
- Start building your meal with a healthy source of protein.
- Add a healthy fat to your meal such as avocado or olive oil.
Tips to improve your insulin sensitivity
If you are concerned about your insulin sensitivity levels, it is worth asking your GP for a fasting plasma glucose test. There are also some simple ways you can help improve your insulin sensitivity levels such as:
- Exercise 3-4 times per week
- Reduce your simple and processed carbs, particularly sugar!
- Get plenty of sleep each night
- Consume foods that are slow-digesting as discussed above
- Try intermittent fasting
- Keep your body fat low
While there are no shortcuts to achieve a healthy lifestyle, many choose to kick-start their journeys to health by undergoing cosmetic surgery. Treatments such as CoolSculpting, which permanently destroys fat cells by up to 20%, can help remove those excess kilos that have been hindering your body’s performance. Once the fat cells are removed, your insulin sensitivity will improve and in turn, help you drop more weight if you need. Mega Liposuction is an effective treatment for overweight or obese patients, not only is there an immediate reduction in weight, but this also helps the patient to kick-start their fitness regime, and also leads to a reduction in overall food intake.
Although cosmetic surgery may have given you the body you wanted, maintaining it is important to minimise the chance of insulin resistance occurring in the future. Regular cardio helps you burn the calories you consume and strength training works to build lean muscle which in turn improves insulin sensitivity, increases your metabolic rate and burns fat!
So, if you want to burn fat, you need to be insulin sensitive! Ensure you improve your insulin resistance by getting your weight down and adopting a healthy lifestyle so you can enhance your body’s ability to shift that last bit of stubborn fat.