There are several factors involved in successfully losing weight and keeping it off. Many of us are aware of the two most commonly discussed factors: eating healthy and exercising consistently. While actually implementing those habits can be a great reason to get the support of a Nutritionist or Health Coach, there are also many other reasons why your body may be holding onto excess fat.
So what do we do when we have implemented these healthy habits and are still having trouble losing fat? That’s when we put our figurative “detective glasses” on and look for the root cause of why our body isn’t letting go of excess weight. When the body isn’t naturally balancing its weight with exercise and proper nutrition, it is a warning sign that there may be other imbalances present that could be detrimental to your long term health. Some of these imbalances include:
- Blood Sugar Imbalances, Elevated Insulin Levels & Insulin Resistance
- Excess Inflammation
- Elevated Stress Hormones
Blood Sugar Imbalances, Elevated Insulin & Insulin Resistance
This article will focus on how blood sugar imbalances, elevated insulin levels and insulin resistance lead to weight gain, and future blogs will talk about increased weight due to elevated inflammation and stress hormones.
Blood sugar spikes leading to elevated insulin levels are two of the most preventable chronic imbalances we see in Western society today. Short term, they can lead to your body holding on to extra fat, sugar cravings after meals, and trouble falling asleep. Long term, they can lead to cardiovascular disease and full blown Type 2 Diabetes, two of the most common chronic disease in Canada. That’s why you’ve probably heard the words “insulin” and “insulin resistance” in the media lately.
So what is Insulin Anyway?
When you eat a meal, sugar enters your bloodstream and your pancreas releases the hormone insulin to signal to your cells to “take-in” the sugar. Insulin can be thought of as the “key” to unlock the door for sugar to enter your cells and provide energy. In a healthy individual, this causes your blood sugar to lower back down to normal range, and your body is back in balance.
When your blood sugar is consistently high, the pancreas is constantly releasing insulin into your bloodstream and levels stay chronically elevated. This can happen for many reasons including high stress levels, high caffeine intake, sporadic sleep patterns and more.
Eventually, your cells stop “listening” to the high levels of insulin, just like a tired parent starts to tune out a child crying before bedtime, and the cells allow less and less sugar to enter. This is called insulin resistance. Since the glucose is not taken up into the cells, individuals end up with both high circulating blood insulin and blood glucose. Chronically elevated levels of insulin lead to large amounts of fat gain, increased risk for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and several other negative effects on the body. Some of these effects are pictured here:
Photo source: Precision Nutrition
Now, I’m not trying to give insulin a bad rap. It is vital for life. However, just like any other hormone, it needs to be balanced for an individual to experience optimal health and weight loss. So, how do we keep our cells sensitive to insulin (and prevent insulin resistance) so that circulating insulin levels are balanced? I thought you would never ask 😉
7 Nutrition and Lifestyle Factors that Prevent Insulin Resistance:
- Higher intakes of vegetables, legumes, lean proteins, whole grains and nuts/seeds.
- Exercising for 5 hours per week, especially resistance training.
- Increased muscle mass
- Supplements like Omega 3 fatty acids and alpha lipoic acid
- Adequate Vitamin D status
- Limiting caffeine intake
- 7-9 hours of restful sleep per night
7 Nutrition and Lifestyle Factors that Promote Insulin Resistance:
- High processed carbohydrate diets
- Low to no exercise (Sedentary lifestyle)
- Regular caffeine consumption
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Nicotine use
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Sporadic sleep patterns
How do you know if you have high insulin levels or insulin resistance?
Besides the symptom of stubborn fat loss, there are other symptoms that are associated with insulin resistance, including:
- Craving for sweets (Doesn’t subside when sweets are eaten)
- Fatigue after meals
- Increased thirst
- Frequent urination
- Difficulty falling asleep at night
If you have some of all of these symptoms, it is advised to get your blood markers checked immediately. It’s also important that you have your blood markers analyzed by a health care practitioner that knows how to look for functionally optimal levels and not just checking for disease states such as diabetes. Some markers to look for include:
- Fasting blood sugar above 5 mmol/L
- Triglycerides above 2.6 mmol/L
- HDL cholesterol below 1.4 mmol/L
- Cholesterol above 5.2 mmol/L
- LDL cholesterol above 3.0 mmol/L
These are simply patterns of general guidelines to get you started, but there are many other issues to consider. That’s why it’s so important to work with a qualified health professional who practices functional nutrition and can assess your status. The earlier you catch insulin resistance, the more you can do to increase your insulin sensitivity and prevent chronic health problems.
If you have any questions about this article or would like help navigating your journey to optimal health, feel free to contact Winnipeg Nutrition. (Phone: 204-952-7982 or Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)