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Insulin Resistance: The Main Reason You Aren’t Losing Weight

Written by: The Veri Team

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2022-05-01

7 minutes

Counting calories and not seeing results? Insulin resistance could be to blame. Learn about how insulin leads to fat gain, and which foods are right for you.


Key takeaways:

There’s a reason why your weight loss attempts have failed.

But it’s not because you lack willpower, or because you haven’t tried hard enough.

The real problem could be insulin resistance – a condition shared by nearly 40% of non-diabetic Americans under age 45. [10]

How can insulin lead to weight gain?

When blood sugar rises after a meal, your pancreas releases insulin. The insulin shuttles nutrients like glucose (sugar) into the cell, which is then used for energy and upkeep.

But if blood sugar spikes repeatedly over the years, your body becomes desensitized to the insulin. This means you have to produce more insulin to do the same job.

And more insulin equals more fat storage.

We’ll explain how insulin resistance leads to weight gain. But first, let’s find out what insulin resistance is all about – and if you’re at risk for it.

What is Insulin Resistance?

Also known as impaired insulin sensitivity, insulin resistance happens when cells in your body don’t respond well to insulin.

Let’s break down what happens: [1]

Think of insulin like a key that opens cell doors so glucose can enter. If your cells aren’t responding to insulin, the door never opens and glucose can’t enter the cells. Instead, it stays circulating in your bloodstream.

At the same time, insulin-resistant cells aren’t receiving the glucose they need to function optimally (think: brain fog, fatigue).

Many factors can play a role in developing insulin resistance, including genetics, environmental factors, physical activity, sleep, and stress.

But perhaps the biggest factor is your food.

While you can be insulin resistant and not have any noticeable signs, some common symptoms include: [2] 

Insulin resistance is also associated with serious health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and metabolic syndrome. [3] So if you have several of these symptoms, talk to your doctor.

How Insulin Resistance Prevents Weight Loss

Dr. Eva Shelton, a resident physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital and content developer at Mochi Health, spoke with Veri about insulin and weight loss.

“In normal circumstances, insulin works to increase muscle uptake of glucose from your diet,” she said.

Glucose entering muscle cells is good for two reasons:

  1. the sugar gives you energy to be active, and
  2. when sugar goes into muscle, it’s not plumping up your fat cells

Dr. Shelton said that normal levels of insulin also stops cholesterol formation and decreases appetite.

“Unfortunately, in insulin resistance, the opposite occurs – your muscle tissue is not able to take up as much glucose from your diet, your liver increases production of cholesterol, and your appetite is not suppressed after eating, she said.”

This is the perfect storm for fat storage.

Because the cells can’t take in as much glucose from your diet, glucose builds up in the blood. And that extra blood sugar is tucked away into fat cells.

The uptick in appetite caused by excess insulin ensures that this fat-storing cycle keeps going. [11]

But through diet and exercise, most people are able to regain their insulin sensitivity.

How to Reverse Insulin Resistance Through Diet and Lifestyle

1. Adjust Your Diet

When you are insulin resistant, overdoing carbs (especially processed carbs) is like putting gasoline on a fire. Each blood sugar spike produces more fat storage and more insulin resistance.

The easiest way to adjust your diet is to cut out foods that come in a box, to eliminate sugary beverages, and to cook food that comes from the earth.

Higher amounts of fiber, protein, and healthy fats will all minimize your blood sugar response to a meal. This is especially true when you’re consuming fewer carbs.

Some great options for your pantry include the following:

But before you go shopping for other food, make sure to throw out all your sodas and fruit juices! These fiberless sugars are the main culprit behind insulin resistance and fat gain. 

2. Pay Attention to Food Order

While what you eat is incredibly important, it’s also about how you eat your food. In one study, researchers found that eating protein, vegetables, and fat 15 minutes before carbs led to significantly lower post-meal glucose and insulin levels. [4]

These findings show that the order in which you eat your food matters and can play an important role in effectively controlling post-meal glucose.

3. Include Apple Cider Vinegar

One simple and inexpensive way to improve insulin sensitivity is to consume apple cider vinegar with your meals. A meta-analysis of six studies involving patients with type 2 diabetes concluded that consuming apple cider vinegar produces beneficial effects on blood sugar. [5]

While it’s not a miracle solution, there’s enough research to warrant some personal experimentation. To try it for yourself, mix one teaspoon of apple cider vinegar in a glass of water and drink it with each meal.

4. Exercise After Meals

Research shows that walking for 40 minutes soon after a meal can prevent glucose spikes. [6]

Your muscle cells use more energy when moving, which causes them to absorb more sugar from your bloodstream, which prevents blood sugar spikes.

We don’t expect anybody to walk 40 minutes after every meal, but we encourage you to do so several times per week and whenever you feel up to it. Even taking a 15-minute post-meal walk will offer some blood sugar benefits.

Start where you are and increase your time as you can. You’ll be surprised by how good you feel afterward. And if you use a CGM, you’ll see for yourself how the activity prevents your glucose from spiking!

5. Lift Weights

While aerobic exercise is good, adding resistance training to your routine can amplify your insulin sensitivity. One study on overweight men found that resistance training over a three-month period increased insulin sensitivity, independent of other factors like weight loss. [7]

Another study found that increased muscle mass is linked to better insulin sensitivity. In fact, muscle mass is one of the biggest indicators of metabolic health and weight control. [8]

Start low and slow and increase the weight you lift over time. Aim for at least two weight lifting sessions per week.

6. Sleep 7-8 Hours a Night

Consistently poor sleep can plummet your insulin sensitivity. One study found that not getting enough sleep for just one night induced insulin resistance in healthy subjects. [9]

Fortunately, catching up on your Z’s can reverse the effects of poor sleep on insulin resistance. Take steps to improve your sleep hygiene by going to bed at the same time each night, reducing blue light exposure in the evening, avoiding caffeine after 2 p.m., and making your bedroom as dark and quiet as possible.

7. Use a Continuous Glucose Monitor

Continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) are small, wearable sensors used to measure the glucose in your body. They give instant feedback on which foods and lifestyle habits are best for your health goals.

In terms of weight loss, CGMs help you see exactly which foods trigger insulin and fat storage in your body in real-time, allowing you to tailor your diet with precision.

A Final Word on Insulin Resistance and Weight Loss

If you’re struggling to lose weight despite exercising and eating what you’d consider a healthy diet, insulin resistance could be to blame. Fortunately, by applying the tips in this article, you can improve your insulin sensitivity and open the door to a slimmer, healthier you.

References

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/insulin-resistance.html
  2. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/22206-insulin-resistance
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29939616/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4876745/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31667860/
  6. https://journals.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/japplphysiol.00163.2004
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15628572/
  8. https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article/96/9/2898/2834715
  9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20371664/
  10. https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article/107/1/e25/6362635?guestAccessKey=5b7c3daf-2030-47db-92ef-6e6388e691ba&login=false
  11. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3894001/#:~:text=These%20experiments%20show%20that%20elevations,may%20affect%20subsequent%20food%20intake

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