Insulin resistance is not only an issue for people with type 2 diabetes. In fact, developing type 2 diabetes is the last sign of insulin resistance. The lead up takes years, commonly has signs along the way, and can be reversed any point.

The good news is if you find out about it early enough, then you can prevent and even reverse it, stop it from becoming full blown disease, and successfully lose weight. Weight loss is very closely linked to insulin resistance and we will get into it a bit in this article.

The bad news is insulin resistance very common. 1 in 3 adults in the US have been found to be pre-diabetic. And the numbers are growing rapidly in low and middle income countries.

Now before we go blaming everything on insulin, we need to understand briefly how insulin works.

What Is Insulin Resistance?

What happens normally is, you eat food – carbohydrates especially – it causes a rise in your blood sugar. Your body releases insulin from the pancreas to normalise blood sugar.

This is done by the glucose being signalled to be taken up by the liver and muscles and stored as glycogen, and also converted into fat into storage in your fat cells.

The simpler the sugar is, the higher and quicker the blood sugar rises, the more insulin is needed. More fibrous carbohydrates and protein reduce the spike in blood sugar and causes a steady, gradual rise.

How a problem develops overtime is the person will eat excess carbohydrates over many years, coupled with lack of regular physical activity, and no active weight management.

(Read about how weight gain creeps up on us slowly over the years here.)

Typically your body will be able to cope until your whole system cannot support it anymore. There is fat not only in your fat cells, but your liver and pancreas. That is when disease states become frank and obvious, and requires medication.

Your body needs to produce a larger amount of insulin over time. This continues as follows:

  • EARLIER (weeks/months)- The larger amounts of glucose that have been instructed to be taken up by the cells means the liver will store more glucose, the muscles have limited glycogen storage supply which is exceeded, and the fat cells more fat than necessary – leading to weight gain (easily reversible with lifestyle).
  • LATER (1-20/30 years)) – Your cells become less sensitive to the insulin being secreted, and your pancreas has to produce MORE insulin for the same response. Insulin resistance and prediabetes develops, and your body compensates for years, showing signs until years and years later – signs of insulin resistance, early (easily reversible with lifestyle)
  • YEARS LATER (decades) – your cells are now fully resistant, and you have excess blood sugar now that couldn’t be taken up by your cells – chronically elevated blood sugar –  type 2 diabetes, obesity, high triglycerides, high cholesterol, PCOS, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, non alcoholic fatty liver disease (usually requires medication, but can be reversible in many cases with lifestyle)

Family history and genetic predisposition may speed up the process. It means your body has a lower threshold for insulin resistance, and glucose control.

It may happen earlier or later. Commonly 40-50 years was the onset, but nowadays even those as young as 30 are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

However 80% of the cases are completely preventable and reversible.

Signs Of Insulin Resistance And Effects On Weight Loss

Difficulty in losing weight itself is a sign of underlying insulin resistance. Other signs of insulin resistance include:

  • Weight gain (often rapid in a period of two to three years)
  • Intense cravings for carbohydrates or sweets
  • Increased appetite
  • Feeling tired or bloated after eating
  • Carrying extra weight in the central abdomen (especially this)
  • Very slow weight loss
  • Darkening of the skin on the back of your neck and armpits (acanthosis nigricans)
  • In women it is also associated with acne and hair thinning

This excess fat that has acculmulated typically starts showing in the midsection (belly fat), and it has been found to be hormonally active. It alters your body’s energy levels, mood levels and ability to lose weight, and increases your risks of the metabolic diseases mentioned.

What Came First – The Insulin Resistance, Or The Excess Weight And Difficulty In Losing Weight?

It’s commonly touted, that the excess weight leads to insulin resistance, however studies are showing that insulin resistance itself can lead to excess weight gain. In the case of people with normal BMI but excess visceral fat, they can develop diabetes too. How come?

Those who have normal weight by BMI, may have poor dietary habits consisting of excess simple carbohydrates, lack of physical activity, and possibly a family history or genetic predisposition.

What this means is – a normal body weight does not preclude you from developing insulin resistance, if your lifestyle is neglected. Insulin resistance can still develop, and that leads to weight gain, difficulty in losing it, and the other health conditions down the line.

It is becoming more apparent that one can lead to the other, and they work in a positive feedback loop.

The Cause Of Insulin Resistance.

It all comes back to diet, weight gain and exercise – overeating excess carbohydrates, lack of physical activity, chronic stress, and for a long period of time – years and years.

Exercise plays a crucial role –especially high intensity exercises such as resistance training – increases your insulin sensitivity by making sure your muscle glycogen stores and used up and “gets” your body used to using up the glucose you take in and have circulating.

Exercise can contribute to a higher energy expenditure and thus weight loss.

The solution to insulin resistance

  1. Nutrition control – this is KING – reduce your intake of processed carbohydrates and sugar products, AS WELL as to lose weight. Consume lower GI carbohydrates full of fibre, lean protein and adequate vegetable intake, as well as healthy fats.
  2. Weight loss – studies have shown even a 7-10% weight loss can greatly improve your insulin sensitivity – but it will return if the weight is regained – thus the need for sustained weight loss.
  3. Exercise – regular exercise not only will help in weight management over the long term, as well as improving insulin sensitivity but mood and energy levels, greatly. Aim for 150minutes a week of moderate intensity exercise.
  4. Sleep – ensure adequate sleep, around 7-8 hours a night. Poor sleep will dysregulate your appetite – which can lead to cravings, reduced willpower and thus higher chance of eating processed food.
  5. Stress management – your environment, your mindset can trigger poor food control and raise cortisol levels, which will also prevent you from losing weight.

What About Genes? And Family History?

You can’t change your genetics, your family or your risks for it. You can only work with what you have to influence the sort of change you’d want to see.

It means its imperative to manage lifestyle sooner rather than later because you are at greater risk to develop the chronic conditions.

Struggling To Lose Weight – The Solution

Now that you know that insulin resistance may be behind a lot of the health challenges, and weight management plus nutrition is the key, how do you proceed?

You need to create a plan for you nutrition, physical activity, and create accountability. Click here to find out how you can get started today.

Share this with your friends and family, and spread the word about insulin resistance.

Some resources for further reading:

  1. Fahed, M., Abou Jaoudeh, M.G., Merhi, S. et al. Evaluation of risk factors for insulin resistance: a cross sectional study among employees at a private university in Lebanon. BMC Endocr Disord 20, 85 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12902-020-00558-9
  2. Diabetes Care 2013 Apr; 36(4): 1047-1055.https://doi.org/10.2337/dc12-1805
  3. Taylor R, Holman R. Normal weight individuals who develop type 2 diabetes: the personal fat threshold. Clinical Science 2015 Apr;128(7):405-410. doi: 10.1042/CS20140553 PMID: 25515001 (IF 5.598)
  4. Nutrition Science Initiative : https://nusi.org/

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