The body positive movement proclaims that all bodies are beautiful, no matter their shape. And they make a good point, we should go through life loving ourselves.
Part of loving ourselves, however, should be staying healthy. Yes, a bigger body can be healthy, but it is certainly at risk. Conditions like diabetes and heart problems are always lurking in the background.
Today we focus on insulin resistance. Here’s what you should know.
Insulin resistance explained
Before we explain insulin resistance, we should first understand what insulin is and what it does in the body.
Your pancreas, a gland found behind your stomach, is responsible for producing insulin, a hormone that allows your body to use glucose for energy.
Glucose is a type of sugar, often found in carbohydrates. After you enjoy a meal or a snack, carbs are broken down in your digestive tract and changed into glucose.
The glucose is then absorbed into your bloodstream via the lining of your small intestine. Once the glucose reaches your bloodstream, insulin informs the cells throughout your body to absorb it and use it for energy.
Insulin also plays a role in balancing your blood glucose levels. When there’s too much glucose in your bloodstream, insulin tells your body to store the leftover glucose in your liver.
It stays there until your blood glucose levels decrease. This normally happens between meals, or when you are stressed and your body needs a boost of energy.
So what happens in a person who suffers from insulin resistance? In this case your cells, quite literally, resist the message they get from insulin. So your cells do not grab the glucose from your bloodstream.
Now you end up with too much glucose remaining in your bloodstream – also known as high blood sugar.
The scary thing is that this can lead to prediabetes, and eventually, full-blown type-2 diabetes. The other scary thing is that insulin resistance can be developed by anybody, and typically doesn’t have symptoms to warn you.
There are factors that put you at bigger risk of developing insulin resistance:
- Being 45 or older
- Being overweight
- Having a parent or sibling with diabetes
- A lack of exercise
- A personal history of gestational diabetes
- A personal history of heart disease or stroke
- High blood pressure or high cholesterol
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Cushing’s syndrome
- Sleep apnea and other sleep-related problems
- A diet high in carbs
- Medications such as steroids, antipsychotics and HIV medication
Apart from developing diabetes, untreated insulin resistance can lead to serious medical problems:
- Severe high or low blood sugar
- Heart attack
- Kidney disease
- Eye problems
- Alzheimer’s disease
Clearly insulin resistance is not something to be ignored. If you have reason to be concerned, chat to your GP. Your blood glucose levels can be monitored via blood tests in order to identify problems.
The connection between insulin and your weight
It becomes a vicious cycle: weight gain puts you at risk of insulin resistance, and then insulin resistance can cause you to gain weight.
When your cells become too resistant to insulin, it leads to elevated blood sugar levels, which can lead to weight gain.
This is because the body then puts the excess sugar in storage. We can store some in our liver and muscles, but when those are filled up the extra sugar is stored as fat.
Insulin resistance also makes it harder to lose weight, because the body stores excess blood sugar as fat, and with insulin resistance there is excess blood sugar around often.
If you have any of the risk factors, the thought of developing insulin resistance might feel a bit like a sword hanging over your head. But it’s not all bad news.
Insulin resistance and prediabetes can be prevented or even reversed, preventing the onset of type two diabetes. Lifestyle changes can make all the difference. Medication is also an option.
Here’s what to do to naturally fight insulin resistance:
- Start learning how to make healthier food choices.
- Get your body moving. Exercise improves all your body functions as well as your mental state.
- Seek help if you have problems with sleep.
- Learn how to manage your stress. There is no shame in getting help – we face incredible amounts of challenges on a daily basis.
Reversing insulin resistance – what the research says
Studies done in this field reveal some insightful numbers:
Diet and exercise goes together
80% – the improvement in insulin resistance seen in overweight people who lost 10% of their weight through both diet and exercise.
38% – the improvement seen in those who lost the same amount of weight through diet alone.
Those who added exercise to their schedule but didn’t lose weight saw almost no change in their level of insulin resistance.
Weight loss is key
In a different study it was found that losing just 5% to 7% of their starting weight helped to delay or prevent diabetes in high risk patients.
Get enough sleep
According to a study presented at the 2015 meeting of the Obesity Society, just one night of sleep deprivation boosted insulin resistance as much as eating high-fat foods for six months.
How does insulin resistance turn into diabetes?
Since insulin resistance prevents your cells from absorbing glucose, your pancreas tries to restore the balance by producing extra insulin. For a while, this works, and your blood sugar levels will stay normal.
But, after some time, your pancreas won’t be able to keep up. This means that your blood sugar levels will keep rising until you have prediabetes.
|Key takeawaysInsulin keeps your blood sugar levels balanced.Insulin resistance prevents your cells from taking glucose from your bloodstream.This results in elevated blood sugar levels which could lead to prediabetes and eventually full-blown type two diabetes.Healthy lifestyle changes can reverse insulin resistance and prediabetes.|
Insulin resistance: what should you be eating?
With so many choices available on our food shelves, most of which are marketed as good for you in some way, making the right decisions can become confusing. Here’s a breakdown.
Stay away from this:
Highly processed food such as white bread, pasta and rice. These types of food digest very quickly and can spike blood sugar levels, putting extra stress on your pancreas.
Saturated fats are also a poor diet choice. This includes foods like butter, cake, milkshake, bacon, fatty meats and pastries.
Choose this instead:
Whole, fresh, unprocessed foods are best for keeping your body healthy.
Healthy options include tomatoes, carrots, asparagus, red, green and yellow peppers, greens such as spinach, cabbage and kale, tomatoes, broccoli and cauliflower.
If you prefer vegetable juice, check that your chosen product is free from added sugar. Additionally, vegetable juice does not contain fibre, which is needed to slow down metabolism and keeping sugar levels balanced.
Fresh is best. Many canned fruits contain large amounts of sugar, and less fibre because the skins are removed. Fruit juice may appear healthy, but it’s a big no-no due to a high sugar content.
Healthy, high fibre options include: apples, berries, grapes, plums and peaches.
Choose low fat, unsweetened milk and yoghurt.
Whole-grain foods are healthy for insulin resistance, despite their carbohydrate content. Whole, unprocessed carbs in smaller portions are a good source of fuel for your body.
Healthy examples are whole oatmeal, bulgur, brown rice, whole-grain barley, wild rice and quinoa.
Beans and legumes
Beans are rich in fibre, helping to raise blood sugar levels slowly. Canned beans are fine, but drain and rinse them to get rid of added salt.
Fish is a brilliant source of omega-3 fatty acids that protect your heart. Choose salmon, mackerel, sardines, tuna and rainbow trout. You can also safely opt for lobster, scallops, shrimp and oysters.
Try to stay away from fried and breaded fish.
Keep poultry healthy by removing the fatty skin. You can cook it with the skin on to retain moisture, and then remove the skin afterwards.
Pork, lamb and beef are fine, but opt for lean cuts. Choose ground beef with a lower fat content.
Vegetarian protein sources such as soy and tofu are great options as well.
Nuts and seeds in moderation slow down digestion and provide essential fatty acids.
Recent stats from the International Diabetes Federation show that about 537 million adults are living with diabetes. Out of these, about 240 million are undiagnosed. That is almost half.
Considering the dangers, these are disturbing figures. Don’t become a statistic. Be aware of your risks and do what you can to protect your health.