Stubborn Weight Loss
You eat “right” and exercise, but somehow those stubborn extra pounds just keep coming and they won’t leave. Even worse, they have settled in at your midsection. What is happening to your figure?
It is possible to eat healthy and still struggle with your weight
It is easy to blame weight gain on the hormonal shifts that come with age. But, these changes are not necessarily due to andropause or menopause alone. Instead, insulin resistance could be the root of the problem.
What is Insulin?
Insulin is a hormone that is produced by specialized cells in your pancreas known as beta cells.
What Does Insulin Do?
Let’s look at what insulin does in your body. It helps your body to use sugar from your food by transferring it into your cells for them to use for energy. A healthy insulin level rises after a meal, and goes down once your blood sugar returns to normal. This rise in insulin is proportionate to the amount of carbs and sugar in the meal. This natural fluctuation of insulin is what keeps your blood sugar in a healthy balance.
What is Insulin Resistance?
When your body’s cells can’t respond to insulin properly, they become “insulin resistant”. This means that your blood sugar levels rise higher than they should, even when your pancreas is making a lot of insulin.
How Does Insulin Affect Your Weight?
Excessively high blood sugar and insulin have many harmful effects. They cause damage throughout your body. So your body has a back-up plan to protect itself from high blood sugars; it stores the extra energy by converting it to fat, often around your midsection.
This perpetual fat production is why high blood sugar and insulin levels make it hard to lose weight.
More Than Just a Spare Tire – Insulin’s Many Negative Roles
It’s important to note that insulin plays a role in many body functions. So, insulin resistance can affect other facets of your health in addition to giving you a spare tire. In fact, up to 50 percent of people who are insulin resistant go on to develop life-changing, chronic conditions like diabetes. And, insulin resistance has been linked to the development of several types of cancer, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease.
At the hormone level, insulin is an intricate part of many systems in your body. For both men and women, insulin influences the production and performance of your reproductive hormones. For example, high insulin levels can magnify menopausal symptoms. For women who are struggling to manage hot flashes, mood changes, weight or other menopause symptoms, being insulin resistant can make it even harder to regain control of their hormones. For men, insulin lowers testosterone and increases estrogen. Consequently, there can be depression, loss of muscle mass, low libido and many other detrimental effects.
What are the Symptoms of Insulin Resistance?
Despite its widespread effects, insulin resistance can be difficult to diagnose. In fact, many people don’t experience any symptoms until they are diagnosed with pre-diabetes or diabetes. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms below, your best first step should be to talk to your naturopathic doctor or other healthcare provider:
- Velvety dark patches of skin in your groin, neck, or armpits (a condition called acanthosis nigricans)
- Abnormal fatigue
- Cravings for sweet or salty food
- Increased hunger
- Excessive thirst
- Excessive urination
- High waist-to-hip ratio (if you’re female, measure your waist and hips, then divide the number you measured for your waist by your hip measurement. If the result is higher than 0.8, your ratio is on the higher end. For men, a result greater than 1.0 is concerning.)
How Can You Test for Insulin Resistance?
There are several blood tests that look at your blood sugar level:
- glycated or glycosylated
- fasting blood sugar
- random blood sugar
- 2-hour post-consumption glucose and
- oral glucose tolerance test
Of these, the best way to measure insulin resistance is by doing an oral glucose tolerance test WITH insulin measurements.
This test involves going to a lab after you have been fasting for 12 hours. There, they will collect a fasting blood test for glucose and insulin. Then, they will give you a sugary drink, with a known amount of glucose in it, often 75-100 grams. After that, blood tests for glucose and insulin are collected at 30 minutes, 60 minutes, 90 minutes, 120 minutes and 180 minutes after drinking this drink. After the drink, it is expected that your blood sugar will rise and then return to normal within 2 hours. An abnormal test would show that either your blood sugar did not return to normal within 2 hours, or that you had to make an excessive amount of insulin in order to get it to return to normal. Most times when this test is done, only the glucose measurements are done. However, this only provides half of the information you need to determine insulin resistance. Our naturopathic doctors can order proper insulin resistance testing for you.
7 Risk Factors For Insulin Resistance
Our bodies need carbohydrates in small to moderate amounts depending on our level of physical activity. However, consuming more carbohydrates than your body
Risk factors for insulin resistance include:
- Being overweight, particularly if you are “apple-shaped” rather than “pear-shaped”
- High carb and/or sugar diet
- Genetics. Some people who develop insulin resistance don’t have other risk factors. If you have a family history of high cholesterol, heart disease, or diabetes, you may have inherited genes that mean you need to be even more careful about preventing insulin resistance.
- Inactivity or sedentary lifestyle
- Insufficient sleep
- Medications, including antidepressants and corticosteroids
- Certain medical conditions, including:
Can you Improve Insulin Resistance Naturally?
The good news is that lifestyle changes can dramatically improve the balance of insulin in your body. They
Examine your diet
If you are struggling with balancing insulin and blood sugar, you should aim to eliminate unnecessary carbohydrates from your diet as much as possible. That means no sugar, flour or flour-based products, or
An added bonus of cutting back on sweets and starchy foods is weight loss. Having too much body fat, especially around your middle, contributes to insulin resistance. Of course, this creates a vicious cycle, since as we discussed insulin resistance makes it harder to lose weight. It is important to make healthy, long-term diet changes. One study found that losing just five to seven per cent of your body weight improves insulin resistance.
However, don’t restrict calories too aggressively. You don’t want to stress your body. Stress raises your levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. High cortisol levels wreak havoc on your insulin and blood sugar balance. So, focus on getting your energy from whole foods without starving yourself. Our ND’s and Registered Dietitian are great resources for diet and nutrition advice. They can come up with a weight loss meal plan just for you.
Let’s add “insulin resistance” to the long list of reasons not to smoke. This is another step that sounds easier than it often turns out to be. If you smoke, you don’t have have to give it up alone. We’re here to help! We have ways and means to make quitting easier. Talk to one of our ND’s or our Psychotherapist for help.
Certain supplements can help as well. Making sure that you’re taking the right ones, which are a good fit for you, is best discussed with your naturopathic doctor.
Reduce your stress
This is always easier said than done, but it’s important to keep your cortisol levels balanced. We will work together to find a stress-reduction plan that works for you. Talk to one of our ND’s or our Psychotherapist or book a massage to get your stress level down.
Get enough sleep
Studies show that even one night of bad sleep or less than 4 hours of sleep negatively affects your insulin levels the next day. Aim for 8 hours per night, every night.
Get more exercise
Many studies have linked physical activity with improved insulin levels. There’s no need to feel overwhelmed though, even moderate levels of daily activity can help. The key
In fact, especially for middle-aged women, workouts that are too intense raises your cortisol levels. This, in turn, raises insulin your levels, which will be counterproductive. So, getting creative with your exercise becomes more important as you get older. In addition to increasing moderate exercise, aim to increase your other daily movements. For example, park a bit further away, do the dishes by hand at the end of the evening, or even just stretch for a few minutes at home. Even little bits of activity can add up.
Best Exercise for People Over 50
Three of the best exercises for people over the age of 50 are:
- Long walks outside. Being outside lowers cortisol. Walking is a gentle exercise that almost anyone can safely do. Walking for one to two hours per day helps to burn an additional 200-300 calories per hour.
- Restorative yoga. This helps to restore your body, maintains your flexibility, balance and strength.
- Weight training. Weight lifting helps to maintain your muscle mass and bone density, helps you burn more calories even while you sleep and maintains a healthy level of growth hormone in your body.
As you can see from the information above, our bodies and our health are very intricate. When something goes amiss in one area, the effects are felt in many other areas. This dynamic is particularly true when it comes to middle-age, insulin and hormones. Even if you don’t have any obvious symptoms of insulin resistance, addressing your insulin levels is one of the best overall wellness and disease prevention measures you can take.
If you are wondering about your insulin levels, how your blood sugar is behaving, your hormones, insulin resistance and what it may be doing to your weight loss efforts, call us at 416-481-0222 or book an appointment online any time here.