What is Insulin Resistance?

It is estimated that a whopping 92% of Americans have some form of metabolic imbalance. It is normal to be metabolically unwell?!  Metabolic wellness includes blood pressure, blood lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides), and blood sugar.  Most doctors evaluate your blood pressure and lipids, but they do not always help in managing blood sugar.  You may be thinking that you don’t need to worry about blood sugar, but it can be out of balance even in those who are thin, who eat a “healthy” diet, and who avoid cookies, cakes, and pastries.  Our current system does not do a good job at preventing high blood sugar which can lead to diabetes, heart disease, and even Alzheimer’s.

For most of us, our blood sugar check is on our annual lab work, the Comprehensive Metabolic panel.  It’s only accurate if you fasted before it, and you weren’t stressed or in a hurry when they drew your blood.  This is obviously not the best way to check such an important number, but it can give us a starting point.  Hopefully your doctor tests your A1C among other things to evaluate your blood sugar.  We’ll discuss tests and labs next week.

You’ve probably heard a great deal about diabetes, type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, and even pre-diabetes or gestational diabetes, but not as many of us are familiar with insulin resistance. Insulin resistance DOUBLES the risk of heart attack or stroke, and most people don’t even know they have it.  AND…there’s a good chance that their doctor doesn’t know much about it either.

Insulin resistance means that the cells are not allowing insulin to carry sugar from the blood into the cells.  Without insulin resistance, insulin picks up the sugar from the blood, carries it to a receptor (a door) and passes sugar through the cell wall.  With insulin resistance, the door is stuck.

Our cells create energy from the foods we eat.  We eat, drink, and that food or drink is broken down into forms of sugar, amino acids, fatty acids, as well as other nutrients and chemicals. The cells need the glucose, part of the sugars, to create energy.  When we see food, think about food, and take that first bite, digestive fluids start flowing and the pancreas prepares to secrete insulin, so we can get the energy that we need. As the food is broken down glucose is absorbed into the blood stream and insulin flows from the pancreas and attaches to the glucose with the help of amino acids.  The insulin then carries the glucose through a cell receptor. The cell MUST get the glucose.  If the insulin cannot get in, it moves to the next cell leaving the rest of the glucose in the blood stream.  The pancreas detects that glucose is not getting into the cells, so it secretes more insulin thinking that the problem is a lack of insulin.  The cells are hungry for sugar, so they tell your brain, “Hey! I need some sugar!” So you start craving sugar and carbohydrates.  The cells aren’t able to create the energy needed, so they slow down causing you to slow down, too.  Your brain doesn’t get the sugar it needs, so you have trouble concentrating. Your body signals that something is wrong, so cortisol, the stress hormone, is released. This causes the blood sugar to go higher, digestion to slow down, and heart rate to go up.  If the insulin still cannot get into the cell, the cortisol signals for muscle to be broken down.  The body can get sugar from the muscles in a more efficient manner than it can from your fat. This leads to muscle weakness and puts the bones at risk.  Sugar in the blood stays high, because it cannot get into the cells, and it damages the arteries and the veins.

What are signs of insulin resistance?


Belly fat

Sugar cravings

Hungry after eating

Extreme thirst

Craving salt

Skin tags

Tired after eating

Hangry if miss a meal

Blood pressure higher than 130/80

Waist circumference >40 in men or >35 in women (or greater than ½ your height)

There is hope.  Insulin resistance can be reversed in MOST cases just by lifestyle changes.  It’s not just about the food!

Sleep.  The body requires 7-9 hours of good quality sleep. Lack of sleep and interrupted sleep influences hormones and throws off cortisol.  One night of poor quality sleep can cause elevated glucose the next day. The next time you don’t sleep well, pay attention to your cravings the next day.

Exercise. Your body was made to move.  BUT…don’t overdo it!  Over exercising can be just as harmful as not exercising at all in some cases, especially if you are already under stress.  Resistance training a few days a week and walking 30-45 minutes a day improves insulin resistance.  Many people have wonderful results with burst training.  Running, cycling, jumping for 30 seconds a few hours after a meal is great for restoring insulin receptors.  Two hours after each meal, do a burst exercise and go for a 10-15 minute walk.

Stress management.  We live in an overly stressed world.  When we are under stress for extended periods of time, cortisol is released which raises blood sugar.  Our body doesn’t know that your deadline or argument or workout aren’t dangerous, it’s got to prepare you to run or fight. Let your body know that you are safe, by taking mini breaks throughout the day, do a few breathing exercises, do some meditation sometime during the day, or just tell yourself, “I AM SAFE.”

Weightloss. 73% of Americans are overweight.  It is “normal” to be overweight, and people who are at their optimal weight look underweight in comparison. Being overweight raises the risk of all causes of death, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and the list goes on. It is very difficult to lose weight when insulin resistant.  Your body will not release fat until it believes it is safe to do so.

Fiber. Only 5% of Americans get the RDA for fiber.  That’s a measly 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men.  (I get double!). The RDA is what is recommended for maintaining health.  We need optimal health, so everyone should be eating more!  Fiber is only found in plants, so eat more plants, BUT don’t add them all at once.  If you try to go from 10 grams of fiber to 25 grams of fiber, it will not end well. Talk about gas, bloating, and cramping!  Slowly increase fiber to a minimum of 25 grams a day.

Phytonutrients.  Eat the Rainbow!  I usually do a Rainbow Challenge in Spring, so take this opportunity to fine tune your skills and add more color to your plate.  Insulin receptors need certain nutrients, and your cells need a mix of vitamins and minerals to create energy from the glucose.  Eating all of the colors not only increases your nutritional status, but it helps increase fiber, too.

Refined Carbohydrates.  This is probably the most difficult thing for most of my clients.  We are all used to bread with our meals, crackers with soup, pasta a few nights a week, pizza, sandwiches, boxed cereals, …. It’s hard to imagine a meal without these!  BUT… it is possible! I can show you how. Follow me on Facebook or YouTube.  You can actually see that I never eat refined carbs.  Glutenfree bread, crackers, pastas = Refined Carbs, so going glutenfree is NOT healthy unless you cut the refined carbs.  I eat a glutenfree diet, but one that is whole foods, not refined.

Added Sugars.  Get used to food without sugar.  Stop adding a little maple syrup here, a little honey there, …. A little adds up! Sweet tea, soda, other sweetened beverages do not help with cell receptor resistance.  

Omega 3s and DHA.  DHA is a type of omega 3 fatty acid that aids in improving insulin sensitivity by reducing inflammation, increasing glucose uptake by cells, and improving insulin producing cells in the pancreas.  Higher levels of DHA in the blood are associated with lower risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.  DHA is found in cold water fatty fish, chlorella, and spirulina.  BUT, your body can make DHA by converting the omega 3 fatty acids in walnuts, hemp seeds, chia seeds, and flax seeds.  Add these nuts and seeds to your meals.

Everything you eat is either increasing your health or slowly killing you.  Choose wisely!

  • Get some sleep.
  • Exercise daily.
  • Take breaks throughout the day and relax, truly relax. 
  • Improve your meals by adding brightly colored, high-quality fruits and vegetables, nuts, and seeds into your day.

Do you want help with your health? I’d love to work with you to help you balance your blood sugar.  Get on my schedule.  

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