Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Insulin
and my own experience with Insulin Resistance
I had a shocking discovery several years ago when I found out that I was insulin resistant. I was not your ‘typical’ insulin resistant looking person. By that I mean I was not overweight by more than 10-15 pounds, I was eating what I thought was a healthy diet, and I loved exercising and being outside. What I quickly learned is that there really isn’t a ‘typical’ insulin resistant looking type and that many of us healthy looking people are in fact dealing with serious blood sugar regulation issues and don’t even know it! My healthy diet was not much different than the Standard American Diet (SAD). It was high in whole grains, high in healthy carbohydrates in the form of starchy vegetables and gluten-free foods, and quite low in fat. It was this type of diet that drove my body into Insulin Resistance and pre-diabetes.
My story doesn’t stop there because for me it wasn’t just Insulin Resistance; I was actually quite close to having Type 2 Diabetes. With the stress I had put on my pancreas it was close to burning out, so instead of having high insulin levels (a sign of Insulin Resistance ), my insulin was barely detectible. That meant my pancreas was not producing insulin like it should = Type 2 Diabetes! Who knows how many years I went having high blood sugar and high insulin levels without knowing. My doctors never thought to check my levels, probably because I looked nothing like the ‘typical’ insulin resistant person even though I had many of the typical complaints of blood sugar dysregulation.
Today I want to hone in on Insulin Resistance more closely, discuss the early signs and causes in more detail, and talk about how I was able to turn my own case of pre-diabetes around. My hope is that if you think you might be in a similar boat as I was that you realize how reversible these conditions are and reach out for support
If you are suffering from afternoon slumps, brain fog, difficulty concentrating, difficulty remembering things, low energy, low libido, constant cravings, difficulty losing or gaining weight, and you are curious whether your body can keep your blood sugar in check, read on… I’ll share with you just how common Insulin Resistance is.
Insulin is one of the most important hormones in our body. It has many jobs besides just helping to regulate our blood sugar, but let’s focus on its role with sugar and carbohydrates for now. If you’ve read my previous article on balancing blood sugar you will remember that every form of carbohydrate you eat whether it is a slice of whole grain bread, a gluten-free muffin, a sweet potato, or a bunch of carrots, turns to glucose once broken down and absorbed into your bloodstream. It really is not just the processed, refined foods and sweet foods.
It is important to give some thought to how everything you eat may be affecting your insulin response and impacting not only your health but also your ability to perform well at work, during exercise and play, and at home with your family.
It is the job of insulin to get glucose out of the blood and into the cells where it can be used as energy. Insulin will deliver excess glucose to the fat tissue where it will be stored as fat.
Insulin is a storage hormone and a transport hormone. When you eat carbohydrates, no matter what the form, they are converted into glucose and absorbed into the bloodstream. The immediate response to eating a carbohydrate meal is a rise in blood sugar levels. Let’s say you eat 1 cup of brown rice, which contains 50 grams of carbs. Our blood cannot manage more than 5 grams of glucose at any given moment so all this glucose needs to be taken somewhere. This is where insulin comes in. Insulin is produced and released by the pancreas when glucose is in the blood. Insulin is what brings the glucose to the cells and out of the blood to be used for energy.
Let’s Look More Closely at The Normal Insulin Response to Food
• After you eat a meal with any carbohydrates, they are digested, broken down into glucose and other nutrients, then absorbed into the blood from the small intestine.
• As a result, insulin is released from the pancreas and the insulin transports the glucose to the cells where it can be used for energy production.
• As a result, your blood glucose decreases, leptin (*leptin is a hormone secreted by fat cells that triggers fat burning and signals to your brain that you are full) levels rise and your pancreas stops secreting insulin.
• The appropriate result is an increase in energy from the glucose being converted into ATP.
Sounds simple and relatively problem-free right?
Well maybe. Our bodies are equipped to handle only a small amount of sugar as part of a whole food diet. Some of us can handle more than others, depending on exercise levels, amount of lean body mass, ability to use fat for energy, and basal metabolic rates. Naturally, we all have the mechanisms to manage our own blood sugar, but it really needs to be kept in a steady range for things to continue working correctly. Ideal fasting glucose range, which I’ll get more into later, is between 70-90.
If there is too much glucose in the blood once in a while, the body can adapt. Insulin will transport excess glucose to our fat cells where it will be stored as fat and hopefully used later for energy.
Important to note: Even when Insulin Resistance is not present, excess glucose is turned into fat and brought to your fat cells by insulin to be stored as fat.
High insulin output, due to higher than normal blood sugar (remember 70-90 and under 110 after a meal is what we want to see), causes insulin levels to remain high. This is because blood sugar levels continuously need to be lowered to prevent things like arterial damage, high blood pressure, and inflammation. With a constant call for insulin (from excessive carbohydrate consumption) our cells eventually stop responding to insulin and the result is Insulin Resistance.
When there is too much sugar in the blood, insulin keeps getting secreted from the pancreas. With Insulin Resistance, the cells stop allowing glucose into the cells and energy from glucose cannot be made. Eventually, the pancreas gets exhausted, insulin production goes down, and this is the route to Type 2 Diabetes.
Why did I get Insulin Resistance? I was eating every 2-3 hours, always with lots of carbohydrates in my meals and snacks. This was keeping my blood sugar constantly elevated, which resulted in high insulin output from my pancreas. Not to mention I was not managing my stress. I was dealing with emotional eating and cravings up the wazoo, and I was exercising too much (coined now as chronic cardio). We’ve all been told to eat every 2-3 hours to keep blood sugar stable, avoid hypoglycemia, and keep energy stable. This is far from the truth. Eating frequent small meals and snacks only reinforces the problem and unfortunately will never allow your blood sugar to normalize.
I tried hard at the start to reverse my Insulin Resistance and pancreatic sluggishness. My initial goal was to eat only three times a day, 4-5 hours apart, and not rely on snacks. Easier said than done. I had a tough time with cravings but by learning how to manage my stress, dealing with my emotions around food, and getting my body fat/Keto-adapted I was able to successfully stop my snacking addiction!
For me, it was teaching my body how to run on fat and ketones for fuel that reversed my insulin issues and really healed me. When I was able to lower the need for insulin, by decreasing carbohydrates, I felt so much better. At the same time, I began to get over my long-time fear of fat, learned which fats to use, and increased my consumption of these healthy fats so that I was soon using fat for my primary energy source.
Let’s look at some of the underlying causes of Insulin Resistance
• What you eat may be most important. Excessive carbohydrate intake, inadequate nutrition, and eating inappropriate food. Too much sugar, too many processed foods, and too many healthy carbohydrates can cause high blood sugar. Hydrogenated fats and oxidized or heated vegetable oils will damage insulin receptors on cells and cause inflammation.
• We are not going to talk too much about genes but they do play a role. Some people have the genetics that predispose them to Insulin Resistance or high blood sugar and other people don’t. This does not mean these people will end up with Insulin Resistance or type 2 diabetes, but it does mean that they may need to be even more careful with the amount and types of carbohydrates they eat.
• Stress is a big cause of Insulin Resistance and imbalanced blood sugar. When you are highly stressed or even moderately stressed you create a lot of excess adrenaline and cortisol, and these hormones contribute to Insulin Resistance because they release stores of glucose (glycogen). This raises your blood sugar and breaks down muscle tissue as well.
• Lack of exercise. Some people really don’t like to exercise. But what’s true is that trained muscle becomes more sensitive to insulin than untrained muscle. When you exercise, you train your muscles to use the glucose from the blood and you can reverse your Insulin Resistance. It is so important to have regular exercise.
• Sleep. Even one bad night of poor sleep can cause a temporary Insulin Resistance because of the disturbance in cortisol and melatonin. Imagine what multiple nights a week of bad sleep or not enough sleep can do to your ability to manage blood sugar. Not only does lack of sleep lead to excess hunger and cravings but also it raises cortisol and inflammation, which raises insulin even in a healthy person.
• Insufficient digestion of protein, which is often overlooked, as well as insufficient or excessive protein intake. Protein intake needs to be moderated depending on lean body mass and level of activity. Excess protein will be turned into glucose in the liver in a process called gluconeogenesis. On the other hand, someone may be eating plenty of protein, but they are not absorbing it properly. You can read more about digestion here and I will get into how protein is broken down and absorbed more in-depth in an upcoming article.
I’ll go into each of these more specifically in upcoming articles so stay tuned.
Some Common Symptoms You May Be Experiencing That are Tell-Tale Signs of Insulin Resistance
- Excess belly fat even in somebody who is thin, you will see this often. With continuous glucose in the blood due to continuous carbohydrate consumption the fat cells never get the chance to release their energy. As a result, more glucose is stored in the fat cells, it becomes impossible to lose weight and ridiculously easy to gain weight. Even healthy, thinner people like me can have muffin tops.
- Low energy especially after meals. This happens because the sugar is not getting into your cells to create energy. It’s like all the food you are eating is feeding your fat cells. You may be hungry even after a full meal for the same reason.
- Cravings and constant hunger You eat and it’s just not able to get into your cells to create energy, you keep feeding your fat cells and leptin does not get released so your brain doesn’t get the signal that you are full.
- The mid-afternoon energy slump Sometimes referred to as reactive hypoglycemia. This is also related to Insulin Resistance when the blood sugar starts to drop from an insulin surge. Sometimes people have a hyper-insulin secretion from the pancreas and this drops their blood sugar too low. Since they are resistant nothing is getting into the cells, the sugar is high but it’s all sitting in the blood, causing inflammation, damage to the blood vessels, and then it gets stored as fat.
- Concentration, difficulty focusing, and difficulty remembering things We do know that your brain does not need much insulin to work and that it actually performs better when fueled with ketones. Also, as you age your brain becomes less responsive to using glucose and can become insulin resistant. It’s really difficult to focus when your brain doesn’t have the adequate amount of energy.
- Crankiness, irritability, anxiety if you miss a meal Some people feel that hypoglycemia is normal and that it is normal to need snacks, coffee breaks, and sugar to get through the day. Not true. It is not normal. You should not experience mood changes between meals if you are managing blood sugar correctly. This is an important point to take home.
If you have some or several of these symptoms it may be time to look more closely at your lifestyle and what you are eating each day. I know from first-hand experience that Insulin Resistance, pre-diabetes, and even Type 2 Diabetes are reversible. By committing to make changes, I was able to feel my cravings disappear, watch my blood sugar stabilize, dramatically increase my energy and performance, and feel my brain become more and more clear, sharp, and focused. The most influential lifestyle change for me was decreasing carbohydrate consumption and becoming fat/Keto-adapted. I now follow a plant-based Ketogenic diet to keep myself running on fat instead of glucose for fuel I’ve developed a program for my clients, based on this successful approach so they can reap the benefits of being fat/Keto-adapted.
My advice is to start now and find the strength to commit to yourself. High insulin levels and Insulin Resistance spark a whole host of new problems besides weight gain, brain fog, fatigue, and cravings.
- Stress increases and it becomes more difficult to manage your stress because the hormone cortisol increases in response to high insulin
- Blood pressure increases because the excess glucose causes a thickening of the blood making the heart have to work harder to pump your blood
- Cardiac risk increases and blood vessels get damaged easier
- Inflammation increases
- Immune function decreases
- Detoxification slows down
Some of the symptoms I experienced from being insulin resistant and having high blood sugar were moodiness, problems with sleep, increased cravings, difficulty concentrating, brain fog, high inflammatory markers, plaque forming on my blood vessels walls, hypothyroidism, fatigue, and constant hunger.
To learn more about how I can help you with balancing your blood sugar contact me for a free discovery session. We will look at the specific actions you can take to gain more energy, increase focus and clarity, and start burning fat for fuel.
Read this article to learn about Ketosis and see what you can do today to start balancing your blood sugar.