Insulin resistance could be causing your weight gain


For many years, scientists and nutritionists have preached that weight loss comes down to a simple equation: kilojoules in versus kilojoules out. While this principle is true to an extent, there are a number of increasingly common hormonal shifts that can alter this relationship.

Insulin resistance, the clinical condition that precedes type 2 diabetes, is one such diagnosis. Individuals with insulin resistance will struggle to lose weight via traditional weight loss prescriptions simply because their body is not burning fuel the way it should be.

Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas and used to digest carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are found in plant-based foods including bread, rice, breakfast cereal, pasta, fruits and sugars. When carbohydrate-rich foods are consumed, insulin is secreted by the pancreas to take glucose from the food to the muscles for energy. For a number of reasons, over time insulin may fail to work as well as it should. Weight gain, where fat clogs the cells, is one reason, as is a lack of physical activity. Genes can also predispose a person to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.

The highly processed nature of our daily carbohydrate food choices, including breads, breakfast cereal and snack foods, which require much higher amounts of insulin than less processed, low-GI carbohydrates, is also thought to be a significant contributing factor to the increased incidence of insulin resistance. Resistance to insulin builds up over time, with the body gradually producing more and more insulin in an attempt to get it to work better at taking glucose to the body’s cells for energy.

As insulin is also a fat-storing hormone, the more of it that circulates in the body, the harder it becomes to burn body fat. High levels of insulin can also make you feel tired, bloated and crave sugar. Individuals with insulin resistance also tend to have distinct abdominal fat deposits, and carry much of their weight around their belly. However, once diagnosed, managing insulin resistance can prevent the development of type 2 diabetes. While some cases warrant medication, the diet and exercise prescription does not change.

Individuals with insulin resistance need a reduced-carbohydrate, increased-protein diet developed by a specialist dietitian, as well as a training program that integrates high-intensity cardio sessions with a light resistance training program. Individuals with insulin resistance need to become fussy with their choice of carbohydrates. High-GI, refined sources of carbohydrates, including juice, white bread and refined cereals, need to be completely eliminated from the diet.

Signs that you may have a degree of insulin resistance that may be worth investigating with your doctor include an inability to lose weight, distinct abdominal fat, feeling unusually fatigued, bloating and craving sugar. The benefits of identifying insulin resistance early, and committing to a six- to 12-month diet and exercise intervention, will ultimately help you avoid contracting diabetes.

Susie Burrell is a Sydney-based accredited practicing dietitian.

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