Reversing Insulin Resistance
Insulin resistance is a hot topic in the health and functional medicine world. Our fast passed, high stress and inactive lifestyles put many people at risk for this undesirable condition. Luckily, insulin resistance is not only preventable, but may be reversible by making healthy diet and lifestyle changes now!
What is insulin resistance?
Insulin is a hormone released by your endocrine system that helps shuttle sugar consumed in the diet into your cells to be used as fuel. Insulin is also the main fat storage hormone in the body. It tells fat cells to store all calories as fat and elevated insulin levels also prevent fat from being used as fuel.
Insulin resistance really means insulin excess and it is just one step on the path to developing long-term issues with your metabolism. So when your insulin levels are high, your body goes into fat storage mode… making weight loss nearly impossible.
How did you get here? Standard American Diet, Genetics, and Lifestyle
Many things can contribute to having issues with glucose metabolism and insulin resistance. When someone with the right genetic make up and lifestyle also eats the standard American diet (heavy on processed foods, low in fiber and quality protein, high in bad fats and simple carbohydrates), their body will start to produce more and more insulin in order to try to manage all the sugar that is being consumed with every meal.
Our lifestyle can also contribute to developing insulin resistance. The amount of stress in our lives as well as the coping skills we use for managing our stress (stress eating, and consuming an excess of caffeine and alcohol) can also make insulin resistance worse. Likewise, the amount of exercise (too much or too little) and types of exercise can similarly impact the insulin resistance and glucose metabolism.
How do I know if this is a problem for me?
Signs that you may have impaired glucose metabolism may include fatigue, feeling hungry all the time, having issues with sleep (poor sleep quality or feeling tired all the time), difficulty losing weight or yo-yo diet weight loss, and the presence of stubborn belly fat no matter how well you eat and exercise.
A functional medicine doctor can order routine lab work that may show evidence of this process years before you would actually get the diagnosis of diabetes from a traditional doctor.
Some of these labs include measuring leptin hormone, insulin levels, hemoglobin A1c and blood glucose levels in your blood. Elevations in any of these markers can indicate that you have impaired glucose metabolism and could be on your way to developing a metabolic syndrome like diabetes.
How do I fix this?
None of this happened overnight, and it won’t change overnight either. No one wants to hear this, but coming back from insulin resistance and impaired glucose metabolism takes time. Insulin resistance develops over years and years and is actually your body’s intelligent way of adapting to eating too much sugar from a carbohydrate heavy diet for a lifetime. In fact, by the time your blood work shows insulin resistance, this processes has been happening for at least 10-20 years!
If you want to work on reversing insulin resistance, it requires a dedication to eating a whole foods diet and modifying your lifestyle and exercise behaviors—for life.
- Exercise. In order to change your metabolism, you have to exercise. The best exercise for changing metabolism is brisk walking 30+ minutes at least 5 out of 7 days.
- Stress control. Cortisol is our stress hormone, and elevated cortisol levels also contribute to greater fat storage, especially abdominal fat. You can read about cortisol here. Read about how mindfulness, meditation, tapping and breath work can all help to rewire our stress response here.
- Low carb and high fat diet. A whole foods diet that eliminates processed foods and simple carbs and sugar and includes healthy fats is recommended for reversing insulin resistance. Check out the Mito-Food plan from IFM.
- Ketosis. Ketosis simply means that your body has adapted to burning fat for fuel rather than glucose. The Mito-Keto food plan can help you figure out what to eat to start exploring ketosis.
- Fasting. Intermittent or prolonged fasting. Fasting is an advanced way to profoundly change your metabolism. Fasting can be explored under medical supervision, as long as you have made all the above changes to your diet and lifestyle.
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Dr. Amy Reidhead
Dr. Reidhead is a double board certified Chiropractic Physician and Family Nurse Practitioner. She is also a Fellow of the International Academy of Medical Acupuncture and holds a Bachelor of Science in both Nursing and Human Biology. She has spent the past 25 years honing her skills as a functional and integrative medical provider in Boulder, Colorado.