This blog is for everyone who wants more energy and fewer extra pounds as they age, it’s not just for diabetics. Insulin resistance can happen to all of us and we can manage it with simple steps for better health and increased energy.

As many of you know I’ve been supporting people with Type 2 Diabetes for many years now and it’s very common for clients to come to me at the start with little or no knowledge of the mechanisms behind diabetes. Most of them have heard of insulin but they are not really sure what it does or why it’s a problem.

What is insulin?

Insulin is a hormone produced by the beta cells in the pancreas. 

What does insulin do?

The main function of insulin is to maintain normal blood glucose levels by opening the gates for glucose to enter the cells so that we can use glucose for energy. Secondary to that insulin is also the primary hormone in making sure we can use protein effectively. Insulin also plays a role in the metabolism of lipids or fats. It actually helps us to form fatty tissue. 

Why is it important to keep insulin under control?

It’s important to keep insulin under control because, if we continue to demand high levels of insulin by consistently eating sugar and starchy foods, then our pancreas gets damaged and begins to reduce the amount it produces.

Most people who are obese or overweight already have an issue with insulin.

They produce too much and then become less sensitive to it, which means that their cells can no longer respond to insulin in the way that they did before. This is what is known as insulin resistance. OR they have been producing too much for so long that their pancreas is no longer able to produce the amount it used to because the cells become damaged from overwork. Can I please point out that this is not restricted to those who carry extra weight, it can happen to anybody?

So to clarify:-

Insulin resistance or impaired insulin sensitivity happens when the receptors allow less insulin into the cell. They resist the flow of insulin into the cell and this means that glucose/sugar remains in the bloodstream and we are less able to utilise glucose for energy. (Imagine the receptors as a door, when there is insulin resistance that door only opens a tiny bit and it is more difficult for the insulin to get in.)

Over time insulin resistance/impaired insulin sensitivity leads to Type 2 Diabetes.

Why do we develop insulin resistance and impaired sensitivity to insulin?

This usually happens because we eat high-sugar foods and carbohydrates which cause our body to produce more insulin. It can also happen when we are exposed to high levels of stress. When we are stressed we produce the hormone cortisol which brings sugar out of storage and creates new sugar from our liver. This was designed for us to get away from danger, the trouble is we rarely use that sugar these days, so we end up needing insulin to metabolise it effectively. The extra insulin production also impacts our fat metabolism and can lead to high triglycerides and cholesterol levels This is the most likely cause of the receptor sites not allowing enough insulin into the cell.

The trouble is that when we don’t allow enough insulin into the cell the body perceives that we need more and makes the pancreas work even harder to produce it. Enough said.

How can I tell if this is happening to me?

Before you get to the point where your blood sugar is raised and you actually have diabetes here are some signs to look out for:-

  • Being constantly hungry
  • Putting on weight around your middle
  • Reduced energy
  • Tiredness after meals – particularly that afternoon slump
  • Sugar cravings
  • Constantly reaching for something to boost your energy or mood.

So what can you do to prevent or improve insulin resistance?

If you look back at what I’ve written you can probably work these out for yourself though I might come up with one or 2 you’re not expecting.

I am not going to tell you to lose weight – if you follow these ideas this will happen naturally – because if you try to diet you will only make it worse. By dieting, you indicate to the body that it is starving, so cutting down your calories can actually make you put down more fat, so please don’t try to diet.

I am not going to tell you to use intermittent fasting – not at the moment anyway. This is because you may have a heightened stress response (particularly in light of everything that is going on at the moment). When you have a heightened stress response you will be producing more cortisol and therefore requiring the body to bring sugar out of storage once again.

So what am I suggesting?

Eat regular meals of good quality food that always contain protein, healthy carbs and plenty of vegetables. I suggest dividing your plate into quarters, eat one-quarter protein, and one-quarter carbs and the rest are good quality vegetables with at least one portion of greens. This is not just for dinner, this is for lunch and breakfast too.

Just a note on fruit, take care. Tropical fruit is very high in sugar and demands a lot of insulin. Things like berries are the best followed by apples and pears.

If you’re a cereal lover then try my protein-rich granola recipe with some greek yoghurt and seem fresh or frozen berries.

If you’re desperate for something sweet, don’t eat it on it’s own, eat it immediately after your lunch. This means you have the vegetables and protein to slow down the release of sugar into the bloodstream and plenty of time to metabolise the sugars. Remember, that dessert is part of your plate as well, so have the carbs for pudding instead of for the main course!

On that note, for making desserts, replace half the flour with ground almonds in any dessert recipe and use half the sugar that it says in the recipe. Equally, you could make my chocolate mousse which has very little sugar and is really yummy.

Eat healthy fats

These help to make the cell walls more flexible and that makes it easier for insulin to get in. What do I mean? Use olive oil, coconut oil, butter from grass-fed cows, the same or organic milk. Eat good quality meat, grass-fed or organic if you can. If it’s too expensive then eat less of the poor-quality meat, please. Also, go for oily fish, tinned sardines and mackerel, cheap and delicious, Salmon, herrings, and anchovies, these are all good sources of healthy fats. Avoid spreadable butter and margarine as these really do contribute to the problem. Take an Omega 3 supplement – I’d be happy to advise you on a good one as the low-quality ones could make things worse.

Choose a different drink

Those fizzy drinks, whether they are diet or not, all contain either sugar or sweeteners. These demand insulin. If you must have one then have it with a meal when you’re out but not as a regular drink. replace it with something like fizzy water if you really aren’t keen to drink water. You can always add some lemon or lime to it for flavour.

Drink plenty of water

Water helps the body to keep things working well and clear out toxins and insulin resistance can be induced by dehydration. Have a glass when you wake up, another before each meal and one each time you reach for a cup of tea or coffee. You’ll be amazed how much better you feel. 

Get moving

Exercise suppresses the release of insulin and reduces our cortisol levels (remember that sugar from cortisol?). If you’re not a gym bunny don’t worry, start walking. Your first step is to get out the door in some comfy shoes, the next is to gradually increase the distance day by day. Do some resistance work, no I don’t necessarily mean gym weights. You could be doing a couple of squats or lunges while the kettle boils, if it’s hard then hold on to something, we all have to start somewhere. If you can get to the point where you can manage 5 minutes a day, that’s great. 

Learn about stress management

Once you have learnt – start doing it. Sitting quietly with a notebook and pen on your lap and writing down anything that comes into your head is a great way to start. Give yourself 5 minutes – put a timer on and sit down somewhere you won’t be disturbed.

Get plenty of sleep

Poor sleep is linked to higher blood glucose and impaired insulin sensitivity. Have a bedtime routine and look for some kind of quiet practice before bed that doesn’t involve you looking at a screen. It’s not easy but I’ve managed to find a way with most of my clients. To be honest, if you do all the other things here then your sleep will most likely improve anyway!

Where do I start?

It doesn’t have to be hard, just take it one step at a time.