If you’ve followed my fat loss coaching for any length of time you’ve undoubtedly heard me discuss the impacts of low insulin sensitivity and insulin resistance.
I get quite a few questions regarding this subject and figured it would be a good time to expand on it. Most of the questions revolve around, “How do I know if I’m insulin resistant?” While there’s some pretty good indicators to see if you’re likely to have blood sugar and insulin imbalances, there’s also some inexpensive and simple tests you can have done.
Let’s start with the basics. Low insulin sensitivity and the more progressed insulin resistance is a sign of chronically elevated blood sugar levels. Insulin’s job as you may know is to move sugar from your blood into your cells where it can be used for energy or stored as glycogen or fatty acids. In short, insulin is the carrier that shuttles sugar from your blood to somewhere it can be used or stored.
If you’re frequently elevating blood sugar levels by consuming excess starches and simple sugars, your body is steadily pumping out insulin to try and deal with the problem. Over time the cell receptors start to shut down to the presence of insulin and a vicious cycle is created where the body becomes flooded with insulin and sugar in the bloodstream. This results in inflammation and weight gain, then eventually contributes to chronic diseases like type II diabetes and heart disease.
The standard American diet which is high in processed and refined foods along with sugars is creating a literal epidemic with insulin resistance. Today and estimated one in four American’s are either insulin resistant or diabetic. It goes hand in hand with the skyrocketing obesity rates.
As a certified Charleston personal trainer one of the first things I address with my weight loss clients is dealing with their insulin sensitivity problems. Of course exercise is certainly a piece of the puzzle with reversing insulin resistance, but diet is equally if not more important.
A diet that is mostly compromised of whole, natural foods like lean proteins, greens, vegetables, nuts, seeds, healthy fats, and moderate fruit consumption is an ideal starting point. This is why I’m such a big proponent of a Primal Blueprint type diet. The typical middle age adult I coach on weight loss simply doesn’t need the excess starches and sugar in their diet. It’s typically the crux of the problem with their weight gain and insulin sensitivity issues.
The body has to be conditioned to start using fatty acids for fuel (both from dietary fats and stored body fat) instead of constantly using sugar. This does not come without some significant changes to the nutrition you give your body. Yes, there will likely be sugar withdrawal symptoms that come with the transition but it’s imperative that sugars be restricted to fix the imbalances.
It’s important to remember there is no such thing as an “essential carbohydrate.” This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat carbs, it’s more a fact that your body can produce glucose on it’s own if it doesn’t get enough from incoming food.
Generally speaking you can meet carbohydrate needs by consuming greens, vegetables, and moderate amounts of fruit. Starches and complex carbohydrates certainly play a role and can be consumed when energy demands are high or during “re-feed” diet phases.
Obviously the need and benefit of consuming starches and complex carbs varies from individual to individual. When insulin resistance is an issue, these carbs are best limited or removed from the diet for a while to fix the imbalances.
I say this because I’ve seen countless individuals switch from “bad carbs” to “good carbs” and still struggle to lose weight and change their shape. Just because you switched from Pop-Tarts to Kashi cereal for breakfast doesn’t mean you should expect automatic weight loss or improvements in insulin sensitivity. The idea of consuming “healthy carbs” is something that trips a lot of people up. I discuss this at length in my “Lean Code Method Nutrition for Fat Loss Seminar.”
Alright, back to the original question I posed in this post…”How can you determine if you have insulin resistance?”
If you’re overweight, experience frequent sugar cravings, have low energy, and poor markers of health with elevated cholesterol, blood pressure, etc, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve got insulin resistance issues.
To really get a gauge on blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity there are a couple of inexpensive tests you could have conducted.
The first is a “fasting insulin level test.” This is a simple blood test your doctor can administer or you could have done at a local lab.
A normal fasting blood insulin level is below 5, but ideally you’ll want to see it below 3. Levels above 5 indicate insulin imbalances and sensitivity problems.
You could also use a “fasting glucose test” as an assessment. The thing is it’s possible to have low fasting glucose but still have elevated insulin levels, which is why I recommend both tests.
Generally speaking, a fasting glucose under 100mg/dl suggests you’re NOT insulin resistant, while higher levels indicate some degree of insulin resistance and/or impaired glucose tolerance.
In short, if your levels are high you’re on the way towards type II diabetes. Take it as a warning signal and start taking measures to regain your health.
As a fitness coach I certainly understand it can be difficult making lifestyle changes with diet and exercise all on your own. Knowing what to do is half the battle, but the other half is being accountable to someone other than yourself. Get help if you need it by finding an accountability partner or hiring a fitness coach to assist you. Creating new lifestyle habits and routines takes discipline, encouragement, and support.
You don’t have to go it alone. If I can be of assistance with helping you make these lifestyle changes I’m always here to help. This is what we do everyday at my Shaping Concepts Personal Training Studios.
I hope this helped give you a better understanding of insulin resistance and how to test for it. Without question, getting insulin levels stabilized is a critical component for any middle age adult who wants to lose unwanted body fat. There are numerous articles and resources on this site to learn more. I encourage to you check them out and don’t hesitate to let me know if you have any questions.
Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts. If you’re looking for a Charleston fitness center sign up for a FREE no-obligations consultation and experience the Shaping Concepts difference for yourself today.