Setting our body free from cravings, mood swings, and energy lumps: Understanding Insulin resistance
Everyone knows that eating right and exercising regularly are the basic foundational elements of leading a healthy lifestyle. However, sometimes, there are conditions that can wreak havoc on our physical and mental health without us even realizing it. INSULIN RESISTANCE is one such condition.
Since it isn’t widely discussed outside of diabetes care, people often don’t know what insulin resistance is, how it affects our body, how to recognize it and take actionable steps to eliminate it from our lives completely.
Getting rid of high levels of insulin in our body means saying goodbye to cravings, mood swings, and energy slumps that we simply have not been able to explain. It can also help protect us from the risk of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and other complications down the line.
What is insulin resistance?
First, let’s talk about insulin. Insulin is the body’s main hormone fuel switch, which determines what fuel we will use. If insulin is high, no fat will be burned, only sugar. If insulin is low, fat will be used exclusively as fuel.
Insulin is a hormone (body messenger) made by the pancreas, located under our left rib cage. Look at insulin as a key that allows sugar (glucose) in our cells. This hormone helps control the amount of sugar, or glucose, in the blood.
Insulin Resistance Is a Protective Mechanism
Over time, a sustained elevated blood sugar and insulin level causes our cells to block or resist insulin. Our body considers sugar toxic and will protect us by stopping it from entering our cells. This is called insulin resistance. Now we have a problem of our cells becoming deprived of glucose fuel. They stay hungry and crave carbs and, so do us. Since the cells need fuel but cannot get it, the pancreas has to compensate by making more insulin. This way, the cells can get a little more fuel.
Insulin resistance makes our pancreas work too hard. In fact, insulin resistance forces the pancreas to make 5–7 times more insulin that it should normally. We have a situation where the body has way too much insulin in the blood—yet it’s not working in the cells. The cells are resisting it. But the body keeps making more and more insulin.
With all this extra insulin in our blood, one could experience low blood sugars. This is called hypo (low) glycemia (glucose in the blood). Hypoglycemia is caused by too much insulin in the blood and is a pre-diabetic symptom. Symptoms include cravings for carbs and sweets, irritability, moodiness, depression, vision problems, hunger, dizziness and the list goes on and on. Our brain is the first organ to feel the effects of low blood sugars.
The problem is that overtime, the pancreas eventually STOPS COMPENSATING and becomes exhausted and makes less and less insulin allowing the sugar in our blood to go higher and higher. So the first stage of insulin resistance is normal or low blood sugars due to excessive compensating insulin BUT then higher and higher blood sugars due to a lost ability of compensating insulin–this is called diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is higher levels of blood sugars due to insulin resistance. People are given medication to improve the cell’s resistance to insulin. As things worsen over time, diabetics type 2 are then put on insulin. Why? Because the pancreas is exhausted.
All this happens gradually and does not show up on blood tests until months or years later. In the meantime, what is clear is that Insulin resistance can eventually lead to type 2 diabetes or serious cardiovascular diseases. But before it gets to that point, it can cause a host of other issues, like mood instability, brain fog, intense cravings, and energy crashes.
Table1: Some of the problems caused by chronic high levels of INSULIN:
- Type II diabetes
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Dementia and Alzheimer’s
- Fatty liver
- And obesity
Graphic 1: High insulin is the underlying cause of the biggest health problems we experience today.
Action plan to manage and eliminate insulin resistance
The great news is that insulin resistance can be prevented, managed, and even reversed. It takes dedication and effort, but if we are showing signs of insulin resistance, we are empowered to make some crucial changes that can ensure we remain healthy for years to come.
We can start by incorporating some of the lifestyle changes below to improve or help prevent the condition.
Nutrition: when it comes to insulin resistance, diet is the most important lifestyle change we need to consider. First, take steps to decrease the amount of added sugar in our diet. High-carbohydrate diets are a risk factor for insulin resistance. Start by eliminating sugary foods, alcohol, sodas and sweetened drinks. The more of these we cut out of our diet, the better we’ll feel.
Avoid processed foods in general, opt for whole foods like vegetables, fruits, legumes. If something comes from a box, bag, or can, it’s probably processed. Look for foods with the fewest number of ingredients as possible.
Increase the consumption of good fats and proteins, like fish, poultry, olive and vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds. We need healthy fats and proteins to support our brain and body, especially as we work to decrease our carbohydrate intake.
A continuous glucose monitor (CGM) is a device used for monitoring blood glucose on a continual basis. This is a real time data reader useful for those who want to have accurate insulin measurements, can provide real time data for each meal allowing us to see how the body responds to what we eat.
Learning what spikes our glucose can be vital for those who want to make small, sustainable changes to manage insulin spikes and avoid insulin resistance.
Practicing Healthy Ketosis and Intermittent Fasting have proven to be very effective tools to reverse insulin resistance (more details on next note).
Consider working with a nutritionist or dietician who specializes in diet support for insulin resistant people.
Exercise: Since obesity is a primary risk factor in insulin resistance, it’s a good idea to work on changing our body composition (reducing body fat percentage, for example) especially if we are considered to be at an at-risk weight. Exercise causes muscles to be more insulin sensitive, which helps decrease insulin resistance. So keeping a regular exercise routine isn’t just about losing weight; it’s going to significantly impact our insulin-related health long-term.
Quality resting hours: Sleep: Since poor sleep patterns are another risk factor for developing insulin resistance, take some action steps to improve your sleep habits. Aim to get at least 8 hours of sleep each night. Studies show(1) that just one night of partial sleep deprivation can increase insulin resistance in healthy individuals. So if we’re already insulin resistant, diabetic or prediabetic, or showing markers for these conditions, it’s all the more important that we get enough sleep.
Set up the environment for better sleep. Whether it’s buying blackout curtains to keep out the light, using a white noise machine, or dabbing lavender essential oils on our feet or pillowcase, find what works best for sleep.
Practice a “Power Down Hour” in the hour before bedtime. Lower the lights and avoid screens (or use blue light glasses) to support our body’s natural circadian rhythms. Take an epsom salt bath, drink a cup of caffeine-free tea, or curl up on the couch with a book. All of these activities can help signal to the body that it’s time for sleep and help our central nervous system shift into parasympathetic mode.
FAR-Infrared Sauna: Regular sessions in a FAR-infrared sauna can raise our basal metabolic rate, meaning that we’ll burn calories at an elevated rate for hours after the session has finished. We’ll also be aiding in the sweating process, which helps detox the body of harmful toxic residues. We can also burn hundreds of calories during a session, improve the heart health, find relief from pain, and decrease signs of aging in the skin.
Grounding practices: Carve out a few minutes each day for some breathwork and meditation. Use an app to listen to guided meditation. We can do this in the beginning or end of our yoga or mindful practice, right when we wake up, or before bed. Even taking a few minutes at our lunchtime to sit quietly or do some deep breathing outside will help lower our stress levels and manage blood sugar spikes.
Gratitude Practice: Gratitude decreases stress by releasing neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. It can decrease physical inflammation in a matter of minutes and help reduce cravings. Start by making a new list each day of five things we’re grateful for. Intentionally compliment someone. If we’re feeling overwhelmed and full of worry, look around the physical environment and find several things to be grateful for. This can help “turn off” the stress response. When we are not able to do a longer gratitude practice, experts say that simply smiling or laughing out loud can instantly release feel-good chemicals in your brain, “tricking” it into relaxation and calm.
Above all, remember that insulin resistance is related to lifestyle. It can be reversed with patience, commitment and discipline over time. Rely on friends, family, or other support systems to help keep you accountable. Check in with them regularly to talk through how you’re feeling and report on the steps you’re taking to improve your health. Don’t try to go it alone! Enroll help along the way, it will make the journey easier and more enjoyable.
Every improvement we make to our lifestyle will make a difference, we have to be patient with ourselves. Keep going and trust the process!
Now that you’ve got a game plan to address these different areas, reduce stress, and give our metabolism a boost, which tips will you try first?. Comment below and share what tips you would start implementing and share what’s working for you!
In the next article we will dive deeper on the two favorite strategies I recommend to lose weight and undo insulin resistance: Healthy Ketosis and Intermittent Fasting 🙂
Brought to you by: @Patricia