Without insulin your body will not accumulate fat. It is the only bodily agent with the ability to lock fat up in your adipose tissue. No insulin spikes = no extra fat storage. Alas, you can’t rid your body of insulin, you need it to live.
Note: Calories do play a role in weight gain however their part in fat storage is lot more complex than previously belived. If someone on a super low-carb diet (less than 30 grams per day) eats a ton of calories willy-nilly their body will find a way to conserve and store fat.
So what is insulin? Explaining the complexity of insulin may put most of you to sleep (Wikipedia does a good job if you want more in depth information). I will give you my son’s 2nd grade level description: insulin is a “storage” hormone in the body that typically goes up when you eat and stays low when you fast. Its main role is to direct glucose (a form of sugar) into your cells for storage. No problem, right? Well, here is the bad part: the stored glucose is converted into fat. Ugh! The good news is if you block an insulin spike the fat cells stay empty. In order not to complicate things, I’ve made an executive decision to omit all the positive roles insulin plays in the body. Just know you cannot live without this hormone but too much, like most things, is no good! Here are the ways insulin goes up:
- In response to a meal, specifically one high in simple carbohydrates like bread, pasta, rice, sweets, pastries etc. Just like a thought crime, insulin can go up simply by imagining food.
- In situations of stress, the hormone cortisol will be released and in turn will raise your insulin and drive even more glucose into your fat cells.
- If you have a fatty liver from eating too much fructose (type of sugar) or ingesting too much alcohol more insulin will be produced.
- A few medications including oral contraceptives, corticosteroids and levodopa used to treat Parkinson’s disease causes elevated insulin levels in some cases.
Insulin’s main role is to take sugar out of your blood stream. The more you limit sugar (and yes that also means simple carbohydrates) the better your insulin response will be and the less fat you will store. This doesn’t give you carte blanche on portions. If you severely limited your insulin spiking foods yet continued to eat a ton of calories you would still get fat. Biochemistry is an extremely complex system that is not fully understood….but we must know that all calories are not created equally. Take for example your genetic clone and force upon her/him a diet of ice cream, cookies and soda of equal calories to your healthy low sugar diet. Move and exercise the same amount. After several weeks of this, do you think your bodies will look the same? How bout’ your blood profiles, energy levels and mood? Twins, no more!
Almost 40% of the US population is insulin resistant. This means the body can no longer use insulin effectively to get rid of sugar in the bloodstream so it produces more and more of the hormone. A host of problems can begin to manifest:
- Brain fogginess
- Sleepiness after meals
- Stomach/Intestinal bloating
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased hunger
- Weight gain
- High blood sugar
As you can see, controlling the hormone insulin is paramount for all individuals who want to lose weight and feel better. Less insulin means less fat storage, improved energy and smaller appetite. There are many ways to get insulin down and improve one’s insulin sensitivity:
- Limit the amount of sugar and refined carbohydrates you eat – stop drinking sodas, juices, sports drinks etc; take all desserts and candies out of the house (if you are like me, these things call out to me from the pantry); get out of the habit of eating bread, pasta, rice and other starchy carbohydrates.
- Eat more fiber – aim to get 25 to 50 grams per day. Fiber slows down the insulin response of food. So if you are going to have some carbs make sure to eat them with lots of fiber (berries, beans, nuts, legumes, seeds, vegetables).
- Exercise! A single bout of exercise can increase insulin sensitivity for at least 16 hourspost exercise. Participate in a weight training regimen at least 2x per week and at least 20 minutes of cardio 3x per week.
- Get 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
- Practice de-stressing techniques like daily mediation (all you need is a minimum of 5 min).
- Practice a form of intermittent fasting and/or don’t snack in between meals.