insulin resistance and weight loss

Insulin Resistance and Weight Loss

As spring arrives and you look forward to shedding the sweaters of winter you may be considering a diet to help you shed some extra winter pounds.  If you’ve tried restrictive diets that “should” work but don’t then you are not alone.

In fact, 95% of calorie-restrictive diets fail, even for the most diligent and dedicated participants.

This is because calories and weight loss are more sophisticated than the addition/subtraction rules behind many diet programs.  Weight loss is also linked to stress, sleep, digestion, and inflammation.  It’s even influenced right down to the microscopic characteristics of your cells.  All of these systems are connected through the role of your body’s messengers – the hormones.

I like to think about hormones like the performers in a Cirque de Soleil show.  There are arial acrobats, vocalists, and dancers all moving in harmony from side to center stage on cue from the other performers.  One of the hormones that takes center stage in the performance of weight loss is insulin.  And insulin may be the very thing that is making it so difficult for you to lose weight.

Insulin, the Sugar Hormone

Many people know insulin as the hormone that responds to glucose in the blood.  But insulin is important for more than just that.  Insulin also helps to build muscle, helps electrolytes to help keep blood pressure in balance, and even helps to support brain functions for learning and memory.

In all, insulin plays its biggest role in metabolism.  During digestion, sugars and carbohydrates from the diet are converted into glucose – the body’s primary energy source.  Glucose then enters the blood stream where it’s picked up by insulin.  Insulin unlocks the gates on the cell for glucose to pass through.  When you eat foods that have more glucose than your body needs, the glucose gets converted to a triglyceride and stored in adipose (fat) cells in case you need energy later.

So, less glucose means less fat storage and less weight gain, right?  Well, maybe.

If you decrease your intake of sugars and simple carbohydrates you may see weight loss, or at least pause weight gain.  If your diet was very high in sugars, you will also lower inflammation, improve satiety and have better digestion.

But what if you decrease sugar and simple carbohydrate and weight still isn’t coming off?

It could be related to insulin, or more importantly, insulin in-sensitivity, also known as a resistance.

What is Insulin Resistance?

Insulin Resistance is too much insulin. When there is a lot of glucose and insulin, constantly, the cell will attempt to dampen the response to meet its needs by reducing the number of gates available for glucose to pass through.  This results in higher amounts of circulating glucose that needs to be stored in the fat cells.  Remember, this is in response to glucose and insulin, and not calories.  So, when insulin is rising, body fat will increase, even though the number of calories may stay the same or even drop.

To make glucose ready for storage, the body converts it to a triglyceride and puts it into a fat cell so you can use it later.  As fat cells grow with more stored triglycerides they can choose to separate, called hyperplasia, or they can choose to grow larger, called hypertrophy.  Hypertrophic (the large) fat cells are more difficult for weight loss because they actually develop their own insulin resistance and leak inflammatory fat molecules called ceramides.  As you may have guessed, hypertrophic fat cells are more problematic for weight loss.

Promote Insulin Sensitivity to Lose Weight

How your body responds to insulin is partly your age & genetics, but also things you can control, such as stress and intakes of simple carbohydrates and sugars.  If you’re not sure whether you have insulin resistance, ask your doctor to test your fasting insulin levels with a simple blood test.

When it comes to weight loss with insulin resistance it doesn’t work to simply reduce calories.  Instead, you’ll have a better chance at meeting your goals by making some manageable changes to your diet and lifestyle that support insulin sensitivity for your cells.

Here are Some Tips to Get Started:

Avoid snacking between meals – eating throughout the day keeps insulin constantly circulating around the cells.

Use fasting wisely and deliberately – start with at least getting 12 hours of fasting overnight between dinner and breakfast. There are many fasting programs, and their success depends on finding the right one for you. We can help if you’re not sure how to get started.

Boost fibers in your diet from fruits and vegetables, beans and whole grains – fiber will improve satiety and make you feel full longer so less likely to want to snack between meals.

Avoid concentrated fructose and sucrose – foods and drinks, such as some fruit juices, soda, candy, or ice cream that contain concentrated sources of fructose, like corn syrup or high fructose corn syrup, or sucrose have been shown to increase insulin resistance.

Balance stress – all kinds of stress promotes insulin to make you ready to fight or run away. Balancing stress with breathing, meditation or yoga will help with insulin sensitivity. Visit this blog for other tips to balance stress:

Move your body – even if you have to sit a lot during the day, try to move by standing, walking around your space or flexing muscles. Exercise regularly and with increasing intensity. Lean muscle will help clear glucose.

The exception to this is if you’ve recently significantly reduced carbohydrate. Keep aerobic exercise (running, swimming, hiking) a little more moderate or try bursts of exercise, like High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), to give your body time to adapt to the fuel source.

Address underlying sources of inflammation – this could be related to digestive dysfunction, allergies, or stress and you may need to work with a practitioner.

Additionally, certain nutritional supplements may support insulin sensitivity.  Check with your doctor or practitioner to find the right doses for supplements:

  • Chromium – a mineral found in broccoli, green beans, whole grains liver and turkey [1]
  • Berberine – made from the bitter roots and stems of plants. [2]
  • Magnesium – a mineral so important to nearly every function of the body it’s found in nearly all foods but in varying levels depending on the soils. Some of the highest magnesium foods are pumpkin seeds, almonds, spinach, dark chocolate, quinoa, and avocados. [3]
  • Resveratrol – a compound found in plant-based foods, including blueberries, cranberries, dark chocolate, grapes, peanuts and pistachios [4]

Like cholesterol, insulin is often perceived as the villain.  But it’s only when insulin falls out of harmony with your body that problems with health, metabolism and weight occur.  As you improve your health you may be pleasantly surprised by the change in your body shape.

I work with people who want to support insulin balance, weight loss and metabolism including understanding when fasting is correct for you.

Schedule a free 20-minute phone consult to learn how we can support your insulin and weight goals.


“Why We Get Sick” by Benjamin Bikman, PhD

“Blood Sugar Solution” by Mark Hyman, MD



Disclaimer: Nutrition therapy is not intended as a diagnosis, treatment, prescription, or cure for any disease, or as a substitute for medical care. Jen Marshall and Stacy St Germain are not licensed medical providers. Nutrition plans are not intended as a substitution for traditional medical care, nor should be interpreted as medical advice, but instead is an adjunctive and supportive therapy.