When it comes to weight loss, calorie intake does matter, but it’s not quite that black and white. Nutritional balance beyond calories, family and health history, hormones, stress, and sleep can all impact how easily someone can lose weight.
Read on to learn more about how high blood sugar, insulin resistance, and weight are interconnected.
What is Insulin Resistance?
Insulin is a hormone that your pancreas produces. It acts as the ‘key’ to allow blood sugar (glucose) to move into cells in your muscles, fat, and liver, where your body can use it for energy. When blood sugar levels rise, the pancreas secretes more insulin to bring blood sugar back to a normal range.
Insulin resistance is what happens when the cells in our body no longer respond to insulin properly. It's a complex physiological change that takes time to develop.
Consistently elevated glucose levels are a risk factor for developing insulin resistance. When glucose levels are chronically high, your body must keep pumping out more and more insulin to tell your cells to respond and allow blood sugar to enter them. Over time, those cells become more resistant to the effects of insulin.
There’s no single test to measure insulin resistance, but a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) can be a good starting point for understanding the factors that influence your glucose levels. Check out this article on insulin sensitivity to learn more.
What Causes Insulin Resistance?
There are a variety of risk factors that can increase someone’s odds of developing insulin resistance, including:
- Being overweight or obese, specifically having high amounts of abdominal fat (also called visceral fat)
- Being 45 or older
- Having a close relative with diabetes
- Certain ethnicities
- Physical inactivity
- A history of specific conditions like gestational diabetes, heart disease, stroke, or PCOS
- Certain medications, including glucocorticoids, some antipsychotics, and some medications for HIV
- Sleep problems, like sleep apnea
- Specific hormonal disorders
- A diet high in processed and high carb/high sugar foods (find out if you’ve been overeating sugar here!)
Insulin Resistance and Diabetes
Over time, insulin resistance can develop into prediabetes and (without interventions to help improve this condition), eventually, may lead to type 2 diabetes. There is a strong link between insulin resistance and diabetes development, and most people with type 2 diabetes will also have some level of insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance often goes undetected for a significant period as the pancreas works to increase insulin production to keep blood sugar in range. During this time, you may not have any symptoms. However, as this goes on, you could experience signs such as increased thirst, frequent urination, or increased hunger.
Since insulin resistance can remain hidden for so long, it’s difficult to determine how common this condition is. One way to measure this is to look at prediabetes cases. In the United States alone, there are estimates of over 84 million adults living with prediabetes.
How Weight Loss May Help Reverse Insulin Resistance
While many circumstances increase your risk of developing insulin resistance that you can’t change (ethnicity, age, certain genetic/chronic conditions), there are a few lifestyle factors you can modify to improve this condition.
Losing weight may be one of the most helpful things to improve insulin sensitivity. Recent research suggests that losing five to seven percent of body weight can reduce a person's risk of developing diabetes by up to 58 percent over three years. For someone around 200 pounds, that’s only 10 to 14 pounds to gain that significant benefit.
3 Lifestyle Changes to Make
Making lifestyle changes that include a healthy diet and appropriate physical activity can offer additional benefits and help promote that desired weight loss.
1) Dietary Changes
How many and what type of carbs to eat is a hot topic when it comes to improving blood sugar and encouraging weight loss. There are a lot of differing viewpoints on this, and finding out your own unique carb threshold can take some time.
The recommended carb allowance is 130 grams per day to provide adequate energy to your brain. However, you can achieve this amount through metabolic processes like gluconeogenesis or ketogenesis, so there’s no required carb amount determined for human health at this time.
Most people with some insulin resistance will benefit from minimizing added sugars and refined carbs (especially sugar-sweetened beverages). At the same time, some may need to take it a step further and reduce overall carbs to improve insulin resistance.
Research suggests that replacing some carbs with healthy fats can improve blood sugar levels for those with type 2 diabetes. So, aiming for a lower carb, higher fat diet could be an option for some.
In general, current research suggests that people with blood sugar control issues may benefit from adequate fiber intake. However, one thing to consider is that much of the research on this topic was on people who already developed type 2 diabetes, so it’s difficult to say how this applies to the general population.
There are still many health benefits that come along with adequate fiber intake, especially regarding weight loss. So aiming for 21 to 25 grams of fiber (daily) for women and 30 to 38 grams (daily) for men is a good idea for most people. Emphasizing non-starchy veggies like tomatoes, greens, cruciferous veggies, and peppers is a great way to get in more fiber.
Getting enough protein is also essential. You may already know protein helps stabilize blood sugar by slowing down how quickly carbs can enter our bloodstream. Protein also helps to build muscle. In addition, some research suggests that higher-protein diets have links to more significant weight loss and a lower A1C compared to lower-protein diets.
Physical inactivity and a primarily sedentary lifestyle are some of the most significant factors contributing to insulin resistance. Being physically active not only increases your sensitivity to the effects of insulin but also helps to build muscle. This muscle acts as a storage area for extra blood sugar.
So more muscle means you can move extra blood sugar out of your bloodstream more quickly without needing those larger doses of insulin to assist with that. Along with that, physical activity and increased muscle mass can also help to manage weight and promote a healthy metabolic rate.
When coming up with a plan for physical activity, think of where you’re at now and where you’d like to be in a month or year. What small changes can you take to help you on this journey? All types of movement are helpful.
If you enjoy going to the gym, that’s great. If you don’t like going to the gym, that’s fine, too! Doing things like gardening, at-home workout videos, or even just walking are all options to get you moving. A general guideline is at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise.
Check out some of our favorite home workouts here if you need help getting started!
3) Monitoring Glucose Levels
Tools such as the glycemic index can help you understand how you will likely respond to a specific food. But different people can have an extensive range of responses to the same foods. So it’s essential to know how you uniquely respond to particular foods.
A continuous glucose monitor (CGM) can help you pinpoint your unique triggers that lead to elevated blood sugar levels. Since high blood sugar levels may increase the risk of insulin resistance over time, monitoring these values and understanding patterns can be essential. It will help you find a personalized nutrition plan that supports glucose balance.
There’s also no agreed-upon distribution of macronutrients that works for everyone. That's another reason using something like a CGM can be a good way to learn more about what lifestyle and dietary factors work best for different individuals.
Engage with Your Blood Glucose Levels with Nutrisense
Your blood sugar levels can significantly impact how your body feels and functions. That’s why stable blood glucose levels can be an important factor in supporting overall wellbeing.
With Nutrisense, you’ll be able to track your blood glucose levels over time using a CGM, so you can make lifestyle choices that support healthy living.
Ready to take the first step? Start with our quiz to see how Nutrisense can support your health.
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Heather has worked in healthcare and nutrition for over 15 years, with bachelor's degrees in Microbiology and Philosophy and a master's degree in Nutrition Science. Her professional background includes nutrition and diabetes research, nutrition education, medical writing, and extensive clinical work in a functional neuroendocrine specialty practice.