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Best Way to Lose Weight with Insulin Resistance

Written by
Jordyn Wallerius
Team Nutrisense
Reviewed by
Carlee Hayes
RDN, CD
two people after running in the park

When it comes to weight loss, how often have we heard the phrase “calories in, calories out” to describe the best way to lose weight? While calorie intake does matter, remember that your body is physiologically complex, so it’s not quite that black and white. Genetics, unique metabolism, stress, and sleep can all impact how easily someone can lose weight.

Additionally, consistently high blood sugar can significantly impact not only metabolic health but also the ability to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. It's partly due to the contribution of higher blood sugar values to developing insulin resistance. But what does all this really mean? 

Read on to learn more about how high blood sugar, insulin resistance, and weight are interconnected. 

What is Insulin Resistance?

Table with tape measure and vial for lab testing

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 as well. It's a complex physiological change that takes time to develop. 

Simply put, this happens when blood sugar levels are consistently elevated. When this happens, 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 assessing your insulin resistance. To read more about determining insulin resistance, check out this article

What Causes Insulin Resistance?

Meal of cheesy tacos, fries, and ketchup

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). This extra fat not only stores extra energy but also produces hormones that contribute to inflammation and the subsequent development of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease
  • Being 45 or older
  • Having a close relative (parent or sibling) 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
  • Acromegaly, a condition with high levels of growth hormone leading to elevated production of glucose
  • Cushing’s Syndrome, a condition of having extra cortisol (stress hormone) in the body, which can impact glucose
  • Hypothyroidism where the thyroid doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone and ultimately slows down glucose metabolism
  • A diet high in processed and high carb/high sugar foods. Read more here to find out if you’ve been overeating sugar

Insulin Resistance and Diabetes

Insulin resistance can be temporary or chronic. Over time, chronic 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. That equates to one in every three adults! 

How Weight Loss May Help Reverse Insulin Resistance

Woman working out with free weights

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 even 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 10-14 pounds to gain that significant benefit.

Lifestyle Changes to Make

Making lifestyle changes that include a healthy diet and increased physical activity can offer additional benefits and help promote that desired weight loss. 

Dietary Changes

Fruit bowl with grapes and pears

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. You can find more tips to increase your fiber intake here

Getting enough protein is also essential. You may already know that 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.

Exercise

Man and woman running


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 metabolism. 

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 some help getting started!

Monitoring Glucose Levels

Woman blending smoothie in kitchen

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 can lead to insulin resistance over time. So keeping an eye on these values and making modifications to avoid frequent blood sugar spikes can be essential. It will help you find a personalized nutrition plan to improve insulin resistance and reduce your likelihood of developing diabetes. 

There’s also no agreed-upon distribution of macronutrients that works for everyone. That's another reason using something like a CGM becomes even more critical to figuring out the best strategy for different individuals. 

Related Article

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.

When you join the program, our team of credentialed dietitians and nutritionists are available for additional support and guidance to help you reach your goals.

Ready to take the first step? Start with our quiz to see how Nutrisense can support your health.

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