Improve your health and boost fat loss by addressing insulin resistance

When you suffer from insulin resistance, your cells stop responding to the normal actions of insulin, which is one of the most powerful hormones in the body as it plays an important role in how we metabolise and store energy from carbohydrates and fat.

Our body breaks down carbohydrates – the sugars and starches present in various foods and supplements – into glucose, which is then used to produce energy.

When blood glucose levels rise after a meal, the pancreas releases insulin into the blood. Insulin then transports the glucose from the blood into liver, muscle and fat cells in the body.

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Understanding Insulin Resistance

In an attempt to rectify this lack of sensitivity to this hormone, the pancreas produces more and more insulin until it can no longer produce enough to meet the body’s perceived demands.

Without sufficient sensitivity to insulin, our bodies are unable to effectively regulate sugar spikes and more sugar than is needed remains circulating in our blood. The unused sugar is ultimately absorbed by fat cells and converted into triglycerides.

Chronically high blood sugar levels can also have numerous detrimental consequences for our health. For instance, those with insulin resistance are at higher risk of developing type-II diabetes and heart disease. They may also struggle to lose weight and may suffer from high blood pressure and elevated blood triglyceride levels.

Causes of insulin resistance:

  • Genes
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Certain medications
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Stress
  • A weak immune system due to illness
  • Inactivity

READ MORE | Fight Diabetes With A Healthy Diet & Lifestyle

Combating Insulin Resistance

A healthy diet and regular exercise are the basic and fundamental steps to managing insulin resistance, although those struggling with it will have to be more diligent than most.

Some useful tips:

  • If you’re going to eat a high carb meal, make sure it’s within two hours of working out. This ensures the glucose derived from your meal restocks depleted stores in muscle cells.
  • Use less processed, high smoke point cooking oils such as coconut oil.
  • Drop added sugar for alternatives like stevia or Xylitol. These still need to be used in moderation though.
  • Cinnamon is an important food to include as it functions similarly to insulin.
  • Get your daily requirements of vitamin D and chromium.

In general, sufferers should choose foods that don’t spike blood sugar levels, especially low-glycaemic index (GI) carbohydrates.

Changing your diet to one that is low in carbohydrates with moderate amounts of protein and fat, with plenty of fresh vegetables and some fruits, may also help to improve the body’s sensitivity to insulin.

Foods to avoid:

  • Refined carbohydrates: These high-GI carbs have a substantial impact on blood sugar levels. Cakes, biscuits and confections are the obvious culprits that should be avoided.
  • Saturated and trans fats, especially hydrogenated fats.

Foods to include:

  • Beans and legumes.
  • Fish and lean meats.
  • Healthy fats rich in omega 3s, such as nuts, seeds and avocados.
  • Fresh herbs and spices.
  • Fresh vegetables and low-GI fruits.

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Exercise and Insulin Resistance

You can also increase the sensitivity of cells to the action of insulin with exercise. Provided your doctor has given you the go-ahead, cardio, strength training and some flexibility should form the core of your weekly workouts.

In addition to the general health and fitness benefits, exercise will improve insulin sensitivity in muscle cells. For this reason, insulin sensitivity can also regress quickly in the absence of exercise, so don’t separate exercise sessions by more than a day.

Exercise Guidelines:

  • Cardio: Aim for moderate intensity sessions, rather than low or high. Sessions should last for 20-60 minutes per session. Non-weight bearing exercises like swimming are great options.
  • Strength training: Stick to resistance training and keep your sessions at a moderate intensity. Compound exercises that work major muscles are good options. You should be able to perform 10-15 reps at a time without too much difficulty.
  • Flexibility: Remember to gently stretch your major muscle groups at least two to three days per week.

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Taking Precautions when Exercising

It is essential that you monitor your blood sugar levels before, during and after exercise sessions if you are insulin resistant, pre-diabetic or diabetic.

You need to familiarise yourself with how your body responds to exercise and determine your nutritional needs before and after training based on these factors.

For example, if your blood sugar is too low before a workout, you’ll need a healthy snack to raise it before you train. If your blood sugar is too high, exercise could put you at risk of ketoacidosis which, in severe cases, can lead to a diabetic coma. If your workout is longer than half an hour, monitor your blood sugar during the session as well.

Stop exercising immediately and seek medical assistance if necessary if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Shakiness

By Lisa Raleigh, certified personal trainer, nutrition and life coach, entrepreneur and Biogen brand ambassador @lisaraleigh


Author: Pedro van Gaalen

When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.

When he's not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He's worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.

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