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Hormones and Weight Loss: Insulin

Mar 16, 2015

When we hear the word "insulin," generally we think of diabetes and something that has to be injected in order to manage the disease. In actuality, unless you're a Type I diabetic (aka "Juvenile Diabetic"), and your pancreas has ceased the production of insulin completely, then your body secretes insulin on a regular basis, throughout the day everyday.

If you're reading this, then you have probably at some point wanted to lose weight or keep your weight under healthy control. If I'm correct on this assumption, then you need to understand the role that insulin plays in your body's fat burning (or storing, ugh!) process.

Insulin is secreted by the pancreas in response to the dietary intake of carbohydrates and elevated blood sugar levels. It's the job of insulin to drive blood sugar into storage in the muscle or liver, where any excess will be converted to triglycerides (fats in the blood) or stored as body fat. When insulin is elevated, you body signals your cells to hold onto fat and not release it for energy.

A simply way to think of this whole ordeal is this: You eat carbohydrates so your blood sugar goes up. This triggers insulin to be released to shuttle that blood sugar into the muscles or the liver. When blood sugar and insulin are elevated, your fat cells believe that there is enough sustenance available for energy (in the form of blood sugar), so they hold onto the stored fat for later...if later ever comes!

Now, imagine the signaling that goes on when you constantly eat a diet full of blood-sugar spiking carbohydrates...breads, pastas, rices, cereals, cookies, cakes, candy, pies, sodas...and so on. Eventually the pancreas can get tired of putting out enough insulin to manage all of the blood sugar and it can crap out. Enter diabetes!

This is just the basics about insulin and what it's importance is when it comes to health and weight management. Now, what to do about getting insulin levels in check? How about some practical implementation?

  • Eat to control blood sugar by avoiding processed foods that are high in sugar and unnecessary carbohydrates.
  • Eat the right types of carbohydrates that don't spike blood sugar: plenty of vegetables and low-sugar fruits like berries and citrus.
  • Eat carbohydrates at the right time like in the window right after your workout so the sugar can go to the muscles to replenish stored carbs that you burned during your workout session. Don't start your day off with a huge bolus of carbs when the body is the most insulin sensitive. Getting carbs at this time will send your blood sugar on a roller coaster that will last all day.
  • Eat carbohydrates with something other than just carbs. Pair them with a healthy fat or protein source to minimize the impact on the blood sugar and insulin response.
  • Maximize muscle usage of stored carbohydrates by getting in at least 3 days per week of higher intensity exercise.

If you're still curious about insulin and what it does and why, feel free to send me an email or comment below. I love keeping the conversation going! Keep in mind I'm not a doctor or a diagnostician, so take anything I say as information to do with as you wish.

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