Our Cells and Food Choices are the Dynamic Duo behind Insulin Resistance
The cells in our bodies are very sophisticated. They have evolved to respond to the foods we eat. Slowly over time, our body and all its cells react to the way we feed ourselves. For example, when we mostly eat calories that have no nutritional value (and include lots of sugar), our cells feel overwhelmed. They are looking for calories that contain growth-oriented information. Calories that include macronutrients, micronutrients, healthy fats, and fiber are what our sophisticated cells have evolved to need. This is a basic definition of the cell and food connection to insulin resistance.
Over hundreds of years, our human body evolved to prefer a nutrient-dense, low-sugar, high-fiber diet rich in omega-3 fats. In the past 60 years, Americans as a whole changed the information they give to their cells through food choices.
If you and I in 2021 were to regularly eat the nutrient-dense way, our sophisticated bodies could optimize the insulin from our pancreas and beautifully use that insulin to allow our blood sugar to fuel active lifestyles. In America, which is where I’m a holistic health coach, the food industry has trained most of us to eat food from packages made in factories. This is not what our bodies need. This is a primary reason why our bodies are becoming insulin resistant.
What is Insulin?
Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that helps glucose, or blood sugar, enter cells in our muscles, fat, and liver. After we eat, our blood sugar rises, so our pancreas responds with a release of insulin. The job of insulin is to lower our blood glucose to keep it in a normal, healthy range.
If you have a family history of diabetes, you’re likely aware of people needing to inject insulin into their bodies. In this circumstance, the body is unable to produce the right amount or properly use, the hormone insulin. A doctor’s supervision* for insulin injection is required. In addition, people in this situation also need to understand the cell and food connection already mentioned for their blood sugar balance.
Let’s go back to the insulin resistance topic.
If we feed ourselves too many fast-digesting, junky carbs and sugary foods, our bodies want to release too much insulin. Our pancreas and liver are responding to what we’re feeding our body. This body has become resistant to the effect of insulin and its blood sugar rises too high. In addition, there can be an overabundance of insulin surging around our bodies. High levels of insulin are warning signs—signs that try to guide us away from developing diabetes.
Did you learn these 3 things in school?
Firstly, when I was a student in Home Economics in 1972, I was taught in food science that it’s all about “Calories In vs. Calories Out”. My teacher told us to eat less and exercise more to keep our trim figures and attract a mate.
Secondly, 50 years later, science—as well as cultural norms, I hope—have changed this advice. In 2021, research explains that we don’t gain weight because we eat too many calories. We store body fat when too much insulin is our problem. This stored body fat causes us to be more hungry than before. Our weight continues to increase. Food has a direct connection to this, but not in the calorie-counting way I was taught.
Thirdly, we develop modern diseases like heart disease, obesity, and hypertension because we eat too many carbohydrates, especially sugar, and easily digestible starches. This is often referred to as High Glycemic Eating. We eat this way at a pace that nature never intended. The resulting insulin resistance is the main way our body raises the white flag and signals for help!
Is Insulin Resistance the Same Thing as Prediabetes?
Prediabetes is often undiagnosed for close to a decade. Over a 10-year timeframe, our body does its best to release the right amount of insulin in response to our food and activity lifestyle. Over time, the warning signs of insulin resistance—also called Prediabetes—get louder and more troublesome.
High levels of insulin from a body that’s working hard to balance blood sugars will:
- Feel very hungry all the time
- Pack on weight around the mid-body
- Feeling tired after meals
- Experience strong sugar cravings
- High triglycerides
- Low HDL
- High blood pressure
- Body-wide inflammation
Are any of these examples happening in your body? Is your body waving a white flag, signaling for help?
A Body that’s Resistant to Insulin is the Primary Cause of Diabetes
Prediabetes is a chronic illness that’s close to my heart. I’ve made this topic a cornerstone of my coaching practice here in Colorado. It’s also a personal concern for me. I have multiple family members with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, and the dramatic consequences that come with them. Because of this, a family history of obesity, early heart disease, or dementia is what I talk to my doctor about. Furthermore, I am careful with the foods I eat.
Prediabetes develops slowly over time for most people. Having prediabetes means that blood glucose levels are higher than normal. This usually happens when the cells in our pancreas aren’t making enough insulin to keep blood glucose levels at the proper range. Can you see that sometimes it’s a situation of not enough insulin instead of too much? Are you also related to others with high blood sugar problems?
Insulin Resistance is often associated with Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic Syndrome is a combination of several common diseases or health conditions. If a doctor tells us that we’re obese, hypertensive, and diabetic, that’s often referred to as Metabolic Syndrome. These three common situations develop because the metabolism is unhealthy or under-functioning. Symptoms of this would include high triglycerides, high blood pressure, and low HDL cholesterol. Metabolic Syndrome is often associated with an expanding waistline, and many people have been led to believe that obesity causes other associated diseases.
Gary Taubes in his popular book, Why We Get Fat, explains;
“The simplest way to look at all these associations, between obesity, heart diseases, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cancer, and Alzheimer’s (not to mention the other conditions that also associate with obesity and diabetes, such as gout, asthma, and fatty liver disease), is that what makes us fat–the quality and quantity of carbohydrates we consume–also makes us sick.”
How can you help your body reduce the risk of insulin resistance?
The connection between what we eat and how our body/cells respond is striking. Food choice is an obvious first place to start reducing our risk. There are many food-choice topics in my We are Women at Wellness blog!
Physical activity helps our bodies to respond better to insulin. Make a plan and track your food and activity as a matter of habit. This is a wise risk-reduction tool.
Understand how the foods you like to eat impact your blood sugar. You can test your blood sugar at home.
Understand what your Body is Communicating to you with Symptoms
Many people think of weight loss or healthier food choices as a burden. When this happens, they notice the changing shape of their body and feel bad. They may not think “Insulin Resistance Symptom!”. They may first think poorly of their recent food choices or how they should get to the gym. I’d like to help you turn that first thought around…
The way we think about ourselves can help us change our world. If our body waves a white flag to signal it needs helps, it’s time to practice self-compassion. Symptoms like a changing body shape are just such a white flag. Remember, our cells are sophisticated. They know what kind of food they need to grow and thrive. If they aren’t getting what they need, symptoms try to get our attention. Like our earliest ancestors, our bodies want to thrive and survive as long as possible.
How do we become insulin resistant in the first place? Simple: We over-consume easily digestible carbohydrates, which causes a heavy and constant insulin response in our bloodstream. This level of carbohydrate consumption was not available to our ancestors year-round, making it a modern problem.Gary Taubes, in Why We Get Fat
Testing for Insulin Resistance and Diabetes
Perhaps you recognize yourself or someone you love in this informational post about Insulin Resistance. Your next step could make all the difference in turning this around! Doctors and health coaches use quizzes and blood tests to learn more about our lifestyle and blood glucose levels. Here are some of those tests you can request:
- Fasting Plasma Glucose (FPG) test drawn at a lab
- A1c test documents the average blood glucose over the past 3 months.
- Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT) shows how the body handles glucose after a meal
- Blood Sugar Testing at home. Coach Georgianne has an e-book to help you monitor for 7 days. This is a great way to learn how your favorite foods impact YOUR body.
- The American Diabetes Association Risk Assessment quiz.
- Coach Georgianne’s Prediabetes quiz.
I’m inspired by this question: How will I feed myself today to fill my cells with nutrition?
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*Coach Georgianne does not replace the expertise of your doctor. Talk to your doctor before changing your medication plan or daily diet. As a result, they can help you apply this information to fit your circumstance.