Insulin – Fat Storing Hormone

Understanding Insulin is useful in understanding the mechanism for weight loss.

Insulin is a hormone that is responsible for transporting blood glucose into the cell for energy production/storage.  Insulin is a particularly important hormone in regard to regulating blood glucose, assisting with protein synthesis by the cells, and maintaining general metabolic health.  Many of us are aware of insulin due to the conversation around diabetes.  Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition resulting in insufficient or no insulin being produced by the pancreas.  In this case, exogenous insulin is injected to moderate blood sugar.  

Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder largely bought about by poor diet and lifestyle choices. In this instance, there are a number of levers we can pull to improve insulin sensitivity and potentially reverse the symptoms.

Rates of metabolic syndrome have sky-rocketed in recent history – conditions such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, and autoimmune are prevalent – you probably know someone in your inner circle that has a diet-related condition.  Hell, when I was at school, type. 2 diabetes was called ‘late-onset diabetes’ simply because the older population got it.  

Sadly not the case any longer!

Children in primary school are getting Type 2 diabetes.  We have to disrupt the status quo and re-evaluate where we get our sustenance from – not just the calories but where those calories are coming from.

According to the CDC, as many as 88 million Americans have pre-diabetic symptoms, and diabetes being the seventh cause of death in Australia

The prevalence of sugar in our food landscape has not always been ubiquitous as it is in 2021. A certain set of circumstances helped shape and facilitate sugar to be the omnipresent culinary behemoth it is now.  Sugar is fundamentally pernicious to our health and the rates of diabetes and obesity linked to sugar consumption are estimated to be 1 in 11 Americans and as high as 1 in 3 having pre-diabetic symptoms.  Accordingly to Margaret Chan – director of the WHO (2016) “diabetes is one of the biggest global health disasters of the 21st century”

Reducing carbohydrates will help to reduce the prevalence of decreased insulin sensitivity but there are a number of other ways to improve insulin sensitivity.

Calories

Firstly, what is a calorie?… well it’s an energetic value a food has and is quantified by the amount of time it takes to heat a gram of water by one degree Celsius – sounds a bit odd I know.  But I do recall doing this in science class as a young guy, we had to calculate the calories of certain foods including peanuts, a bunch of us setting fire to peanuts…those were the days.

Anyway, you probably don’t need to know that…you probably also don’t need to know that 1 calorie is equal to 4.184 kilojoules.

So, what do you need to know is that not all calories are created equally from a nutrient perspective.  As you can imagine, 100 cals of fairy floss are not the same as 100 calories from broccoli – each food has a nutrient density.   So to get the biggest nutritional bang for your buck goes natural food every time!

I covered this at length in The Keto Diet but to be clear – the modern convention has established that food has an energetic value (calories) and in order to lose weight it’s necessary to be in a calorie deficient.  Makes simple mathematical sense – have fewer calories than your daily requirements, the deficiency will cause weight loss. 

Again and again, It’s been cited that weight management is about calories in V’s calories out with obesity being described as an energy balance disorder.  So for an overweight person to lose weight they simply eat less and/or exercise more – and if the results don’t follow, that individual is guilty of being a glutton and/or a sloth – both hideous assumptions and in today’s language fat shaming!

All this is somewhat correct but it’s not the whole truth…read on…

Given that obesity is a global epidemic there is clearly something wrong with our diet. Or have we just got more gluttonous or widespread disinclination to exertion?! 

VERY UNLIKELY!

In 1974, 105 million adults worldwide were obese compared to 240 million in 2014 (6-fold increase) There has to be something more at play than just calories!!

It turns out that it’s less to do with our character traits/flaws and more to do with our hormones.  The hormone insulin, which is responsible for transporting blood glucose into cells from our blood after a carbohydrate meal is also the principal regulator of fat metabolism.  When insulin is raised it inhibits the mobilization and consequently the metabolism of fat – therefore predisposing the individual to fat accumulation.  

And guess what is prevalent in the western diet ….yah…. Sugar and Carbs!

One way to get fat out of your fat cells is to reduce insulin.  Sure there are people in the society who can become obese due to eating more calories than they expend over a period of time due to poor patterns of behaviors around food or comfort eating but that hardly explains the epidemic of obesity that plays out in the western world. 

It’s no coincidence that the prevalence of carbohydrates and sugar has caused a widespread increase in metabolic syndrome and obesity. 

So it does matter where you are getting your calories from!

Next time someone says that weight loss is simply entering a calorie deficient you have my permission to flick their ear!

Let’s take a look at a handful of these:

  1. Lose a few pounds – since insulin resistance is often the result of excess weight, by reducing weight, and in particular abdominal fat, it’s possible to improve the cells’ insulin sensitivity.
  2. Lift weights – incorporating strength training into your regime is highly recommended.  Lifting heavy weights with intensity will initiate many physiological benefits, one being the cell’s ability to uptake glucose in the absence of insulin is an interesting mechanism.  Non-insulin depends glucose uptake happens immediately post-workout – enabling your cells to replenish glycogen stores even without the transporting – insulin.  This is the equivalent of the cells being insulin sensitive.
  3. Do some sprints – Sprinting is a fantastic way to improve your fitness and reap some amazing physiological benefits.  Interval sprints are a sure-fire way to deplete your cells of glucose (glycogen) and an empty cell is a hungry cell.  Being primed for a re-feed makes your cells more sensitive to insulin.  Try throwing in some sprints once or twice a week – these can be hills sprints, sand sprints or even in the gym on a treadmill or rower.
  4. Just like interval sprint deplete the storage of the cells of glucose (glycogen) so does full-body workouts focussing on high volume.  Try incorporating 1-2 sessions per week whereby you challenge multiple body parts to induce fatigue.  For example, for one session work on squats, chest, back and arms.  This will ultimately make your cells incredibly ‘hungry’ for replenishment post-workout and improve insulin sensitivity, meaning you’ll require less insulin to transport the glucose.  Winning!!
  5. Relax – It’s been shown that a reduction in the flight or flight response (sympathetic nervous system) improves insulin sensitivity.  So ensure you get a daily dose of this by meditating or other relaxation-inducing activities.
  6. Good quality sleep – Sleep is often an aspect of our daily life that we can control but is often neglected.  Personal devices such as iPads, computers and smartphones all interfere with our body’s internal clock and disrupt hormones such as insulin.  Improving your poor or inadequate sleep can help to improve insulin sensitivity.  Sleeping with black-out curtains, an eye mask, earplugs and no-technology 2-3 hours prior to sleep will all contribute to improving sleep and hormonal restoration.

The above tips are all non-dietary interventions to improve insulin sensitivity in a bid to be more metabolically efficient.  Clearly adopting a low-carb protocol will contribute to improved insulin sensitivity too.  

Bottom line is to lose weight you need to be calorie deficient and a diet that promotes high insulin will obstruct the weight loss path.

Join me for a personal holistic nutrition and performance coaching session.

Be healthy, be happy – Scott

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