Tag Archives: insulin

Healthier Together Series: 7A. Nutrition – The importance of calories in

hessam-hojati-M4hazNIyTsk-unsplashWe’ve heard that weight is all about the calories we consume. In fact, someone recently shared with me that she felt betrayed. She had been successfully losing weight eating very low carb, and had not been counting or restricting calories. She had been feeling so happy about her progress and how easy it was and how she had so much more energy that she had now been regularly working out for over 2 years. However, she recently heard that eating very low carb or “keto” was effective for weight loss because it cuts calories. This whole time, she thought it was being low carb that worked, not the calorie restriction. She felt “tricked.” Have you heard this too?

Allow me to clarify. If you are eating carbohydrates and your waistline is enlarging or you are gaining excess weight or you have prediabetes or diabetes or PCOS or metabolic syndrome, you have insulin resistance. Insulin resistance means that your body produces excessive amounts of insulin for the same amount of carbohydrates you consume. So, if you eat carbs, your body dumps too much insulin into your blood stream.

High levels of insulin prevent your body from being able to access your back up fuel source – your fat cells. You will not be able to get fuel from your fat cells. This means that when you need fuel, you will need to provide fuel, to run your body, by eating or drinking it. You know the feeling- you will be hungry or get the munchies when your fuel in your blood stream starts dropping low. Again, you have to eat or drink calories the have the fuel to continue to run your body. If you don’t eat and your insulin level is high, you don’t have access to your back up fuel source, so your cells begin to panic. You get hungry, ravenous and feel your blood sugar dropping and feel very unwell. Eating or drinking carbs (including sugars) is the fastest way to “feel better” in this scenario.

Now, let’s go on the “common” diet of cutting calories or portion size. If you started out eating a standard American diet with lots of carbohydrates and then begin calorie restriction, or cutting calories or eating smaller portions, it usually means you cut back on the fats and eat mostly carbohydrates. Carbs spike insulin. This means you keep insulin pretty high and as a result, you starve those poor cells in your body. Your body doesn’t like starving, so it adapts and starts to cut back on its activities and slows your metabolism to “conserve” your limited energy. With this method of weight loss, weight loss is very difficult to maintain unless you continue to add more exercise and/or continue to cut calories. There’s a limit to how far you can go with this.

When someone pursues a very low carb or ketogenic diet, your body adapts to running on the ketones produced from burning your fat stores (it continues to make glucose too). Good news, ketones act as a natural appetite suppressant- so you don’t need to eat as much or as often. You just aren’t that hungry because with this method, your insulin levels stay lower. When insulin is lower, your body can burn fat for fuel when it needs fuel (burning fat for fuel instead of requiring eating for chronic re-fueling). Also, by eating a very low carb or ketogenic diet, your brain and gut can receive the signals that you are “full” when you eat fat and protein.

Ultimately, by keeping insulin levels in the naturally lower range, when you need fuel, you can easily burn fat for fuel, your appetite is decreased overall, and your brain and gut can receive signals and know when to stop eating. Voila! Less calories in, but it is because you don’t need or want them- NOT because you artificially put your body into a starving panic mode. VERY different reason for less calories in. VERY different body response to less calories in. Long term weight loss and weight loss maintenance is achievable. Pretty cool, right?

Healthier Together Series: Cycle 1 B. Physical Activity — Workout bonus

lindsay-henwood-7_kRuX1hSXM-unsplashToday’s Physical Activity Notes:

First: I will often use the terms physical activity and workout interchangeably. When I use the terms “working out” & “workout,” I specifically refer to intentional physical activity that is planned for the purpose of being exercise. Working out is deliberately moving for health, fitness –> exercising. Physical activity is anything we do that moves our body and includes working out, exercising as well as other activities we do daily.

Good news: since we wake up in a mode burning our body’s stored fuels, whatever physical activity we do in the morning prior to eating or drinking calories, accelerates our fat burning by using up our muscles’ stores of glycogen (energy stored in muscles). This means that you get to drink or eat a bit more freely after being physically active in the morning. In fact, if you workout vigorously in the morning (if you used up all the glycogen in your muscles), you can add some unprocessed carbs to your meal within approximately 30-60 minutes & your body will put the extra blood sugar (the glucose from digesting the carbs) into your muscles and NOT into fat cells. HOW COOL IS THAT?

Remember, if you eat foods that spike your blood sugar (especially foods like processed carbohydrates including sugars), your insulin will spike and your body will store most of that extra blood sugar in your fat cells! So, your FAT stores will GROW BIGGER…and mostly around your middle. NOT your goal. So, that means if you want to eat/drink that higher carbohydrate food or drink & you don’t want to grow your fat, WORK OUT first! You get the biggest bang for your buck if you are physically active first thing in the morning before you eat or drink any calories (drinking water is better).

Remember, the “physical activity” can be:

1. Low intensity movement for a longer duration – like walking for 30-40+ minutes or an activity that is at a perceived exertion level of 5-7 or heart rate approximately 60% (+/-10%) of your personal maximum heart rate. *see previous blog about perceived exertion and heart rates for more info.

2. Spurts of higher intensity activity for a shorter duration (even 4 minutes counts!). This might mean boosting your perceived exertion closer to 8-10 or 80-90% of your maximum heart rate for very short spurts, no longer than 30-60 seconds, interspersed with 2-5 minutes of lower intensity such as level 5-6. Basically, you go hard for 30 seconds then easy for 2 minutes, & repeat a few times. I like 4 cycles. — Another option, look up the 7 minute workout online.

The key is to deplete or significantly lower your body’s storage of glycogen with exercise and voila! You now have created an empty space (your muscles and liver) where your body will put the extra sugars in your blood (from the carbs &/or sugars you have consumed) & it is NOT going into your fat cells for storage. It is getting burned up in your muscles immediately. If you have eaten protein & fat within a low carb “break-fast,” you will just continue to be burning fat.

Bottom line: If occasionally, you are craving extra berries or a sweetened cup of coffee or tea or other starchy carbohydrate with your breakfast, & you don’t want to worry about it increasing your weight, work out first thing in the morning! It’s a workout bonus!

Photo by Lindsay Henwood on Unsplash

Insulin. Letting your metabolism work for you.

rodrigo-ardilha-TYtbqZdYtc8-unsplashWant to learn to be a fat burner? What if I told you that your metabolism starts off in its most ideal state when you first wake up after at least 6 hours of sleep? What if I told you that you could keep your metabolism humming along throughout most of the day, and that it could burn the excess unhealthy fat off your body? What if I told you that you would also have more energy and your mood would be improved along the way? Would you be interested? Well, I’m going explain…

One of your body’s fuel sources is glucose. Glucose is the sugar in your blood that is like gas in a car.  (I will use the word “sugar” instead of “glucose” for the rest of this post, but I’m talking about glucose.)

Your body needs the right amount of fuel to work well, and if it has too little, you can die and if you have too much, you can also die. Actually, before death, if you have too much sugar, it acts like a slow poison…everywhere in your body. It attacks your brain, blood vessels, your eyes, your nerves, your kidneys, your heart, your immune system, your skin, EVERY part of your body.

This is the case with diabetes, where there is too much sugar in the blood most, if not all of the time, and it is damaging the body. You can imagine, if sugar is so powerful in your body, and too much of it is poisonous, your body will have created something VERY powerful, as a defense, to manage that extra sugar…It has. It’s called INSULIN. Insulin brings down the blood sugar.

How does insulin work? Well, it is created by your pancreas and gets pumped out when your body senses it has TOO MUCH sugar in the blood. Insulin is released proportionally to the level if sugar in the blood*. The more sugar in the blood, the more insulin is released. Insulin lowers your blood sugar.

*Side note: The older you get, or the higher you regularly push your blood sugars, the exponentially more insulin will get pumped out relative to the amount of sugar in your blood. In other words, the pancreas gets a little over-reactive & will go overboard and pump out LOTS of insulin. We will come back to this.

So, when there is lots of sugar in the blood, there is lots of insulin that is dumped into the blood. When high amounts of insulin are circulating in your body, your body listens. Insulin is ALL POWERFUL. It is trying to prevent high levels of blood sugar from poisoning the cells. So, insulin is the Boss. It is your body’s defense. It is all about survival. It is trying to prevent the cells from being poisoned.

To clarify, when insulin levels are high, the cells stop listening to other signaling chemicals in the body. High levels of insulin act like a fire alarm. It tell the cells in the body, “We are about to be poisoned!!! The NUMBER ONE PRIORITY is to LOWER THE SUGARS in the blood!” So, how does it do that?

First, insulin causes your cells to shut off their use of other fuel sources (such as fat) and tells all of your cells that it can ONLY burn the SUGAR in the blood for fuel. This allows the extra blood sugar to be used up so the blood sugar goes down to normal healthy (non-poisonous) levels. This is good. This works very well if we don’t overload the system…

However, if there is way way too much (glucose) sugar in the blood and you are not more active, it cannot burn off enough of it, fast enough. It doesn’t need that much fuel. It cannot bring the sugars down to a “good” or “safe” level fast enough or it may not be able to bring it down much at all (type 2 diabetes). To protect itself from being poisoned, the body responds with extra insulin* and it has another back up option.

The back up? Insulin forces the body to store all if the unused sugars as glycogen (in the muscles and liver) and FAT in your body. If you have not used up the glycogen in the liver and muscles (which can be done by fasting or with physical activity or exercise), they are likely already full. So the back-up storage space is our fat cells. So, insulin causes fat cells to grow and multiply to protect us from very high poisonous sugar levels!

Key point: High insulin levels = Fat burning is shut off & you are now growing. If you have stopped getting taller, there is only one other way to grow…you will be growing your fat cells and your body cannot access the fat on your body for fuel. It can only burn sugar in the blood.

As mentioned earlier, as we age, or if the body has high blood sugars often, huge amounts of insulin keep being produced by an increasingly over-reactive pancreas. With time, the cells start ignoring the insulin- they become INSULIN RESISTANT. The pancreas then starts over-reacting even more, and responds by pumping out even more insulin. The cells become even more insulin resistant, and it becomes a vicious cycle.

Signs that your body is developing insulin resistance include the development of more skin tags or discoloration around the neck, and even more consistent, is an enlarging waistline. As your waistline grows, you are becoming even more insulin resistant and you will start gaining fat weight faster and faster (unless you make some changes).

With high insulin levels, fat burning has been turned off. So, you cannot easily burn the fat off your body. In fact, this extra insulin often leads to further hunger, as your body is storing the fuel and at the same time, shutting off access to the stored fuel (the fat cells). When you are running on empty, your body craves more sugar, for immediate fuel, because you are running out of sugar. All because of an over-production of insulin from your previous cycle. This is the insulin resistance roller coaster that gets steeper and faster over time.

Good news: You can get off the insulin roller coaster and even avoid it all together. If you don’t get on the insulin roller coaster, you will be able a fat burning machine and have steady energy. Here’s what you need to know:

When you wake up first thing in the morning, if you haven’t eaten overnight, your body starts off in a fat burning mode. Since you didn’t eat foods that cause blood sugars to go up, your insulin levels got low, so your body switched from sugar burning to fat burning for fuel! You start off as a fat burning machine. If you think about what you eat in the morning and keep your sugars low, you can keep your body in the fat burning mode! You can have a fresh start every day.

If you start your day with foods that cause blood sugars to jump (like starchy carbohydrates and sugar), remember you will dump lots of insulin in the blood, which will turn off your fat burning & you may grow and start on your insulin roller coaster for the day. If you choose to avoid those starchy carbs and sugar, you avoid getting on the insulin roller coaster and you can stay in your fat burning mode!

In short: When insulin levels are high, insulin acts like a growth hormone. And if you are done growing taller, there is only one other way to grow…so anything you can do to keep your blood sugar levels stable and in the healthy and safe range, the better off your whole body will be and the more likely you can maintain a healthy weight and body.

Every day, you get a fresh start when your body is burning fat for fuel. So the key is to learn which foods and how much of those foods cause your blood sugars to spike and to limit those. Then, your body can continue to burn fat and your waistline will shrink. In addition, if you can eliminate those insulin spikes, you will find your mind is clearer, your mood improves, and you have more energy. You may find you even WANT to be more physically active than before! It is a win-win for you!

Isn’t the body amazing? Next time, we will review how to reverse the aging process with regards to metabolism…



Photo by Rodrigo Ardilha on Unsplash