Is this the reason you're not losing weight?

Insulin resistance can make it hard to lose weight - and make you more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.

Written by Sarah Dacres-Mannings

If you follow a healthy diet and exercise regularly, yet still struggle with your weight, it’s possible that you could be insulin resistant. People with insulin resistance find that weight is easy to gain, but hard to lose.

What exactly is insulin?

Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that allows your body to use sugar (glucose) from carbohydrates in the food that you eat for energy or to store glucose for future use. Insulin helps keeps your blood sugar level from getting too high (hyperglycemia) or too low (hypoglycemia).

What is insulin resistance?

If you have insulin resistance, your muscles, fat and liver cells do not respond properly to insulin. This means they cannot easily absorb glucose from the bloodstream. The body then needs higher levels of insulin to help glucose enter cells, which leads to a depletion in the body’s stores.

Insulin resistance puts you at an increased risk of developing prediabetes (impaired glucose tolerance), and then type 2 diabetes.

Insulin resistance in adults usually begins 10-40 years before a noticeable reduction in the body’s insulin occurs. This means it often goes undiagnosed until complications arise.

Who should consider being tested for insulin resistance?

The likelihood and severity of insulin resistance increases for different reasons. Age, pregnancy and eating high glycaemic index foods can all contribute, as can low HDL cholesterol and early heart disease.

Consider getting tested if one or more of the following apply to you:

  • Family history. Insulin resistance can run in families and we know genes are partly responsible. If there’s a family history of type 2 diabetes testing is advised. Doctors who specialise in insulin resistance will also often insist on testing the whole family following one positive diagnosis.
  • Weight problems. If you have a history of easy weight gain and difficulty losing weight you could benefit from being tested. Men and women with ‘tummy fat’ are also at risk. But while high body fat percentage is a contributing factor, it’s not the primary cause of insulin resistance –non-overweight people also suffer.
  • Hormonal issues. Women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) are particularly prone to insulin resistance, especially those who struggle to lose weight from their tummies.

How can it be treated?

Insulin resistance is often treated with dietary changes and regular exercise. With a solid fitness and nutrition routine, some people with insulin resistance experience huge improvements in energy levels and mood, as well as reduced cholesterol and body fat.

However, while most cases of insulin resistance can be managed through diet and exercise, a number of people will also require medication.

Written by Sarah Dacres-Mannings

Sarah Dacres-Mannings is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and Sports Dietitian Australia Fellow (Education). She is passionate about insulin resistance in teenagers, athletes and the general population.

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