If you’ve ever tried to lose weight, you’ve probably heard the advice to eat less and move more. You may have also heard that weight loss is simply a matter of calories in versus calories out. However, this advice is not only misleading, but also wrong. The human body is not a simple calculator that can be manipulated by simple subtraction. It is a complex system that is influenced by many factors. One of the most important factors that affects weight loss and weight gain is insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is produced by the pancreas and regulates blood sugar levels. Insulin also plays a crucial role in fat storage and fat burning. Below, I’ll explain how insulin works, how it can become resistant, and how it can prevent you from losing weight.
Insulin is secreted when the blood sugar level rises, such as after eating a meal. Its main job is to move glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream into the cells for energy storage and use. Glucose can be stored in two ways: as glycogen in the liver and muscles, or as fat in the adipose (fatty) tissue. Glycogen is the preferred form of glucose storage because it can be easily accessed and used for energy when needed. However, there is a limit to how much glycogen can be stored in the body. When the glycogen stores are full, insulin redirects the excess glucose to be stored as fat in the adipose tissue. This process is called lipogenesis and it also prevents lipolysis, which is the breakdown of stored fat.
Insulin is essential for survival because it allows us to store energy for future use. This was especially important for our hunter-gatherer ancestors who had to face periods of food scarcity and famine. Insulin helped them store fat during times of abundance and use it during times of scarcity. The problem with insulin today is that we live in a world of food abundance and food quality decline. We are constantly exposed to foods that are high in sugar and refined carbohydrates, such as sodas, candies, pastries, breads, cereals, pasta, and rice. These foods cause rapid spikes in blood sugar levels and require large amounts of insulin to be secreted.
Over time, this constant bombardment of sugar and insulin can overwhelm the cells and make them less responsive to insulin. This means that they do not take up glucose as efficiently as they should and leave it circulating in the blood. This condition is called insulin resistance and it leads to high blood sugar levels and high insulin levels.
High blood sugar levels can damage various organs and tissues in the body and increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, nerve damage, eye problems, and more. High insulin levels can also cause weight gain by promoting fat storage and inhibiting fat burning.
You may have heard that excess fat can harm your health, but did you know that not all fat is the same? There are two main types of fat in your body: subcutaneous fat and visceral fat. Subcutaneous fat is the fat that lies under your skin and can be pinched. Visceral fat is the fat that surrounds your internal organs, such as your liver, pancreas, and intestines.
Visceral fat is more dangerous than subcutaneous fat because it produces inflammatory chemicals that can damage your organs and tissues. These chemicals, called tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha), interleukin (IL)-6, macrophage chemoattractant protein-1 (MCP-1), and resistin, trigger inflammation, which is the body’s natural response to injury or infection. However, when inflammation becomes chronic and widespread, it can cause or worsen many diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, and more.
One of the main causes of visceral fat accumulation is insulin resistance. Insulin resistance makes the body store more fat in the liver and other organs, and also increases the release of fat from other tissues into the bloodstream. Insulin resistance not only makes you gain weight, but also creates chronic metabolic disease.
So, how exactly does insulin resistance develop and what are its consequences? Let’s look at the process, step by step.
Step 1: Excess consumption of sugar and processed carbohydrates. When you eat foods that are high in sugar and refined carbs, they quickly raise your blood sugar levels. These foods provide little nutritional value and increase your hunger and cravings.
Step 2: Persistent and chronic elevation of blood sugar levels. When your blood sugar levels are constantly high, it can damage various organs and tissues in your body. High blood sugar levels can also impair your immune system and make you more prone to infections and inflammation.
Step 3: The pancreas secretes insulin to chaperone glucose into the cells for energy storage and utilization. Insulin is a hormone that is produced by the pancreas and regulates blood sugar levels. Insulin’s main job is to move glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream into the cells for energy storage and use. Glucose can be stored in two ways: as glycogen in the liver and muscles, or as fat in the adipose (fatty) tissue.
Step 4: Insulin receptors downregulate due to excess exposure. When the blood sugar levels are constantly high, the cells become overwhelmed by insulin and start to ignore it. This is called insulin resistance and it means that the cells do not take up glucose as efficiently as they should. This leaves glucose circulating in the blood, which can damage various organs and tissues.
Step 5: The pancreas produces even more insulin to solve the problem. To compensate for this, the pancreas produces even more insulin to lower the blood sugar levels. However, this only makes the problem worse, as more insulin promotes more fat storage and inhibits fat burning.
Step 6: More insulin creates greater fat storage - both subcutaneous and visceral fat. The excess fat is stored in two ways: as subcutaneous fat under the skin and as visceral fat around the organs.
Step 7: More visceral fat creates an uptick in inflammatory adipokines. Visceral fat triggers inflammation, which is the body’s natural response to injury or infection. However, when inflammation becomes chronic and widespread, it can cause or worsen many diseases.
Step 8: Metabolic disease can develop in all forms. Metabolic disease refers to a group of conditions that affect your metabolism, such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, dementia, and autoimmune disease. These conditions are often linked by common risk factors, such as obesity, inflammation, oxidative stress, and hormonal imbalance.
The popular theory “calories in versus calories out” says that if you eat fewer calories than you burn, you’ll lose weight. The problem is, it doesn’t work. High insulin levels cause your body to rely on glucose and glycogen instead of fat for energy. And as long as your body has glucose and glycogen available, it will not tap into your fat reserves for energy. In other words, typical caloric restrictive diets may reduce blood sugar levels to some extent, but they do not lower insulin levels enough to allow fat burning.
To lose weight effectively, you must metabolically adapt to using your own stored fat for fuel. To do this, you need to exhaust your glucose and glycogen stores and lower your insulin levels. The best way to achieve this is by following a low carbohydrate nutritional plan. A well-formulated low carbohydrate nutritional plan limits the intake of sugars and starches and replaces them with adequate protein and healthy fats derived from foods such as olive oil, fish, avocado, eggs, nuts/seeds, and even grass-fed beef. This forces your body to burn fat for energy instead of glucose and produces ketone bodies, which are molecules that can be used by the brain and other organs as an alternative fuel source.
A low carbohydrate nutritional plan not only helps you lose weight by burning fat, but also has other benefits for your health. It can reduce inflammation, improve blood pressure, lower cholesterol, enhance cognitive function, boost mood, and more.
To wrap it all up, “calorie in versus calorie out” is overly simplistic because it does not account for the role of insulin in fat storage and fat burning. To lose weight effectively, we must lower our insulin levels and metabolically adapt to use stored body fat as fuel through carbohydrate modification. This creates metabolic flexibility, allowing our bodies to switch between different fuel sources, such as glucose (sugar) and fat, depending on your needs and activity levels. Metabolic flexibility is the ultimate goal because it allows you to adapt to different situations and stressors. It also helps you prevent or reverse insulin resistance so that you can enjoy optimal health and longevity.
You have the power to break through insulin resistance to lose weight and reclaim your health. Start today and see the difference tomorrow!