Eating salads, but still got a tummy?
If you answer yes to this question, you may be suffering from insulin resistance. This is where your body does not move the energy we consume in our food from the blood, into our cells to be used as energy. Instead, our ingested food is essentially trapped in our bloodstream, causing inflammation and encouraging the laying down of fat.*
Insulin resistance can be caused by a number of things.
Are you insulin resistant?
- You store fat around your tummy?
- Do you often experience irritability for no reason?
- Do you get regular headaches?
- Do you suffer from brain fog
- Do you get restlessness, like you want to crawl out of your skin?
- Do you get light-headed?
- Do you store fat around your tummy - even if you are limiting your calories?
If you answered yes to a few of these, you may be suffering from insulin resistance.
But don't panic. A visit to your GP can get you tested for your glucose response levels (via a Fasting Blood Glucose Test and a Glucose Tolerance Test).
Following the following steps will help your blood glucose levels to stabilise:
1. Replace any processed foods with whole, fresh foods. This even boils down to granola bars and "natural date bars" that are becoming more popular in place of chocolate - if they are not in their original state, take caution.
2. Remove inflammatory foods - some of the main causes of inflammation are:
> Sugar - all sugar. Even fruit can spike insulin once your body's glucose response is out of balance.
> Sweeteners - diet drinks such as diet coke / coke zero can spike your insulin levels
> Alcohol - there is no "good" alcohol when it comes to balancing insulin sadly. Even clear alcohols spike inflammation, blood glucose and insulin responses.
> Trans/processed fats (e.g. vegetable oils cooked at high temperatures, fried foods, processed chocolates). Replace with Omega 3 fats from oily fish (3 times/week), 1-2tblsp flax seeds daily and 1 tbsp cold pressed olive oil or coconut oil.
> Allergies/Sensitivities - If you think you may be allergic or sensitive to something (e.g. continuous sinusitis/ rash/bloating/cramps after certain foods/fluid retention after certain foods/drowsiness after certain foods/itchy eyes/unexplained muscle pains/hayfever/asthma/ etc.) make a food and symptom diary to identify when you get the symptoms and then try an elimination of the suspected food group for 21 days.
4. Address deficiencies. Some of the major vitamin and mineral deficiencies are:
i) Vitamin D. The only effective way of getting adequate Vitamin D is through the sunshine on our skin. Getting 20 mins of sun exposure to exposed arms and legs each day provides our daily allowance. Other sources of Vitamin D are mushrooms, fish and seaweed - or a supplement. (Ask your GP to test your levels - and certainly do not supplement it without testing).
ii) B vitamins. These are hard to absorb and so many people become B-deficient - particularly common in women once they try to be healthy as red meat and dairy contain plenty of B vits. Unless you have a good balance of meat, fish and dairy in your diet, you may be B deficient so it's worth taking a good quality multivitamin containing the spectrum of B vitamins.
iii) Magnesium. Depleted by sugar and stress. In evening, taking an Epsom salts bath is a good way to get the daily Mg you need. This can help you to relax to sleep better.
iv) Trace minerals (Zinc, iron, chromium, copper). Even if we feel we are eating enough veggies and fresh foods, these minerals are easily depleted as they can bind to certain foods we eat and drink, and excreted. Many of the trace minerals can be found in green, leafy vegetables so ensure a good amount of these (5+) each day. You may also want to choose a good quality multivitamin, or the JuicePlus+ fruit and vegetable dried food (I recommend this to those living in places where fresh, organic vegetables are harder to source) to ensure that you have your recommended daily allowance of trace minerals.
5. Incorporate more natural fibre - fibre binds to bad inflammatory LDL cholesterol in the gut and helps with its excretion. It does the same thing to toxins. Aim to have a handful of raw nuts (e.g. hazelnuts/almonds) and seeds (e.g. pumpkin/sunflower) per day. Eating your 5+ portions of green leafy vegetables per day. Sprinkling 2 tbsp ground flax seed is a quick way of helping to increase dietary fibre levels, as well as providing Omega 3 fats noted above.
6. Exercise the right way - getting the time is the hardest obstacle and so finding 8 minutes a day to get the heart rate up can really help. Doing a 4 min warm up and 4-10 mins of heart-raising work (e.g. fast walking/arm waving/star jumps!) every single day means you get out of breath each day without it needing to eat into your life, and without overly-stressing the body...see below for stress.
7. Manage stress and cortisol - chronic stress (even low level stress) can increase cortisol levels - cortisol elevates blood sugar and therefore promotes insulin and the storage of belly fat. Reducing stress needs to be through making some small changes your mindset and/or lifestyle so that the conscious change can turns into a subconscious habit. The most simply way of reducing cortisol is finding something you genuinely love and that makes you happier. E.g. Spending more time laughing. Walk daily. Practice deep breathing. Do these things make you "feel" better. if yes keep doing them and your cortisol levels will naturally reduce.
8. Get restful sleep - trying to get 7 to 8 hours a night is an enabler to managing insulin. Magnesium can help with sleep by promoting muscle relaxation (reducing things such as restless legs), and may also reduce stress. Other techniques are removing mobile phones from the bedroom, sleeping with fresh air, removing excess light from the room, and sleeping with an eye mask, stopping TV at least 30 mins before bed. Also, if you are waking in the night, your cortisol levels may be out of kilter - this may be stress or diet-related so it's worth focusing on those as a priority too.
If you want to understand more on the role of insulin and the progression to insulin resistance, I would recommend reading the following article by G. Wilcox (2005) - Insulin and IR: Insulin & Insulin Resistance Clinical Biochemistry Reviews 26(2):19-39.