Is Insulin Resistance the Culprit Behind Your Belly Fat?
If you’re struggling with extra weight in the belly, insulin resistance may be causing the problem. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. One of its functions is to transport sugars from the blood into all other cells of the body so that the sugars can be used as energy.
When blood sugar levels are high – after a meal or beverage containing lots of carbohydrates – the pancreas gets a message to release insulin into the blood. Insulin is often described as a ‘key’ because it helps to ‘unlock’ the door to our cells to let the sugars enter.
Disclaimer: The information in this article is not professional medical advice and should not be treated as such.
Too Many Carbs = High Blood Sugars and High Insulin Levels
When we consume too many carbohydrates – bread, cereal, rice, pasta, cookies, candy, soda, chocolate, etc. – this system gets thrown out of whack. The pancreas is forced to make extra insulin to compensate for all the extra sugars in the blood.
At the same time, the cells themselves, i.e., the muscle cells, become resistant to the insulin. When this happens, the pancreas is forced to make extra insulin to ‘knock on the door’ of the cells.
Having all that extra insulin and extra sugar in your blood is bad for several reasons:
- High levels of blood sugar and insulin can be a risk factor for heart disease.
- High insulin levels may cause your blood glucose (sugar) level to drop low – a state called hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia can be mild, moderate, or severe. Symptoms can include fatigue, weakness, shakiness, confusion, headache, irritability, hunger, and nausea.
- High insulin levels help promote the storage of those extra sugars as fat – right in the belly area.
The way that insulin resistance affects weight gain is complex. If you’re insulin resistant, your cells may be ‘starved’ for glucose because the sugars aren’t able to get out of the blood and into your cells where they belong. Feelings of mental fatigue and physical exhaustion usually follow.
When this happens, you may find yourself turning to the same carbohydrate-rich foods that caused the problem in the first place. Thus, you are perpetuating the cycle of high blood sugars, high insulin, low blood sugars, and fat storage in the belly.
Here is a video on how this cycle works in the body.
Insulin Resistance and Metabolic Syndrome
In addition to obesity, high insulin levels are often associated with cholesterol abnormalities, and/or high blood pressure. When these disease processes occur together, it’s called Metabolic Syndrome.
Left unchecked, the pancreas will continue to overproduce insulin until ultimately it gets ‘tired’ and starts to ‘poop out’. As a result, the pancreas simply can’t continue to produce enough insulin to keep up with the body’s demands.
Blood sugar levels rise – and stay high – and the result is often type 2 diabetes. The symptoms of type 2 diabetes are sometimes subtle and may include:
- Overweight and obesity
- Excessive thirst
- Frequent urination
- Urination odor
- Weight loss without trying
- Dark skin under the chin, groin, or armpits.
Managing Insulin Resistance and Type 2 Diabetes
Managing insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes is possible with nutrition, exercise, and stress management, but it can be tricky. Reducing your carb intake is crucial, but cravings and emotional eating can sabotage your best efforts.
Many of the women I work with struggle with this. That’s why one of the first things I ask them to do is to be aware of what is going on with their feelings. If you’re craving a certain food or beverage and you’re not physically hungry, ask yourself the question, “What am I really craving?”
You might be lonely, bored, angry, overwhelmed, or tired. You can use this awareness as the first step to learning how to nurture yourself with something other than food.
How Stress Impacts Insulin Resistance
Stress also plays a big role with insulin resistance because of its effect on the adrenal glands. When you’re stressed, your body amps up its production of cortisol, and your liver starts releasing extra sugars into your blood to ‘save you’.
This process can result in more fat storage in the belly area. Implementing mindfulness can help calm this fight-or-flight response.
And finally, exercise is important, but sometimes a gentler approach is better. The last thing your body needs is extra stress and guilt about not exercising hard enough! Mindful movement such as yoga or Tai Chi can be helpful to reduce the effects of stress and promote an overall sense of well-being.
How are you dealing with Type 2 Diabetes or insulin resistance? What approaches are you taking to help minimize belly fat? Please share any strategies you have found helpful in your fight with insulin resistance.
Karen Donaldson is a cravings and emotional eating expert whose heartfelt mission is to help women create a peaceful relationship with food and with their lives. She is a registered dietitian, speaker, author, radio show host and EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) Certified Weight Loss Coach.