Do you gain weight easily or are you always trying to lose weight?
Do you keep gaining weight regardless of your efforts? Or does it take you an ironman/woman effort to lose a few pounds, for one piece of chocolate to immediately gain it all back again? I agree that it can be extremely frustrating, but there might just be something you can do to fix it.
First of all, let me explain why this might be happening. You may be experiencing something called ‘hyperinsulinemia’; in other words - excess insulin. We’re talking; too much insulin, often over many years, and released far too frequently (frequent snacking). All of this can lead to poor insulin sensitivity, and without going into the process of what this means, more insulin is needed for it to have the desired effect, further increasing insulin production. What’s not so great about excess insulin, is that insulin drives the energy into fat cells for storage, whilst also telling fat cells not to bother burning its existing fat stores - in other words, weight gain.
Endless snacking, a diet heavy in sugar or white flour, or consuming sugary drinks such as soda’s (including diet drinks) or alcohol drives the need for lots of insulin to keep blood glucose under control. When this is relentless and in excess, there isn’t much room for insulin to go back to baseline. Over time, changes in our body’s energy metabolism mechanism can start to occur. These metabolic changes is a driver in obesity, heart disease and diabetes, and forms part of a very real health crisis we face in many countries today.
The 'how and why's’ - what is insulin?
Insulin is produced by the pancreas, in response to incoming carbohydrate and sugars (largely). Insulin is a hormone, i.e. a messenger, telling your cells to ’take in glucose’ (sugar). Too much glucose in your blood is a bad idea, but glucose in your cells is exactly what we want. Especially in high energy need cells like your brain or muscle. Once inside your cells, the glucose is transformed into your body’s dollar, your ATP, via a series of very complex enzymatic metabolic reactions. ATP is then used by your muscles to move you around, or by your brain cells to create all those interesting thoughts.
So - do you 'have it'?
Signs and symptoms of excess insulin:
- Sweet cravings, or cravings for white bread and flour foods.
- Increased hunger or constantly eating.
- Weight gain – in particular around the middle.
- Inability to lose weight.
- Mood irregularities.
A typical lifestyle which may put you at higher risk:
- Setting the scene with a standard British diet in childhood, high in poor quality bread, breakfast cereals (almost always sweetened), crisps, sweet drinks, biscuits and sweetened dairy products.
- An ‘early 20’s diet’ of cheap cocktails, baked beans and white toast.
- A low fat (and high carb) weight loss diet, fuelling poor blood glucose control.
- Highly refined carbs: white or regular supermarket wholemeal bread (often mostly just dyed brown to appear healthier), baked potato lunches, fruit drinks, and pastries.
- Stress: adrenalin fuelled workdays and deadlines, punctuated with coffee re-fuelling, office cake and after-work drinks.
So what should you do about it?
Three areas directly affect your glucose and insulin levels: diet, stress, and exercise.
Although a personalised approach is often needed for best results, my general guideline is to replace refined carbohydrates to 95% with wholegrains (not wholemeal). Ensuring sufficient protein and healthy fats in the diet, ditching the unnecessary calories/sugar from sweet drinks, and eating masses of vegetables of all types. Don’t’ forget to also reduce any snacking, whilst leaving room for a few good quality treats to ensure life it still for living.
Is there a test you can take to find out your insulin levels?
Yes there is, but it’s not often carried out by your GP. Get in touch with a nutritionist or dietitian if would like to know more.
Is there more on the subject?
Yes! This is a hugely simplified explanation and many other hormones are at play. Do feel free to ask me if you want to know more or have any queries!
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About Linda Albinsson
Linda Albinsson is a highly experienced and qualified nutritionist specialising in areas of gut health, food and sugar 'addictions' and many others.