How to Break the Weight-Gain Cycle, Part 1
It's Easy If You Understand Insulin Resistance
It's an American paradox: In a country obsessed with dieting and weight loss, we have a disproportionately large number of overweight people. In fact, two-thirds of American adults and nearly one-third of children are overweight or obese, putting them at increased risk for an array of health risks.
Ironically, according to Ray D. Strand, MD, we continue to ignore the root cause of obesity - insulin resistance and the inability to properly process glucose and fat stores. He believes that if people were able to tame insulin resistance, they would lose weight and at the same time prevent obesity-related health problems.
The earlier you get on top of insulin resistance, the greater the chance you have of reversing it and avoiding diabetes or high blood pressure. How to go about this? It's simple: Develop a healthy lifestyle.
Insulin Resistance - A Primer
In order to get to the bottom of insulin resistance, let's first take a closer look at insulin's proper role in the body. Insulin is normally released into the bloodstream in response to elevated glucose (blood sugar) levels after you eat. Its role is to push glucose out of the bloodstream and into the cells of the body, where it is converted into energy. When you develop insulin resistance, however, this system goes awry and the body no longer can make efficient use of insulin. The result is uncontrollable food cravings, increased emotional eating and an inability to lose weight no matter how hard you try.
When you suffer from insulin resistance, it is as if your body holds on to fat like a sponge holds on to water, says Dr. Strand. He adds that insulin resistance and its devastating consequences are no sudden, random occurrence. They sneak up over the course of many years, gradually eroding your health. Their roots lie in the way most Americans eat.
A Vicious Cycle - Carbohydrate Addiction and Insulin Abuse
The typical American diet includes far too many fast foods, chips, cookies, doughnuts, bread and soft drinks. Atkins high-protein craze aside, we've become carbohydrate addicts in this country, warns Dr. Strand. Simple sugars quickly flood the bloodstream, and in response, the body furiously pumps out insulin. This, in turn, leads to an abrupt crash in blood sugar and a drop in energy that leaves you craving more carbs, and the vicious cycle continues - more carbs, more blood sugar, more insulin, etc.
As time goes on and insulin converts excess glucose into fat, you put on weight, which makes the body's cells more resistant to insulin. The pancreas responds by pumping out still more insulin in an increasingly vain attempt to try to force glucose into cells. The bloodstream is left awash in excess glucose.
In people with insulin resistance, blood sugar is not high enough (yet) to constitute diabetes, but it is higher than normal. If you do nothing to change your ways and break the cycle, eventually you will tip over into the abnormal metabolic state known as metabolic syndrome (also called Syndrome X). Characteristics of this devastating syndrome - shared by 25% of the adult population of the US - include obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol, elevated triglycerides, cardiovascular disease and, in women, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
How to Tame Insulin Resistance
Full-blown metabolic syndrome doesn't develop overnight, emphasizes Dr. Strand. It is a result of years and years of poor daily food and activity choices. The good news is that you can break the vicious cycle of carbohydrate addiction and insulin abuse, slowing down and even reversing the development of obesity and type 2 diabetes. However, there's no quick fix, no easy pill to pop - the only way you can overcome these obstacles is by developing and following a healthy lifestyle.
Watch the Warning Signs
According to Dr. Strand, there are a number of measurable warning signs for insulin resistance, in which case you need to take action. Warning signs of insulin resistance are...
- Expanding waist size. Beware of a waist circumference of 29 or more inches in women and 34 or more inches in men.
- Any slight elevation in blood pressure. Even a measurement of 130/85 can be an early sign of insulin resistance.
- Elevated blood sugar. Ask your doctor to give you a fasting blood sugar test. A result above 100 (or even approaching 100) is a red flag.
- A decrease in HDL or good cholesterol (below 50 for women, or below 40 for men), which is often accompanied by increasing triglyceride levels. Dr. Strand calculates a simple ratio by dividing a person's triglyceride level by his/her HDL level. If the resulting triglyceride/HDL ratio is greater than two, this is another warning sign.
For more on insulin resistance and weight gain, be sure to read our next edition of the Discovery Digest eNewsletter.
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