Weight Loss through Blood Sugar Control
Most people are taught that we lose or gain weight depending on the number of calories we consume and the number of calories we burn. But this is only part of the story.
Our bodies have many complex processes that determines what happens to the calories we consume. Although we would like those calories to provide us with ready supply of energy, some hormones can instead direct those calories to be stored as fat even as we feel drained and without energy. One hormone in particular is insulin.
Insulin is required to metabolize carbohydrates. This hormone signals the cells in our bodies to take in the glucose (blood sugar) from our blood and use it for energy. The pancreas produces insulin after we eat. But if we live a sedentary lifestyle and/or consume too many carbohydrates--especially simple carbohydrates in the form of sugars--insulin can lose its effectiveness. Our bodies stop responding efficiently to that insulin. This is called insulin resistance. In response, our bodies then produce more insulin. If this process is allowed to continue, our glucose levels can grow dangerously high and diabetes will result.
One of the most common signs that a person is diabetic or is on the road to becoming diabetic is excess belly fat. This is because insulin resistance causes weight gain.
When the cells don't consume all of the glucose from the blood, insulin encourages the remaining glucose to be stored as fat. As glucose and insulin levels grow higher, more and more fat will be stored.
Lowering Insulin Levels
Knowledge of these processes can be used by many individuals to lose weight. Even people who are not diabetic. If they might even be slightly insulin resistant, then they can generally lose weight by addressing these issues.
The primary way to lower insulin levels is by lowering your glucose levels. This can include eating less overall, but more specifically it involves greatly reducing carbohydrates, especially sweet or sugary foods. When you consume something like a sweet drink, it is digested very quickly. In a few minutes, your blood sugar levels will spike. This triggers a large insulin response and the weight gain that can result from that.
By eliminating all sweets, and greatly reducing carbohydrates--particularly starchy carbohydrates like pasta, bread, potatoes, etc.--most people can lose a substantial amount of weight.
This is the reason for the success of the so-called keto diets. Keto diets can vary but in general they involve reducing carbohydrates. And especially reducing or eliminating sweet or sugary foods.
Monitoring Blood Sugar
Diabetics use a simple device to measure the amount of glucose in their blood. They involve pricking the finger and placing a drop of blood on a test strip placed in the device. While it might seems a little extreme for a non diabetic, using one of these devices can be an excellent way for anyone will insulin resistance to monitory their glucose levels.
By keeping your glucose levels down, you will reduce insulin. And this will often result in weight loss. And it can often result in improved health as well.
Ideally, glucose levels should never go above 100 mg/dL, even after a meal. While some people can have low glucose levels, most of us will benefit by simply getting your glucose as low as you can get it.
Using a glucose monitor helps you understand where your glucose levels are at. It also helps you understand when your glucose levels are higher. In my experience, hormones and other factors that raise my glucose levels often leave me feeling as if my glucose is low because it generally means that glucose is not getting into the cells for energy. While this may make me crave more carbohydrate foods or sweets, this is exactly the time when I should not be eating more carbohydrates. And I could only determine that by actually measuring my glucose levels.
Adjusting to Reduced Carbohydrates
If you have never reduced carbohydrates like this before, you may find it challenging at first. In fact, the more insulin resistant you are (and the more you need to reduce carbohydrates), the more challenging you might find it!
Your cells may have become lazy at responding to insulin and metabolizing glucose. And so reducing carbohydrates can feel like your body urgently needs something sweet. The good news is that this is temporary as your body adjusts and becomes better at metabolizing carbohydrates.
The thing to keep in mind is that the more difficult this is for you, the more you need to do it. The cravings for sweets are driven by insulin resistance. And the more it feels like you should be eating some carbohydrates, the more important it is to combat and get over these cravings.
Long Term Health
As mentioned previously, lower glucose levels can result in greater long term health, in addition to causing weight loss. Here is a suggestion to maximize the health benefits.
Many people can lose weight by eating steaks. This runs counter to most of what we are taught about calories but, for anyone who is insulin resistant, this is true. However, that doesn't mean eating steaks causes long term health. Excess protein can cause diarrhea, dehydration, kidney problems, constipation and may increase the risk of cancer. In addition saturated fats are associated with heart disease and cancer. Eating too much protein can result in a mixed bag of weight loss combined with poor long term health.
In contrast, many plants are known to reduce cancer and promote long term health. So while you want to reduce carbohydrates, you should really favor low carbohydrate vegetables like mushrooms, broccoli, leafy vegetables, etc. While most of the calories from these foods are from carbohydrates, they are in small quantities and are digested very slowly so as not to spike glucose or insulin levels. Contrast this to pasta, potatoes and bread, which do spike glucose and insulin.
So the take away is not that you want to avoid all carbohydrates, instead you should get them from healthy plants if possible. And while most keto diets generally involve eating more meat, your long term health will fair better if you eat meat in moderation.
Jonathan Wood is a software developer working out of Salt Lake City, UT as the owner of SoftCircuits. In 2007 he was diagnosed with diabetes. Since then, he has completely reversed his diabetes and he lost half his bodyweight in the process. These days, he hikes with his dog and plays guitar and bass when he has time. You can read more about his experience with diabetes in his short book, How I lost Half my Bodyweight: And Reversed my Type 2 Diabetes.
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