Fat Loss Plateau: Understanding Insulin Sensitivity

Losing weight is something a lot of people struggle with. For those who manage to find a healthy diet and exercise routine that works for them it becomes easier, seeing the pounds dropping on the scale and knowing you’re getting results.

--But then something happens in your body, and even with a health conscious diet and the incorporation of fitness in your daily life, things start to slow down. Your weight loss begins to decrease and eventually slows down to a crawl. It may even stop completely.

With this article Insulin Sensitivity and Fat Loss, you will understand how to overcome this weight loss plateau.

What happened? Why doesn’t the same amount of body weight come off consistently when your nutrition and exercise habits stay the same?

One of the culprits is insulin, and as much as you want to hate the hormone, it’s intentions are only to protect you by stopping you from losing too much weight and wasting away to nothing.

Insulin is a hormone released from the pancreas. Right after you consume a meal is when insulin levels are the highest, because they are working to restore your blood glucose to normal levels. Insulin:

  • Promotes storage of nutrient fuel (fat and carbohydrates)
  • Promotes the conversion nutrients to fat
  • Maintains blood sugar (glucose) levels
  • Prevents breakdown of fuel stores (fat and carbohydrates)

Carbohydrates affect insulin release and insulin sensitivity because they are made up of mainly glucose chains, and so they raise the blood sugar after being absorbed from the digestive tract into your circulation.

Protein also signals insulin because insulin promotes ‘building’; build up of fat and carbohydrate storage, as well as the building and repairing of muscles in order to make use of the protein consumed and absorbed after a meal.

Insulin sensitivity is how responsive your body is to a rise or fall in blood sugar. How quickly can it act to release insulin in order to return and maintain blood to homeostatic conditions (bring the blood glucose levels back to normal).

Though sensitivity is dependant on your genetics and metabolic type, it can be changed through diet and exercise. The healthier you eat and the more active you are, the higher the insulin sensitivity will become, so the faster that insulin response will be. This can be good and bad for some people.

For those who have problems with their blood sugar, like someone with type 2 diabetes, increasing insulin sensitivity makes those blood sugar levels more stable:

  • Being more active decreases insulin resistance, which overall increases insulin sensitivity.

Insulin Resistance is a cell’s resistance to the effects of insulin. If insulin resistance is high, blood sugar levels are more unstable because the blood cells are resisting insulin, and therefore not allowing glucose to be removed from the blood.

For someone who has been following a healthy lifestyle and is very active, their insulin sensitivity is already very high (--and in turn their insulin resistance is low), which means their body is always ready to store away fuel, and very stubborn when you’re trying to get rid of it.

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The main reason insulin spikes is because of glucose consumption and absorption, which comes from carbohydrates. Protein also affects insulin release, but not in as big a way as carbohydrates do. The only macronutrient that doesn’t affect blood glucose levels is fat.

The general rule with carbohydrates is to keep them low, but not cut them out completely. The brain is the only part of your body that absolutely needs glucose, whereas other organs and systems can run off of other fuel from fat.

In terms of fat, less is more, because fat provides you with more energy in terms of calories, so you don’t need as much of it to sustain and activity compared to carbohydrates.

  • Carbs = 4 calories/g
  • Fats = 9 calories/g

So with that in mind, regardless of what point your body is at, you need to decrease your carbohydrate or glucose (sugar) intake in order to avoid that insulin response as much as possible. For those who are not as intense in terms of fitness and nutrition, it’s as easy as that!

--You should always be careful not to cut too much out of your diet though. Make sure you’re still getting enough essential nutrients so your body doesn’t fall into a deficit. Your body will leach essential nutrients from other important parts of your body to make up for what you’re lacking in your diet, which can cause a lot of problems.

For those who are intense with their training and nutrient/macro intake, it can be a bit more tricky to find a balance. If you can’t shift some of your carbohydrate calories to either fat or protein calories, you may need to decrease your total calorie intake.

As an example, if you are currently consuming 1800 calories/day, with 30% from carbs, 30% from fat and 40% from protein, that is a 30/30/40 ratio.

To shift the calories you would change the ratio from 30/30/40 to possibly 25/35/40 instead, still keeping the overall calories at 1800 calories/day.

To decrease total calories, they would possibly shift down 100 or 200, so the new total would be 1700-1600 calories/day. The ratio would stay the same at 30/30/40, but the amount of calories for all the micronutrients would change because of the overall decrease.

Fasting a couple hours before working out may also help burn more fat, since insulin levels decrease over time after consuming a meal.

All of these methods can be combined as well, but they still may not work for everyone as insulin sensitivity is still largely genetic. Reaching a goal body fat % is possible, but body fat % is also genetically based, in the sense that some people cannot go below a certain percentage without a lot of hard work and very precise nutrition and exercise.

We gave you Insulin Sensitivity and Fat Loss, you should take a look at your nutrition. Now that you’ve been filled in on insulin and how it affects fat loss, let’s review some of the key points:

  • Insulin is a hormone that promotes fuel storage and building and repairing the body.
  • Insulin sensitivity is the speed at which your body stores fuel to maintain blood sugar levels.
  • Insulin resistance is how well the cells resist the effects of insulin.
  • Your insulin sensitivity and resistance are genetic, but can still be changed with diet and exercise.
  • Shifting carbohydrate calories, decreasing total calories and fasting are a few ways to overcome this plateau in fat loss.

Be safe, and make your body work for you!

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