Skinny Daily Post

Invincible.

If you are a man with a waistline bigger than 40 inches, or a woman with a waistline bigger than 35 inches, or if you love someone who answers that description, or if your child is overweight, please read on.

I remember it like it was yesterday, sitting in my endocrinologist’s office as she explained what was going on in my body. I was more than 100 lbs. overweight, and ready to diet some of it off as I had so many times before, but this time the diets that had always worked before just didn’t work at all. I was scared, I felt lousy, and I had a lot of crazy symptoms that seemed unrelated to me.

All my crazy symptoms were not unrelated, but could all be explained easily enough: My body had become resistant to insulin. I didn’t yet have the full-blown disease, Type II Diabetes, that insulin resistance often leads to, but the symptoms, my abdominal fat, my high blood pressure, my struggle with weight loss, all fit the profile. I was well down that road.

Researchers estimate that 30 to 40 million of us in the U.S. are in the same boat. The S.S. Insulin Resistance. More than a third. Close to a half. And because insulin resistance doesn’t show up in standard tests, most of us have no idea.

And please note, because lately so many people with insulin resistance or prediabetes or Type II diabetes are kids, we no longer call the disease “Adult-onset Diabetes.” Isn’t that incredibly awful? We had to change the name of the disease to make room for kids.

Good news, though: It’s reversible. Most of us can re-tune our bodies to make use of the insulin we produce and reduce our insulin production to normal levels. How? By exercising. By eating better.

Why should we? To avoid Diabetes and heart disease, and some kinds of cancer. Good reasons.

Okay that’s the bad news and the good news, but if you’re like me, you want more. A mental picture. A better understanding. Here’s how my endocrinologist explained it.

Your cells use the glucose, or sugar, from your bloodstream to do their thing, give you energy, make you go. Imagine that the cells in your body have doors, and the doors have locks. Insulin, a hormone made by your pancreas, is like a trusted delivery person with a key to all those locks. It unlocks your cell doors to let the glucose in. Or at least, that’s what insulin does when everything’s running smoothly.

When it’s going well, your pancreas doesn’t push out insulin until it sees how much glucose comes along from the foods you eat. Then it only makes what it thinks your cells will need.

But when you have too much abdominal fat, that extra fat produces a protein that changes the locks on your cell doors. The insulin key doesn’t work, or doesn’t work every time. That is, your body’s cells become resistant to insulin. They’re not getting the glucose they want right away.

Now your pancreas senses what’s going on and starts producing more insulin delivery folks. Staff the problem, right? This overproduction of insulin can go on for quite awhile without you knowing it. Not all of your cells are resistant, but more and more over time. If the insulin can’t deliver the glucose into your cells, it delivers the glucose for storage, as fat.

Eventually your pancreas gets tired of over-producing insulin. It burns out, slowing down insulin production. When that happens, your blood glucose doesn’t reach your cells or go to storage, but stays in your bloodstream. That’s not good. Now your blood sugar levels start to rise, and the inflammatory processes of all this blood sugar and hormonal upset does its damage to vital organs. The resulting disease is how diabetes kills people.

Some researchers now believe that organ and tissue damage begin much earlier in the process, well before measurable rises in blood sugar happen. I’m inclined to believe that’s true, of course, given my own experience. I was basically an old woman at 38. And I didn’t like it one bit.

This is a very highly simplified picture, folks. The sort of thing that could make a nutrition researcher or medical professional blanch. But it’s a useful sort of story, I think, because it tells us some things. It tells us there is a vicious cycle we can get into once our middles grow too big. It tells us we need to exercise, and it tells us we need to help our bodies out by reducing the sugar in our diets.

If you’ve got a big tummy, 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week is the best thing you can do for your health. Do that first. Drop this article, and do it now.

Next, take a look at your diet. If you want to fix insulin resistance quickly, you’ll cut out added sugars and simple starches. (I actually cut out all the rest of my starches too, which helped a lot) at least until you can bring your weight under control. The South Beach diet is a terrific diet for folks with lots of weight around the middle. Designed just for us.

And finally, take a peek at your life. Stress feeds belly fat. There’s no mistaking it. If there is any way you can reorder or restructure your life to cut back on stress, consider doing that sooner rather than later. We do tend to put off making ourselves happy, but there’s really nothing noble in making yourself sick and miserable.

Be well. I will if you will,

About Insulin Resistance, National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse

9 thoughts on “Resist Insulin Resistance

  1. Marie says:

    If you don’t mind sharing JuJu, what were some of the crazy symptoms you were having. I’m really thinking I must be insulin resistant and/or PCOS. My previous doc tested sugar and said I was hypoglycemic but would have to watch it or I might get diabetes. The current doc says she doesn’t believe in hypoglycemia and doesn’t seem at all interested in checking my sugar or think anything is wrong. But boy, something isn’t right.

  2. JuJu says:

    Rats, Marie. I just knew someone would ask. Okay. I’ll be brave. What secrets could I possibly have left? Get comfortable…

    Well, let’s start with the fantastic: I grew a bit of a beard. Not, you know, Grizzly Adams, but more sort of Ethan Hawke in Before Sunrise..?

    Really bad calluses on my feet, cracking heels, infected cracking heels.

    My eye tests were going wonky.

    My periods virtually disappeared, but I wasn’t menopausal at all. And then they got really heavy. And then they disappeared again. Strange stuff.

    One doc said PCOS, the other said, not likely. But way elevated testosterone (the beard?)hints at that. And hyperinsulinemia is linked to PCOS, of course. Chicken? Egg?

    My body was redistributing fat to my belly and back with every diet. And then the diets didn’t work. I gained weight on WeightWatchers, for instance, while following it faithfully. And I’d always been successful on WW before.

    I was losing hair at my temples.

    Lots of random skin problems, rashes, infections (cysts, boils, fungi, yeast infections, eye infections, thrush).

    Acne.

    Asthma symptoms doubled.

    Little colds went to asthmatic bronchitis or pneumonia, very quickly.

    Lost a lot of hearing in one ear, a little in the other. Rather suddenly, too.

    Migraine completely out of control. I had something like 17 migraines a month. That’s er, kind of a lot.

    Brain fuzz. Memory problems, word-finding problems.

    That’s what I remember. Just being easily tipped over and suceptible to any little thing coming along. Feeling so lousy so much of the time. Living on Advil. Carrying industrial size bottles rattling around in my purse.

    That in addition to all the mechanical complaints of being big, of course.

    Almost all gone now. I have two migraines per month, like clockwork these days. I can plot them on my calendar and control them with meds. The asthma is nearly a memory, but I do watch it, mainly this time of year. My skin is clear. I can’t tell you the last time I took an Advil. The beard stopped getting bushier, and the balding stopped(but once the extra testosterone messes with your follicles, the damage is sort of done. It takes serious hair removal strategies to lose the beard). I have lived through three winters with no cracks in my heels at all. A cold is just a cold. I wish I could say my memory has improved, but I don’t think so.

    We can recover.

    Any like this? You might consider seeing an endocrinologist, you know?

  3. Marie says:

    Wow. That must have been aweful, wow, thanks JuJu, and pretty brave to post it too.

    I don’t have nearly all those or that bad, but enough. But somewhat of the hair thing, and the loosing hair thing, and the occasional acne thing. Brain feels fuzzy sometimes but then again I don’t sleep nearly enough (hmm, chicken or the egg on that one, they say sleep deprivation messes with insulin too). I know I eat too much, and don’t move enough, but I swear some of my friends eat and move about the same amounts of me, but are less overweight. I’m honestly not eating whole bags of cookies (like some in books do) and almost never eat chips, etc.

    I think I do need to find a good endo. Mine regular doc seems pretty oblivious these days, or just doesn’t give a hoot, not sure.

    thanks

  4. DaisyNYC says:

    Me, too! Me, too!

    Not all of those symptoms, but some. Gestational diabetes was my clue last year, and the belly fat that makes me look as though I am still pregnant.

    I have been to see three endocrinologists & two nutritionists and was given 5 different opinions about what food to eat and what to do, except that all recommended exercise.

    So, that part I have been doing. 30 minutes, huffing and puffing with the stroller on the days I am not working in my office (at least 2-3 times per week; often more). It’s nothing compared to the gym workout I used to do, but it’s something.

    I’ve lost some weight, but have a long way to go.

    South Beach Diet – bought the book and never read it! There’s no reason I cannot read it tonight.

    Thanks for addressing this, juju – I think I was in denial about it, and this has refocused me.

    Another great post!

  5. Lisa says:

    Can I just say ‘check-check-check&check’…Just about every single symptom you listed, I do or did have. I was diagnosed with PCOS about 8+ years ago…and some of the symptoms you listed that I have noticed I didn’t really think pertained to anything in particular. Like boils/cyst type of things…Have them…never associated them with the whole insulin thing.

    I just want to say THANK YOU for this post. There is so little awareness to these sometimes very vague symptoms, and yet they can cause SO much trouble down the road.

    Always a pleasure reading 🙂

    ~Lisa
    http://lesslisa.com

  6. Quinn says:

    Oh my gosh! JuJu!!! Just got around to reading the comments to this post and oh! golly! Am soooo sorry you went through all that.

    But girl! You beat it and lived to tell the tale!

    Awesome. Just awesome!!!

  7. Bron says:

    Here’s a biggie, too, in the symptom department. Non-stop yeast infections. Apparently all the systems of your body begin to build up high levels of sugar, and of course yeast bacteria thrive in a high sugar environment. My first clue came from my GYN.

  8. Angie says:

    JuJu,
    I ead your post and now I understand what has been happening to me… i have been gaining weight on WW and was so dissapointed i stop going. i have a big stomach and i use to have a flat one. i get yeast infection every month, i have grown hair under my chin and lost about 50% of my hair on my head. I use to have the best looking toes and feet and now they are dry and cracked, so is the rest of my body. I dont feel the left side of my body much, just some tingling and i am 5’5 at 210 lbs. My daughter is getting married may 2005 and i dont know what to do.. should i do the South Beach diet? Help!

  9. JuJu says:

    You should go see your doctor and ask about insulin resistance. Then ask to be referred to a medical practice that helps with weight management programs. It makes a lot of sense for you to be evaluated by pros before doing anything.

    But I do like the South Beach Diet for me, if that’s what you’re asking. I can’t recommend a diet program for you. That’s got to be a choice you make yourself with lots more information!

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