Belly Fat and InsulinJun 30, 2021
Calories are not the full answer to weight loss, and sit-ups are not the full answer to a flat belly. What we eat that drives insulin is the route to shaking things up and getting rid of fat. Learn about the belly fat and insulin connection.
Here is your roadmap to this blog:
How did we get here? The Standard American Diet
- The Standard American Diet (often referred to as SAD) can be 400 to 500 or more carbohydrates a day even if you are not overeating or bingeing.
- This governmental dietary recommendation (with no scientific research to support it!) is overloaded with cereals, grains, legumes and fruit.
- These carbohydrates are just sugar which leads to high insulin, which leads to fat storage.
- The connection is simple we have belly fat and insulin.
These carbohydrates add up – one meal will usually have 100 or more carbohydrates! By the time your day is done with three meals and perhaps two to three snacks, you are easily looking at that SAD amount of 500 or more carbs per day - sometimes per meal.
How does this happen?
Take a moderate typical breakfast:
- 8 oz juice: 27 carbs
- 1 cup multi-grain cheerios: 24 carbs
- Small, sliced banana: 24 carbs
- 1 cup 2% milk: 12 carbs
- Coffee with 2 TBS creamer: 10 carbs
*Total: 95 carbs.
- Want to add a Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts coffee drink to that on the way to work?
- Depending upon whether you use a flavoring and/or sugar, it can add up to another 40 carbs for a small one.
- ONE multi-grain bagel – nothing even on it: 63 carbs!
Okay forget the Starbucks coffee drink and maybe the bagel.
What are things you might pick up as a snack or add to your meal during the day?
- Think you are “good” to get just a snack bag of BAKED Lays potato chips? Add 31 carbs right there for only 15 chips – and that is probably only half a snack bag.
- Think a handful of grapes (about one cup) is better? Well maybe – that’s only 29 carbs.
Lunch? Boy you’re being good here – you brought one of these Lean Cuisines to heat up at work. Examples:
- Sesame Chicken: 51 carbs
- Glazed Turkey Tenderloins: 44 carbs
- Lasagna with Meat Sauce: 45 carbs
- Parmesan Crusted Fish: 42 carbs
AND let me add, as a former Lean Cuisine and Weight Watchers frozen-meal sort of gal myself – you are STARVING within an hour so let’s add
- maybe popcorn
- Haven’t switched to diet soda to go with that Lean Cuisine? A can of Coke is 40 carbs.
You get the point here – by the time your day is done with three meals and two to three snacks, you are easily looking at 400 to 500 carbs or more.
I spared you going through a dinner menu that might include a baked potato, or pasta, bread, a casserole that might have breading, etc. – but you get the point from what goes on at breakfast and lunch.
You are not broken, my friend. You have been raised since childhood to desire and eat certain foods. Luck of the draw that you might not have had good metabolism or good genes like other kids your age.
Complete the loop here.
- You are a child who is overweight.
- You probably didn't have as much physical activity because your weight made it hard to be in activities.
- Can you imagine an 80+ pound 7 year old holding her weight on the monkey bars or a 100+ pound 10 year old running bases with the thinner, more agile kids?
- Then the teasing makes you withdraw more - and of course you are never picked for schoolyard games.
- So you are one of these kids.
- Do cookies and snacks make you feel better?
- Now you are developing triggers that will be with you your entire life.
- Sad = food.
- Lonely = food.
- Anxious = food.
- And now the big one: Love = food. At least mom's spaghetti warmed your tummy and your heart.
In addition to triggers, habits and lifestyle, the SAD way of eating has made it difficult for your hormones to function in a way that supports dynamic health.
- If you were put on a diet when you were a child and are still searching for the holy grail in your 50s and 60s I think you can start to see that the road to your weight problems was paved long before you even knew any pavers were being set down.
- There is no blame here.
- It was a perfect storm of available food, emotions, genetics, metabolism and habits.
As Maya Angelou said, "When you know better you do better." Now it's your time to do better as you learn more about your predicament.
Sugar consumption, blood sugar, insulin and fat storage
Specifically: Belly Fat and Insulin
So let's learn more so you can do better!
Can you can have stable blood sugar but high insulin?
In the early stages of metabolic dysfunction (pre-diabetes, beginning stages of insulin resistance, etc.) people may have normal (or slightly elevated) fasting glucose but very high levels of circulating insulin.
Jason Fung, among other researchers, has said that high insulin levels (hyperinsulinemia) can show itself decades before diabetes (high blood sugar) ever shows itself.
I highly recommend Joyce Kiddie's excellent article on this. One of her observations is particularly sad but true: "Physicians have “answers” (lab test results) but oftentimes are asking the wrong questions."
An A1C test, or at least fasting glucose, is pretty much a standard test on any blood test panel that you will have done.
However that is not the full picture of metabolic health.
Fasting insulin, which is a good capture of metabolic health, is rarely done.
As a matter of fact, in my own experience, a request for a fasting insulin test always had to be handwritten by the doctor, and it was never part of the check-off list of the hundreds of standard blood tests.
Furthermore, I was never called out on my fasting insulin level of 49. It was totally ignored by my doctor, who was going by my A1C that was "good enough".
So here was an answer with no question at all.
A world of hurt could have been avoided if that doctor understood that I was headed for trouble with insulin resistance even though my blood sugar was within a normal range.
What is insulin and insulin resistance?
- Insulin is a hormone released by the pancreas after you eat.
- It helps the glucose (sugar) in your blood enter cells to be used as energy.
- When you are constantly consuming glucose (in any form) your pancreas keeps pumping out insulin to open the receptors to your cells so that they will take in the glucose for energy.
- At some point, your cells become "deaf" to the insulin knocking at the door, and they lock themselves up from accepting any more glucose to use as energy.
- This is why your blood sugar will go up.
- It circulates instead of being moved into the cells for energy.
- This state of the cells no longer responding to insulin is known as insulin resistance.
Think of the system as a lock and key.
- Insulin is the key that unlocks the cell.
- If the cell does not get unlocked the glucose has no where to go so it stays in your blood (ultimately being moved to fat cells for storage).
- When your blood sugar reaches a high level you are said to have developed type 2 diabetes.
- Pre-diabetes is when some glucose is getting into your cells to be used as energy, but not totally and not efficiently.
Under this "lock and key" condition the pancreas secretes even more insulin in the hopes it will lower the glucose in the blood.
- This condition leads to high insulin levels, called hyperinsulinemia.
- Hyperinsulinemia then leads to an exaggerated insulin response.
- This means that eating even a small amount of carbohydrates may cause the pancreas to release large amounts of "useless" insulin.
- This exaggerated insulin response results in a vicious cycle where you feel you are on a hamster wheel getting nowhere with your efforts to diet.
Insulin resistance fallout
- There are many conditions that can signal insulin resistance.
- Skin tags
- patches of dark-colored skin
- dyslipidemia conditions such as
- low HDL
- high cholesterol
- high blood triglycerides
Hunger and Fatigue
Even if you have just eaten you could be fatigued and sluggish. This is because your insulin is not getting glucose into your cells to be used as energy. You are tired all the time.
You are also hungry all the time because not only are your cells not getting the energy they need, but your satiety hormones (ghrelin and leptin) are also out of whack.
Other Insulin Fallout
Other insulin resistance conditions can be PCOS (Poly-Cystic Ovary Syndrome), atherosclerosis and hypertension. Sometimes insulin resistance is said to cause a cascade of metabolic disorders, because one can cause the others, or if they are separate, they do tend to cluster and cascade at the same time.
Insulin and fat storage
Now let's turn to belly fat and insulin.
- Insulin will either help cells obtain energy from glucose or help convert glucose to fat for long-term storage.
- With your muscle cells being impaired because of insulin resistance where they "turn a deaf ear" to insulin, the insulin then moves the glucose along to fat cells to be stored for future energy needs (which never come unless you become a serious athlete or a super-duper ketone burner!).
- Unfortunately this fat storage is in the worst possible place.
- When you hear the term "belly fat" it sounds benign but it is the most dangerous fat in your body.
Types of fat
Belly fat is your visceral fat and is the white fat that’s stored in your abdomen and around all of your major organs, such as the liver, kidneys, pancreas, intestines and heart.
While some of this fat is important in the function of our hormones, large amounts of this type of fat can increase your risk for diabetes, heart disease, stroke, artery disease and some cancers.
A type of fat primarily found in babies is called brown fat. Adults do still retain a very small amount of brown fat, typically in the neck and shoulders. This type of fat burns fatty acids and may actually prevent obesity.
A relatively new area of research is beige fat, also referred to as brite fat. These fat cells function somewhere between brown and white fat cells and can help burn fat rather than store it.
Essential fat is essential for your life and a healthy body. This fat is found in your brain, bone marrow, nerves and the membranes that protect your organs. It plays a major role in hormone regulation, vitamin absorption and temperature regulation.
The bottom line
Further to all of this is the debate about whether obesity causes insulin resistance or whether insulin resistance causes obesity.
There is valuable and current research on both sides, but the consensus they agree with is that you must become healthy to lose weight rather than lose weight to become healthy.
They indeed go hand-in-hand, but it appears that very simply, lowering your insulin will reduce insulin resistance and fat storage.
I think that you can start to see that dieting and weight loss is not the main attraction here, but rather choosing a healthy lifestyle. Stop dieting and live your life (in a healthy way)!
Now that you see the connection between belly fat and insulin and insulin resistance, it is important to take actions to eliminate its formation and storage.
- Consume less glucose-producing foods and you will not have your pancreas working overtime to produce insulin.
- Produce less insulin and calm down your insulin resistance.
- This will open the muscle cell receptors so that the transporters can do their job of moving glucose into the muscles cells to be used for energy.
- Less fatigue.
- Less hunger.
- Better functioning hormones.
Learn more about this with my book and course:
Book Breaking Free From Diet Prison: Common Sense Keto and Low Carb
Course Breaking Free From Diet Prison: The Roadmap to Low Carb and Keto Success
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