DOES INSULIN CAUSE FAT GAIN? - FACT FROM FICTION
(Also in this article… Why low-carb, juicing, vegetarian, vegan diets work? The yo-yo dieter’s mentality & The first steps to lasting change)
Insulin has been given a lot of bad press in the last couple of years, especially with low-carb dieters terming it the 'fat creator' and the 'fat storage hormone'...
This has been taken far out of context, so much so it's almost as though there’s been a game of 'Chinese whispers', leaving us with a massive misinterpretation.
(We’re going a bit 'sciencey' in here, so if this doesn’t interest you, just know you do NOT need to be focusing on controlling your insulin levels (unless you’re pre-diabetic, have type 1 or 2 diabetes, or medically advise to). It is a small fish in a vast ocean when it comes to healthy living.
Achieving a healthy lifestyle and maintaining it requires focusing on more significant factors such as: a balanced diet from mainly unprocessed whole foods, creating healthy food behaviours, general activity, purposeful exercise, sleep & stress management…. And none of these can be expected to be perfect, but instead a continuous ‘work in progress’.
Mainstream diets focus on things like ‘insulin responses’ to differentiate themselves from others, typically skewing the interpretation scientific research to justify their existence, and to get your ‘buy-in’.
You don’t have to add more stress into your life, in the effort to live a healthier lifestyle, especially if you could progress in any of the areas outlined above.)
So let's first get clear on what insulin is...
What Really is Insulin?
Put simply, when we eat food, it is broken down into the most basic form of fats, proteins and carbohydrates.
These macronutrients then find their way into our bloodstream, and need to be transported to repair and nourish our cells, everything from our bones, joints, organs, to our muscle, liver and fat cells - so we can function proficiently.
Insulin is the hormone which enables this delivery process (this is why people call it the storage hormone). Depending on the quantity and the combination of macronutrients ingested, different amounts of insulin is released.
Carbohydrates by themselves, typically have the greatest insulin response, followed by proteins and finally fats. However, if you’re eating a balanced meal of all three macronutrients, you’ll slow down the insulin response (particularly with fats, and fibre), providing a sustained level of energy.
(SIDE NOTE: This is part of the reason why the ‘Glycemic Index’ (GI), and eating low-GI foods is flawed… unless at every meal you’re eating your foods in isolation, you’re not going to have same ‘GI’ response recorded in the table.
Hopefully by the end of this article you’ll see this focus on insulin is just like mowing the lawn, while your house is on fire...There are much bigger pebbles with larger ripples to focus on if your goal is to lose weight sustainably, take control of your health, and live a healthy, happy lifestyle… back to the article!)
Insulin is released by the pancreas into your bloodstream when the nutrients are ready to be taken up by your cells. It shuttles them along, knocking on the doors of your cells to open up and deliver the goods.
THINK OF INSULIN as your trusty OCADO service, which brings you your weekly food shop from the warehouse to your home.
Does This Lead to Fat Storage?
So we know insulin is a storage hormone (a fairly important one at that). But does that mean the more insulin = more fat storage?
NO - although there is a CORRELATION between the two, there is no direct CAUSATION.
THINK OF IT this way....
Insulin, is like the number of OCADO delivery vans out for your order.
Calories, are the items you’ve ordered.
You could send out hundreds of delivery vans (insulin), and provided it's your usual weekly order, you’ll still receive the same number of items (calories), whether it comes from 1 van or 25.
If you'd ever been on a fruits and vegetables juice detox, or a vegetarian / vegan diet - you will be activating your insulin regularly because of the high carbohydrate content.... but of course, people do lose weight.
So Why Do Low-Carb, Juicers, Vegans Lose Weight?
Good question, 1 involves minimising the release of insulin as much as possible... and the other 2 involves a high and frequent release of insulin?
So how does this work?
Firstly, notice already how this already flaws the argument of insulin being a determining factor in weight loss.
The commonality between all of these diets is RESTRICTION, by either removing entire food groups from your diet or implementing certain rules to follow, and as a result...?
You'll be removing CALORIES, resulting in weight loss.
Now to the most important question…
How Well Does This Approach Work For You?
Sure, you'll be losing weight in the short-term and feel great about it...
But living with the assumption that if you’re looking to lose weight you must avoid eating carbohydrates, or stay away from meat, or only drink your calories in green juices....is WRONG
These assumptions built by mainstream diets to differentiate themselves from others in the chance to become the ‘next big thing’, only create more confusion, poor relationships with food, short-term results, negativity around body image and insecurities, and much more… Driving us further away from WHAT it is to be healthy, and the sustainable (achievable) way of HOW to be healthy.
Creating The Yo-Yo Dieter Mentality
Few weeks dieting, then the uncontrollable urge for everything you've been restricting yourself from (and thinking non-stop about) hits, and you 'fall off the wagon'.
The pounds pile on and realise you need to lose weight again, and what works? Restriction, because that's the only way you know HOW....
And over the years you've noticed you've slowly been putting more and more weight on, even after numerous diets... each year.
This approach (as you may of guessed) does not work long-term for most, is not sustainable, and beyond that, creates a NEGATIVE relationship with food...and that is NO WAY TO LIVE.
Become In-Tune With Your Body
Learn how to listen to your body, your hunger cues, identify your triggers (food, emotions, environments, social groups, stress etc.)....
Becoming conscious of these factors first as a starting point for change.
Make Small 9 Or 10 / 10 Achievable Changes
Make it easy, realistic and actionable that you can consistently achieve small behavioural goals as votes for change - as we know - success builds on success, and creates momentum.
If you have 3 fast-food takeaway meals a day in your busy work lifestyle. Going straight to home-prepped food may be too big of a step for you at first, even for 1 of those meals. So instead, maybe consider 2 of your 'usual’s', and 1 healthier option, and after building in this routine consistently, look for that 1% better progression.
The key to this is YOU, only YOU know what is achievable and realistic within the constrains of your lifestyle, and the best coaches know this and help you experiment with different options, finding out what works and what doesn't, then carefully guiding your progression - ALWAYS keeping you in the decision-making process.
When attempting a lifestyle change by yourself, all I ask is to KEEP IT SIMPLE at first, by breaking down the desired goal further into smaller steps. Consistency trumps any measure of change, build the foundations in with something simple - especially at the start... If it's a lifestyle change you're looking for, there should be no need to rush, the change will come with consistency.
- Insulin is an important hormone for transporting nutrients to all our cells in our body.
- Although the response will vary depending on the type of nutrients and the combinations ingested, it will have no effect on weight loss if comparing diets with the same caloric intake.
- Mainstream diets focus on these elements to differentiate themselves in the hope of becoming the next ‘big thing’.
- NO you do not need to worry yourself with insulin, fry the bigger fish first.
- All diets work short-term because of the lower calorie intake generated from restriction.
- Researchers are finding that diets, no matter which you choose, don’t work long-term (Mann et al, 2007)
- Dieters lose weight first, but almost always gain it back ALONG WITH body insecurities, emotional ties to food and a suppressed metabolism (Maclean, Bergoulgnan, Cornier & Jackman, 2011).
- Find out where you are on the basics of healthy living (listed in first paragraph), and look for slow progression in each area.
- Become curious about your body, learn from it and become 'in-tune' with it. Build awareness, and make small achievable votes for change.
- You are your best coach and best determiner of what is realistic and achievable for you, given your lifestyle. Start easy and build momentum.
- Don't entitle a health coach to take full control of your habits. For lasting change YOU have to be making the decisions - a health coach is there to guide you (not take control) in the decision-making process, illuminating which paths maybe most achievable for now.
- Above all, DON'T RUSH lasting change, if it's something you desire for yourself, it will come with consistency - nothing else.
"We first make habits, then our habits make us" , John Dryden.
Committed to building your health,