In a normal healthy body, insulin works like a key in a lock to allow glucose (blood sugar) to move from the blood stream into storage, where it is available for energy as needed. Insulin resistance is a condition where cells have stopped responding to insulin like they should.
Therefore, blood sugar stays high much longer than normal, and glucose gets turned into fat, most of which is stored in the abdomen. In fact, “core obesity” or belly fat is a prime indicator of insulin resistance. See this post to learn more about insulin resistance and a general strategy to improve your body’s response to insulin.
The Insulin Resistance Diet (As if there was such a thing… 😊)
The tips here on how to use a diet for insulin resistance will work best if combined with other lifestyle strategies, such as getting adequate sleep, reducing stress, and exercising. Since diet is probably the single biggest contributor to developing insulin resistance, this article will focus on proven nutritional strategies, using food as medicine.
But first, a BIG caveat! People are not all the same. Let me repeat that: Not everyone will respond the same way to the same strategy. What works for one person may be a total fail for the next.
In the diabetes and insulin resistance treatment world, there are two main schools of thought, and they almost completely contradict each other. One says that a low-fat, plant-based diet is the only way to go. The other says that high-fat, low-carb is the solution.
Who is right?! The good news is that they both are, but not for everyone. What this means, in practical terms, is that you are free to learn and experiment, to find out what works for YOUR body, and to be healthy even if you don’t follow the “expert’s” advice.
Let’s start with the simplest and most important principle.
Eat Real Food
Then I noticed an intriguing commonality in all the bashing and defensiveness. They all were about eating REAL FOOD! In every single truly successful approach, no matter how different they might be in other ways, this holds true.
Eat real food. Its so simple that its easy to overlook. Here is some great information about what to eat and why.
Okay. What does that mean? Let’s first look at what it’s not. I call these “NO Foods”. Avoid the food-like substances that aren’t really food.
Avoid highly processed foods. Items like white bread, white rice, pasta, Twinkies™ or TastyKakes™, and soda/pop/soft drinks, and anything with more than approximately five ingredients on the label. (I also try to avoid foods with ingredients I can’t pronounce—that’s a good indicator that it isn’t “real food”.)
These foods are digested very quickly, spiking blood sugar. Blood sugar spikes stress the pancreas, which makes insulin, and increase the likelihood of developing or worsening insulin resistance.
Say “YES” to Healthy and Joyful Living
Although it’s good to know about and avoid foods that make insulin resistance worse, you don’t want to focus on that. A fear-based, avoidance approach triggers stress hormones and chemicals in your brain, and actually makes your body hang on to fat—it’s a pre-programmed survival strategy that can sabotage your good choices.
Instead, focus on how you are making good choices and enjoying your food and your life. When you do this, your body, brain, nervous, and endocrine systems get the message that it’s safe to move from “survival mode” into “THRIVE MODE”.
Your brain is free to start subconsciously setting you up for success, your body relaxes and energy that was being used to keep you tense is now available to be used to burn fat.
Instead of saying “I can’t have that”, say “I don’t want that. I am choosing_____”.
Rejoice in the fullness of a healthy lifestyle.
Real food wins every single time.
That means choosing fresh vegetables, fruit with the skin on, full-fat meat (yes, really! [at least for most of us]), whole grains, and saying yes to flavor and nutrition.
Within that joyful and fulfilling general guideline, there are several specifics and additional information that you may find helpful.
A diet high in fruits and vegetables has been repeatedly proven, in countless studies, to lead to better health outcomes than a diet without these essentials. So let’s look at some ways to incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables into your everyday routine, starting with breakfast.
Breakfast. It is perhaps the most frequently skipped meal of the day, and the one where we (or at least I!) are most likely to reach for a pre-packaged granola bar, toaster pastry, or other processed foods. Here are some easy and healthy alternatives.
- A banana with crunchy peanut butter. This is the perfect pairing, since the banana contains potassium and other essential minerals, and peanut butter has enough protein to slow the carbohydrate absorption, and enough fat to keep you feeling full. Choose a brand without added sugar for more authentic flavor and no bad stuff.
- Carrot sticks and hummus. We don’t usually think of this as breakfast food, but why ever not? Enjoy the fiber, the nutrients, and the amazing flavor.
- Greek yogurt (or non-dairy yogurt) with toasted oat flakes and a drizzle of honey. Mix it up by throwing in some fruit.
- Green smoothie. There are many ways to make these. A simple and easy option is to combine spinach and/or kale greens, avocado and/or Greek yogurt, and fresh or frozen berries to taste, with milk, water, or juice to make it thin enough to blend. For a twist, you can throw in some granola and eat it with a spoon.
Lunch and Dinner
- Salads with leafy greens are ALWAYS a winning choice! Consider adding nuts for healthy fats and a protein boost. Vinaigrette dressing, a drizzle of olive oil, or a spritz of vinegar make healthy dressing choices.
- Raw, steamed, cooked, roasted, stir-fried, broasted, even boiled. Alone, in combination, or paired with meat. Experiment with herbs and spices and use sea salt to bring out the flavor.
- Wraps and tortillas make fun bases for various combinations of vegetables, beans, and meat. For example, refried beans on corn tortillas with a slice of cheese, served with salsa and a dollop of sour cream and a side of salad—YUM.
Do Life with Joy!
Experiment, have fun, ask friends to share their favourites. The point is to move in the direction of healthier. Celebrate each win, remind yourself of what went well, and look for ways to recreate success.
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Remember that your body and the way it responds is unique. Pay attention to which foods make you feel good, and which don’t. Honor that information. Some will feel better on low fat options, others will feel best with low-carb—honor that, but don’t make avoidance the focus.
If you discover that life is better without gluten, or dairy, or corn, or any other common or uncommon allergen, remember this: It is not a diet for life. It is a prescription for living!
Most importantly, have fun and enjoy the journey. Share your thoughts below and don’t forget to also share this with others 🙂