Health & Fitness

Is this Silent Hormone Imbalance Behind Your Weight Gain?

Dr Lauretta Ihonor talks to TLL about why this silent hormone could be the reason you are gaining weight and offers some tips on what we can do

“I’m eating really healthily and working out daily but I can’t stop gaining weight… maybe it’s my thyroid.”

It’s a sentence uttered at some point by any woman fighting what seems like a losing battle with weight gain. Whilst a sluggish thyroid is one of the first health conditions to fall under suspicion when weight piles on for no apparent reason, a completely different type of hormone imbalance could be to blame. It’s called insulin resistance and while it affects up to 20% of the general population, most have never even heard of it.

Insulin resistance simply means the cells of your body have stopped responding to insulin – the hormone that’s released by your pancreas every time you eat – as readily as they should. Insulin’s main role is to move broken down food (in the form of glucose) from the blood stream and into the cells for energy. So, when your cells don’t respond well to insulin, your pancreas just pumps out even more of the hormone to compensate.

That wouldn’t be a problem, if insulin’s second job wasn’t to turn glucose into fat for storage. But that’s exactly what it does, which means the high insulin levels seen in insulin resistance most often leads to more fat storage than normal and that’s why the pounds suddenly pile on and refuse to shift. To make matters worse, as insulin resistance makes the body use less food for energy and more for fat storage, those affected by the condition are likely to get hungry and have lower energy levels than they should… making weight loss even harder.

The sneaky thing about insulin resistance is that it’s usually silent. In fact, the most common symptoms experienced are stubborn weight gain and food cravings.  Getting carried away with sweet treats and struggling to lose weight is a frustration that’s pretty common today, it’s easy for you (and even your doctor) to remain blissfully unaware that you’ve got insulin resistance.  If left unchecked, it could lead to diabetes – which comes with its own set of health challenges.


So what can be done?

Firstly, if you’ve been struggling with weight gain that nothing seems to shift and you’ve also noticed symptoms like uncontrollable sugar cravings and hunger, it’s worth going to your GP. A simple blood test (measuring your fasting blood glucose, fasting insulin and HbA1C) will quickly reveal if you do have it.
The thing to know about insulin resistance is that like diabetes, it is partly genetic in nature, but also strongly influenced by lifestyle and diet. So, while being overweight and leading a lifestyle that’s high in processed, high-sugar foods and lacking in exercise can bring on the condition, numerous studies, like this review published in Sports Medicine Journal have shown that cleaning up your diet, doing some exercise and losing weight can dramatically improve it.


But as there’s nothing more frustrating than being told to ‘move more and eat better’ when you’re already struggling with painstakingly stubborn weight gain, here are four specific tips to help jumpstart your weight loss efforts. And the good news is that once you lose a little weight, you’ll improve your insulin resistance, which should make the rest of the weight easier to lose.


• Add weight training to your workouts
Not only does weight training burn more fat than cardio, it also helps build some lean muscle. Increasing muscle mass is crucial for improving insulin sensitivity because muscle is the biggest user of glucose in your body. Finally, the more muscle you have, the higher your resting metabolism – that’s the amount of energy your body burns when you’re doing nothing particularly tasking. And the more energy you use during the day, the less you store as fat and the more weight you lose.


• Get friendly with interval training
Studies, like this 2015 one, have shown that interval training reduces insulin resistance and weight more than steady state training. If you’re not familiar with interval training, it simply means alternating short bouts of high intensity exercise with a short recovery period instead of working out at a continuous steady pace.


• Ditch refined sugar – think soft drinks, cakes and biscuits
There’s no quicker way to reduce weight gain from insulin sensitivity than to stop feeding your body large amounts of pure sugar on a regular basis. That’s because insulin release is mostly stimulated by the presence of simple sugar in your blood. Cut down the amount of sugar you put into your body and you’ll cut down on the amount of insulin your pancreas pumps out on a daily basis.


• Stop eating carbohydrates on their own
Protein and fibre-rich vegetables help to slow down the release of sugar from carbohydrates like rice, bread and pasta. While cutting down on these carbohydrate rich foods will really help to improve your insulin resistance, this improvement can be further boosted by always eating your carbs with a protein. And by slowing down sugar release, you should avoid feeling hungry soon after eating and minimise cravings.


Lauretta Ihonor (web) 06 (1000x667) copy

Dr Lauretta Ihonor is a London-based medical and nutritional doctor, and weight loss expert. She trained at University College London Medical School and graduated with a Medical degree and an additional degree in Nutritional Genetics. She helps women struggling with stubborn weight discover the exact reason they can’t lose weight, so they finally achieve a lean, healthy body and total body confidence.

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