Weight gain and loss isn’t always a matter of “calories in, calories out” – our bodies are far more nuanced and complex than this simple equation suggests.
If you’ve felt frustrated by someone telling you to eat less and exercise/move your body more (because you’re already doing just that and not seeing the results), you’re certainly not alone. Keep reading to learn about how hormones play a role in your overall body composition.
When it comes to weight management, many people have heard the fundamental concept’ “calories in, calories out” which tells us that:
A. If you consistently consume more calories than your body expends, there is an energy surplus, and the excess calories are stored as fat and weight gain ensues.
B. If you consistently expend more calories than you consume, creating an energy deficit, your body taps into its fat stores to make up for the deficit, leading to weight loss.
However, it’s important to note that the human body’s energy balance is influenced by various factors, including basal metabolic rate (the energy required for basic bodily functions at rest), physical activity, genetics, hormonal factors, and the type of foods consumed (it’s not just about calories).
While the concept of “calories in, calories out” provides a foundational understanding of weight management, it’s just one piece of a complex puzzle that involves a variety of physiological and behavioural factors.
One of the most common causes of abdominal weight gain is actually insulin resistance (IR).
IR is when the body’s cells do not respond effectively to insulin. When someone is insulin resistant, their cells can not turn sugar into energy properly so it gets stored as fat instead. This causes symptoms like lower energy, inflammation, and belly fat.
Insulin resistance is synonymous with pre-diabetes, “hyperinsulinemia” (high insulin), and is the underlying cause of metabolic syndrome. Research shows that those 20 years of age today face a 50% chance of developing diabetes in their lifetime.
This isn’t just about weight gain or weight loss resistance; IR is associated with an increased risk of several serious health conditions including heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer, and dementia. If you’ve been told you have fatty liver, there is a high likelihood you have insulin resistance.
For women, insulin resistance could play a major role in:
If you were to ‘look up’ physical signs of insulin resistance you’ll see symptoms like
Conventionally in Canada, fasting blood sugar and HbA1C (3 month marker of blood sugar) is used. But other tests can gleam (but not diagnose) whether insulin resistance is present, such as seeing high triglycerides or cholesterol on a lipid panel. We may also see elevated inflammation markers such as C-reactive protein (CRP) or high liver enzymes.
Your fasting glucose and HbA1C may register high, but often in mild-moderate insulin resistance, these remain within the normal range. This means that insulin resistance can be missed when only using these 2 blood tests.
Your other choice, test insulin itself.
Typically we use the HOMA-IR score or index which is a ratio of your fasted insulin and fasted glucose.
As insulin sensitivity improves, and high insulin levels begin to drop, your metabolism can be restored and weight loss can begin again. Abdominal weight will be very difficult to lose until insulin is back in the healthy range.
This can take time; your metabolism can be healing for a while before weight loss starts. So don’t get discouraged! Tracking fasting insulin helps us re-assess and see improvements in insulin resistance even when you feel things are slow (or nil) on the weight loss front.
Here’s how you can improve insulin resistance:
Want to learn more? Module 9 of the Wild Collective is all about blood sugar balance! I’ll be running this women’s group program again this Fall, if you’re interested, check it out HERE.
- Dr. Willow
I help women achieve optimal digestive and hormonal wellness through a root cause, individualized approach to medicine that utilizes functional lab testing, diet and lifestyle modification, nutritional and herbal medicine, and acupuncture to re-establish lasting health.
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Between my wait listed practice, building my Wild Collective communities, and being Mom, I don't email often, but I'm working behind the scenes to bring you major value and I'd love to be able to tell you about it when it is ready (along with some more personal shares).