If you’re someone who's dealing with belly fat, one of the biggest reasons you want to get rid of it, or at least try to lose some of it is because of how it looks. For any of us, seeing the inches creep onto our waistline sends us clear signals that we’re doing something wrong in the way that we eat, the way we move, how we manage stress…and a number of other factors, including how we manage the health of our hormones. The connection between insulin resistance and belly fat is strong.
In this article, I'll explain:
- Insulin resistance: what it is and how it happens
- Belly fat: how insulin resistance causes belly fat, also known as visceral fat
- How to reverse insulin resistance and maybe get rid of some belly fat!
Insulin Resistance and Belly Fat: The Connection
First let me start by saying that insulin resistance is entirely controllable. In other words, if your doctor diagnosed you with insulin resistance - it’s reversible. You can do things in your life right now that can stop insulin resistance in its tracks. I'll get to what you can do in just a moment, but for now, you need to understand exactly what insulin resistance is.
Insulin resistance is when the cells in your muscles, fat and liver stop listening to insulin. Your cells become sort of like a distracted kid whose ears are turned on half the time. The other half of the time, they're somewhere in la la land.
But insulin is a really important hormone to listen to. Its main job is to manage blood sugar levels. If blood sugars aren't in control, insulin relegates the extra sugars to fat cells, specifically in your midsection. This is how insulin can trigger belly fat.
Insulin is the Janitor of a Sugar Factory
Think of insulin as a janitor who’s been tasked with cleaning up a floor full of sugar after a pipe burst in a candy factory. In this analogy, think of the sugary floor as the sugar in your blood.
To get all that sugar cleaned up, the janitor - your insulin - needs a lot of mops.
The perfect solution is that the janitor calls on hundreds of magical mops that soak up all of the sugar. Think of the mops as the cells in your body that act like a sponge for sugar.
But the janitor is stuck in a less-than-perfect scenario. He calls on all of his magical mops to soak up all the sugar, but only half of the mops do the work. The other half of the mops just stand around - leaving sugar all over the floor.
Because the mops are being lazy, he picks up the phone and calls for another janitor to come manage the sticky, sugary floor.
In this analogy, the backup janitor is more insulin.
Bringing it back to reality - in insulin resistance, your cells simply don’t respond to insulin the way they should. Your cells leave sugar in your blood, where it can’t stay. So more insulin comes in to motivate your cells to absorb the sugar that's still there.
In a healthy body, insulin sends signals to your cells that sugar is in your blood. Your cells respond by soaking up the sugar and storing it. If you're eating healthy and watching the amount of sugar and refined carbs you eat, then the extra sugar that gets stored eventually gets burned off through activity. Unfortunately, too many people eat too much refined carbs and sugary foods, resulting in a lot of extra sugar storage that translates to belly fat.
How Insulin Resistance Leads to Belly Fat
You may be asking yourself right about now - how does this cause belly fat?
Insulin responds to sugar in your blood no matter what you eat. You could eat something really healthy or you could eat a big bowl of ice cream. The difference is when you eat the big bowl of ice cream, you have more sugar in your blood. If you don’t use that sugar through activity, the sugar will get stored as fat - and preferentially through the belly area.
Your liver is a great warehouse for sugar, too. But it can only hold so much. If your liver is too full with sugar, the sugar can “leak” out - causing elevated triglycerides, a fat that can be measured in your blood.
So in a nutshell, that’s insulin resistance and its relationship to belly fat.
If your body is insulin resistant, it doesn't necessarily mean you have pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes, although many people who are pre-diabetic do have insulin resistance.
How can you prevent/reverse insulin resistance and lose belly fat?
So what can you do NOW so you don’t develop pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes? And what can you do to prevent or reverse insulin resistance altogether.
This is the time for you to really focus on your diet. To be clear, I didn't say you needed to "go on a diet," rather you need to focus on your diet. Eat healthy foods.
Here are 6 things you can do right now:
- Eat plenty of higher-fiber foods, including vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and some whole grains. Do an experiment and read your labels for a couple of days. Add up the amount of fiber you eat. Aim for 25 to 35 grams of fiber a day.
- Exercise. Even walking 20 to 30 minutes a day helps your body manage blood sugar levels much more efficiently. Exercise lowers your insulin levels almost immediately.
- Sleep! There has been plenty of research done that shows that people who don’t get 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night have higher levels of a hormone called ghrelin, which stimulates your appetite, and have less stable blood sugar levels.
- Drink water. Drinking on 8-ounce glass of water boosts your metabolic rate by 30% for an hour. Aim to drink half your weight in ounces (i.e. a 160 pound person should drink 80 ounces of water). While this may not have a direct impact on insulin, elevating your metabolism by consistently drinking water is a great way to shed some body fat.
- Eat healthier fats. Incorporate healthy fats such as avocados, nuts, seeds, olive oil, olives, avocado oil, etc., and avoid processed vegetable oils like corn, canola and soybean oil - all known to trigger inflammation.
- Download the 6-Week Apple-Shaped Meal Plan. I designed this to help you lose belly (visceral) fat. Get 6 weeks of meal plans, recipes and tips.