What is insulin resistance? Learn how you can beat it!

Are you struggling with cravings for sweet foods, feeling tired after a high carb meal and just can’t lose weight? Well, it might be insulin resistance (IR) playing havoc with your body.

It’s important to understand what insulin resistance is, why we have it and what we can do about it. So, let’s dive right in!

Firstly, insulin is a hormone released by the pancreas (an organ in the body). Insulin helps move the sugar or glucose in your bloodstream – that comes from carbohydrate foods we eat – into your cells in the body to use it as energy. Secondly, carbohydrates are foods such as bread, rice and pasta, fruits and starchy vegetables (think potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas and corn), legumes & beans as well as those treat foods such as lollies, chocolate, chips and cakes! When we eat carbohydrates, our body breaks them down into its smallest components, glucose, a type of sugar.

When cells are not responding to insulin properly, glucose levels in the blood rise. So, in response, the pancreas works harder and produces more insulin to mop up the excess sugar and transport it to the cells for energy. This continual increase in insulin output means the insulin levels in the blood rise and this is called – insulin resistance (Freeman & Pennings, 2021).

Progression of insulin resistance, i.e. not treated and managed, can lead to metabolic syndrome, fatty liver disease and type 2 diabetes.

How can it affect your weight loss efforts?

Too much insulin can increase appetite, cause “sugar-cravings”, make you feel tired after meals and lead to weight gain. Insulin is a storage hormone. Weight gain and carrying excess body fat, especially around the stomach, can eventually cause cells to stop responding to insulin (Boden et al. 2002). This then cycles back to promoting insulin resistance and the pancreas needing to produce more insulin, which ends up in a vicious cycle! Unfortunately, high insulin levels can cause imbalances with reproductive hormones in the body, acne and fertility outcomes (Nickels, M et al. 2021).

Women who have been diagnosed with PCOS are at an increased risk of having IR, which puts you at risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. It is important that IR is tackled to manage weight gain and optimise your hormones!

If you are struggling with weight gain that you haven’t been able to shift, it is REALLY helpful to get a blood test with your GP and rule out IR. There are specific blood tests you can ask for and it’s important your GP checks the right ones! If a diagnosis of insulin resistance is found, certain medications can be prescribed to help.

What can you do to help IR through diet and lifestyle changes?

Despite what a lot of people might think, a Keto diet is not the answer! This would mean cutting out ALL carbohydrates which is completely unsustainable and can be a very pro-inflammatory way of eating!

The goal is to slow down how much glucose is going into the bloodstream and even out those blood sugar levels out so you sail smoothly throughout the day! 

When you get your diet right, weight loss and weight maintenance become much easier!

Following a Mediterranean style diet with low glycaemic index (GI) carbohydrates is very effective and easy to do! Simply put this means eating:

  • Lots of colourful fruit and non-starchy vegetables
  • Legumes (lentils, beans and chickpeas)
  • Nuts and seeds (ground flaxseeds, chia seeds, nut butters, whole nuts)
  • Lots of oily fish
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Whole grains (only)
  • Moderate amounts of poultry (chicken, turkey and eggs) with less red meat (minimise processed deli meats like bacon and salami)
  • Moderate amounts of dairy with probiotic-rich yoghurt featuring most days
  • Reduced alcohol intake


Lower GI carbohydrates are usually higher in fibre, and are more slowly digested by the body meaning that glucose or sugar is released into your bloodstream at a much slower rate. We all know that fibre is so important for gut health, bowel movement and keeps you feeling full longer!

Watching your portion sizes of carbohydrates (whole grains, fruit, starchy veg and legumes), even if they are low GI, is key to stable blood sugar levels. Combining carbohydrates with lean protein foods and other high fibre foods (think nuts and non-starchy vegetables) helps balance blood sugars. For example, poached eggs on wholegrain toast with mushrooms for breakfast, feta, chickpea & tomato salad for lunch and some lightly fried zucchini slices with quinoa and fish for dinner.

As well as dietary changes, exercise is a really important part of the IR picture. Physical activity helps to not only increase energy expenditure (burning calories), but it also improves muscle insulin sensitivity (Freeman & Pennings, 2021). This means that the muscles actually help regulate insulin, and the more muscle mass you have, the more insulin sensitive you are.

My top 5 tips for beating insulin resistance!

  1. Eating a balanced, Mediterranean and low GI style diet may help you!
  2. Spread out your carbohydrates across the day. Smaller portions of carbohydrates across your 3 main meals will help even out blood sugar levels.
  3. Choose lower GI carbohydrates, preferably wholegrain, but be careful with things like brown rice which can be high GI if it’s not long grain!
  4. Schedule in 30 minutes of exercise every day. Even a brisk walk around the block during your lunch break helps to boost your insulin sensitivity and move glucose out of your blood and into your muscles!
  5. Get enough sleep each night – this is not always as easy as it sounds! Sufficient sleep (7-8hrs) each night has been shown to improve hormone regulation including your appetite. Speak to your healthcare professional if you struggle with sleeping.
Have you been recently diagnosed with insulin resistance? Are you struggling to lose weight?
Book in with me to talk about all things nutrition for your circumstances and develop a plan that is just right for you!

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