When insulin resistance is present, insulin cannot efficiently move sugar out of your blood and into your cells. This makes weight loss difficult because the resulting high blood sugar and insulin levels block fat loss and make you feel tired and hungry. If it is allowed to progress, this resistance can lead to type 2 diabetes.
A full diagnosis requires blood work, but there are markers that you can see on your body or that are revealed through your diet and lifestyle that may indicate that you have insulin resistance. This blog post shares what they are and what to do if you have them.
Risk Factors of Insulin Resistance At-A-Glance
- Belly Fat
- Skin Tags
- Dark Skin Patches
- High Soda Intake
- Highly Refined Diet
- Frequent Meals and Snacks
- Sedentary Lifestyle
You May Have Insulin Resistance If… [Video]
In this video, you’ll learn…
- Seven risk factors of insulin resistance that you may have.
- Four lifestyle changes to help reduce insulin resistance.
- Additional resources for weight loss success.
#1 Have a Lot of Belly Fat
Visceral or belly fat that builds up deep in the abdomen is a risk factor for insulin resistance for many reasons. One is that it causes the release of free fatty acids. This excess of fat in the blood is thought to inhibit insulin’s ability to move glucose – or blood sugar – into the muscle cells (1).
Also, visceral fat is more metabolically active than fat that you can pinch under the skin, contributing to inflammation that further raises your risk of insulin resistance (2).
A large waist circumference is typically defined as more than 40 inches (102 cm) for men and more than 35 inches (89 cm) for women.
#2 Have Many Skin Tags
Some skin changes are linked to insulin resistance. One of them is skin tags.
Skin tags are small, benign skin growths that commonly pop up in the armpits, neck, and groin. But they can also develop on the trunk of your body or your eyelids.
Why they develop so often on the skin of those with insulin resistance is debated. However, scientists speculate that because insulin is a growth-promoting hormone, the sustained high insulin levels that result from the condition may be responsible for developing these growths that we call skin tags (3) (4).
#3 Have Dark Skin Patches
Dark patches that appear on certain areas of the skin can indicate the presence of insulin resistance. The brown to black patches, called acanthosis nigricans, most commonly appear in the armpits or the back and sides of the neck. However, they can also occur in other skin folds, like the elbows, groin, knees, and the area around your belly button (3).
#4 Drink a Lot of Soda
When it comes to diet, you are more likely to have insulin resistance if you drink a lot of sugar-sweetened beverages, like sweet tea, energy drinks, or soda. Soda may be one of the worst culprits because it is sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. And there are many studies that confirm that soft drink consumption is positively associated with HOMA-IR changes. HOMA-IR is a blood test calculation used to diagnose insulin resistance (5) (6) (7) (8).
#5 Diet High in Refined Carbs
Refined carbohydrates digest quickly, causing a rapid dumping of sugar into your blood. That spike in blood sugar requires a large dumping of insulin to bring the level back under control.
Quick-digesting carbs include cookies, cakes, candies, and potato chips, as well as less conspicuous foods like cereal, bread, pasta, pizza, and crackers. Because these foods are already refined, your digestive system doesn’t have to work to break them down, so they are quickly sent into your bloodstream, causing the blood sugar and insulin rush you don’t want.
#6 You’re an All-day Grazer
More than half of us are all-day grazers, eating for 15 hours or longer every day. We also eat the majority of our calories – more than 35% of them – after 6 pm.
This continual eating pattern never allows time for blood sugar and insulin levels to lower. That constant barrage of food causes the pancreas to continually produce insulin. Over time, your cells become increasingly resistant to insulin.
#7 Sedentary Lifestyle
You are more prone to insulin resistance if you lead a sedentary lifestyle. When you exercise, your muscles need energy, much of which comes from the sugar circulating in your blood. When you lead a sedentary lifestyle, there is nowhere for excess blood sugar to go, resulting in a rise in both blood sugar and insulin levels.
What to Do?
Insulin resistance is said to be a lifestyle disorder, which means it is produced by or exacerbated by lifestyle choices, such as a poor diet and a lack of exercise. The upside of that is that the condition can potentially be prevented or reversed through diet and lifestyle changes.
You don’t have to completely turn your life upside down to reverse insulin resistance, but you do need to make some changes. For the full story, see my blog post on How to Reduce Insulin Resistance.
For this post, I’ll summarize things you can start doing today to reduce insulin resistance and get your body feeling better and burning fat more efficiently.
Steps to Reduce Insulin Resistance
Solution #1: Cut out Soda
The high-fructose corn syrup used in soda is a known contributor to insulin resistance. So, cutting out soda is the first step toward reducing your risk. Diet soda’s connection to insulin resistance is debated (8) (9).
If going cold turkey on sugary soda or similar drinks feels like too much, you have some options. You can switch to diet soda as a temporary crutch, aiming to wean yourself off completely over time.
Other stepping-stone options are to move away from aspartame and other artificial sweeteners used in diet soda to more naturally-derived sweeteners, like stevia or monk fruit, or try unsweetened carbonated water, like seltzer or club soda. These bubbly waters give you the enjoyable effervescent fizz of soda without added ingredients.
Solution #2: Cut out Refined Carbs
The second solution is to cut out refined carbohydrates. Many refined carbs are high in sugar and flour, which are two things that will spike blood sugar and insulin. We live in a refined carb world, with over 60% of our food supply being ultra-processed.
Giving those foods up sounds daunting and miserable. It is not when you get to see the whole foods you can enjoy. The best cheat sheet is my list of low-carb foods that provides 100 foods that help stabilize blood sugar and insulin levels.
Solution #3: Stop Eating 3 Hours Before Bed
Creating the daily habit of stopping eating 3 hours before you go to bed gives you two weapons against insulin resistance. First, it eliminates mindless, late-night snacking, which tends to include sugary drinks and refined foods. Second, it allows your blood sugar and insulin levels to drop before bed, which encourages the release of fat from fat cells, helping you lose belly fat.
Solution #4: Move More
Regular exercise makes it easier for your cells to take in glucose, essentially reversing the resistance they once had. The nice thing is that all forms of exercise have been shown to help, so whether you enjoy aerobic-style exercises like walking or riding a bike or you prefer lifting weights at the gym, you will benefit (10) (11).
You may have insulin resistance if you have a lot of belly fat, notice changes on your skin, such as skin tags and dark patches, consume a lot of soda and refined carbs, eat all day, including into the evening hours, and lead a sedentary lifestyle. But these things can be brought under control before they progress to type 2 diabetes.
By cutting out sugary drinks and refined carbohydrates, you keep your blood sugar level low, requiring less insulin to be pumped into the bloodstream. Exercise makes your cells hungry for energy, making insulin’s job easier. And not eating three hours before bed keeps blood sugar and insulin levels low as you sleep, encouraging body and belly fat loss.
Thank you for reading and have a wonderful day!
(1) Klein, Samuel. “The case of visceral fat: argument for the defense.” The Journal of clinical investigation 113.11 (2004): 1530-1532.
(2) Yu, Ju-Yeon, et al. “Relationship between inflammatory markers and visceral obesity in obese and overweight Korean adults: An observational study.” Medicine 98.9 (2019).
(3) González-Saldivar, Gloria, et al. “Skin manifestations of insulin resistance: from a biochemical stance to a clinical diagnosis and management.” Dermatology and therapy 7 (2017): 37-51.
(4) Tamega, Andréia de Almeida, et al. “Association between skin tags and insulin resistance.” Anais brasileiros de dermatologia 85 (2010): 25-31.
(5) Rivera-Paredez, Berenice, et al. “Cumulative soft drink consumption is associated with insulin resistance in Mexican adults.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 112.3 (2020): 661-668.
(6) Ter Horst, Kasper W., et al. “Effect of fructose consumption on insulin sensitivity in nondiabetic subjects: a systematic review and meta-analysis of diet-intervention trials.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 104.6 (2016): 1562-1576.
(7) Softic, Samir, et al. “Fructose and hepatic insulin resistance.” Critical reviews in clinical laboratory sciences 57.5 (2020): 308-322.
(8) Ma, Jiantao, et al. “Sugar-sweetened beverage but not diet soda consumption is positively associated with progression of insulin resistance and prediabetes.” The Journal of nutrition 146.12 (2016): 2544-2550.
(9) Suez, Jotham, et al. “Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota.” Nature 514.7521 (2014): 181-186.
(10) Koopman, René, et al. “A single session of resistance exercise enhances insulin sensitivity for at least 24 h in healthy men.” European journal of applied physiology 94 (2005): 180-187.
(11) Borghouts, L. B., and H. A. Keizer. “Exercise and insulin sensitivity: a review.” International journal of sports medicine 21.01 (2000): 1-12.