How to Reverse Insulin Resistance

woman meditating to reduce stress and improve insulin resistance
I'm Dr. Mamie!

I'm trained in naturopathic medicine + Chinese medicine + functional medicine, and I teach women how to transform their health using natural therapies + a root-cause approach! I share the truth as I know it.

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In Why Your Blood Sugar Matters SO Much, I shared some of the many ways that blood sugar and insulin issues impact your health beyond pre-diabetes and diabetes.

Then I followed it up with How to Know if You Have Blood Sugar + Insulin Issues so you can figure out if this very prevalent issue is impacting YOU! (Hint: it probably is!)

In this article, I’ll be sharing what you can do NOW to start reversing insulin resistance, which essentially involves reducing blood sugar and insulin surges and making your cells more sensitive to insulin.

As you may have guessed, this requires making changes to what you put in your mouth and how you live your life!

(Don’t let that discourage you because what it actually means is that YOU have so much power to change this, and that’s the BEST case scenario!)

Fix #1: Exercise

Exercise—and especially exercise that builds muscle—is one of the fastest ways to make your cells more sensitive to insulin!

One of the most astonishing examples of the power of exercise that I had the pleasure of witnessing occurred when I was practicing in California. I was working with a woman who’d been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. She was on a pretty high dose of insulin and was told by her doctor that she’d need it for the rest of her life.

Here’s the kicker: I had to reduce her insulin prescription after one day of exercising! ONE DAY! Exercise had such a big impact on her insulin sensitivity that the dose for her insulin medication was suddenly too high and actually caused her blood sugar to drop too low.

Even though her doctor said she would always need insulin, she was able to discontinue her prescription and maintain healthy blood sugar levels within one week of incorporating daily movement! (Coupled with smart dietary changes, of course…)

This is how powerful exercise is, so don’t underestimate it!

Martin Gibala’s The One-Minute Workout is an excellent resource for incorporating movement that is incredibly effective at building strength and endurance without taking a lot of time.

Fix #2: Change What (+ How) You’re Eating

There’s a LOT I could say about using nutrition to reverse insulin resistance, so I’m going to keep it simple and focus on some of the most impactful steps you can take.

Be smart about sweets + carbs

If you read Why Your Blood Sugar Matters SO Much, then you know that added sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and refined carbohydrates (grain flours) don’t do your blood sugar and insulin regulation any favors.

In general, you want to limit high-carb foods and added sugar (stay under 20g of added sugar per day), and the reality is you may need to avoid these foods and products completely in order to fix your broken metabolism.

But there are a few scenarios when consuming foods or beverages with those ingredients is especially problematic:

  1. For breakfast: Avoid added sugar and refined carbohydrates for breakfast because what you eat for your FIRST meal of the day impacts your blood sugar regulation and insulin response for the REST OF THE DAY! 
  2. As snacks: Avoid eating products with added sugar and refined carbs as snacks. Not only will you still feel hungry, you’ll also create blood sugar and insulin surges as you snack throughout the day. This is a recipe for insulin resistance and weight gain!
  3. At night: Avoid products containing added sugar and refined carbs in the evenings because the blood sugar and insulin dysregulation they cause can really mess with sleep (which then leads to a whole host of health problems).

Eat enough protein

Be sure you’re eating adequate amounts of healthy protein with every meal and snack, especially if you DO eat added sugar or refined carbs. Good quality protein helps to blunt rises in blood sugar, and therefore, insulin. It also helps keep you satiated (full and satisfied) and reduces sugar cravings.

How much protein should you be eating? This depends on several factors, but aiming for a minimum of 90g per day is a great first step.

Give Your Body a Break From Food

Intermittent fasting (IF) can be a really helpful way to increase insulin sensitivity! (There are several other benefits as well, including autophagy—which is a natural process that selectively removes old, damaged, or abnormal cells or cell parts.)

There are different ways to approach IF, but the gist is that you’re fasting for a window of time every day or every week beyond what happens when you’re sleeping or between meals.

An example is fasting for 16 hours and eating all your food within an 8-hour window. 

This is NOT about reducing calories! You should still be eating a day’s worth of food when you do eat. 

But incorporating IF can be really helpful for re-sensitizing your cells to insulin. 

FYI, there are some scenarios when intermittent fasting is NOT appropriate—like if you’re pregnant or nursing, have a history of disordered eating, or if your blood sugar tends to run on the lower side (hypoglycemia or reactive hypoglycemia—more on that here). 

Cut Out Seed Oils

Industrial seed oils contribute directly to insulin resistance. They’re also incredibly inflammatory and feed multiple chronic disease processes.

Avoid vegetable, canola, corn, soybean, cottonseed, sunflower, safflower, and peanut oils.

(You’ll quickly find this is difficult to do when you’re eating packaged products and food prepared at restaurants or fast food establishments. This is just one of many reasons to focus on whole foods and cooking at home whenever possible.)

Fix #3: Manage Your Stress

As I shared in How to Know if You Have Blood Sugar + Insulin Issues, chronic stress can cause blood sugar dysregulation and insulin resistance over time. That means getting stress under control is a very important part of preventing and reversing insulin resistance. 

Deep breathing, meditation, keeping a gratitude journal, making time for fun and relaxation—these are all ways you can reduce stress in your life, and there are so many other options. Find what works best for you, and then actually make time in your day to do it! 

This is SO important for your overall health—I really can’t emphasize this enough—and that includes your insulin regulation and sensitivity.

Fix #4: Ditch the Toxins

Toxins that show up in body and hair care products, makeup, perfumes and other fragranced items, cleaning supplies, laundry detergent, food, water, etc. disrupt hormones—and that includes insulin. 

This means toxins can directly contribute to insulin resistance! 

We’ve even got a name for chemicals that can induce type 2 diabetes—diabesogens.

(Yes, there are actually chemicals found in everyday products that have been shown to cause type 2 diabetes, including BPA and phthalates!)

Limit the products you use to those you really need, and opt for cleaner versions. The EWG’s Skin Deep Database and Think Dirty app are helpful resources.

Fix #5: Utilize Herbs + Nutrients

Natural therapies like herbs and nutrients can be really helpful when it comes to rehabbing your blood sugar regulation and insulin sensitivity. 

These include chromium, magnesium, zinc, vitamin D3, alpha lipoic acid, omega 3 fatty acids, inositol, cinnamon, berberine, ginseng, gynema, milk thistle, nettle, probiotics, and more.  

But the reality is that some of those will be more appropriate for you than others depending on what else is going on, so it’s really best to work with someone who is well-versed in these natural methods for improving blood sugar and insulin AND who has an understanding of your whole health picture. 

It’s also important to remember that NO supplement can counteract what you’re doing with food and lifestyle! So while supplements can provide a lot of great support, you HAVE to change what you’re putting in your mouth and how you’re living your life to really address this issue.

You Are SO Powerful!

As you’ve just learned, you have a LOT of power to positively impact your blood sugar + insulin regulation!

And if you’ve been reading the other articles in this series (Why Your Blood Sugar Matters SO Much, How to Know if You Have Blood Sugar + Insulin Issues, and How Low Blood Sugar Causes Insulin Resistance), then you’re also aware of just how important it is to take care of this area of your health.

Remember, happy insulin serves as the foundation for hormonal balance AND overall health! 

I hope this has been helpful + insightful! Please share this info with others and help me get the word out. Blood sugar + insulin issues are really impacting a LOT of people’s health, and it’s SO preventable!

If you enjoyed this article, sign up for my email list to gain access to additional insight I only share with subscribers. As a bonus, you’ll also get my free guide: 4 Steps to Skyrocket Your Energy!

If you want more personalized guidance and support, learn more about my approach and services here!

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tree hugger, potato lover, health detective, empath, NATURE + science

Hi, I'm Mamie.
I'm a different kind of doctor.

I'll take the time to listen to your concerns, understand your whole health picture, teach you what your symptoms mean and why they're happening, and empower you to rebuild your health and care for your body. I'll help you reclaim your rightful place as the leading expert on YOUR health!

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