This is a follow-up post about insulin resistance, obesity and diabetes. You can read the first part here. In the interest of being clear, and not over-simplifying the matter: being obese won’t give you diabetes; there’s a mechanism to it and many interrelating factors. We are sold fat-fear and propaganda in the name of health, but what’s actually good for you, what’s practical and achievable is a little bit different.
Although obesity doesn’t cause diabetes directly, the association with insulin resistance and obesity needs to be addressed, which is where it gets both tricky and interesting.
When it comes to insulin resistance – in and of itself – that’s not enough to give you diabetes. And even if you are insulin resistant and obese, that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about it, because exercise – almost any sort of exercise – dramatically increases your insulin sensitivity, even if it does not result in any weight-loss whatsoever. Why, when we start to exercise, do we think that the ‘exercise isn’t working’ if we ‘fail’ to lose weight? So what if you aren’t getting smaller? The question I’m asking is whether or not that matters, and if so, how much?
Maybe you start training, and you don’t lose any weight for six months – that doesn’t matter in the way we think it does, because insulin sensitivity starts to increase almost immediately. I think this is one of the reasons we’re starting to see many studies which indicate that overweight, fit people are more healthy than unfit people of a ‘normal’ weight: there are many things that simply being thin doesn't protect you against.
Even if the weight doesn’t move, and your diet stays the same, exercise is one of the most powerful and immediate things you can do to combat insulin resistance. Clearly, if you can limit your intake of processed sugars and alcohol, that’s going to help. I don’t think we should be too disciplined with our diets for a number of reasons, including the fact that it seems to make cravings worse, but that’s a topic for another post.
I think I'd like rowing. Never done it. Not yet.
When we put obesity first, we run the risk of blame and guilt actually discouraging people from exercising, who then give up because they think it’s not giving them any results. This is a lie. The results are all around us, but they disappear in a society obsessed with weight-loss.
When I’m focused on what I find rewarding, I’m motivated. When I’m getting stronger, I’m motivated. When I’m having fun, I’m motivated. When I’m doing what I’m told, I’m bored, frustrated, and I fantasise about having a broken arm so I don’t need to train.
When people say ‘results-based’ training, they usually mean that in relation to body re-composition goals. When I use the term ‘results based’, I’m referring to going through a process that will actually make you more healthy and athletic, and make exercise itself more joyful and rewarding. Which is in some ways goal focused, but really it’s about the process rather than the result. I think the reason we put obesity first is not because of the science, it’s because of aesthetics and propaganda. And I don’t think that’s very helpful, because shame will get us some of the way, but not many of us hate ourselves enough to be able to commit to a life-long exercise program that’s based on shame. It needs to be fun and rewarding if we’re going to keep it up, and we need to feel the rewards coming from the inside, not from the mirror.
Let’s say you achieve your weight loss goal. What then, if you don’t like to exercise? If you’ve grown to resent it? How healthy is simply ‘being thin’ going to make us?
Something that really bugs me is when people with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome are told to lose weight as a method of treating their condition. It’s well known that having PCOS actually makes it harder to lose weight, so why pour all your efforts into that when there are other, more effective things you could be doing? Insulin resistance is a pretty big issue for women who have PCOS, as it is for people with type two diabetes. If you exercise, and you focus on your health, you’ll be improving your insulin sensitivity, irrespective of whether or not you’re losing weight. I just don’t get it. When we know how hard it is to lose weight, we know that the vast majority of diets don’t work in the long term, why is the treatment for a condition that makes it harder for you to lose weight to try to lose weight?
Why not spend the extra fifteen seconds and provide people with a document that outlines the real and immediate benefits of exercise, which are not weight-focused, and are potentially quite effective?
You want to increase insulin sensitivity and correct hormonal functioning? Try any of the following and see how you go: don’t starve yourself. Exercise plenty. Move a lot. Exercise really intensely, every now and then. Seek out exercises you can’t do, and work to overcome them. Stretch frequently, like a cat. Eat a teaspoon of cinnamon every day. Have bitter melon if you can stand it. Eat whole foods that contain fibre, fat, carbohydrate, protein and all the zillions of naturally-occurring nutrients therein. Keep a bag of green, leafy stuff in the fridge and eat a handful every time you pass the kitchen. Minimise alcohol and sugar consumption if you can, choose foods in their natural state over processed foods where possible, and try not to worry about it. Eat mindfully and don’t let anyone tell you what you can and can’t eat – that’s a decision only you get to make. Don’t judge your choices or yourself for making them. Exercise helps you to manage stress, so get out and do something. And take it easy. And whatever you do, don’t just do what you’re told! Think about it.