Insulin Resistance and Weight Loss: What You Need to Know

Jenna Hilton
February 1, 2023

Statistics show that the number of people with diabetes is rapidly increasing, now also affecting people at younger ages. A common precursor to diabetes is insulin resistance.

This article explains how insulin resistance develops, which factors increase its risk, and how weight loss can reverse the condition.

Insulin resistance and weight loss

What Is Insulin Resistance?

Insulin resistance is a serious medical condition that occurs when cells in the body fail to respond adequately to the hormone insulin. The disorder is a cause for concern as it can lead to type 2 diabetes.

When we eat, our digestive system breaks down food into nutrients and sends them into the bloodstream to distribute to cells. One of these nutrients is glucose, the building block of carbohydrates.

Our cells need glucose to convert it to energy for various biological processes. Once glucose enters the bloodstream, the pancreas starts making the hormone insulin, which facilitates glucose uptake by the cells.

However, sometimes cells stop responding to insulin, the sugar remains in the blood, and the pancreas produces more insulin to lower blood sugar levels. The result is that the body becomes conditioned to produce larger amounts of insulin to regulate the same amount of glucose. This reduced sensitivity to insulin is called insulin resistance.

What Causes Insulin Resistance?

Several factors may lead to insulin resistance, including:

  • Excess weight
  • Excess abdominal fat
  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • Family history of type 2 diabetes
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Being over 45 years of age
  • Using steroids, anti-psychotics, and HIV medication

Insulin Resistance Symptoms

Insulin resistance is difficult to spot because people usually don’t exhibit any symptoms. There are no accompanying physical discomforts that point to a problem and their blood sugar levels stay within a normal range for a long time – as long as the pancreas keeps pumping enough insulin.

Eventually, the pancreas tires and can’t produce sufficient insulin, leading to elevated blood sugar levels, prediabetes, and the appearance of the first symptoms, including:

  • Increased thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Blurred vision
  • Fatigue
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands and feet
  • Skin infections
  • Slow-healing sores

Patients often find out they have insulin resistance after an annual health checkup or a routine lab test. Doctors diagnose insulin resistance based on these symptoms:

  • Patches of dark skin in folds and creases (acanthosis nigricans)
  • Waistline above 35 inches for women/40 inches for men
  • Blood pressure of 130/80 or higher
  • Blood sugar level of 5.7% or higher after an A1C test
  • Blood sugar level of 140 mg/dL two hours after a glucose tolerance test
  • Fasting glucose level of 100 mg/dL or higher
  • Fasting triglyceride levels of 150 mg/dL or higher
  • HDL cholesterol levels under 40 mg/dL for men and under 50 mg/dL for women

Keep in mind that although insulin resistance is more often diagnosed in people with excess weight, even people with normal weight can be insulin resistant and eventually develop diabetes.

Insulin Resistance and Weight Loss

Patients who eat refined carbohydrates in excess are likely candidates for insulin resistance. They are often overweight because reduced sensitivity to insulin leads to more glucose being stored as fat. The longer the patient has the condition, the more difficult it becomes to lower insulin levels, use stored glucose for energy, and lose weight.

Scientists have found that a diet change and weight loss of as little as 5-7% of body weight can help insulin-resistant patients reverse their condition and prevent diabetes.

Note: Learn how a medically supervised weight loss plan can help you lose weight safely and sustainably.

What to Do in Case of Insulin Resistance?

Insulin resistance can be reversed with lifestyle modifications and medication. Start incorporating these changes to help your body be more sensitive to insulin and maintain optimal blood sugar levels.

Adjust Your Diet

Diet is the most important factor in improving insulin sensitivity. Doctors warn that fad diets don’t work and advise implementing long-term diet modifications for a gradual, sustainable reversal of insulin resistance. These diet changes include:

  • Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • Eating foods rich in fiber because it helps regulate blood sugar levels
  • Eating lean protein and low-fat dairy
  • Limiting refined carbs
  • Limiting portion sizes

Exercise Regularly

Exercise is the quickest way to improve insulin sensitivity. It helps lower blood pressure, blood sugar, and other conditions that increase the risk of diabetes. To help the body use insulin effectively, patients need at least 150 minutes of regular, moderate weekly activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity such as cardio or aerobic exercises.

Get Enough Sleep

Lack of sleep negatively affects how much and what we eat and how our cells respond to insulin. Doctors recommend at least seven hours of sleep every night for adults to lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety, and help balance hormones that regulate hunger and food cravings.

Quit Smoking

Smoking is a risk factor for many severe diseases, including heart problems and lung infections. It may indirectly lead to diabetes by increasing blood sugar levels, inflammation, and other health conditions that cause cells to stop responding to insulin. Doctors recommend avoiding nicotine to help the body use insulin better and prevent diabetes.

Manage Stress

Stress causes an increased production of the hormones cortisol and adrenalin, inhibiting insulin secretion and causing a rise in blood sugar levels. Chronic stress increases the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Various strategies can help manage stress, including those that help improve insulin sensitivity, such as quality sleep and regular exercise. Doctors also recommend meditation, maintaining social connections, spending time in nature, and other fun and relaxing activities.

Take Vitamin D

Studies suggest people with low vitamin D levels may be more at risk of insulin resistance. Vitamin D helps lower inflammation, and deficiency is linked to various other health issues. Talk to your doctor about appropriate vitamin D supplementation.

Note: Discover the best vitamins and supplements for hormone balancing.

Consult Your Doctor

If you still have high insulin levels after implementing these lifestyle changes, your doctor may advise you to take medication. Prediabetic patients often use metformin to lower their blood sugar. Your doctor may also prescribe medication for high cholesterol, blood pressure, or other drugs to help your body use insulin effectively.


Excess weight is a frequent factor in developing insulin resistance. Reversing the condition requires two fundamental lifestyle changes – diet modification and regular exercise. These will help you lose weight and maintain optimal blood sugar levels.

If you need help, contact our medical weight loss professionals to create a customized weight loss strategy for diabetes prevention and improving your overall health.

Jenna Hilton
Jenna Hilton has been a practicing PA since 2009, specializing in Family, Internal Medicine and Medical Aesthetics. She attended Arizona State University where she received her Bachelor's Degree and graduated magna cum laude. She received her Master of Science degree in Physician Assistant Studies from A.T. Still University.

Jenna has been injecting neurotoxin and dermal filler since 2013. She received certification as a Master Injector in 2017 through Empire Medical in Los Angeles, California. She is currently working on a Fellowship Program in Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine through the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine. Her special interests include use of PLLA, Ablative/Non ablative skin resurfacing, PDO threads, hormone therapy and nutritional therapies to improve cellular regeneration and medically supervised weight loss.

Jenna Hilton believes in a multi-factorial approach, considering internal factors that accelerate aging and disease development. She always enjoys teaching. She co-founded Vibrant EDU courses at Vibrant Skin Bar and regularly performs one-on-one training with fellow injectors. She teaches Aesthetic and Advanced Injectable Courses at National Laser Institute. She has been named Preceptor of the Year and is an Adjunct Faculty Member at Midwestern University. She was born in Iowa, and lives with her husband and three children in Phoenix, AZ.

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