What is Insulin Resistance?

You may have heard that pre-diabetes and diabetes can be caused by something called insulin resistance. It sounds like something is resisting insulin, and that’s correct, but do you know what is actually happening?

Insulin Resistance happens at the cellular level.

This is pretty geeky, and not absolutely technically correct. However, it’s my “layman’s” best explanation. Just know it’s a very simplified version of what happens. I think it’s important to understand what’s going on.

Your body carries nutrients to every cell in your body through the bloodstream. Without getting too technical, the blood is the main transporter for everything from nutrients to oxygen.

As you already know, a healthy body uses both fats and carbohydrates as fuel. It does this by breaking fats down into fatty acids, or fat lipids, and carbohydrates are broken down into glucose. Of the carbohydrates, sugar is already mostly glucose, so it breaks down quickly.

Carbohydrates are the easiest to break down, so the body uses those as fuel first, because it takes longer to break down fats for fuel. This fuel is burned inside the cell, by mitochondria. However, to get to the cell, it goes through the blood, then passes through the lipid barrier of the cell (usually called the cell membrane).

At the cellular level, the membrane has what we often call receptor sites. These receptor sites have transporter sections that allow certain molecules into the cell.

This is where insulin comes into play. Insulin is a hormone that tells the cell’s receptor sites to transport the glucose into the cell. Success happens when the cell allows the glucose into the cell, gets to the mitochondria and is burned for fuel. So the glucose is no longer in the blood, but in the cells. Here you have cellular energy. This means you have energy.

Normally this is a healthy process.

Remember, this happens in every cell of the body. When transportation of glucose into the cell doesn’t happen correctly, you don’t have energy, you feel lethargic.

What goes wrong?

If your diet is filled with carbohydrates that carry a high glycemic load, and your pancreas is pumping out insulin all the time, then your blood sugar stays high, because you continually flood it with glucose.

Insulin is a fat storage hormone, and tells your body to stop burning fat, and start using glucose for energy until your blood sugar drops. Then it goes back to burning fat again.

If your blood is constantly receiving glucose, and your insulin level is constantly high, eventually your cells gets overwhelmed with both glucose and insulin.

Eventually the cells quit listening to the insulin, just like kids ignore a continually yelling mother; they ignore it.

Now you have insulin resistance!

The problem is, if your blood glucose gets too high, you will die, so the pancreas pumps out more insulin to get the cells to listen. Just like the mother yells louder. Now your blood is filled with both glucose molecules and insulin.

The cells aren’t getting the glucose, because the receptor sites are damaged, so there is less fuel to burn. As a result, those cells tell you that you are hungry and need to eat to keep up your energy!

Now you have increased appetite and decreased energy!

Is it just glucose that causes insulin resistance?

Studies also show excess fatty lipids cause insulin resistance. This makes sense, because all this means is there is a problem with too much fuel that the body can’t use. We also know poor quality oil damages the cell’s receptor sites.

Insulin is a fat storage hormone. As long as your pancreas is secreting insulin, the body will not burn the fat stored in your fat cells. In fact, it has to store more fat if the fuel you have given it isn’t used. This is great if you run the risk of not eating for days at a time. Then you have efficiently stored all that excess fuel. Unfortunately, our bodies were not designed to keep on storing. We need to burn that fuel.

Now, not only do we have insulin resistance, we have too much insulin, it has been found that elevated insulin concentrations in the blood act as potent signals for cell growth. More insulin means more tissue growth. More tissue growth often results in increased fatness, increased cell replication rates and a significant increase in the risk for cancer.

So what does your doctor tell you? Eat less and exercise more. 


That’s great, but as long as you have insulin flooding through your bloodstream, your body will not release stored fat to burn, no matter how many trips you take to the gym.

Don’t get me wrong, taking those trips to the gym is great, but unless you clear out that insulin, you won’t achieve the results you are working so hard to get. Those trips to the gym can help clear out the glucose, but not if you keep giving it more food to burn. (Think protein bar or energy drinks after a workout.)

Take control of your blood sugar!

You need a plan!

You can reverse insulin resistance! You can make lifestyle shifts that will help bring your blood sugar into balance, and as you continue with these lifestyle changes, will make a huge impact on your health, reversing the damage caused by elevated blood sugars!

Here are some of the areas you can work on to lower your blood sugars:

  • Lower insulin spikes by lowering your sugar input.
  • Increase movement in your day.
  • Remove processed food from your diet.
  • Address your stress! (Yes, this even affects your blood sugar!)
  • Only eat three meals a day, no snacking!
  • Consider giving your liver a rest, by occasionally skipping meals.
  • Practice gratitude.

How do you know if you are succeeding?

You may have to learn how to check your blood sugar levels after your meals.

Figure out what foods spike your blood sugar, and lay off of them for a while (maybe 30 days).

Try to limit all blood sugar spikes, and keep your levels below 110 even after meals. (This is nearly impossible on a Standard American Diet! Even more impossible if your fasting blood glucose is 120!)

Your goal would be to have your fasting glucose under 90; in the 70’s or 80’s is preferred. Plus your after meal spike would ideally be no higher than 110; 120 at the most.


Lab tests are a good way to track your progress. Have your doctor check something called A1C; it’s a measure of your average insulin levels. You want to strive for close to 5.2. This is a long term goal and should help guide you to long term health! If you keep on top of this number at your annual lab tests, you will know if you are slipping into bad habits again. I don’t know about you, but I’m human, and I definitely pick up bad habits throughout the year that I usually need to work on in the spring.


Does all this seem impossible? Don’t worry, I’ll be writing a series of articles on how to reduce that blood glucose. I will warn you, it usually involves lots of greens and vegetables! Fortunately, we are entering into the season of fresh greens and vegetables, so this should be refreshing! Just like the renewal of spring!

Remember, this is not about numbers, it’s about creating a healthy body with excellent quality food and lifestyle! 

To your health!

Patti Bealer

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