How I Lost 15 lbs in 3 Months By Increasing My Insulin and Leptin Sensitivity

By JULIE - 10:56:00 AM

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My Weight Loss Story
If you follow this blog you most likely are aware of my ekk my baggy jeans are super tight on me moment of realization that I was at my heaviest weight ever.  
I began my quest to lose 20 lbs of fat and gain 5 lbs of muscle in Feb 2012.  My first post in this journey was  15 tips to lose 5 lbs where I gave my normal tips to get back on track if my weight ever started to increase too much.  The problem is on of the easiest tricks I've used over the years to not have my weight change much is to stop drinking sugary drinks, but I already gave that up about a year ago with a rare exception.  Really the only thing I could do was to exercise more, so I focused on that (as you can tell by some of my posts in Feb).  I was doing high impact aerobics for an hr 2-3 times a week.  Thinking if I burned off more calories I should lose weight since my diet's pretty good, I just need to get off my but more.  Well  2 months went by and the scale didn't budge.  Ekkk!!!  Right?  I lucked out though and unknowingly made a lot of lifestyle changes (about 3 months ago) for other health issues that I truly believe helped me lose weight without even trying.

Are Hormones The Cause Of My Sudden Weight Gain?
 What lead to these changes in my lifestyle is that after reading Suzanne Summer's book "Breakthrough 8 Steps to Wellness"  I realized that I probably have an hormonal problem without realizing it.  I had been having weird symptoms like extremely heavy periods, night sweats, one hot flash, once I thought I was pregnant because I felt like I was having my period no where near my period time, cystic acne, anovulation, periods coming a week early or a week late, loss of hair, etc.  Weird stuff that can't be easily explained, but oddly I ignored it all.  The thought that something was wrong with me never crossed my mind.  I think because I've had PMDD since starting my period I just learned to except bad symptoms as normal.   I also always had bad acne as a young adult so to have it start up again but even worse didn't ring any alarm bells.  I also have been losing hair, which most women would be running to the doctor but since I have a history of lost hair in the past due to psoriasis I didn't think much of it.  Funny thing is reading her book I thought I might be perimenopausal (it's kind of like the stage before menopause) even though I'm in my 30's (although it can happen in your mid 30's).  But it did at least help me connect the dots that something was wrong with my hormones which also accounted for my sudden weight gain and has helped me to seek out help with an OB/GYN  that is well knowledged in hormones (let me know if you need a referral for my OG/GYN).

Together I think we've come to an understanding though not an exact diagnose.  I have hyper androgens (too much male hormones) as a result of low SHBG (sex hormone-binding globulin) a protein that binds estrogen and testosterone.   I suspect I have a mild version of PCOS, due to the fact that insulin decreases SHBG and increases androgens.  PCOS is linked with insulin resistance.  My doctor thinks it's possible but I'm also not a poster child of the disorder.  I'm not over weight, I've never had a weight issue, I have periods every month, no cysts on my ovaries, and my androgen's tested normal.  I faint at the sight of blood and it's very stressful for me so I have been doing limited testing to determine my problem.  Which is why I don't have a specific diagnoses.

 The current book I'm reading "The Hormonally Vulnerable Women", by Geoffrey Redmond MD) explains about how women can be affected by hormones even when the levels are normal (like me).  He calls this being hormonally vulnerable.  In this book he claims it is possible to have partial PCOS, which I think would make sense in my case since I don't perfectly into the disorder description (pg322).  I also suspect that maintaining my weight has kept my insulin at probably just a slightly elevated level, just enough to cause some symptoms but not too many.  Either way I am focusing all my attention on training my body to be insulin and leptin sensitive, since that is most likely at the root of my problem.  And even if it isn't, I figure it can't hurt to be more leptin and insulin sensitive. Another cool reason to try to increase your leptin and insulin sensitivity (so your body doesn't need as much) is one of the thing most centurions (people who live to be over 100 yrs old) have in common is low leptin and insulin levels. 

Insulin Resistance And Weight Loss
What does this mean to weight loss?  Your body produces insulin to stabilize blood sugar (along with many other things) and the more insulin it produces, the less sensitive your body is to insulin (or the more insulin resistant you are) the more your body will produce insulin.  Insulin will instruct your body to put the sugar in your blood straight to fat to help lower your blood sugar and it actually blocks your bodies ability to burn fat. It also blocks your leptin (your hunger suppressing hormone that tells you your full) and also increases dopamine (the hormone that causes us to seek out rewards).  This makes us not only pack on the fat and not burn fat, but also makes us constantly hungry with strong cravings.  No wonder so many people are over weight huh?

Dr Robert H Lustig Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology at UCSF and UCSF have been producing a web series The skinny on obesity (episode 3) Hunger and Hormones, that explains this in a great way (below).  I will never look at obesity, obesity, or diet the same after watching this video.

The skinny on obesity Huger and Hormones (episode 3) 8 min

The funny thing is before I knew I might have any issues with insulin resistance.  What happened is I thought I had candida (an imbalance of fungus to good bacteria or a yeast infection).   I actually don't (testing proved negative).  So I went on an anti-candida diet which is basically a low carb, no mold, yest, or fungus diet.  So basically a diabetic diet (controlling blood sugar so there is less to feed yeast) with the exception of avoiding mold, yeast, and fungus.  I started this diet mid March (3months ago) along with changing my exercise routine to no longer have extensive cardo and started doing level 1 of Jillian Micheals Shread  which has 3 circuits of 3 min weight resistance, 2 min cardio, 1 min of abs (also with a warm up and cool down).  1-2 times a week and working out at a gym once a week doing weights, for about 30 min.

How My Body has Changed Under My New Lifestyle Changes
Since starting my new exercise routine and eating a no sugar, low carb, high good fat diet and eating every 3 hrs, I have lost about 5 lbs a month without trying for a total of 15-20 lbs (my weight fluctuates 5 lbs) in terms of the scale possibly more fat and more muscle too I hope!  The cool thing is I have not been hungry or had any cravings. I have not been counting calories at all and I eat so much I don't even have a chance to get hungry.  Seriously I eat constantly.  I think I gained muscle too (don't know how much) because it's not so hard for me to do the weight resistance exercises like it was at first.  I'm actually within my ideal weight right now and could still lose 5 to 10 lbs and be at a healthy weight, after that I think I'd actually be under weight.  So I'm watching my weight closely now to make sure I don't lose too much weight!  I'm trying to still follow the same new lifestyle pattern but actually eat larger portions just to make sure I don't lose too much weight now! 

My periods have also been normal since making these changes (which furthers my thought that I have some insulin resistance).  You can be insulin resistant without being overweight.  I'm also not even close to being overweight, nor have I ever had an issue with my weight.  You can also be skinny and have PCOS.  I bring this up only because I would have never guessed that I might even have an issue with insulin resistance because I feel I eat healthy and I'm not overweight.

Here's What I've Been Doing
  • 20-60 min of weight resistance exercise/week followed by a post work out meal with fast assimilating protein (you have an hour window to have a protein meal after a work out to boost muscle building), because an increase in muscle not only burns more calories at rest but also increases insulin, and human growth hormone HGH.  All which help you to maintain your weight loss and get your hormones working in your direction.  Moral of the story is If your pressed for time don't go crazy on cardio, do some simple body resistant exercises instead followed by a fast assimilating protein meal.  Even a few push ups a week will help, you don't need to go to a gym! 
  • 1-1/2 hrs of walking/ week (my husband and I walk together and feel it's great quality time and we are being active at the same time, added bonus!)
  • Eating every 3-4 hrs 3 small meals, and two snacks and every meal and snack with protein.   The ideal is that your spreading the same food you would typically eat in a day over 5 meals instead of 3, which will help stabilize your blood sugar and energy.  Your also less likely to grab bad snacks if you already plan to eat a healthy snack before you even get hungry.   
  • Protein has been scientifically shown to depress appetite (not to mention help build muscle).  After the success of the Atkins diet many trials were conducted to find out why it worked, the end result was that the subjects did actually eat less calories, despite the fact the diet encouraged you to eat as much as you want.  The reason is the protein helped turn on leptin (the hunger hormone).  BBC did a great documentary on this, which you can view below.  Note however that I would not recommend going on a high protein diet, only a moderate protein diet because being on a very high protein diet can activate the mTor pathway.   I won't geek out here and go into specifics but you can read more about it here.  How much protein is adequate for you depends on your weight.  To give you an ideal of what your protein requirements use the below example.  Dr. Rosedale recommends 1 gram of protein per kilogram of ideal body weight, minus 10%. So for instance, if your ideal body weight is 150 pounds:
  • Divide 150 pounds by 2.2 = 68 kilograms
  • Multiply 68 x 1 = 68 grams of protein. Now subtract 10%.
  • Multiply 68 x 10% = 6.8 grams
  • 68 - 6.8 = about 61 grams of protein per day. 
So most people need about 20-30 grams of protein per meal a day if you eat three meals a day, less per meal if you eat more often.

Atkins Diet: A BBC Documentary Part 4(10 min)

Atkins Diet: A BBC Documentary Part 5(10 min) 

This BBC documentary shows the science behind how on Atkins you can eat as much as you want and lose weight.  The Atkins dietiers actually eat less calories even when given the option to eat as much as they want, because they felt satisfied on the diet not because of the fat, but because of the protein.

    •  My easy no bake chocolate peanut butter bites are a great way to make sure you always have a healthy snack with protein handy.  They're great for when your on the go and might not be able to eat every 3 hours.  You can even add protein powder to it and bring it with out to the gym for a quick after workout snack.  
    • Some other ideals for snacks that I often have is organic cottage cheese, nuts, salads with homemade salad dressing and a protein, plain organic yogurt sweetened with stevia, and my healthy chocolate banana shake recipe .
  • No sugar, refined flour, or potatoes (This falls into the 90/10 rule below).  I have had potato salad at a family function, along with cake, ice cream cake, and a few meals with flour over the last few months well within the 90/10 rule.
  • Replace half of the grains you would usually have with vegetables.  Here's some examples:
    •  When I have mac and cheese I only use half the macaroni I would have before but add lots of broccoli in place of some of the grains and add a chicken sausage for protein (no nitrates or msg from Trader Joes) or a little nitrate free bacon, and sprinkled with psyllium husks (lowers glycemic load)
    • I like to eat organic tortillia chips (I like Targets with flax seeds) with a healthy dip like gucamola or salsa and I put a few chips in a bowl (like 4 or 5) and use the chips like a spoon for the dip.
    • If your making stir fry only make half the rice you usually have and add more veggies in it's place. You won't miss it I promise.
  • Only have complex carbs (Through fruits and vegetables)
  • Take 150mg of Alpha-Lipoic Acid prior to meals that have carbs.  It's suppose to help improve insulin sensitivity and also act as an antioxidant it is made by the body and is found in every cell, where it helps turn glucose into energy.  It also acts as a metal chealtor (this naturally takes heavy metals out of your body).  It also is one of the most powerful antiglycation agents.   What is glycation?  Read this Life Extension Magazine article to find out.  Be sure to consult your doctor first before taking alpha lipoic acid, especially if you are a diabetic since it can interfere with drug interactions.
  • Follow the 90/10 rule.  If your good 90 percent of the time there's room to be bad 10 percent of the time.  How I followed this is I indulged in treats only if I was at a family function, or with a friend at a restaurant with a dish I love go right ahead and have some cake, ice cream, etc.  Just don't bring any into your house and make sure it's truly only 10% of the time! 
  • Vary your amount of daily calories by week.  If you lower your calories for two long your metabloism will adjust and slow down, not good!  So moral of the story is if you have a little extra one day a week no big deal.  Two or three days, now you might have a problem.  Also if you do choose to lower your calories don't do it for more than a few days. 
  • Don't Drop Your Calories Too Low This may seem sound counter intuitive but if you take in too little calories your body can go into starvation mode.  This will cause your body to become very efficient at storing fat and when you go off of the diet, your still efficient at storing fat, causing you to gain weight.  Which means your actually worse off in the long run.
  • Don't be afraid of good healthy fat like flax oil, olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, or grass fed animals.  
  • Go to sleep a half hour earlier than usual.   Read Sleep More Lose Weight?  To learn how good sleep can help balance your hormones.
  • Reduce your caffeine to under 100mg a day.  I doubt this has anything to do with insulin resistance but I am reducing my caffeine to make sure I'm not being to hard on my adrenal glands (androgens come from your adrenals (in both men and women and it also comes from the ovaries in women).  I've included this just in case it has helped.  Jillian Michaels says in her book "Master Your Metabolism", that you should have no more than 100mg of caffeine a day.   
  • Add cinnamon to anything that taste good with it (it has been shown to lower blood sugar)1-2 grams a day according to Natasha Turner in "The Hormone Diet".
    • An easy way to have some every day is with your coffee or sweet potatoes.
  • Add extra fiber to your diet by flax meal and organic psylluim husks to any meals that I could sneak it in (no it won't send you running to the bathroom I promise).  According to the American Heart Association (AHA) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI), Americans should consume about 30 g or more of fiber every day.  Fiber also reduces blood sugar spikes.
    • An example would be sprinkling psyllium husk onto eggs, pasta,etc.  Just don't use in liquids or it will get gummy
So will this work for you too?  I don't know.  I can only say what has worked for me.  One thing I have found is it is tricky with anecdotal stories of diets, not because there is no truth to them but because without scientifically  isolating each variable it is hard to know what exactly worked.  If I only did 20 min of weight resistance a week would I have had the same results? I don't know.  Did that extra half hr of sleep make all the difference?  Maybe, maybe not.  While I can't say what did or did not work for me for sure, I can say after 5 months of losing weight and getting healthier, I am confident something is working.  If I was to guess what I have been doing that has made the biggest impact, it would be cutting sugar out of my diet and only having half the grains I usually would and replacing it with vegetables, eating every 3-4 hrs, having protein with every meal and doing weight resistant exercises. 

Obviously an increase in weight is not always caused by hormones.  Sometimes it is merely due to the good old calories in calories out model.  Meaning you could just be eating to much and not exercising enough.  It is important to evaluate your current lifestyle first, and ask if this could be a factor in your weight gain.  Are you having problems losing weight despite eating a healthy whole food (no processed foods) diet and adequate exercise?  If so it might be your hormones.  Insulin resistances is just one way hormones affect your weight, for more info check out my How Hormones Effect Your Weight Post and consult with your doctor about what might be causing your resistance to lose weight.  If your doctor is insensitive to you and just says lower your calories or exercise more ( they're basically calling you lazy and not addressing the fact that you might have a medical problem causing your weight increase) look for another doctor until you find one that will at least do a true evaluation of you first to eliminate any medical problems for being the cause of your weight gain.

If you want to try any of the lifestyle changes I've made I would suggest picking one and trying it first for a few weeks so you know if it actually does help you.  It's easier to change your lifestyle slowly, and you can more easily pay attention to how your body feels to the new changes in your lifestyle.  It might make sense to try to focus on diet first rather than exercise because according to Dr Doug McGuff and emergency room phsician and high intensity exercise specialist, "The standard American diet is highly inflammatory. It produces systemic inflammation of an order that is almost beyond belief. In that state, if you do exercise of any significant stress, you‟re just adding inflammation on top of the inflammation, and you‟re actually putting yourself at a bit of a risk. I advise people to get their diet straight, and then exercise. Because I think a highly inflammatory diet, in combination with the acute systemic inflammation that occurs as a part of the exercise stimulus, can actually be a negative thing."

If you suspect you have insulin resistance it's important to consult your doctor to see if you are in fact insulin resistant and how best to increase your leptin and insulin sensitivity.  Because over time, high insulin and insulin resistance may lead to type 2 diabetes in susceptible individuals, a major risk factor for heart disease.  I'll be doing more research on this subject for myself so look for more posts to come!

Update: August 23 2012
I just thought I'd let everyone know that I have now maintained the same weight I was at the time of this posting for over a month.  I was worried during this post that I would actually lose too much weight, since I lost it so effortlessly and am know in my health weight range, so I am very happy about this.  The cool thing is I'm assuming that by turning my body on to burning fat rather than carbs I think it only used the extra fat I had on my body and stopped storing so much fat.  Meaning my body just kind of felt out the right healthy weight for me. 

 I've only made slight changes since this post to my diet and exercise.  I have slightly changed my workout by only doing weight resistance (no more cardio) for 20 min 2 times a week, and I still walk a lot. I do not eat as often anymore and have been just fine.  After writing this posts I have learned that eating every few hours with a health snack that has good fat and protein, was probably very important to help bridge the gap from my body switching from burning carbs to burning fat (which is where I think my body is now).  The reason is your body has very little energy storage for carbs (glucose) so you get hungry quick for more carbs.   A very dangerous cycle indeed!  So in summary I think eating small meals every few hours is a good place for most people to start, but if and when your body turns into a fat burning machine it is probably not necessary to continue.  You'll know when your not hungry for your snack anymore.

Update March 27 2013
Somewhere over the fall or winter I gained 5 lbs from my weight loss in this story.  I was doing some really good weight resistance training at the time so I was not at all concerned because my measurements taken at the time of this post were the same and the way my clothes fit were the same.  I still believe most if not all of the 5 lbs I gained was muscle as well.

Now since about January of this year I have been fluctuating between a 5- 10 lb weight gain from my original weight loss.  Up to 5lbs could be water weight, but I think I have gained fat and loss muscle due to my winter break from the gym.  My measurements are pretty much the same, but  not having done any exercise for 2 months is bound to have an impact.  I planned to exercise at home and did so successfully over the summer while my gym was closed, but just could not get back into it so far. 

So the moral of the story is I have learned that while diet helps to get fast results building muscle is key to maintaining fat loss.

Update Jan 2014
I'm at my same weight I was when writing this article originally 2 years ago, which is my highest weight ever.  This does not mean that what I discussed in this article does not work, only that I did not continue with the diet and exercise I was doing when I lost my weight.  I have found for me that it's hard to maintain that long term when you are in your ideal weight range.  It's easy to be tempted by skipping a work out or eating a bad treat when your not concerned about your weight.

Before the holidays I was in the just barely ideal weight range for my height and build.  Or in other words just under the weight where I would start storing fat on my body in the areas I first store it.  This is a good way I feel to know what weight is healthy for you individually.  For example if you have a flat stomach at 135 lbs but not at 145 lbs,  you at least need to keep you weight under 145 lbs because you body is telling you that is the point when you have stored too much access fat or more energy than your body needs. 

What happened to bring my back to here (my highest weight) is that I was already close to my highest weight in the fall, and over the winter and holidays I had no exercise (yep I fell off the wagon).  And I had lots of treats with family over the holidays, but most important is I had started to snack more often on bad treats.  Unlike in this post when I had planned healthy filling snacks on hand at all times I had cookies, ice cream, baked goods, doughnuts, candy, and chai tea mix (with sugar).   I also was eating more grains, what's a little pizza and pasta I thought.  Seriously that was all it took.  I don't think a few holiday parties of bad treats did it.  It was having constant bad treats around to tempt me.  In other words it's better for example to go out for a treat of ice cream than buying a carton of ice cream and bringing it home. 

I am so glad I posted about what I was doing to lose weight here because I would have seriously forgot.  I am hoping I can recreate the magic once again, and will post my results here.  Upon analyzing what caused me to have 15 lbs effortlessly fall off of me 2 years ago I have come to the conclusion that while I think exercise was helpful I don't think it was key to initial weight loss but rather building muscle is key in maintaining it as I stated in my last update.  So to start off I am just trying to do quick things to get my heart rate up that I will actually do like running in place for 30 sec while I wait for my coffee to heat up and doing jumping jacks during a commercial break.  I plan to build up to weight resistance training once again slowly, but first I just want to get use to moving again.

Diet I believe is key to jump start weight loss.  Until I lose 15 lbs I plan to be on a strict no sugar sweets of any kind diet.  I plan to limit grains, and extra bad fats from my diet like non pasture raised cream and cheese (my weakness).  So in other words following a closer Paleo diet and GI (glycemic index) diet.

 I plan to eat lots of thick hearty paleo soup (only meat and veggies) for lunch most days.  When I feel like a snack I plan to have tea (with no sugar or cream) and a multivitamin, because sometimes we are hungry because either we are bored, need nutrients, or are dehydrated.  If I am still hungry than I plan to have a healthy low calorie high fiber and protein snacks.  Of course in order to do this you need to plan ahead and make sure you always have healthy options.

For lunch and snacks I plan to have a batch of home made healthy paleo (no dairy, grains, beans, or potatoes) soup  (thick low calorie soups have been proven to fill you up longer and help you lose weight) in the fridge most days, bananas and avocados on hand to make my healthy 2 min chocolate pudding with 2 tsp of whey protein or hemp protein powder added to fill me up more (not in the original recipe, this is high in calories but is very filling and good fats so I think that is fine), and  to make low sugar smoothies   as meals or snacks.  And most importantly I am putting away all damaging snacks out of eye shot.  I know many would throw it out put we don't have much left in the house really and an occasional bad treat when I lose my 15 lbs is OK just like one a week not one a day!  I also really do forget I even have stuff if it's buried far enough in our cabinets.

So in summary my theory is that the best way to lose weight is to have healthy meals and snacks planned always that are low in bad fats (healthy fats such as pasture raised dairy, eggs, butter and meat, avocados, nuts (not peanuts), chai, flax, olive and coconut oil are fine), high in protein, and high in fiber, and with no flour or sugar, and with lots of veggies (except potatoes).  And the best way to maintain the weight loss is to build muscle by weight resistance training. 

I'll keep you guys updated with the results!
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I am not a doctor. I have ZERO medical training and NO formal nutritional training.  The information provided on this site, such as text, graphics, images, is for informational purposes only. It is not to be construed as medical care or medical advice and is not a replacement for medical care given by physicians or trained medical personnel.  Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider(s) when experiencing symptoms or health problems, or before starting any new treatment.

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