What is insulin resistance?

By Agnieszka Dębowska

Are you insulin resistant, or think you might be? Or is someone close to you struggling with this problem? Chances are you searched online and a long list of articles popped up in both Polish and English.

Well, that’s exactly what happened to me. Confusing to say the least, with many of them giving contradictory or incomplete information – from recommending the paleo diet to LCHF solutions and more.

Uncle Google was no help to me, so I decided to look further and do more research. I bought books, took part in conferences, signed up to Facebook support groups and started to study health and nutrition. However, the more I read, the more questions I had.

I hope that this blog will help to clarify the world of insulin resistance, and why it is something that you should not underrate.

Insulin resistance, what is it?

Insulin resistance is a complex condition, one which despite following a seemingly healthy diet and doing regular physical activity does not let you lose weight, keep your dream figure, or your six-pack.

Have you ever wondered why despite following a healthy diet consisting of, for example, porridge, yogurt and fruit for breakfast, whole grain pasta/rice for lunch and a whole grain bread sandwich for supper, as well as spending hours at the gym, you still don’t lose weight?

And then on top of that, your fitness partner continues to lose centimeters while following the same regime!

These were questions I asked myself daily. I never understood why my friends at sports camps were quite slim. For almost 20 years I played volleyball, trained several times a week and followed what I thought was a healthy diet. If I lost 1-2kg during a 2-week sports camp it was a miracle! It didn’t help that my peers had no problem eating chocolates, waffles and ice cream. Pretty depressing for a teenage girl, right?

I found the answer during a visit to an endocrinologist (2 years ago), who diagnosed me as insulin resistant. I had no idea what this meant and started to do some research.


“The state of insulin resistance is a specific cry for help from our body. Let’s not ignore it, just try to silence the threat because the process is reversible. Admittedly, the tendency to insulin resistance will remain in the body forever, but the right diet can effectively deal with the problem.”
– Magdalena Makarowska


Here are some key phrases I needed clarity on:
  • State of reduced sensitivity of tissues to insulin.
  • Our cells stop responding adequately to insulin.
  • Our cells are “resistant” to insulin.
  • The state of reduced cell reactivity to the physiological level of circulating insulin in the blood – leads to the disturbance of carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism and to insulin dysfunction – does not regulate glucose levels.

So, from what I gather, when the hormone insulin is not functioning properly, your body does not function as it should when it comes to your diet. This leads to fatty deposits, especially around the abdominal area (apple shape). Simplistically, when you are insulin resistant, the level of insulin in the blood does not go down, the pancreas does not work and this means our body’s reaction is abnormal. A simple example is that every time someone with insulin resistance drinks a cup of coffee with milk, the body treats it like a normal meal. So, in effect, you could be ‘eating’ between 7 -10 meals a day.

Some of the most common symptoms that may or may not be indicative of insulin resistance:

  • abdominal obesity “Suspicion of insulin resistance occurs when the abdominal obesity and circumference exceeds 88 cm in women, 102 cm in men”
  • a problem with weight reduction despite physical activity and diet
  • tiredness
  • reduction of physical efficiency
  • dry skin
  • hair loss
  • postprandial sleepiness
  • a feeling of “swelling”
  • deterioration of memory/deterioration of intellectual performance
  • increased appetite
  • episodes of paroxysmal hunger
  • headaches

According to many specialists, the most important indicators are the 4 B’s of Insulin Resistance: Belly fat, Brain fog, Burnout, and Blood sugar imbalance.

If you have noticed that you or your loved ones have several of these symptoms, please contact your doctor and request that the appropriate tests be done.

What happens if it goes untreated?

Insulin resistance should not remain untreated. Why? Well, untreated insulin resistance leads to many serious illnesses, namely:

  • obesity
  • diseases that are part of the metabolic syndrome
  • type 2 diabetes
  • weakened immunity – no or little resistance to infections and colds

Often it is possible to avoid taking medication, but this requires a thorough knowledge of the condition and following a strict regime. In most cases, doctors prescribe medicine in conjunction with a change in diet and physical activity. Some people try to change their lifestyle first without medication.

It all depends on your body’s level of insulin resistance.

Sometimes a change in diet and the right amount of physical activity is enough. However, sometimes medication is necessary, even if it is only for a limited period of time. I believe that the right diet is the single most important lifestyle change to make. Those of us with insulin resistance need to make healthy food choices every day.

What are the most common causes?

Have you wondered what the reasons for your insulin resistance are? Why did you get it? Especially if you followed a healthy diet and were active? Could it be from stress?

There are many factors that can cause insulin resistance and many of us are not even aware that we are at risk.

Here are some of the causes:

  • age
  • chronic inflammation
  • excessive supply of glucose
  • genetic disorders
  • abdominal obesity (development of chronic inflammation, production of substances that aggravate the action of insulin)
  • pregnancy
  • hormonal disorders

Diagnosis and now what?

When I was diagnosed, I was devastated and thought that it was the end of my world!

But this doesn’t have to be the case. Acceptance is key. Changes in your diet, lifestyle and activities, as well as allowing yourself time to rest when you need to, are great coping mechanisms. Be positive, because we can all learn to live with insulin resistance and lead a full and exciting life.

More Health Articles

My story

About 4 years ago the school at which I currently teach ran a course of Positive Psychology Workshops. I signed up, and in retrospect, the knowledge I gained on Mindset, Psychology and Character Strength was a real life-changer for me.


As we head towards 2020, the percentage of women affected by PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) is alarming and what’s more, many don’t know that they have it.