What is a healthy diet for someone with insulin resistance?
Lots of people have told me that they think their diets are quite healthy – much more so than many of their friends, who may be consuming vast quantities of “junk”. Yet if you have insulin resistance, one of the most frustrating things is that your weight will stay the same (and may even go up), even if you’re making a conscious effort to stay away from the chips and cakes. In fact, you may not even be eating much at all.
I was in the same boat, and let me tell you, I was super-disciplined! Exercising almost daily, keeping to very small portion sizes, very rarely indulging in anything that I thought would derail my efforts, including alcohol. I remember being into my 11th week of a strict regime I had put myself on. Who could question that kind of dedication? And still I did not see any results.
All that effort and no reward – for the first time in my life, the “tried and true” method of counting calories was no longer working. I suspected something was wrong, and a few months later (after initially testing my thyroid function and discovering that was OK), I had some other tests which revealed that I was insulin resistant.
More than a year on, I have lost weight (it is a total of about 6kg/15lbs to date), not that much compared to many of you! I didn’t have a whole lot to lose in the first instance, as I have a reasonably small frame and the only place I really needed to lose from was my midsection. The loss there is about 3 inches; it’s been coming off slowly but this is a major victory for me and I am happy to finally be able to fit back into some of the clothes I hadn’t worn for years!
So what changes did I make to produce these results?
Firstly, let’s look at my typical diet before diagnosis:
Breakfast: Whole wheat cereal (no sugar), skim milk, 2 cups of fresh coffee (milk, no sugar). Sometimes toast as well – just one slice, low fat spread.
Mid morning snack: Banana
Lunch: Chicken sandwich on whole grain bread – smear of low fat spread, followed by an apple or orange
Afternoon snack: not usually, but always tempted by chocolate bars at this time of day…
Evening meal: Meat/fish/chicken, vegetables and either pasta or rice or potatoes. Smallish portion size, lean cuts of meat, sometimes a sauce. No dessert.
Evening snack (sometimes): rice crackers or whole wheat crackers with dips or cheese.
If you look at this carefully, you’ll notice that it was what most people would refer to as a “healthy” diet, with lots of very sensible choices. I always tried to choose whole grain where possible, and my sugar consumption was minimal except for the fruit. Add to this my rigorous exercise routine and steadfast refusal to cave in to the really bad temptations and you can no doubt see why this left me utterly demoralized. Do you see what’s wrong? Maybe if I show you what I have now, so that you can compare, you’ll spot the difference:
Breakfast: Protein shake, 2 cups of fresh coffee (milk, no sugar), plus supplements.
Mid morning snack: None, never hungry. Sometimes I have another coffee!
Lunch: Chicken salad – sometimes I do have a sandwich, but not every day. If I do, it has a lot of salad in it and it’s on low GI bread (a multi-grain variety). Yogurt (my own mix of Greek style plain yogurt and a little sweetened berry flavor) or an apple, with a few nuts to balance.
Afternoon snack: None, never hungry. Can pass up a chocolate bar every day!
Evening meal: Meat/fish/chicken, non-starchy vegetables or salad, sometimes a little pasta, Basmati rice or sweet potato. Smallish portion size, lean cuts of meat, sometimes a sauce. Glass of red wine. No dessert.
Evening snack (rarely): cheese.
What’s different is that I have increased my protein and really cut down on the starch, particularly bread. Instead of having carbohydrates at every meal (which, especially in isolation, would cause major spikes in my blood sugar), now I keep in mind that protein should be my focus. If I have carbs – and I do have them – I am conscious to have some form of protein at the same time (nuts are handy for this especially when you are having a piece of fruit as a snack).
The biggest change is having protein at breakfast time. It keeps me full until 1pm (or later – if I’m busy at work I don’t notice the time and am definitely not conscious of hunger pangs). Before I was diagnosed I had only carbohydrates in the morning and I was constantly peckish – even hanging out for that mid-morning banana, which only made me hungrier for my lunch! My first protein of the day was at lunchtime. Having it earlier makes a HUGE difference, trust me.