Sugar, Insulin Resistance, and Fat Loss – By Jason Seib

Be forewarned, I’m going to get a little scientific, but I promise I will do my best to make it all make sense in the end.

Today I’m going to attempt to help folks understand the basic biochemistry involved in fat storage and loss.  I said attempt because I am a geek and this stuff gets pretty geeky, and I said basic because nearly everything I type from here forward will be a huge oversimplification of the amazing biochemical symphony taking place in these processes.

Let’s pretend you have not heard of Everyday Paleo yet.  You are still “doing” diets instead of eating like a human.  Your head is still full of myth and fable grounded in anything but actual science.  Prior to Everyday Paleo, your typical day might have looked like this:

Oatmeal for breakfast.
Fat Free/Sugar Free Coffee-like Substance at your mid morning slump.
Subway sandwich for lunch because you want to be like Jared.
Bagel, granola, or other such processed carbs (or maybe another sugar-laden caffeinated beverage) to fight the afternoon slump.
Pasta or rice at dinner.
Something crunchy or sweet between 8 and 10 pm.

Carbohydrate is converted to glucose (blood sugar), so each one of these meals causes a nice bolus of glucose to enter your blood stream very quickly.  Your body closely regulates glucose to keep it within a safe range – not too high and not too low.  After you consume easily digestible carbohydrates like the ones on your daily menu above, your pancreas must secrete insulin to mitigate the resulting elevated glucose.  Insulin’s job is primarily to feed the glucose in your blood stream to hungry cells and then send the leftovers to the liver to be turned into triglycerides for storage in your fat cells.  Are you still with me?  Take a deep breath.  Maybe do a few squats.  Okay, let’s keep moving.  We need to dig deeper.

The story so far:  carbs are eaten and broken down to glucose, insulin sends glucose to your cells to be used as energy or to the liver for a quick composition change so it can be stored as fat.

Moving on.  Since your Standard American Diet (SAD) is nowhere near natural because of all those processed carbs, glucose and insulin remain high throughout your day.  This can eventually lead to insulin resistance in those cells that use glucose as energy.  Insulin resistance is when insulin is ever present and its “I come bearing food” signal to the cells is reduced to a whisper and then finally ignored.  This means your pancreas must produce more insulin to get the same job done, and this in turn means that insulin is ever present in greater quantities.  If you have managed to make sense of all this so far, you can see that you are amassing more and more insulin in your blood stream.  I’m about to explain why this is a problem, but you might want to do a few more squats first.

Hyperinsulinemia, this state of elevated insulin you have created by this point, is bad.  Very bad.  Robb Wolf once suggested that you can Google hyperinsulinemia and any noninfectious disease that comes to mind and you will at least find strong correlations in more links than you would ever take the time to read.  When insulin hangs around too often, it also means you store a lot of fat and have trouble using fat as energy.  This is because insulin is your body’s primary storage hormone.  Here’s how it works (take another deep breath):

High levels of glucose in the blood stream are toxic, just ask a type 1 diabetic.  As I said above, your body devotes a lot of energy to keeping glucose within a fairly tight range.  This means glucose is used for energy before fatty acids because it can’t be allowed to hang out and cause problems.  You can only store a small amount of glucose (as glycogen), but a nearly unlimited amount of fat can be stored, much to the dismay of your buns and thighs.  This is why the liver converts the extra glucose to triglycerides and ships it off to be stored in the fat cells.

Okay, we have finally come to the point of this whole sermon.  At the fat cell, an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase (LPL) acts as the doorman, ushering fatty acids into the fat cells.  Inside the fat cell, another enzyme, hormone sensitive lipase (HSL), has the job of cleaving the first sulfide bond on the triglycerides and releasing fatty acids to be used as energy.  So LPL is working when you are storing fat and HSL is working when you are “burning” fat.  Here’s the rub – both of these enzymes are sensitive to the presence of insulin.  When insulin  is present, LPL is on duty and you are storing fat.  When insulin is gone, HSL is on duty and you are using your stored fat as energy.  If you understand the story so far, this process makes perfect sense.  Since we know that glucose can’t be allowed to hang out and it must be used first, we also know that there is no reason to access stored fat in the presence of glucose and, therefore, insulin.  When insulin is in the blood stream, the message is clear – you have glucose to take care of before you use your stored fat.  Now it’s easy to see why hyperinsulinemia and insulin resistance are a problem.  They keep you in fat storage mode, without the ability to access your stored fat for energy, for plenty of time to make you plump and squishy.

Please don’t misunderstand, I am not trying to paint carbohydrates and insulin as villains.  They are a normal and natural part of human nutrition and biochemistry.  What is not normal is our mass consumption of processed carbohydrates, both in unnatural forms and in never ending supply regardless of season.  A solid paleo diet, along with proper exercise, will make you healthier and leaner by giving you back insulin sensitivity and helping you re-adapt to using your stored fat as energy so your fat cells can go back to being the batteries they are suppose to be instead of the warehouses they have become.

If you don’t completely hate me by now, stay tuned for how all this correlates to cravings.

Go forth and be awesome.

Comments

  1. nikki Nelson says

    looking forward to your next post. I love the break down, I learned all of this last semester in college but then they say you can still eat anything….uhh I was confused and even dropped the class. I just couldn’t sit there and listen to this woman talk about what was good for us when she is involved with the lunch meals my kids eat at school, she was the one who came up with the “HEALTHY” menus and was proud of what they are….. yeah, I was willing to take the drop of a class and get my head out of there! crazy nutritionist. :)

    • JasonS says

      Yeah, it always seems odd to me when medical professionals and nutritionists appear to understand the biochemistry and then prescribe diets that counter it.

    • kim says

      i am on day 22 of the 30 day palio diet.. am also taking insulin for type 2.. i am losing weight but my blood sugar levels are high .. my dr. has added more insulin.. i dont think i should be taking the insulin since i am on this new way of fueling my body … need some impute…

  2. says

    That’s so interesting! Can’t wait for your next post about cravings!
    Everytime I tell people I’m not eating sugar, grains or potatoes, they practically declare me insane and tell me ‘But you need those carbs!’. Yeah, their bodies are asking for carbs all the time, they just don’t understand there is a solution to that. In fact, a solution that also resolves many of their health problems. Every single person I know who tried eating paleo, has stuck to it because they feel better. It’s hard for me to get the message across though, so I think I’ll just refer them to this post! Thanks!

    • Melchior Meijer says

      Hi Marinka,

      You must be living in Holland ;-). I know exactly what you mean. There’s a lot of work to be done here. We’re stuck in the Middle Ages in this country with the highest number of dietitians per capita on earth.

      Listening to people like Sarah and Robb while running through the Dutch dunes sometimes feels a bit like connecting with the allied forces oversea in war time. Like our grandparents who secretly tuned in to Radio Netherlands in London in WOII. An over the top comparison, but still…

  3. maria says

    Loved it! Thanks Jason for explaining it so thoroughly.

    I am also a bit of a science geek (may be my M.Sc. (Tech) that’s causing it), but I find it much much easier to get behind something I understand the mechanism of. Of course, the results of paleo speak for themselves, but still this was very nice to read. Typically these issues are just discussed on such a general level, not really going into the science of it.

    Looking forward to your next post.

    And while I know this question might seem to contradict what I just said, I’d like to get your opinion on eating white rice a couple times a week. Does it really matter?

    • JasonS says

      Thanks for the kind words. If you aren’t trying to lose fat, you aren’t autoimmune, and you exercise responsibly, I can’t really predict any negative affects from eating white rice a couple times per week in an otherwise solid paleo diet. That is not to say that you won’t incur any negative affects, just that I can’t foresee them. Make sure you control the introduction of white rice into your diet as much as possible so you can accurately assess the way you look/feel/perform. In other words, make its introduction the only change you make at that time.

      • maria says

        Jason, thanks. Will do this. Just have to do the 30-day strict period again first, so I can accurately assess the affects.

        And about exercise, hmm. That’s definitely my weak point. I’ve always hated exercise from the bottom of my heart (read: I’ve used it as punishment for when I thought I’d eaten too much or done something else “bad” – yes, I’ve had an eating disorder for years and years). So it’s a tad difficult to start doing it now, as in my head it still equals punishment. My routine at present is mostly walking, doing chores, and the occasional ashtanga yoga… I know I should do more, I just cannot seem to find a way. I’ve been told I should just force myself to go to a gym or something, that I’d feel good afterwards (undoubtedly true, this). However, this is exactly how I’ve always done it up to now, and I really don’t think it is a method conducive to healing from anorexia.

        Sorry if that was too much information. And thanks for any suggestions you might have.

        • JasonS says

          If you aren’t exercising, you are just “doing” a diet. Paleo isn’t a diet, it is human nutrition, but it requires the same perspective in all the other areas that affect your health. Walking is great, but you need some lifting in there somewhere. I know this stuff gets confusing. We are working on a way to help.

          • Maria says

            Thanks again Jason. And I do agree with you. And would even say I do not find it confusing at all. Just that due to my background it is hard for me to start exercise without also falling back to the other symptoms of my ED. Or without it feeling like punishment. But maybe if I just add more ashtanga? After all, it requires you to use pretty much all of your muscles quite heavily.

            I do know that it sounds like I am making excuses. And maybe that’s true too. However, it is also true that anorexia and the associated mind patterns are hard to shake. I need a shift of outlook – I know.

          • JasonS says

            Yeah, do whatever keeps you moving. You might try lifting in small doses. As soon as it stops being fun, quit doing it for the day.

          • Emily says

            I’m just a beginner to paleo and crossfit. I’ve been doing a lot of research on exercise as I live in Germany and there is no crossfit studio close by. So I’ve been working on what I can do at home and how much I can push my neighborhood fitness studio to let me do at their facilities. During my research I’ve run across some arobic kettlebell classes and poi dancing. I once heard an interview with an actress who was keeping in shape using weighted poi ribbons. While reading your post it occured to me that maybe these sort of exercises might be far enough off weight lifting and still lifting and in some ways near yoga movements to make them an entrance way back to some sort of strength training. Also if you check out Mark’s Daily Apple, as a former athlete who kind of burned out on weight lifting he has some unusual adjustments to the daily ins and outs of exercise.

            Emily

          • jess says

            M,

            have you ever tried doing Zumba or bodypump at a gym? not your HIT workout but very fun, and still getting a workout in. I love it whenever I get in a rut and want something different.

          • maria says

            Thanks for the suggestions guys.

            You are right in that there probably is a form of exercise, aside from walking, that I can truly enjoy. I just have not found it yet. I live in Finland, and while we do have a crossfit gym here, gyms for me equal punishment (my preferred self-punishment during my ED years was to go the gym four to five times a week and work out until I could almost no longer stand…)

            It is sort of strange, I suppose, that I never in my life have thought that exercise is supposed to be fun/could be fun. I’ve always approached it from a place of believing it is punishment and impossible to enjoy. And that I am being ridiculous to ask for pleasure in it. Hmm… Come to think of it, this is how I’ve viewed life in general all my life up to now: pleasure is not allowed.

            Kettlebell sounds good, my yoga studio actually has classes in that. Thanks for the suggestion, I think I will try! And some form of dance could also be nice. Also, I have been working interval training into my walks for a while now. I walk for a couple minutes, then jog/run for 30 seconds and repeat the sequence several times. I actually enjoy this. And I usually do it while walking to work, so I do not have to go out separately for a workout.

            Thanks again guys, and I will go try out the kettlebell ASAP.

  4. Jenn says

    I’ve been dumbing down the science to the point of snickering to try to explain our way of eating to my kids. My 7 year old is completely convinced that she will be one of those people that aren’t sick (and aren’t fat) because of grains, and it’s been a bit of a science battle. We’ve been doing this for two years, but she still thinks she will be different. We finally sat and watched an episode of Biggest Loser, where they talk about health problems and diabetes. As we have diabetes in the family it’s very important she know the risks. She was really getting the idea that it was a bad thing (’cause people were crying) and wanted to know more. Bingo! We had the chance to talk seriously about the long term health impacts of grains, and about insulin. Easiest way to explain it to her was a yelling illustration:

    When she was little and I yelled, she paid attention and stopped doing what she was doing. I kept yelling because it worked at first, but after a few years she stopped listening as well. Today she doesn’t even notice my yelling. She is the cell, I am the insulin and her ignoring me is diabetes.

    How ever you get to the point of understanding, it’s so important. I got to the Paleo world because, like Nikki, I was tired of the garbage. I wanted to know the TRUTH, not just today’s fad. I mean, come on, the medical establishment couldn’t even decide if eggs were good or bad! I just knew there had to be one truth, not just the truth that people decided to believe. As I dug in to try to truly understand the science behind food I had no choice but to eventually end up in the anti-grain, anti-sugar group!

    • Tiffany says

      Thanks, Jenn, for the yelling analogy…I’ve been trying to explain it to my children too every time I hear the “why are we doing this and when can we stop?” I am going to give your story a try and see if that helps…thanks again!

    • Sara says

      Just keep making the good stuff! She’ll get to feeling better and enjoying it so much that she won’t notice that there’s no more junk.

      It was a pretty simple transition here. I have 3 kids…2 boys (13 & 11) and my daughter is 8…I cook….they eat…end of story. If they don’t like what I make…they have the option to make themselves something else…however, since I do the shopping…I make sure there are only healthy options. Rarely do they make something other than the feast I provide. My daughter is crazy in love with the Paleo and understands the dire effects of lectins as best as I could explain to an 8 year old. Although when I heard her explaining it to a friend of hers, I think she knows more than most adults! LOL!! My 13 year old is the only one that is semi reluctant, but he still eats it and likes the food. My 11 year old has lost the soft and squishy grain belly that he was starting to develop with his cereal killer brekkies. He’s QUITE happy with bacon and eggs…with the occasional coconut flour pancakes, or left over steak.

      I feel very fortunate that I have had the support of the whole herd here. Just keep presenting the facts and they will climb on board and help you surf the net to find even more paleo yumminess. My daughter now has about 50 bookmarks of yummies she wants to try and make!

      @Jason….Excellent article!!! I love the humour interspersed as well.

  5. Tracy says

    As a total non-science person, this is the very first explanation that made sense to me – I didn’t get lost! And I really needed to hear this today, so thank you very very much. Usually, I get lost in the science, bored, skim the rest….and miss the connection. Going to print this out to show my husband whose family has lots of health issues all related to diabetes. THANK YOU AGAIN!!

  6. says

    Nice simple breakdown but I do have a few questions.

    What about the role of leptin in all of this, and the fact that the obese become insulin resistant. How does this extra load of insulin in the body supposed to increase the storage of fat into cells (via LPL) if the cells are immune to it?

    I have read that studies show that obese people release an equal or larger amount of fatty acids from their fat tissue (more than lean people). Therefore the problem would be that the excess fat being released from the cells are not being oxidized at the rate of which they fats are being transported into the cell.

    This is why, as I see it, the problem is really sugar and more specifically the fructose, because it is shuttled right to the liver (and for the most part is converted to fat), and the SAD has obviously increased its sugar consumption. Like Lustwig points out, high fructose diet is really a high fat diet.

    Thoughts? I am not trying to say what you are saying is wrong, I am just your everday average paleo guy trying to make sense of all this info and slightly different theories.

    • JasonS says

      You’re getting WAY more scientific than I intended to get here, but I will try to give you some brief answers the way I see them.

      The roll of leptin is also about resistance and the leptin not being acknowledged by the brain when it tries to tell the brain how much fat is already stored. (A HUGE oversimplification, but as far as I can go in the comments of a post.) Insulin resistance is part of the CAUSE of obesity, not a hindrance to it, but the fat cells are usually not the cells that become insulin resistant, thus they accept all the energy (as fatty acids) that the other cells would not accept (as glucose).

      As for your question regarding impaired mitochondrial function in fatty acid oxidation in obese people, Peter just broke it down better than I ever could. http://high-fat-nutrition.blogspot.com/2011/10/adipostat-ballon.html

      I agree whole heartedly that fructose is a serious problem, and certainly worth as much attention as sucrose and processed carbs, but I never intended this post to be about how the nation got obese. I’m simply addressing sugar and insulin resistance in the scope of fat loss/gain. I never meant to insinuate that the biochemistry I’m explaining is a push-button answer the epidemic obesity and disease we suffer from. If I had insinuated as much (or ever do) please call me out because I would be no better than the majority of the medical community who continuously narrow their view until they can’t see the forest for the trees.

      Awesome contribution, though. Great questions. Thanks for chiming in.

      • says

        Thank you for replying.

        There is a lot of info out there, and sometimes it can be tough to make sense of it all.

        Keep up the great work!

  7. Regina says

    Jason, please hurry and post the segment on cravings. I tried strick Paleo for 3 days and failed miserably. The cravings were like nothing I’ve ever experienced and I had no energy for my workouts. Not to mention I was horribly constipated (and I eat my weight in vegetables). I want to break my carb addiction and even out the daily highs/lows. I want to understand the science behind this so that I may be more successful in my next attempt. Will be watching for the next post.

    • Lisa T says

      Regina, I totally empathise you. When you say you are doing strict paleo for your first few days AND working out, I think maybe you should try simply focusing on the food (YUM) first and maybe go on some light walks…not try to also fit in full-on workouts.

      After initially trying to switch hardcore for a few weeks, I then decided to take things a bit slower and have been far more succesful, with less stress and more creativity in the kitchen. By slower, I do not mean including grains or sugar (for sure!), but pay close attention to make sure you are getting enough overall calories. I had issues with adding butter and fats into my diet in quantities that were high enough to reduce ANY food cravings. I also gradually decreased my dairy, since eliminating it completely in the beginning was not going to happen, and I needed fat (heavy cream, cheese) that I was accustomed to until I could find pasture-rasied, organic butter, coconut oil and meats to be sure to even out the Omega-3/6 ratios.

      Some of us definitely experience energy loss (and I needed more sleep) in the beginning. It takes time for your body to adjust to this better diet, but it will happen with perserverance and patience. Have faith! I think the more carb-heavy your diet was (and also if you ate a lot of chemical-laden foods before) you may even have a harder transition, but the benefits will be so noticeable in a few weeks that I doubt you will even return or be tempted again. People at my work are amazed with my steadfast tenacity with regards to my food choices (I’d rather not eat than compromise, but you have that flexibility when you are not on the carb-rollercoaster,) and you will get there too.

      My advice: do the food first and when you feel you have the energy, start tackling some workouts.

      • Regina says

        Thank you Lisa! I honestly never thought about reducing the intensity of my workouts. Makes sense. After YEARS of low cal/low fat eating I think my body freaked out a bit. For those 3 days I was never sure what was “enough” food and I certainly never felt “satisfied”. You mean the cravings can be reduced by eating more fat? Ack! Really? I want off the carb rollercoaster so badly but I’m confused. How do I abandon the lifestyle that helped me lose so much weight (90+lbs) but that I’m not sure is helping me live a healthy life?

        • Annette says

          When you are craving carbs, eat protein + fat to “shut up your tummy”. And be sure to drink water & tea throughout the day … I think a lot of my cravings are dehydration. Do this for a week or two until your body adjusts. Don’t give in to the sugar! Even if you feel like you are eating too much… how much damage can you do in a week or two? (And I think you’ll be surprised that you won’t gain weight like you would on a carb binge – see Jason’s article). All those years of fat avoidance were hard for me to shake at first, too, but healthy fats like avocado, coconut (oil, flakes, butter) and evoo are good for you! You will see it in your hair, skin & nails… your face will glow :-) Good luck!

    • Denee says

      Regina, I’ve been on Paleo for over a year now and have some severe bouts with constipation. I’ve finally found a regimen that works well for me. I make my own bone broth and drink at least 12 oz each morning. I also make my own kombucha, which helps to move things through. (Not sure if this is technically Paleo, but it’s a traditional fermented drink, and I let it ferment until most of the sugar is gone, so I don’t feel bad about it. It has made my life so much better!) The first few days can be pretty intense, but I would recommend trying again, especially with some bone broth mixed in to see if it helps with constipation. It’s so worth it!!

      • Regina says

        Denee – I just discovered The Grass Fed Girl blog where she talks about bone broth. I’m intrigued, and if it can help, I’m all for it!

  8. Mike says

    Great explanation! Can you tell me if it’s possible to get blood work done at Doc’s office that will let a person know about their insulin levels? What tests should be requested? I’d like a precise way to know where I stand. Thanks. Mike.

    • JasonS says

      A glucose test is the simplest way to see if you have a problem. My fasting glucose is right around 74. If you are in the 90s or higher I would suggest making corrections.

  9. Marion says

    “A solid paleo diet, along with proper exercise, will make you healthier and leaner by giving you back insulin sensitivity and helping you re-adapt to using your stored fat as energy so your fat cells can go back to being the batteries they are suppose to be instead of the warehouses they have become.”
    I love this sentence, it sums it up beautifully. This is what I will tell people when explaining paleo (besides feeling good). Thanks Sarah!

  10. TJ says

    Great post, cannot wait for the next on cravings. I recently started following a Paleo lifestyle and have started to do well except for a certain time of the month when I become a hormonal eater and want to devour anything sweet. Is it true that if you eat something higher in carbs (fruit) it is best to also eat a protein along with it to control the insulin spike? Thanks again for the great post.

  11. Mary says

    Great post. I have been doing paleo for a couple of months and I feel great. I have one small question. How long after starting a Paleo diet does your body re-adapt to using fat as energy? My cravings are gone, I don’t need to eat every two hours and my strength has improved. Are these signs my body is starting to regulate itself?

    • JasonS says

      The simple answer – you should become at least better fat adapted in as little as a few weeks of strict paleo with no cheats, responsible exercise, and good sleep. But things get complicated when we throw cortisol in the mix. If your sleep patterns are bad, you do 30 minute CrossFit workouts 4 or 5 times per week, and your life is stressful, you might stay insulin resistant indefinitely despite an amazing diet.

      • cindy woods says

        Jason, in your reply to Mary you mention if your sleep is bad, you do 30 minute CF workouts 4-5 times per week and our life is stressful, you might stay insulin resistant.
        I am 50, in menopause ( so this is causing my sleep to suck) I do CF 4 times per week, but we lift heavy and most WOD’s are short. Other than that my life is not too stressful.
        Other than strict Paleo and doing my best to get enough sleep what is a girl to do?
        I really want to lean out.

  12. Sarah says

    Ahh…you left me hanging!! Someone just directed me to your website yesterday because my almost 2 year old son is highly allergic to all grains, dairy, egg, soy, tree nuts and legumes. They thought that a lot of recipes and information y’all have would help. I didn’t even know what paleo was before yesterday. The other piece to this puzzle is that I’m insulin resistant, but I haven’t really done anything about it other than getting on medicine. I know I need to change my diet, but I’ve been dragging my feet. Now that I need to do it for my son, I thought I might as well do it for myself. Can’t wait to read the rest.

    • JasonS says

      How did I leave you hanging? The cravings part? There is a link above to some info from my FB page that might help until I can get the next post written.

  13. Amy says

    Thanks SO much for your post! It was very informative and I feel much better about deciding to follow the Paleo lifestyle now. But I have to be honest.. I’m NERVOUS AS HELL. The high fat consumption scares the crap out of me. I know we’re not supposed to be eating a ton of fatty meat. However, another website I read stated the words”cooking fat” multiple times. I know once I start seeing results, I’ll get over it. Speaking of results.. would you be able to tell me how soon I’ll be able to see them? Weeks? Months?

    thank so much in advance!

    • JasonS says

      If you are only eating grass fed and pastured animals, I will never tell you to avoid fat or eat only lean cuts of meat. As long as you eat animals that were raised the way nature intended, eat all the fat you want. I’m not sure what the context of “cooking fat” was on that other site. My advice to anyone who is afraid of fat: research, research, research, and then see what the data tells you. But research does not mean asking a doctor for their opinion. Unfortunately, it means digging into the studies and biochemistry.

      The time it takes to see results will depend on your level of commitment and all of your other pertinent lifestyle inputs, such as sleep patterns, stress level, and the way you exercise. If these things are right, results come in weeks for most people.

  14. Lisa T says

    Loved this explanation. I started paleo-type eating (I actually began at Mark Sisson’s site and found this one because of all the great recipes and I now read both regularly) in mid-July and fiddled and tweaked around with it for a while before finally settling in to a routine (menu-wise) that worked well for me (and my wallet) and has provided amazing results in this area (blood sugar/insulin response). Results I can physically and mentally FEEL. It may sound crazy to some people, but I swear that I think clearer, my memeory has improved, my emotions are not all over the map and I am so much more relaxed overall than I have been my entire adult life. I can’t wait to go to the doctor in a few months and see the results of all my bloodwork. I think he will be in shock…maybe even more so when I tell him how I did it. ;-)

    • JasonS says

      I don’t think anyone living a paleo lifestyle would think any of those results sound crazy. Keep up the good work!

  15. says

    Jason,
    This is an amazing explanation. It explains why I did not lose weight while training for a marathon. If you drink/eat carbs to help your training your body never has to dip into fat stores and is soaked with insulin. Now if I could only get my T2D relatives to read this and stop the madness of low fat, high fiber and whatever else is in Prevention magazine.
    -PJ

    • JasonS says

      Cortisol is another big reason you didn’t lose weight training for a marathon. Endurance sports are sports, not weight loss/health/fitness plans. I’m glad you have seen the light.

  16. Elle says

    I love Sarah’s book & her fabulous recipes, and have learned much from Jason’s posts. Studying health & nutrition is my hobby (some say obsession). I have studied paleo nutrition for about a year now and have been convinced enough to give it a try. This is after following a vegan, no-added fat, whole foods diet (think Drs. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, John McDougall, Neal Barnard, and Doug Graham) for almost 3 years. I see the wisdom (and sometimes the over-exaggerations) in both the vegan and paleo/primal camps, and thus am doing an experiment to see which appears to benefit me the best. They all seem to make sense, on paper.

    What I don’t quite understand is why paleo, and other low-carb promoters, when comparing paleo with high-carb eating, always seem to use processed carbs as an example, such as in Jason’s example. Why not compare paleo with a whole-foods, vegan, no-added fat diet such as those by doctors listed above, instead of using an example, like Jason used, that both paleo promoters, and the doctors above both agree is bad?

    On both types of web sites (whole-foods-vegan, including natural hygiene-type like Doug Graham’s 80/10/10, and paleo), there are scores of testimonials by those who have experienced the same types of reversal of disease (including diabetes), and increased health. It seems to me people can thrive from both ways, but not from medium to high fat (or possibly even medium to high protein) combined with even whole carbs. According to the vegan no-fat promoters, glucose from whole-food sources, and accompanying insulin does not appear to cause problems in the absence of fat. Glucose can move from the blood into the cell freely if there is no overt fat to “gum up” up the cell’s receptors. This is one of ways specific high-carb, vegan diets can work to reverse diabetes, heart disease, and other problems. It seems that high-carb diets with fat above approximately 12%, when combined with any type of carb (other than non-starchy vegis) is where problems occur with high sugar/insulin levels. Of course, if someone is sensitive to any or all grains (or has celiac disease) their vegan diet should eliminate them.

    I won’t address the anti-nutrient issue in grains & legumes other than to say I understand it, but the vegan promoters have their counter-arguments.

    So far, I have had huge benefits with the vegan, whole foods, no-added fat (high-carb) diet. My fasting blood sugar levels have remained the same (under 90) whether high-carb, or paleo-ish. My no-fat vegan diet (including grains) benefits include; cholesterol dropped from 240 to 170, (triglycerides & blood pressure have always been optimal), lost 27 pounds, arthritis in shoulder, migraines and 10 years of chronic diarrhea gone, and other inflammatory markers excellent. Mercury levels went from “abnormally high” to “zero.”

    Before trying this vegan lifestyle, I had been eating what most would consider a fairly healthy diet. This consisted of grass-fed, organic animal products (no dairy though), wild-caught fish 2-3 times weekly, vegis, perhaps 1 ounce nuts for a snack, and 1-2 daily servings of fruit or small amounts of whole grains. While this showed up as a slight improvement over my previous SAD, and close to paleo, it still left me with the above problems, thus the vegan attempt.

    Why am I trying paleo after having great success with avegan no-added fat diet? Well, besides being woo-ed by Sarah’s recipes, I did develop some issues on the vegan diet some of which showed up in blood work (low copper levels, and slightly high iron levels). Also, I have high lipoprotein(a) levels which are supposed to be genetic but I’ve read that saturated fat can lower them. I’m having a tough time losing my remaining 20 pounds, and energy levels are not great Most importantly, after awhile of eating the vegan, no-added fat way I lost control of my appetite, which seems to be not unusual with vegan diets. I was always hungry, never satiated, even eating large amounts of food. After research, including Robb Wolf’s book, I realized it probably had to do with the appetite / satiety hormones. I have made a few false starts with paleo but my limited experience with it has really helped temper my appetite.

    I’m hoping that strict paleo (no sneaking in the 4-5 banana green smoothie, or the infamous sprouted bread named after a bible chapter) will show me health benefits beyond my expectations, and give me the energy to do some serious fitness activities. Thank you all for your help, and inspiration.

    Elle

    • Adeline says

      @Jason : great post and very informative, can’t wait for the second part
      @elle : i have followed 80/10/10 for 2 years, have had great energy at the beginning, but then intense sugar cravings and low energy.
      With paleo, my cravings are almost gone and my energy is pretty high and stable

    • Jason says

      First of all, paleo is not low carb. Paleo is food choices, period. I do a high carb version of paleo, as do most people with performance goals.

      Second, there aren’t even any indigenous vegetarians, let alone vegans, anywhere in human history. If you believe that intervention is the best way for a human to attain proper health, then give it a try and see what happens. The data, and your resulting deficiencies, argue against veganism, but I will not start that debate here.

    • Annette says

      Good luck to you Elle. I’ve traveled a similar road – and wondered the same things. Both sides make compelling arguments and when you are not-trained in the biological sciences it can be tough to sort out.

      I did what you are doing, tried both and have been happier on paleo for all the reasons you mentioned: more energy, satiated after less frequent meals (every 2 hours was brutal – I was ALWAYS thinking about food) and all my bloodwork improved, too. My strength gains make going to the gym FUN. I am less moody and have more patience and more ZEST for life.

      I think my initial positive experience with the vegan diet was my move to real, whole food. Ditching the processed junk makes a huge difference! I don’t doubt the sincerity of the folks you mentioned above (and many others that I followed during those days) … it seems to be working for them, it just didn’t for me long term. I have been paleo for over a year now and can’t see myself ever going back …. but who knows? I’m doing what you are doing, reading, learning and trying to listen to my body.

      Which is a tricky … there are still some things about me I can’t figure out and these posts from Jason are so helpful. Thank, JASON! I just started cross-fitting 3 months ago – I was a paleo-eater first :-) I love, love, love my gym. My body is changing, I’m gaining weight (though some is muscle – I keep setting PR’s in the gym!), I had a birthday, my sleep is not as consistent as it was. I figured out myself I needed to back off in the gym. I considered bailing because I didn’t think it was accomplishing what I was after which was better body composition and strength to age gracefully. I really like it, though and didn’t want to drop it without giving it a fair chance. So for now, 3 days a week feels like the sweet spot. (It was nice to read that recommendation in the post :-) I also like to walk and do yoga for flexibility. I seem to have settled into that routine, so now I’m wondering if I went too low carb and did some damage? I noticed maybe I was going a little overboard with nuts and sunbutter — my meals weren’t satisfying me as long anymore. My next experiment is to up the starchy carbs post workout and try to hit zone ratios with meat, veggies & healthy fats to see what happens. (It’s SO hard to change just one thing at a time!) Does that seem like the logical next step when leaning out is the goal?

      I’m interested in the biosignature practitioner mentioned above as well. Has anyone tried that?

      Great post / great comments – Thanks Sarah and Jason for all you do!!!

  17. Mike Mc says

    Jason,
    Great article. I am just starting to follow the Paleo way. My biggest question is concerning fruit. Which ones are good to eat and which to stay away from as well as how much I can eat in a day. I noramlly eat 2-3 servings a day of bananas, apples, grapes or pineapple.

  18. Ginni says

    Jason,
    I love it! I have been looking for this EXACT explanation for two months!
    I do have a question regarding exercise. I run about 10-15 miles a week, but not for weight loss. I do it because I love it. Also, for me it reduces stress. Can you give some tips or advice on how I can balance my love for running and paleo? I eat paleo and lift heavy things, but I do not want to give up running. I tried and I was a stress mess! How can I counteract the negative effects of endurance running while still reaping it’s stress relief benefits?

    • Elle says

      Jason, thank you very much for the reply on my rather lengthy comment. I am very glad you are posting here on Sarah’s site. I’m thrilled that the science is showing meat & fat (naturally raised) are good for us, because I’m really, really enjoying eating those food groups again. Sarah, everyone of your recipes I’ve tried so far has been fantastic, and thankfully easy.

  19. Cherie says

    How much fruit do you guys recommend? I have cut way back on fruit consumption over the last 6 months, but I would like to know how much you Paleo “old-timers” eat in a week or day.

  20. Chelsea says

    Great post. As a science geek myself, I’ve had a difficult time simplifying this topic for my friends.

    I am wondering what your thoughts are on sugar/insulin/LPL post-workout. PWO nutrition is generally very high in protein and carbs to replenish glycogen stores and amino acids for protein synthesis. After a workout and consumption of a PWO meal, are LPL levels still greater than HPL levels?

  21. Charlotte says

    I am a nutrition and dietetics student, and I must say I think this post was brilliantly written and the process beautifully described. Very well done and thank you for promoting better knowledge of our wonderful bodies.

  22. Genevieve says

    Hello Jason!
    This is a great post. I have PCOS and insulin resistance, and I have started eating Paleo 2 weeks ago. I’m still training in the gym or running 5-6 times/week. I haven’t noticed any weight loss yet. Any thoughts about that? I know it is normal, but how long does it take before I see changes?
    Cheers!
    Geneviève

  23. Jen says

    Hello, I’m new to the Paleo lifestyle, but have always been active. One catch that has made it very hard for me to lose weight and keep a healthy weight is that I’m a Type I diabetic. How does this help with Type I diabetics? I’m on the insulin pump and have a small steady amount of insulin all day and night. Will this still prevent me from letting the HSL taking over? I always knew that being Type I made it harder for me to lose weight, so this explains why! Thank you for sharing the wisdom!

  24. Ryn says

    glycogen is important for recovery after hard workouts for your muscles to repair… Hence the sweet potato/good carbs post-work out. Hence, why the Atkins diet is NOT paleo and NOT healthy. Thanks for the in-depth view, I always find a difficult time explaining this concept to folks who ask why paleo is better than no carbs at all!

  25. Susan Garrett says

    Jason

    I have diabetes. I have doing paleo for two weeks now and my blood sugar is doing much better. But I’m still don’t under stand how my blood sugar can be in the 116 range or lower all day long and at night just before I go to bed and in the morning be 128 or higher.

  26. Suze says

    AWESOME explanation! I am a nurse, so had no trouble following. But that has to be the best recap of the system I have seen on the net, that most folks without a medical degree can understand. Headed to look for part 2! :)

  27. Sarah Gomez says

    I’m not even sure how I stumbled across this site…but I’m at a loss for words. Besides the Weston A. Price Foundation and Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation, I have never found another team or organization, other than my own, that practices this kind of nutrition.

    I work for a company that employees around 3,000 individuals and we’ve implemented a program that follows literally the exact same guidelines. It’s primarily designed to reverse diabetes (rather, the need for diabetic medication) simply through nutrition. This is what I do for a living! I can’t believe there are others like us…I can’t tell you how exciting this is to me…

    Truly, there is nothing greater than experiencing a full, healthy life – the basis for this is absolutely, without a doubt: nutrition. Keep up the great work, Paleo! I’m amazed!

    • Sarah says

      So glad you stumbled upon my site! I’m interested to hear more about what you are doing. Here are a couple of other sites to check out Robb Wolf’s site http://www.robbwolf.com and his book The Paleo Solution. I also recommend Mark Sisson who can be found at http://www.marksdailyapple.com and his book The Primal Blueprint. And my book also, Everyday Paleo, all found on Amazon and in most major book stores.

  28. Joyce says

    I’d love to be doing Paleo but I have developed intolerances to most protein foods. All I can eat is organic beef, bison and other wild meats, no fowl, eggs, dairy, soy,or nuts. Is it possible to desensitize myself so I can go back to Paleo eating? I do not want to overload on the few proteins I can tolerate or I could end up being sensitive to them also.

  29. says

    In my mind it seems that paleo is “associated” with low carb, maybe it is because of all the references to gary taubes and the constant grain bashing that bring about some “iffy” theories on insulin resistance. Insulin resistance, most likely, is a development that takes place as an anti-starvation system in the body – preventing fat burning while also preventing energy from being packed into muscle cells where it would raise the metabolism and build calorically-expensive muscle tissue. Insulin resistance is from the bodies natural mechanism for starvation, it packs away as much fat as possible from the food you are eating when food becomes available again. The problem is that for most people, as you pointed out, we have an elevation on glucose, cortisol, leptin, insulin, serotonin, and a bunch of other hormones that need to be in a circadian rythm otherwise fat does not burned while we exercise and sleep and muscle growth does not happen. There seems to be this myth floating around that starchy vegetables, grains and beans will lead to us becoming fat and the end of civilization as we know it. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.

    “The mistaken logic portrayed by the diet and fitness industry works like this: Hyperinsulinemia is a marker for several diseases. And carbohydrates ingestion causes the greatest release of insulin. Therefore the conclusion they jump to is that if you avoid carbohydrate intake or keep it to a minimum then you avoid hyperinsulinemia and therefore avoid insulin resistance. This is nonsense.
    The real truth is yes carbohydrate ingestion causes the release of insulin. But carbohydrate ingestion does not cause hyperinsulinemia. That is an unethical leap from science to agenda. The argument that X=Y and then Y=Z, does not mean X=Z. The problem is the insulin receptor, not insulin in and of itself. Stop the nonsense. The truth is high complex carbohydrate diets can lower insulin levels. And for athletes or anyone in intense regular training, a higher carbohydrate diet is truly the “correct” one.” – Scott Abel Fitness “guru” (what an ugly term, anyone dubbed as a guru is quite the opposite)

    “Diabetes involves a lot more than high blood sugar. Most likely, increased concentrations of glucose and ketones, defective energy metabolism, defective insulin signaling, and oxidative stress lead to the increased production of and decreased detoxification of dicarbonyls. These dicarbonyls then form AGEs, defective degradation of AGE-modified proteins elevates their concentration further, and if the diabetes damages the kidneys, even the free AGEs released from degraded proteins will not be efficiently excreted. High blood sugar is a part of this, but only a part.” – chris masterjohn

    Overcoming IR does not need to be about jumping from diet to diet (as I see most of you have done, congrats you have developed an unhealthy relationship with food) If you think that eating a paleo diet is the only way to optimal health I’m sure the people of the state of Hunza would disagree.

    “My own experience provides an example of a race, unsurpassed in perfection of physique and in freedom from disease in general, whose sole food consists to this day of grains, vegetables, and fruits, with a certain amount of milk and butter, and goat’s meat only on feast days. I refer to the people of the State of Hunza, situated in the extreme northernmost point of India. So limited is the land available for cultivation that they can keep little livestock other than goats, which browse on the hills, while the food-supply is so restricted that the people, as a rule, do not keep dogs. They have, in addition to grains — wheat, barley, and maize — an abundant crop of apricots. These they dry in the sun and use very largely in their food.

    Amongst these people the span of life is extraordinarily long; and such service as I was able to render them during some seven years spent in their midst was confined chiefly to the treatment of accidental lesions, the removal of senile cataract, plastic operations for granular eyelids, or the treatment of maladies wholly unconnected with food-supply. Appendicitis, so common in Europe, was unknown. When the severe nature of the winter in that part of the Himalayas is considered, and the fact that their housing accomodation and conservancy arrangements are of the most primitive, it becomes obvious that the enforced restriction to the unsophisticated foodstuffs of nature is compatible with long life, continued vigour, and perfect physique.” – weston a Price

  30. Jackie says

    Thank you for the insight! There is a school of thought that argues that our cells would prefer to get energy from ketongenisis. What are your thoughts on it?

  31. says

    My personal story (which is still being written, but has come a long way) is that insulin resistance was linked to some thyroid/adrenal (endocrine) issues. Instead of taking medicine, I changed my diet. Eating Paleo is part of my lifestyle to keep even my endocrine system healthy. And now CrossFit is, too. Being fit or lean is simply a fringe benefit for me. :)

  32. Leah says

    JASON!
    That was very informative.
    Maybe you could help me understand my problem…
    Last Aug, I went on the HCG diet because nothing else I tried kept the baby weight off (this was ‘before’ I considered an entire lifestyle change) I would diet, work out loose a little, eat normally, gain it right back. I was able to loose 14 lbs with HCG and was back to my original weight. Since then, I have gained back a steady 2 lbs. every month. I realized the need to cut out the carbs and went completely Paleo last Sept! Let me just pause here to say, I have never been happier. I eat strict paleo and do circuit training with some weights 3 x a week and pilates two. Now to the part about being at the end of my wits…I am still gaining. After 5 months of being consistently healthy, there is still a solid 2lb gain every month, and yes, I am right back to where I started back in aug. I do drink red wine, and munch on chocolate chips after every meal. But considering the NO carbs in my diet, never thought these two little things could be doing all the damage. Another note, I am chronically constipated. Have been for years. I thought that maybe this is keeping my body from metabolizing, so I have have a months worth of hydrotherapy appts starting tomorrow. I’m just grasping at straws here. But I LOVE eating healthy, even if my body doesn’t change!
    Could you please help me understand why the consistent gain?

  33. Lincoln says

    Good explanation of the process. You may want to correct one small thing. HSL does not cleave sulfur linkage in triglycerides. It hydrolyzes (cleaves with water) at the oxygen which links the fatty acid to the glycerol backbone. This is just a technical correction I think as triglycerides are essentially three fatty acid molecules linked with oxygen to a glycerol backbone. (sulfur is not involved)

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