How does insulin work?

How does insulin work naturally in our bodies? We can get this fat storing/using hormone working for us rather than against us. The main function of insulin is to facilitate energy production in our cells. Insulin is a hormone, so it is a messenger. It communicates to cells to let in and convert glucose. Ideally, it works with glucagon to keep blood sugar (and energy) stable. Insufficient insulin getting to your cells leaves you exhausted.

Diabetes type 1 comes about from insufficient insulin production.

Diabetes type 2, or insulin resistance is where cells are no longer so receptive to the message. There is insulin, but it’s not successful in bringing blood sugar down to safe levels or getting glucose into the cells (so they starve).

Steady Insulin Release

We need steady supplies of glucose for energy throughout the day. Eating slow burning carbohydrates and protein allow the pancreas to release insulin slowly and convert the glucose to usable energy in a controlled way.

Rapid Insulin Release

When our energy is low, we tend to eat simple carbohydrates as a quick fix. Cravings for sweet things are often our brain demanding energy rather than the food itself. Our brains use 20% of our energy and it wants it the fastest way possible if energy drops. Extreme low blood sugar can make you lose consciousness or even die, so our survival mechanism kicks in. An insulin spike from a rapid blood sugar rise, drives glucose into cells for a quick burst of energy and then storage.

How Does Insulin Work: the Energy Rollercoaster

Step 1, we feel mentally tired, so we eat or drink something sweet. This causes our blood sugar to rise.

Step 2, the pancreas monitors blood glucose levels and produces insulin in response. The higher the sugar levels, the more insulin produced. Proteins in the blood vessels carry the insulin until it binds to a receptor in a cell or is destroyed. This binding is like a switch that makes the cells more open to glucose and activates enzymes in the cell to convert the glucose to glycogen, and either used for energy or stored.

energy and insulin diagram

Step 3, we get a quick energy lift from our energy factories inside our cells (mitochondria) and what we can’t use immediately goes to storage in the liver and muscles cells or converted and stored as fat. Insulin spikes make our bodies more prone to store the energy as fat – it’s like getting too much email, you just want to deal with it as quickly as possible.

Step 4, our energy starts to plummet because the insulin has driven glucose into the cells, converted to energy or stored, and our blood sugar is dropping fast.

Step 5, we feel mentally fatigued so we eat something sweet and the cycle starts over.

Our brains have to get that glucose from somewhere, and if we override those hunger signals, they do something far more drastic. They trigger cortisol (stress hormone) production to convert protein and fat into glucose. Breaking down muscle for fuel has dire consequences for your metabolism over time. The less muscle you have, the fewer calories you need to stay the same weight. So you will put on weight eating the same amount. The extra mobilized fat in your blood raises heart disease risk from high triglycerides.

You aren’t doing yourself any favors toughing out those hunger signals. The best strategy is eating before getting to starvation or massive sugar cravings and eating slow burning carbohydrates and food. Future pacing can cue you to eating healthy food when you feel the early stages of hunger. NLP Anchoring can link feelings of desire to better food choices