Hormone Series Insulin 2 of 3: Lifestyle Medicine to Treat Insulin Resistance

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Dr. Aaron Hartman

March 1, 2022

Woman and Man jogging at the park

Now that we know that insulin resistance is incredibly common, and about 80% of Americans have this condition, let’s talk about some treatment options.
As we discussed last week, conventional medicine does not currently have treatment protocols for insulin resistance. However, in the personalized medicine world, we have many treatment modalities. Today I’ll start with lifestyle medicine. Next week, we’ll talk about specific nutritional and botanical (plant-based) treatments.
Lifestyle is the foundation for treating insulin resistance. If you’re not moving, you’re not eating well, and you’re not sleeping, you can’t take enough nutritional supplements or herbs to counteract insulin resistance.

Get Moving!

Exercise is a crucial factor in treating and preventing insulin resistance. Exercise trains your muscles to use insulin appropriately. This does not mean that you have to join a gym. Increasing movement is very effective and can include doing yard work, tracking your steps, or going for a walk. Anything that gets your body moving counts!
Unfortunately, most Americans are very sedentary due to our current lifestyles and work environments. Just getting up and going for a walk twice a day or going out to do some some yard work can greatly improve your muscles’ ability to use insulin.



Our Diet Often Contributes to Insulin Resistance

To treat insulin resistance with food we focus on healthy fats, fiber, adequate protein, and low glycemic index foods. These are the primary dietary ways to address insulin resistance.

Healthy Fats

People often forget that healthy fats are incredibly important for sugar control as well as metabolic balance. We want to aim for a balance of 4:1 omega-6’s to omega-3’s and get adequate amounts of saturated fats. Saturated fats account for about 40% of the fat in your cell membranes. So without enough saturated fat, it’s like removing bricks from your house and hoping it will stand when the storm comes. We absolutely need enough of these foundational building blocks.


Fiber is critical for sugar control. An easy way to make sure that you are getting enough fiber is to consume a plant-based, or plant-forward, diet focused on low-glycemic index foods. A diet rich in whole plant foods is an ideal way to get adequate amounts of fiber for sugar control.


When we remove fats, we also often remove protein. However, protein is essential for glucose control. Actually many amino acids can help with sugar balance during fasts or in-between meals. So getting appropriate amounts of protein and fat can help maintain sugar balance and keep you from getting hungry between meals.

Low-Glycemic Foods

Low-glycemic index foods are foods that do not turn into sugar rapidly or in large quantities when we eat them. These tend to be very nutrient-dense foods like broccoli, lentils, chickpeas, cauliflower, etc. Processed foods – for example processed grains, flours, foods with added sugar, and boxed or packaged foods – rapidly turn into sugar. Over-processing and overcooking foods makes them break down faster when you eat them. The overheating and processing also removes nutrients, so they become large calorie sources that turn directly into sugar. If you’d like to learn more about what a low-glycemic diet would look like, take a look at the Cardiometabolic food plan on our website.


Good quality sleep is absolutely critical for sugar control. Sleeping less than six and a half hours a night is shown to have a direct correlation with increased insulin resistance, risk for type-2 diabetes, and heart disease. Sleep apnea is often overlooked, and I see it often in my clinic. So if you snore, or you don’t wake up feeling well-rested, please consider getting a sleep evaluation by your primary care provider.

Weight Loss

Finally, if you are overweight, adding in daily movement, focusing on these quality foods, and getting adequate sleep will all help you to lose weight, which is also important for sugar control and insulin sensitivity.

Next Time

In our last article on insulin next week, we’ll talk about nutritional supplements and botanicals that can support your personalized medicine approach for insulin control and hormonal health.
If you’d like to know more about dietary options, check out the food plans on our website. We have a whole host of IFM certified food plans, as well as some books on our reading list about insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome.
Take care and be well.
Since 2010, Richmond Integrative and Functional Medicine has been helping people to restore their health and hope with an integrative approach to conventional and alternative medicine that’s entirely science-backed. We at RIFM believe everyone is made for health. We offer a comprehensive, in-person patient membership program to ensure you get access to the care you need to thrive.


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