During the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Josh Black gained 10 or 15 pounds without realizing it.
With his gym closed, the family practice doctor at OCH Medical Associates in Starkville wasn’t exercising. He wasn’t eating well, either, turning to junk food almost subconsciously. But when Black realized he’d gained weight, he took steps to work it off. He stepped up his exercise regimen and cut out carbohydrates from his diet nearly completely, staying away from high-carb foods like bread, rice and pasta.
The changes worked. Black lost 20 pounds, he has more energy, and he’s sleeping better.
And while the doctor isn’t one of the many Americans with insulin resistance — a common condition that can often go undetected — he’s the perfect example of what to do to reverse its potentially dangerous effects.
Insulin resistance, which can lead to Type 2 diabetes over time, occurs when cells fail to respond well to insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas to regulate sugar in the blood. The pancreas produces more and more insulin, but eventually it struggles, allowing blood sugar to elevate. That leads to increased risk for several major health problems — cardiovascular disease, kidney damage and damage to the retinas.
But there are ways to reverse these effects and turn back the tide, Nicky Yeatman, a registered dietician and diabetes educator at OCH Regional Medical Center, said in an email. Weight loss is key, with a 7 percent reduction typically a good starting place.
“There are many dietary changes that can be made that will healthfully lead to meeting this goal,” Yeatman said. “For some, it may be the elimination of sugar-sweetened beverages. For others, it may be focusing on portion control of specific foods commonly consumed in their diet. And for others, it may be helping them to identify more healthful quick on-the-go meals because they prefer not to prepare each meal from scratch.”
There are certainly options for those hoping to change their diet and eat better. Black suggested green, leafy vegetables and lean proteins like grilled or baked chicken or fish.
Julia Boucher, health coach at Hollydale Health Store — which has locations in Columbus and Starkville — advised choosing unprocessed, organic foods whenever possible. Foods high in fiber and low in carbs — such as nuts, seeds, and most beans and legumes — are the best options.
Boucher said healthy, whole and unprocessed carbs can actually be a good fuel source, but portion control is important.
“Moderation is the key to life,” she said.
So is exercise. As Black explained, physical activity works to decrease a cell’s resistance to insulin, making it easier for glucose to enter. Its benefits are manifold: improving quality of sleep, increasing metabolism, helping burn more calories at rest, causing weight loss, lowering blood pressure and more.
Black said both cardiovascular exercise and resistance training — which strengthens the muscles and often involves weights — are important. Yeatman said she typically recommends two and a half hours of cardio per week with resistance training three days per week — and the more, the merrier.
“I emphasize making physical activity fun and involving friends and family when possible,” Yeatman said.
Apps that allow users to log food and exercise daily in order to have a record of their diet and activity can help establish a routine. Calendar reminders and non-food rewards are other ways to keep healthy habits.
“Most of us can find motivation to make changes when we first set a behavior change or health goal, but our hectic lives can result in losing focus if we don’t have good support,” Yeatman said.
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.