Insulin resistance. Next stop: Diabetes.
Celebs do it all the time for movie roles. They either quickly lose massive amounts of weight or rapidly gain it. Look how creepy-thin Jake Gyllenhaal looked after shedding 30 pounds for Nightcrawler. The usually beefy Mark Wahlberg is nearly unrecognizable 40 pounds lighter in the upcoming film The Gambler. The skin-and-bones look of Anne Hathaway for Les Misérables was shocking. Christian Bale lost it for The Machinist and packed it on for American Gangster. And even though there’s no Oscar at the end of the road, some of us civilians do it too, eating air sandwiches and Master Cleansing to get thin quick.
What are the dangers of rapid weight loss (which is almost always followed by rapid weight gain) on our metabolism and specifically, the risk of creating insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes?
Integrative physician and naturopath Jade Teta, PhD, based in Winston-Salem North Carolina, says that starving ourselves alone isn’t what causes insulin resistance. It’s starving ourselves, and then inevitably gaining the weight back. “Whenever you eat less and exercise more you put your body into starvation mode. It’s a stress to your body’s physiology, especially when taken to an extreme,” he says. “You’re putting mechanisms into place that almost assure you’re going to gain all the weight back and more and have less muscle mass than you started with.” Translation: once your metabolic rate slows as a result, you gain the weight back and more, essentially stressing yourself into insulin resistance.
And then, as UCLA endocrinologist Susan Davis, MD, explains, it becomes “a chicken-and-egg issue.” When we gain weight, our pancreas produces more insulin to compensate. “Too much insulin is not a good thing,” says Davis. “When you have too much insulin it will take blood sugar that’s available and store it somewhere else. It will either push the sugar into muscle or fat. In the sedentary person, it will push it to fat. That means obesity is a cause and a result,” she says. “It snowballs.” Diet and exercise become important tools in fighting insulin resistance, but in some cases, medication is required to control it.