Insulin Insensitivity, Love Handles and Muffin Tops

Insulin Insensitivity, Love Handles and Muffin Tops

Most seriously overweight/over fat people can reduce their weight and fatness without too much trouble by incorporating a sound nutrition plan with intelligent exercise.  Generally speaking, females can go from 45% body fat to 25% without too much trouble, and males go from 25% to 15% without too much trouble.  Beyond that, however, females going below 25% and guys below 15% is where it gets rather difficult.

The diet that got you to your initial milestone probably will not get you to the second. Fat tends to become rather stubborn, particularly in the love handles for guys and muffin tops for ladies.  People blame this on all kinds of things including lack of sleep, poor diet, age, gender, genetics, and even cortisol, the stress hormone. While all these things likely play a part in hard to lose fat, a larger problem is likely insulin insensitivity.

The purpose of this article is to review several evidence-based things that you can do to improve your insulin sensitivity and target that stubborn fat. 

Nutrition Ideas

If you are insulin insensitive, that means that the food you eat gets preferentially stored as body fat, rather than going to muscle.  And most of the time, that fat tends to reside around the waist, as love handles for men and muffin tops for women.  The most important step in the fat loss battle is to make sure that your diet is on point, highly nutrient dense and comprised of 90-95% real, whole foods (lean meats, tons of veggies, a little fruit, and whole food fats).

To get to the next level, you need to work on optimizing insulin sensitivity. Here are several simple strategies that help:

  • At the start of a meal, eat protein and fat first before eating any carbohydrates. According to research, this strategy leads to significantly lower blood sugar levels (29%, 37%, and 17% lower at 30, 60, and 120 minutes after a meal) than when consuming carbs first.
  • Use vinegar as a salad dressing as it slows down the glucose and insulin response from carbs, in addition to raising insulin sensitivity in general.
  • Consider taking two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar before bed.Studies show that it can lower morning blood sugar by 4 to 6 percent.
  • Take one teaspoon of psyllium fiber twice a day. It can lower all-day blood sugar levels by 11 percent.
  • Take fish oil. New studies show that not only does it rival the effects of exercise on blood sugar but, when combined with exercise, actually has a synergistic effect on blood sugar reduction.

Fast 1-2 Days Per Week

When you constantly all day long, as many people do, your body is enduring a constant flow of insulin gradually making the body more resistant to its effects until you start to metabolically resemble a Type II diabetic. Fatness ensues, especially around the waist.  You need to give your body a break.

I am a huge proponent of practicing Intermittent Fasting (IF) 1-2 days per week.  The simplest way to implement IF is to simply stop eating at 8pm on the night before a recovery (no exercise) day, and then don’t eat again until lunch the following day.  Drink only coffee, tea or water in the morning with a little bit of fat (coconut oil is my preference) and a splash of whole milk/coconut mill/almond milk (all unsweetened). 

Evidence shows very clearly that regular fasting has an amazing amount of health benefits for the body including anti-aging benefits and insulin regulation.   It’s a shame that some people completely freak out about the concept of fasting.  What this usually means is that they are completely addicted to sugar.  It’s not that difficult and actually will improve your brain function and attention in the morning.


When trying to get to a leaner state, it’s important to dial in your training to optimize results for fat loss.  Our society is, unfortunately, still under the myth that this means running, running, and running some more.  Here is what the science says:  you need to lift heavy, you need to get your heart rate up, and you need a little bit of aerobic conditioning.  So, what’s the answer?

  • 2 days of heavy strength training
  • 2 days of HIIT (high intensity interval training)
  • 1 day of traditional aerobic training (long and slow)
  • 2 days of recovery
  • Walk every day

This is what I usually program for clients.  Obviously, it can and should be modified for individual differences among people, but this is a good template from which to start. 

Heavy Strength Training

Take 2 days per week to focus on heavy compound lifts.  We are not talking about long, drawn out bodybuilding sessions.  One day could focus on squats and bench press, with a few accessory lifts.  The other day should include deadlifts and a pulling exercise (such as rows or pull-ups) and a few accessory lifts.

If this interests you and you don’t know how to get started, please contact me.

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

High Intensity Interval Training can be done in multiple ways – complexes, tabatas, sprints, or metabolic resistance training. HIIT training is short (anywhere from 10-30 minutes max) and conveys exceptional cardiovascular benefits.

  • Complexes – this is a style of training in which you pick 1 training implement (e.g. a barbell) and then perform 5-6 exercises with the barbell, all in a row without resting and never putting down the bar.You need to scale the weight on the bar to your weakest exercise.This will get your heart rate jacked quickly and you’ll be churning some lactic acid (i.e. muscles will be burning).
  • Tabatas – there are multiple versions of a tabata exercise, but the classic, as introduced by Dr. Tabata of Japan, is to use a stationary bike and sprint hard for 40 seconds and pedal easy for 20 seconds.Do 8 rounds, which take 4 minutes, and you will get as much aerobic benefit as running 5-10 miles.
  • Sprinting – whether on the road, a field or a track, get out and sprint.Do 4 sprints of 30-40 meters.After each sprint, walk back to the starting line.Rest a bit and then repeat.Over time, build up your speed and the distance.Always start out with a really good, thorough warm-up and start at 75% intensity.
  • MRT – metabolic resistance training – this is a style of training in which you set a timer for 10, 15, 20 minutes, and perform as many reps as you can of a circuit of exercises during the time frame.The circuit should include a variety of exercises (3-5 different ones) and include bodyweight exercises and some weight-based exercises (use a dumbbell, kettlebell or medicine ball).Work as hard as you can and jack that heart rate.

If this interests you and you don’t know how to get started, please contact me.

Traditional Aerobic Training

Traditional aerobic training includes any type of longer, slower aerobic activity.  Running, biking, swimming, rowing or the best in class…….WALKING. 

New research shows that walkers who vary their speed burn up to 20 percent more calories than walkers who maintain a steady speed. By slowing down, or even stopping, and then accelerating, you’re changing the kinetic energy of your body and that requires more energy, i.e., calories.  Just walking in this halting, stop-and-go manner is effective in burning fat, but combining the concept with running instead of walking turns it into an extremely effective fat-burning regimen.

Simply walk briskly for a time and then accelerate into a fast run. Once you begin to tire and your pace drops off dramatically, start walking again until you recover enough to break into another run. The distance you cover is irrelevant.

So, get your nutrition in order, try out some of the strategies about, exercise with intelligence and you’ll start to improve your insulin sensitivity, which will give you an edge in the leanness battle.  One thing that you may have noticed is that I do not recommend doing 1,000 sit-ups every day.  The concept of “spot reduction” is a myth.  1,000 sit-ups every day will do nothing to get you abs, but it will most assuredly destroy your lower back.  It’s all about nutrition and intelligent exercise.

If this interests you and you don’t know how to get started, please contact me.

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