“Insulin Control” – what it’s all about!

I subscribed to Mike OD’s The IF Life1 awhile back. Mike is a personal trainer with years of experience who is a big advocate of incorporating intermittent fasting into your life. However, his site isn’t merely about IF. From what I can tell, the IF Life aims to be a holistic resource on living a healthy and happy life. Mike’s site is a great resource — check it out.

In two recent posts on The IF Life, Mike used the phrase “insulin control” to sum up one of the key tenets of effective diets (See here and here).

In the first post, Mike alludes to the fact that insulin control is the chief goal of all effective diets, whether the diets know it or not (I.e. diets that advocate six meals a day are aiming to control insulin spikes, even if they don’t say so explicitly).

In the second linked post, titled Diet Book Insanity. When did Eating become this Complicated?, Mike states:

Now I know what many may say, but diets can work right? Sure … at the heart of all diets you see 2 main things that will get people results: Insulin control (see the carbs are not the enemy post and insulin and sugar post) and Calorie Deficit Intake (so the body burns from internal fuel sources, which is what you need if you want to burn that stubborn body fat).

Mike smartly tacks on caloric restriction to insulin control as the two overarching diet-advice mantras that tend to get results (Almost certainly so when used together). And though this wasn’t really the point of his diet insanity post (and I know I didn’t coin the phrase), I’m still going to take some credit for distilling the diet madness down to two simple words:

They’re all about insulin control!

Update 09/10/08: Robb Wolf, another blogger I’m subscribing to these days, happened to use the phrase “insulin control” back in October of 2007:

Super simple: Our nutritional recommendations are focused at insulin control. You could also say that our nutritional recommendations are what we are designed to eat and thrive on …

The post is about CrossFit, overexercising, and dialing in nutrition in order to see body composition changes. In my (limited) experience, his post rings absolutely true for me: exercise did little in the way to improve my body composition until I reigned in insulin.

1 “IF” stands for “Intermittent Fasting”, of course, and you gotta love the play on words the acronym creates!

4 replies on ““Insulin Control” – what it’s all about!”


How does the first law of thermodynamics, stated baldly without any explanation, explain the complexities of human metabolism?

If it were that simple, then dieters who simply calorically restricted 500 calories/day would lose 1 lb/week (~3,500 calories / lb. of fat, assuming here all calories lost would be replaced by fat). Countless studies have shown that this doesn’t actually pan out.

Alternatively, I read the day-by-day diet experiement of one fellow on the magic bus forums who overate something like 2,000 calories/day (I think his consumption was greater than 4,000 calories per day) for a month. No exercise. He gained no weight. Of course, in this case, he was eating virtually no carbohydrates and all the excess calories were coming from upped fat intake (mostly thanks to heavy cream, I believe).

The reality is: the first law of thermodynamics as applied to a complex system (like human metabolism) must take into account that each variable in the equation affects the other variables. Thus a reduction in Caloriesin affects both Caloriesout and the Energysurplus/deficit. You can’t change any single variable without affecting the others. Thus the law of thermo as applied to human beings isn’t “simple” at all — we aren’t cars where you just put in gas and that is that.

Insulin plays a huge role in the calories in/calories out equation as it sequesters energy for storage in fat tissue. The presence of insulin shuts down fat mobilization by downregulating various fat mobilizing hormones. So if you take in a bunch of sugar for breakfast, whereas your body was running on stored energy, it will suddenly shift to storing that energy and protecting itself from the onslaught of glucose/fructose, release insulin, use what energy from the sugary breakfast it needs, and store the rest. Eating lard for breakfast would do no such thing.

If you really want some in dept commentary on this subject, I highly recommend Taubes Good Calories/Bad Calories (see right sidebar). Do a google site search on that book on this site for more. The gist is that Taubes is a Science writer who took a few years to research diet studies, the results of this empirical work, etc. (and it goes back to the 19th century) and writes it all up in 440 pages of gripping knowledge (the bibliography is an additional 150 pages or so). Well worth the read — surprisingly interesting.


E_in-E_out=E_stored is an oversimplification of conservation of energy.

If someone isn’t gaining weight eating “excess” calories, then his body is metabolizing it all. What someone else’s body does with the calories is none of the government’s business — oh wait, wrong blog. 😛 Conservation of energy still holds true.

Ultimately, people have to figure out how their body metabolizes the food they consume and what they’re trying to achieve with their exercise routine (or lack thereof).

Personally, nutrition seems far more interesting a subject than diets.

I agree with everything you are saying now. It was just that, by way of citing the first law of thermodynamics and saying “it’s that simple” in your original comment, you were inadvertently (?) alluding to the widespread belief that its just a matter of calories in/calories out.

Nutrition is the sticking point here. The macro nutrients consumed will affect the body’s metabolism in different ways. Thus, for a large number of the population, overeating carbohydrates will put the body in a state of chronic hyperinsulinism, which will lead to obesity, type II diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and even cancer. Insulin, being the apparent culprit of the aforementioned health issues and being the primary fat storage regulating hormone, becomes the center of focus, then, on nutrition (and diets). Therefore, “insulin control” opens the gate on conveying this message better than “first law of thermo” (IMO).

I’m of the opinion that any diet that you are able to implement permanently is hardly a “diet” in the weight-loss sense of the word but is a diet in the nutrition/health-management sense.

Like you said, nutrition is more interesting (incidentally, Good Calories/Bad Calories may be the worst titled, best read I’ve yet to encounter — the book is more about diet-as-nutrition and first law of thermo/body metabolism, than anything else. In all its pages it never proffers any particular diet for the reader).

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