Joanne Smith and Kylie JamesOver 65 percent of people with SCI/D are overweight, and this increase in weight is strongly correlated with the development of other health conditions, such as pressure sores, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. When most of us think about losing weight and unwanted fat, we think less is more: fewer calories, fewer meals and smaller portion sizes. While healthy weight loss is indeed about eating the right kinds of foods and in the right amounts, it’s also greatly affected by the balance and signaling of hormones, such as insulin and glucagon.

Eating a diet too high in processed carbohydrates and simple sugars (refined sugar/ flour, white bread/ pasta/ rice, soda, cakes, cookies etc.) significantly affects our insulin. These foods are very quickly digested and absorbed into our blood, causing a rapid increase in blood sugar levels. In response, our pancreas secretes insulin in order to transport the sugar from our blood into our cells to be utilized as fuel. However, when diets primarily consist of simple sugars, the pancreas has to continually pump out insulin. High insulin levels can not only lead to cells becoming insulin-resistant, but also send messages to the body to store more fat.

Skipping meals and/or drastically reducing calories to lose fat doesn’t work. When you skip meals or consume too few calories, your body releases another hormone called glucagon, which causes muscle loss. Glucagon sends a message to the body to start breaking down muscle protein so it can be converted into energy. So the weight you lose by depriving yourself of food is good muscle, not fat — and those of us with SCI/D need to maintain whatever muscle we have.

There is a healthy way to lose weight, reduce fat and maintain muscle without starving yourself. The trick is to stabilize blood sugar and insulin levels by eating more meals. Eating four to five small meals a day, consisting of low glycemic foods (eg., proteins and complex carbohydrates — fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes) can take off weight. Also, this will help g