Metabolic flexibility is the capacity your body has to switch between burning carbs and burning fat for energy.
Someone with great metabolic flexibility can burn carbs when they eat them. They can burn fat when they eat it.
And, most importantly for weight loss, they can burn fat when they don’t eat at all.
They can switch between carbohydrate metabolism and fat metabolism with relative ease. All those people who can “eat whatever they want” most likely have excellent metabolic flexibility.
So, why does this really matter, and how does it happen?
Let’s dive in!
There are many good reasons to want more metabolic flexibility.
It allows your body to effectively utilize a wider variety of nutrients.
It means you can tap into different fuel sources to power different activities.
Most importantly, it means you can trust your body. The more metabolically flexible you are, the less you have to micromanage your food choices.
As long as you stick to whole foods, the satiety signaling you receive will generally be accurate and reliable.
You can just eat. This is the freedom I want for you. This is the freedom I will help you discover.
Of course, you can certainly overload the system if you eat more food than your body needs to function optimally.
Any metabolic system, however flexible, will crumble under the weight of an entire cheesecake. Or a box of cookies. Or a bag of Dorritos.
Metabolic flexibility gives you more room for error.
Being metabolically inflexible comes with real consequences.
- Sleepiness after eating carbs.
- You can’t go five hours between meals.
- You get the midday crash every day after lunch.
- You’re snacking to sustain your energy levels.
- Fasting is difficult. If you manage to power through the discomfort, you get worse results than you were expecting. Mostly muscle loss and very little fat loss.
- You consume a steady stream of stimulants, like coffee, tea, or worse just to have enough energy to do what you want.
What’s going on?
Mitochondrial dysfunction and insulin resistance are the two main causes of metabolic inflexibility.
Let’s start this discussion with a quick review to reintroduce you to your marvelous mitochondria.
Your mitochondria are the thousands of tiny power plants living inside of each cell. They’re the structures that process the food you eat and turn it into usable energy.
The fewer you have, and the more dysfunctional they are, the harder it is for them to produce the energy you need which, in turn, impairs metabolic flexibility.
It makes switching between fuels difficult.
It makes utilizing your stored body fat in between meals very hard. Which makes snacking for an energy boost almost inevitable.
If you’re not burning the fuel you’re taking in, you’re creating excess energy.
This, perhaps is the most fundamental cause of insulin resistance.
The body’s natural reaction to excess energy is to become insulin resistant.
This makes sense when you realize the ultimate purpose of insulin is to drive energy into cells. If there’s already more than enough energy filling your cells, the last thing your body needs is to cram in more.
So, as a self protective mechanism, it turns down insulin sensitivity. That’s when the trouble really starts.
If you are insulin resistant, you’ll have a harder time burning glucose and storing glycogen.
Your ability to burn your own body fat will be impaired even further. Here’s an example to consider:
What if you eat a potato and your cells aren’t responding to insulin, you’ll need extra insulin just to force the carbs into muscle and burn it for energy.
After eating that potato, your insulin stays elevated for hours. Those are hours you won’t be burning fat.
Bad mitochondrial function and insulin resistance are a dangerous duo.
Start building metabolic flexibility with exercise.
While it’s true that you can’t out-exercise a bad diet, there’s more to the benefits of exercise than that. Exercise increases insulin sensitivity and restores the ability to burn fat.
Between improved insulin sensitivity, restored fat burning, and more and better functioning mitochondria, exercise is the first thing you should be doing to gain metabolic flexibility. Studies show that exercise increases mitochondrial content, improves glycemic control, and improves insulin sensitivity. Improving insulin sensitivity helps your body maintain healthy glucose levels.
Try different types of exercise to help your body to become more metabolically flexible.
What you eat matters.
Focus on your diet: Diet always affects your metabolic flexibility. Even with regular exercise, a bad diet puts stress on your body at a cellular level. Eating whole foods and avoiding processed foods is the best place to start.
Avoid the Standard American Diet (SAD): Ironically, this diet is called SAD for good reason. The standard American diet contains excess sodium, refined grains, processed vegetable oils, and added sugars. This contributes to the sad fact that approximately half of all American adults have one or more preventable chronic diseases.
Eat within your energy requirements: Overeating and excess energy intake, regardless of the food choices, can lead to inflexibility. Extra calories lead to excess glucose, which leads to insulin resistance and fat storage.
Lower your carbohydrate intake.
Practice intermittent fasting:
Timing WHEN you eat plays a pivotal role in metabolic health. Intermittent fasting, which basically means not eating for a set period each day, helps combat insulin resistance and improve metabolic flexibility. Fasting helps to reduce insulin levels quickly, prompting your body to switch fuel sources from glucose to ketones for energy.
Research reveals that intermittent fasting has many benefits.
- Preserves lean muscle (as weight loss comes from fat stores, not muscle)
- Cholesterol levels improve.
- Oxidative stress levels go down.
- Inflammation improves.
- Dopamine levels increase.
You can improve metabolic flexibility without losing lean muscle mass through intermittent fasting.
Get enough rest so your body can repair.
The connection between sleep, stress, and metabolic health is a popular subject of clinical research.
Research shows that sleep deprivation can lead to chronic health problems such as diabetes or an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Both the quality and length of sleep are essential to good metabolic health.
Even partial sleep deprivation can lead to insulin resistance in an otherwise healthy person.
Poor sleep can:
- Affect hormone levels (lowering leptin increasing ghrelin)
- Increase inflammation in your body
- Promote insulin resistance
- Cause a variety of chronic health problems
- Increase weight gain
Manage your stress level because it has a very similar impact on your metabolic health.
Stress causes our bodies to release hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol.
When facing a “fight or flight” stress response, our bodies release glucose to provide the extra energy required to deal with the perceived threatening situation.
Chronic stress causes that excess glucose to build up in your body. That can lead to long-term conditions like diabetes.
Taking steps to reduce your stress and improve sleep reduces excessive glucose levels which enhances metabolic flexibility.
You are metabolically flexible if you can:
- Wake up in a state of mild ketosis every morning. Metabolically flexible people will quickly switch to the “fasted” state upon cessation of food. A good night’s sleep is enough to get the ketones flowing, even if you had a few carbs at dinner.
- Handle the food you eat, the fuel you bring on board with insulin sensitivity.
- Burn your own body fat between meals.
- Eat carbs without spiking your blood sugar and getting tired or falling asleep after eating.
- Skip a meal without feeling hungry, much less hangry.
- Snack less—or not at all.
- Store the carbs you eat as muscle glycogen, rather than being converted into fat in the liver.
- Exercise more easily.
- Feel more energetic.
- Experience an improved mood.
Ready to improve your metabolic flexibility and make weight loss a lot easier than it’s ever been?
Please take me up on my offer for your FREE Strategy Call. Then you can see for yourself how it’s possible to jump start weight loss by fine tuning your metabolic flexibility.
This exploration can help you reach your weight loss goals with a lot less stress and drama.
It’s totally possible to make 2022 your year to create the healthiest you. No matter your age, stage or past disappointments.
Jump start your fresh start. A year from now you will thank yourself you reached out to me today.
I’m looking forward to meeting you soon.
It’s Never Too Late to make your weight loss journey easier. Let’s go!
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