“Metabolic flexibility”(MF) is the ability of the body to switch back and forth from metabolizing glucose (from carbohydrates) to fat. And WHY is this important?
Being “metabolically inflexible”(MI) has many health ramifications but let’s start with a little questionnaire to see if you even have it.
How do you know if you have “metabolic inflexibility?” Here’s a few clues:
- Do you become agitated or moody if you don’t eat every 2-3 hours?
- Do you feel weak and tired before or after eating?
- Do you frequently have brain fog and lowered attention span?
- Do you feel anxious if you go more than 3 hours without food?
- Do you feel nervous if you don’t have snacks on hand all the time?
- Do you have to have coffee or tea to increase your energy levels, especially mid-morning or in mid-afternoon?
The more questions you answered yes to, the higher the likelihood you have metabolic inflexibility.
Why is MF important? The bottom line is when you “feed” – i.e. consume carbohydrate or fat – you want to have the capability to burn or utilize that fuel right away (versus storing it as fat). When you “fast” you want your body to be able burn fat.
With MI, when you eat your glucose goes up (and stays elevated for longer than normal) resulting in continually high insulin levels (which makes you hold onto fat). Remember insulin is the hormone released by the pancreas in response to food.
With MI you are not “burning fat” during times of fasting so there is a continual need to eat and usually reach for carbs. This results in a never-ending attachment to food (especially carbs and sugary foods) resulting in mood and energy challenges just to name a few. AND high insulin levels predispose you to pre-diabetes, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer, and cognitive changes.
So how can you regain MF for 2020?
Although this is not an easy fix, it is possible if you are diligent, methodical and patient with yourself. Here’s 7 tips to get you started:
- Time Restricted Eating (see this blog for more info) Start to eat in a 12 hour window and gradually decrease that to eating in a 10 hour window. Research now shows the less exposure your body has to insulin the greater the health benefit in terms of reducing diabetes, heart disease, cancer, besides weight loss. So if you eat breakfast at 7 am finish your last bite of food by 7 pm.
- Exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes every day, especially after meals. It does not have to be all at the same time but movement helps lower your insulin levels and restore your body to utilizing fat.
- Cut out all refined sugars and carbs and decrease total carbs at all meals (including fruit) –the lower carbohydrate intake means lower insulin levels, which translates to greater MF (ability to go longer between meals) and improved metabolism.
- Increase your intake of non-starchy veggies and salads which contain healthy carbs and fiber to help with blood glucose stabilization. Vegetables also increase the diversity of your gut bugs to help metabolism and immunity.
- Increase fat at meals (preferably from monounsaturated sources like olive oil, avocado, nuts) and make sure to have a protein source as well for satiation.
- Gradually increase time between meals. For example, if you eat every 2-3 hours, try extending that by 30 minutes till you have achieved at least 4 hours between meals.
- Consider a CGM (see blog) to monitor your glucose levels which can help with knowing what makes your glucose levels higher, as well as a sense of safety that you are not in a danger zone with glucose levels.
If improved health, weight loss or just a general better sense well-being are goals for the New Year, increasing your MF may be on the bucket list. Although it does take time and patience, it is life changing since you are not a slave to eating at certain times, your energy can vastly improve, besides the benefits of weight loss and less risk of disease. I’d say that’s a high reward with minimal risk for the New Year!