Metabolic Flexibility: What is it, why is it important, and 6 easy ways to boost yours today
As I welcome the new 2023 year, I’ve been reflecting on everything I learned from my hero, Dr. Nasha Winters, from her Terrain Advocate Program. One of the most important takeaways was understanding that our bodies need to be metabolically flexible. “What is metabolic flexibility,” you might ask. Well, here’s how I understand it.
What is Metabolic Flexibility?
Metabolic flexibility occurs when our bodies are able to respond or adapt to change, especially when it comes to using its available energy. The most simplistic way of looking at this is that we have a sugar burning system and a fat burning system. The quicker we are able to switch between the two, the more metabolically flexible we are.
Our Standard American Diet, appropriately abbreviated as SAD, is known for its excessive promotion of carbs and recommendation of eating multiple times a day. Not to mention, having a bunch of snacks on hand just in case we get hungry in between meals. However, our body, originally wired for metabolic flexibility, was not meant to deal with the constant barrage of processed foods, GMO grains, artificial colors, and a ton of very unhealthy carbs, including sugar, pasta, rice, bread, cookies, cakes, pastries, etc.
In essence, we are eating too many carbohydrates. Carbohydrates turn into glucose, which fuels our sugar burning system. Most of us consume so many carbs that even after our body uses the necessary carbs to function, there’s still an excess, which gets stored as fat in our muscles and liver. With all that overabundance of glucose, our body rarely gets a chance to switch over to the fat burning mode.
Why is metabolic flexibility important?
If you are like me, your life is super busy and you rarely “stop to smell the roses,” as my grandma would say. Our bodies, the hard workers that they are, try to communicate with us when help is needed. We might get an ache here and there. If we don’t listen, it sends us a stronger message, like an infection, flu or some other ailment. I am the first to admit that, until my body actually screamed at me, I was NOT being very good at giving it the attention that it deserved. I just addressed the symptoms with quick fixes that Pharma had for me. Easy access, easy fix, right? Not so fast!
Unfortunately, we start paying attention to our bodies when something goes wrong, like a diagnosis of Diabetes, Auto Immune issues or various Cancers. In my case, my wake up call was Inflammatory Breast Cancer. Only after the shock of being told that I have cancer wore off, and all the treatments were completed, did I actually take the time to stop, reevaluate and, most of all, listen. There’s nothing like coming face-to-face with your own mortality to make you realize that you have to do something different. I have learned that metabolic flexibility is one of the most powerful things that I can do to help my body heal itself.
A study published in 2019 by the University of Northern Carolina found that only 12% of Americans, that’s 1 in 8, have optimal metabolic health. That is a sad statistic. We need to do something about this.
When we are metabolically flexible, our body can easily move between the two fuel sources (carbs and fats) and save the energy for working on our immune system and other critical body functions. It also helps our mental clarity increase, and we become more stress resistant. It helps us detox faster and repair our microbiome. These are just some of the benefits of metabolic health.
Six Ways to Boost Your Metabolic Flexibility
So here are the top 6 things I’m doing this year to help my body function better and become more metabolically flexible:
- Intermittent Fasting
Various types of fasting styles are an excellent way of getting your body familiar with moving between sugar and fat burning systems. It also has a ton of additional benefits, like increasing your growth hormone and testosterone levels, regenerating mitochondria and repairing cells, detoxing our gut and so much more.
- Eat Fresh Food
Help your body by eliminating processed carbs and adding in more healthy fats and nutrients that are more easily absorbed. I am doing that by implementing a more ketogenic diet, reaching for unprocessed and real foods (like vegetables and low glycemic fruits, such as berries), grass-fed and finished meats, wild caught fish, etc. Note to self: Stick to the outside aisles of the supermarket, where the fresh food is usually kept.
- Focus on sleep
My goal is to try to get to sleep earlier and focus on getting better quality sleep. Our circadian clock is the main regulator of our metabolism and helps keep our body in homeostasis. There are multiple apps that help you track your sleep, and some even give you a score on how well you slept by taking into account different criteria, including your Heart Rate Variability, oxygenation, etc. You can download an app like Fitbit or use your smartwatch for tracking.
- Get out in the sun more
My morning routine is to spend some time outside, in my backyard, before starting the day. Not only will it help me get Vitamin D, but it also calms my body and mind and resets my circadian rhythm.
- Minimize Stress
Ok, everyone with me, deep breath in through the nose, deep breath out through the mouth, and, repeat. Breathing helps calm your system. Your body will love you for that.
- Walk 10,000+ steps a day
The more we move, the healthier we are. Enough said!
And, of course, if you have not read Dr. Nasha’s book, The Metabolic Approach to Cancer, which, in my humble opinion, should have been named Metabolic Approach to Life, please add it to the top of your reading list! It’s a life changer!
What are you doing to become metabolically flexible? Share your tips in the comments below, and let’s get healthy together!
Irina Netchaev is a Certified Metabolic Terrain Advocate and has a BSM and is a Graduate of Pepperdine University in Southern California. Irina is currently working on her Diploma of Energetic Aromatherapy; Diploma in Psychosomatics, Naturopathy and Kinesiology (School of Natural Health Sciences); and Diploma of Natural Healing.