Eat this, but don’t eat that. Skip the carbs—no, wait, load up on carbs and cut out fat. Go entirely plant-based. Eat nothing but protein. If you can’t keep up with the latest diet fads and scientific research, you’re not alone. Finding a diet that works for you and allows you enough indulgence to be satisfied is a challenge for many, so when the latest “everything you know is wrong” article comes out, it can be incredibly discouraging.
Your metabolism is how your body turns the food you eat into fuel. For plenty of us, food isn’t just fuel. It is a source of pleasure, comfort and even social interaction, and dietary limits can feel restrictive. So, what if we told you that you can boost your energy and be healthier without going on crazy diets?
Metabolic flexibility ensures you burn whatever you eat
“Metabolic flexibility” is a term that describes the fact that your body can and should use whatever you feed it (within reason, of course) as fuel. Your body needs to be able to adapt to convert different kinds of food into energy, whether they’re full of carbohydrates, fats or proteins.
When you eat too much of any one food, your body stores that excess fuel for later. Sometimes that’s in the form of glycogen (carbohydrate-based, quick energy reserves), and sometimes it is stored as fat tissue. When our bodies get too much food-as-fuel, it automatically hangs onto everything it can’t burn, just in case it’ll be awhile before your next meal. Your body thinks it’s doing you a survival solid, but in reality, you just wanted another piece of pizza with extra cheese because it tastes good.
That’s the idea behind Atkins, keto and other diets that restrict certain categories of foods. If your body doesn’t get carbohydrates for quick energy, it’s forced to start burning fat as fuel. In contrast, metabolic flexibility is a state where your body can quickly and efficiently switch between burning carbs, fat and protein, all depending on what you give it. If you don’t feed yourself, your body will use fat as fuel; if you load up on carbs before your workout, your body will use that instead.
Sounds deceptively simple—kind of like “eat less and exercise more”—but you can indeed train your body to be metabolically flexible.
Boost your metabolic flexibility to lose or maintain your weight
When you notice you’re having a lot of cravings, reach for carbs as fuel and end up hangry, you need to boost your metabolic flexibility. When our diets are too carb-heavy, our bodies become insulin resistant—frequent carb load desensitizes us to insulin. In turn, that makes it difficult for your body to switch between burning carbs and fat.
There are two major ways to boost your metabolic flexibility (and sadly, neither of them involve eating ice cream sundaes). First, you can exercise more. Exercise naturally boosts your metabolic flexibility—especially if you don’t eat beforehand—because your body needs to burn something for energy. This is referred to as “fasted cardio,” and it trains your body to be flexible about what it burns. Try high intensity interval training to see best results.
The second way to boost your metabolism is to try intermittent fasting. Slowly space your meals further and further apart to ensure your body starts using fat reserves for energy. Some people choose diets like keto and paleo to further encourage fat burning—the more limited your carb intake is, the more the body will be forced to burn fat. You don’t have to give up everything you love forever, but try slowly removing carbs from your diet. You might give up processed foods one month, then white bread and pasta next. Whole grains and fruits are great sources of healthy carbs. If that doesn’t produce the results you’re looking for, you can continue to remove carbs until your body gets with the program.
Eventually, as you train your body to be metabolically flexible, you’ll be able to eat those indulgences and burn them off quickly. Even better, metabolic flexibility ensures you’ll have fewer cravings for quick insulin boosts, making it a lot easier to maintain your weight.
If getting rid of cravings, increased physical and mental energy, boosting insulin sensitivity and better overall health sound good to you, it’s time to start focusing on metabolic flexibility.