#297 The Importance of Metabolic Flexibility After Breast Cancer

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There’s no one way to feed every human body but there are ways to support your body in using different foods efficiently. This is referred to as metabolic flexibility and it’s an important concept when it comes to support the terrain of your body. 

When you’re metabolically flexible, you can worry less about eating more carbs now and then because your overall lifestyle helps your body to smoothly transition from occasional indulgences back to your preferred way of eating. 

More importantly, metabolic flexibility can reduce the risk of many lifestyle diseases and support healthy aging and longevity. 

Listen to this episode and learn more about what metabolic flexibility is, why it’s important for your health and how you can improve it starting today. 

Referred to in this episode: 

Metabolic flexibility in health and disease 

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Read the full transcript below: 

Laura Lummer 0:00
You're listening to the breast cancer recovery coach podcast. I'm your host, Laura Lummer. I'm a Certified Life health and nutrition coach and I'm also a breast cancer thriver. If you're trying to figure out how to move past the trauma and the emotional toll of breast cancer, you've come to the right place. In this podcast, I will give you the tools and the insights to create a life that's even better than before breast cancer. Well, let's get started.

Laura Lummer 0:32
Hey there, welcome to another episode of Better than before breast cancer with the breast cancer recovery coach. I'm your host, Laura Lummer. And I'm here with this Tuesday Train Talk freshly back still completely jet lagged from an amazing trip to Italy. My husband and I spent nine days traveling Rome, Pompeii Sorento, we had an incredible trip a wonderful time. And it really inspired me to talk about the topic we're going to discuss here on today's Tuesday terrain talk. Because when you think of taking a trip to Italy, what do you think of food, right? You think of eating pasta, bruschetta, all the carbohydrates. And in fact, when I was getting ready to go on this trip, I had an appointment with my naturopath. And we went over some labs shortly before I left, which by the way, were fantastic. And so I was even more excited to leave without good news. But one of the things that I said to her is, hey, I'm going to Italy and I'm going to eat carbs, right? Because you know, I've shared on this podcast my I follow a ketogenic lifestyle. And I strive to stay in nutritional and therapeutic ketosis on a daily basis. Well, there was no way I was going to do that in Italy, I had decided very intentionally ahead of time that I wanted to have the full experience of Italy. I wanted to eat like an Italian, I wanted to experience all the things that are Italy, because it was a dream trip of mine. And so I said to her, when I go there, I'm gonna be eating carbohydrates. And I just want to like be transparent and say that up front, and she says, of course, eat everything. But put lots of olive oil on it, add fats to everything, and just enjoy yourself. And that's exactly what I did. I had a wonderful time. And I'll be honest with you, of course, I ate pasta. I ate croissants. I had no idea that there was a pastry shop every 10 feet in Italy, which is amazing. And their pastries are just fresh and wonderful and absolutely delicious. And I not only ate pastries, but I breakfast which I normally do not do that we're in Italy, we get up my husband and I we go have a cappuccino and a pistachio croissant, or some other little beautiful delicacy from one of the bakeries. And even though I was eating outside of the way I normally do, I thought it was really interesting because as I'm paying attention to my body, I would notice though, there would just be a point where my body I could tell I was like, I don't want any more food, right? I don't want to put any more food in it. And it wasn't as if I was gorging on food. But it was just a different type of food than I normally have. And so I may have ordered, you know, beautiful plate of seafood risotto. But I didn't always eat the whole thing. You know, my husband and I shared some dishes, he would get pizzas, which was another shocking thing. I didn't realize that at all pizza, which is like the size of a medium pizza here in the US was one person's meal. I couldn't believe you would just order a pizza. And I just saw all these people ordering pizzas. And they did the whole thing. It was amazing to me. So I tasted pizza. I had pasta. I had baked goods. But it wasn't crazy, right? I think a lot of people worry about going on vacation or going to have any experience and think they're going to go overboard. They're going to gain all this weight. They're going to be miserable when they come home. And even though I decided I am going to eat like an Italian. I also was very intentional about paying attention to how my body felt. So there were some days where I really followed more of a ketogenic diet having a Capri say salad having tuna tartare, because there are a lot of options that are ketogenic friendly. In Italian cuisine, definitely, absolutely. But I didn't restrict myself well paying attention to how I felt. Now, I want to make a point of pointing that out, because I think it's important to realize that we can have it all. And then we can come back to the lifestyle that we choose, right? And even if the lifestyle you choose is the lifestyle of having it all if you do choose to eat flour, if you do choose to eat sugar, it doesn't have to be all or nothing. And I think that oftentimes we prevent ourselves from following the healthy lifestyle because of that fearful thought of I've got to give up these things if I want a healthy lifestyle, but why can't all of it be a part of a healthy lifestyle while you're listening to your body and paying attention and responding to how your body feels? Right, so there were some times when we'd have a glass of wine, or in Sorento, lemon cello spritzers were a huge thing. I had a lemon cello spritzer, but then I would pay attention. And you know, maybe we'd go to dinner. And my husband said, Oh, you want to have a glass of wine. Or of course, every server was just like, lemon cellos, Brits, or a glass of wine, you know, what do you want. And I would have a cappuccino, right? I just felt like, I don't want to put alcohol in me. So I thought it was a great balance of getting to experience Italy, and still taking good care of myself, and being very ready to just cut those carbs out. By the time I got home. Right, I could definitely tell a difference. And I'll tell you what I got back on the scale. When I got home, I was six pounds heavier. The next day, I fasted intentionally, I had planned on doing that, because I want to get back into ketosis. And I was down four and a half pounds. Because eating those carbs, it's just carbohydrate, right? It's got a lot of water, and it makes water, it makes me I'm sensitive to it. And I retain water. So it was interesting to see how quick I lost that water weight when I got back. And that's really what I want to talk about here. I want to talk about the concept of metabolic flexibility, and the importance of metabolic flexibility. So let me explain to you what that means. Why it's important for our health, how it supports healthy aging, and different things you can do to improve your metabolic flexibility. So we've talked about metabolism here on the Tuesday terrain talk. And metabolism is basically the way your body works, right? It's everything, all the chemical processes, all the things that happen in your body, and especially using the energy from food, carbohydrates, proteins and fats, taking that energy, transferring it into your body. And then your body being able to access that energy. Carbohydrates typically quick energy, easy for the body to access easy for to convert that energy into energy that can be used for body functions. Whereas fats can be stored in the body, and they're a little more difficult for the body to access. And so when you follow a ketogenic lifestyle, you may hear a phrase called fat adapted, and people say, you know, you got to stick to your ketogenic diet and stay in ketosis until you're fat adapted. And then when you're fat adapted, because pretty much nobody can just stick to one way of eating forever. I mean, you gotta have some, I don't know, intense willpower and discipline to do that. So we know that human beings are going to have pasta now and they're gonna have a piece of bread now. And then. And that's not a bad thing. What we want to make sure is that if we choose to have an incorporate these foods into our diet, that we do it in such a way that our body can switch back and forth in using all of these fuel sources, efficiently and effectively. And that's basically the definition of metabolic flexibility. It's the efficient utilization of fuel. So it's the capacity of the body to adapt, and based on what food is available to it. And the body's energy demands. Being a metabolically flexible person means the body can efficiently use carbohydrates when there's a lot of carbohydrates around, and then it can switch to burning fats. When carbohydrates are not available, carbohydrates are low. And an interesting thing, especially in Italy, is that you just walk everywhere we walked 15 20,000 steps a day. So even though I did have carbohydrates, and definitely way more carbohydrates than I would normally have in a day. That is a really quick and easy Lee accessible form of energy, like I just described. And so because we're walking so much, it helps to have those carbohydrates and just keep that energy nice and even right, I didn't have big peaks and valleys and spikes and sleepiness and bursts of energy. Because we were walking lots of the demands of my body, we're saying, hey, I need some more energy, right? So when our bodies are metabolically flexible, it helps keep energy levels more consistent, and it helps to avoid those spikes and crashes. That people who are metabolically inflexible will often experience. So metabolic flexibility. Another thing that it does is that it helps us to manage our weight. Because when we are metabolically flexible when we can use the available fuels that are we're putting into our body, then we can efficiently switch between accessing fat storage and carbohydrate intake. It's easier for a body to maintain a healthy weight instead of just storing and storing and not be unable to be fat adapted to remember how to use those fuels, and then feeling like these peaks and valleys and like you've got to go get a doughnut or get something to give yourself a burst of energy. Okay? Another benefit of being metabolically flexible, is it reduces risks of metabolic diseases and metabolic diseases are things like insulin resistance, type two diabetes, and obesity, when we're metabolically inflexible, and those hormones like insulin are not working properly in our body, we become insulin resistant. When we're not fat adapted, we're storing more energy, right. And so that leads to obesity, especially abdominal obesity is a very unhealthy thing for our for optimal metabolic health. And so when we're metabolically flexible, as I said a minute ago, we can use those energy sources more efficiently than we have a tendency to store less and access those fat stores more effectively. So another thing is that it really helps to ensure when you're metabolically flexible, it helps to support a smoother transition. So on those times where you'd like, I'm going out to this meal, and I'm going to have the crimper lay, I'm going to Italy and I'm going to eat the pasta. But when I get home, I'm going to go back to following my normal diet, which is going to be a low carbohydrate diet, which I recommend for anybody a low carbohydrate diet. And when we do that we don't go through like that withdrawal or that sick feeling. Or sometimes people call it the Keto flu, because we have trained our bodies to be metabolically flexible. So it's a very important thing, we can go back and forth, we can follow a healthy, low carb lifestyle, we can indulge in some treats and some wonderful experiences now and then, and then we can come back. So it's not the throwing out the baby with the bathwater or all or none. But our bodies are very efficient at remembering how to use various types of fuels. Now, metabolic flexibility is really key in supporting Healthy Aging and Longevity. Because as we age, metabolic flexibility becomes increasingly important, because it's increasingly more difficult. So as we age, some of the changes we experience in our body are alterations in our metabolism, our hormone levels change, our physiological functions are impacted by those change in our hormones, and by several other things. So let me give you a list of some of the things that change with aging, and why it's important that we maintain metabolic flexibility to support ourselves through these changes. So one of the big changes with aging is age related muscle loss. So as our bodies age, they lose muscle mass and muscle strength unless we are intentionally lifting heavy stuff, and building muscle tissue. muscle tissue is very metabolically active. So when we lose it, we tend to have reduced metabolic rate. And we're less effective at using glucose because muscle is a major site for glucose uptake. So blood sugars, glucose, and our muscles use that. So when we lose muscle mass, we become less insulin sensitive. And it makes it more difficult for our body to switch between using fuel sources efficiently. And that not only increases our insulin resistance, but age itself increases insulin resistance. In fact, aging affects the secretion and the regulation of lots of hormones like growth hormones, and sex hormones, and other metabolic processes. So it's really important that we pay attention to deliberately building and maintaining that lean body mass. That's one thing that's going to help us maintain metabolic flexibility throughout our aging. Now, another thing is that as we age, we decrease our physical activity. Now, a lot of people don't realize that because you know, life just goes long, one day at a time, and I'll hear from people all the time, this enemy I don't understand I'm gaining all this weight, I do everything that I always did before. But in fact, lifestyle changes as we get a little older. So when you have, you know busy jobs, you're building your career or you have a young family and you're running around and doing 100 million things. And even as children age or as they leave the home and start their own lives. Our lives become more sedentary because we don't have so many demands on it so much running around that has to be done. Usually also as people age, they become a little more financially secure so they can afford to be a little more luxurious, eat little more high calorie, high fat foods. They don't have to run around picking up kids so they gonna have a glass of wine here and there without worrying about it. So we not only move less, but we have a tendency to consume more food. So here's like this perfect storm, we're losing lean body mass, we're moving less. So less activity, less caloric intake, but we're used to eating a certain way. So we keep eating that certain way. And then maybe we add in a little more, a little more richness, a little more alcohol, a little glass of wine here and there. And we don't even realize because it's so subtle, this all starts to add up and increase the storage of fat, and increase the resistance we have to insulin and increase our metabolic in flexibility. Another very important thing as we age is that our mitochondrial function slows down mitochondria, which I have a show coming up on mitochondria for another Tuesday Train Talk in the near future, I don't really remember exactly which one it is, but it's coming up. And when we're talking about mitochondria, they are these little organelles inside of ourselves. And they have a huge role in the amount of energy that we have. And they also play a big part in cancer and how cancer works in our bodies. So mitochondria become less efficient with age at doing their job the way they're supposed to do it. And so that decline in the way mitochondria functions can affect the body's ability to metabolize carbohydrates and fats effectively. other lifestyle factors that affect it as we age, stress, and sleep. So as people age, they have a tendency to have more disturbed sleep patterns. And especially for those of you have gone through menopause, and you wake up constantly throughout the night having hot flashes, you know what I'm saying? Right? When we have increased sleep disturbances, less quality of sleep, that has a huge impact on our blood sugar regulation, our hormone regulation, and that affects our metabolic flexibility. Aging has another great benefit, right, we've got life experience. And what happens is we experience life, we are exposed to so many things. So as the years accumulate, the exposure to environmental toxins accumulate within the tissues of our body, as well. And so those exposures over a lifetime have a big impact on our metabolic health, they just accumulate in the tissues, and they can cause lots of toxicity, which then results in inflammation. So aging is very often associated with low grade chronic inflammation. And we know that inflammation can interfere with different signaling pathways, the way our body communicates with itself inside all these different cells, and all of these chemical processes that happen. So all of that comes together to have an impact on our metabolic flexibility, making it more difficult to manage our weight efficiently. And then we end up with this other active tissue, which is fat that's sending out all kinds of other signals that are throwing off on metabolic flexibility. And finally, metabolic flexibility has a big impact on brain health. And so, efficient energy usage is critical for maintaining cognitive function. And metabolic inflexibility has been linked to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's. And I think I've said on the show before, that now, we've been talking about Alzheimer's as being like type three diabetes, and seeing that our metabolic health has a big impact on our brain health. So you can see that metabolic flexibility. And our ability to switch back and forth between using carbohydrates and fats for energy is really important, not only for a healthy lifestyle, but for a healthy, long life. So how do we improve our metabolic flexibility? One important way is to make sure you're eating a whole food diet. I'm going to sound like a broken record. I think if you go back and you listen to all of the terrain, Tuesday Talks, you're going to hear the same thing, right? You're going to hear me say the same thing over and over again. Eat whole food, mostly plants, healthy fats. Keep carbohydrates mostly coming into your diet through fruits and vegetables, but keep processed carbohydrates low and that helps us maintain improved insulin sensitivity, and then moving your body. A way to improve metabolic flexibility is to exercise regularly. When you have a combination of aerobic or we call it cardiovascular exercise and anaerobic or something like strength training and resistance training. This trains our body to use different fuel sources because aerobic and cardiovascular exercise are going to access carbohydrates fat stir, they need quick energy for movement, right? Whereas slower workouts like weightlifting or even when you're sprinting and you sprint and then stop, and then sprint and then stop. These are the types of exercises that teach our body to access fat stores more effectively. So creating an exercise program or having a movement program in your life that incorporates both aerobic activity and strength training, or anaerobic activity is super important for maintaining metabolic flexibility. The different tissues in our body need different resources. And when we activate that we're continuing to train our body to use everything that it needs, and to access all parts of our body, then it's going to work better overall. Now, eating is not just important, but not eating is also important. Regular intermittent fasting can really improve your body's ability to switch to fat burning during the fasting periods, and to be able to efficiently use carbohydrate sources during feeding periods. So 16 Eight method is a really popular one, which means fasting for 16 hours a day and eating an eight hour window. And that will you give your body a nice long break of 16 hours to use its fuel sources efficiently. Sleep, as I mentioned before, is so important. So you know, sleep studies and sleep hygiene are just becoming more and more talked about in the world of health and healthy lifestyles. And honestly, if you don't have good sleep habits where you do have disturbed sleep, I would highly suggest working with a sleep specialist talking to your doctor about having a sleep study and just having someone look at you and observe and see what's going on when you're sleeping, and how can you improve that sleep quality. And then another way of improving metabolic flexibility is stress management. Isn't it interesting how we hear the same things over and over again, yet they seem so simple, right? We think here are the things that really improve your health. And instead of kind of embracing what's really simple and easy to turn to, I find that we often want to reach out to something else, we want a supplement or we want the newest and the greatest and the shiny objects. And if we just come back to the simple basics of life, over and over and over again, those are going to be the things that support the terrain of your body more than anything else. Stress management activities like meditation, yoga and mindfulness are very important and having a positive effect on metabolic flexibility. Because chronic stress leads to hormonal imbalances. And those have a negative impact on our metabolic health. Staying hydrated. Hydration, water is a super important part of our body. And when we are well hydrated, it actually supports our metabolic processes. And it helps us use energy more efficiently. And this up incoming cold exposure I say up and coming because everywhere I look now I'm seeing cold baths and people installing cold baths and it's becoming very popular. But there's a lot of science that's coming up behind it that says periodic exposure to cold temperatures actually can increase your body's ability to burn fat, because it wants to warm up the body so wants to produce heat, and your body will access stored fat to burn that fat for heat production. And then again, that's kind of that part of fat adaption, right? Being fat adapted teaching your body to use fat and use it efficiently. So that can also improve metabolic flexibility. That is something I am not good at, because man I hate being cold. And I know it's so important and I read so many things on it. I love going to the infrared sauna. Man when it comes to the thought of jumping in a cold bath. That just sounds horrific to me. Something I'm gonna have to work on my thoughts around definitely as a part of my own healthy lifestyle. But keep in mind that improving metabolic flexibility is not about a quick fix. These things take time, right? And they can be long term practices. So you want to make sure that you're managing and paying attention and monitoring how your body is responding to different macronutrient ratios. Does it feel like your energy levels are even throughout the day? And if not, do you need a protein increase? Do you need a carbohydrate reduction? Do you need to add in more fats for long lasting energy. So be open to the idea of just adjusting your diet based on lifestyle based on your body's responses and based on your health goals. So be in it for the long run and we don't have to think that It has to be perfect all the time. And we don't have to hold to this idea that we have to just do one thing or other or it's good or bad. This is a life and it's all encompassing, and it's wonderful. So how will you know if you have good metabolic flexibility? Well, you'll know by having even energy by having good sleep might not have you know, these peaks and valleys in your energy throughout the day, when you're metabolically flexible, you'll have less brain fog, you'll be easier to maintain a healthy weight, so you'll have less excess body fat. And when you manage your blood sugar, you're gonna find a nice, low, even level of blood sugar, all of these things are going to point towards metabolic flexibility. So once again, let's just come back to the basics of simple good care of the body, good, healthy nutrition organic, as much as possible plants as much as possible, healthy fats as much as possible, and eliminating the stress in your life by taking care of yourself from a mindful approach to food and living and to joy. And this will help to support your metabolic flexibility, which will help to support healthy aging throughout

Laura Lummer 26:13
your life and a beautiful, long, healthy, enjoyable life. And isn't that what we all want? As one of my Italian cab drivers said over the last week, all is good dividends are good. And so it doesn't matter what you've done so far up to this point. It's good to start paying attention now. All is good that ends good. Every day is a chance to start taking care of ourselves better and better and better. So why not start now? Take care and I'll talk to you again very soon.

Speaker 1 26:49
Put your courage to the test laid all your doubts. Your mind is clearer than before your heart is full and wanting more your futures Give it all you know you've been waiting on



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