What is Leptin?
Leptin is one of many energy regulating hormones. It is a type of hunger hormone that signals to your body when it’s time to eat, or if you should eat. Leptin levels are correlated to body fat levels. Obese individuals have high leptin levels. They are high because they have a sufficient supply of energy reserves. These high leptin levels act on the hypothalamus to signal that it’s OK to stop eating.
The opposite is true for lean people. This is why it becomes very difficult to lose those last few percentages of body fat. Leptin levels drop – signaling a need to eat. It would seem then that our goal would be to have high leptin levels in order to receive a satiety signal and end the desire (need) to eat food. The paradox here is that overweight people already have high leptin levels. So what is the real problem? Leptin resistance.
What is Leptin Resistance?
Leptin resistance is your body’s inability to use the leptin it produces. The leptin receptors have been bombarded over and over again with high levels of leptin that they have become resistant to the effects of leptin. This is much the same phenomena as insulin resistance. People that are insulin resistant (type II diabetics) have had their cells bombarded with insulin over and over again from their intake of processed foods and high-glycemic carbohydrates.
Leptin resistance results from a similar dietary pattern. Chronic overfeeding and carbohydrate consumption up and above what is needed by the body causes leptin receptors to become resistant. In addition, high triglyceride levels block the effects of leptin across the blood brain barrier . One of the biggest causes of high triglyceride levels is the consumption of too many processed carbohydrates. This excess glucose is converted into fat in the blood.
How Do You Prevent Leptin Resistance?
The easiest way to improve your leptin resistance (or rather leptin sensitivity) is to make dietary changes that will improve your leptin function. For starters, get rid of processed food – especially highly processed carbohydrates. Fats have very little effect on leptin levels, while carbohydrates control your leptin response the most. You simply can’t go wrong with a diet full of meat, eggs, fruits, vegetables, beans, and tubers.
How to Harness the Benefits of Leptin
Our goal is to try and keep leptin levels high enough so that your body receives a satiety signal, but not so high that it causes leptin resistance. There are a few things you can do to control your leptin levels. They are:
- Cheat Meals – Overfeeding, especially eating carbohydrates, has been shown to boost leptin levels and energy expenditure . What this means is that by having a controlled cheat meal (or healthy refeed), you can increase leptin levels – which will send a satiety signal to your body and tell it that there is no famine on the horizon, and that it’s OK to release fat stores. Here are cheat meal guidelines you can follow.
- Get Enough Sleep – People that get less than 8 hours of sleep per night exhibit reduced leptin levels and a corresponding increase in appetite . Sleep has numerous benefits besides controlling leptin levels. Make sure you are getting at least 8 hours so that you keep hunger under control – making it much easier to lose fat. Read more about sleep and see how it can help you lose weight.
- Eat Enough Calories – One of the biggest problems people have when dieting is they cut their calories too much. Most of the time they don’t even realize they are eating sub-1000 calories. Calorie restriction decreases leptin levels . Make sure you are maintaining your goal of eating as many calories as possible that still enables you to lose weight. Find out why you’re not eating enough calories to lose weight.
- Avoid Excessive Fructose Intake – High fructose consumption induces leptin resistance . The key word here is excessive. Moderate amounts of fruit will be just fine. What you need to look out for are products that contain high fructose corn syrup. The easiest way to avoid excess fructose is to avoid processed foods.
Be mindful of your lifestyle and what you are eating, and you can start making leptin work for you instead of against you. Never try to work against your hormones – you will lose every time.