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Leptin Resistance is Keeping You From Losing Weight

male doing pushupLeptin resistance can make it very difficult for you to lose weight. We’re going to talk about what leptin is and what you can do to control this hunger hormone.

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.

Read more about why good insulin sensitivity is the key to fat loss.

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 [1].

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 [2]. 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 [3]. 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 [4]. 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 [5]. 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.

  • Jonathan | World Of Diets

    It’s important to note that cheat meals can also backfire. You need to remember that this isn’t a license to stuff yourself. You need to do this strategically for this to work correctly.

    • Coach Calorie

      Yes, this is true.. Cheat meals, when planned out, can be very beneficial. As always, you still need to watch your calories. Controlled refeeds are another alternative.

  • Jen

    Hi, I just discovered your site and read a lot of useful info. Usually I eat quite healthy, lots of fruits, veggies, fresh home made juices and smoothies are the 60% of my diet. The other 30 would be mostly grains,nuts, beans, potatoes, some pasta/noodles( 2-3 portions a week). I eat fish about 3-5 times a week and lean meat about 2 portions a week. It’s just how I feel to eat, not on purpose of a diet. But sometimes I have this horrible hunger attacks, I can eat a lot to the point that I can feel that there is no space left in my stomach, that I’m about to explode if I eat anything else but at the same time I still feel HUNGRY!? Could it be the Leptin? Or something else?
    I lead physicly active life, walk about 6-8 miles a day, plus gym 3-4 times a week. I am at 171cm weight 71kg

    • Julie

      Hi Jen,
      You are probably not getting enough protein and healthy fats. Your carbs may also be too high. Check out the Paleo diet ..
      Best of Luck!

    • Sandra Krcmar

      Hi Jen, look into Reactive Hypoglycemia and increase your protein intake.

  • melanie

    What is a controlled cheat meal exactly? Does it still work if I work the grave yard shift?

    • Coach Calorie

      It’s a planned cheat meal. Instead of just picking something you want to eat and gorging yourself on it, you set your calories and possibly your macronutrients and eat within those limits. It’s very easy to undo all your hard work for the week with an overindulgent cheat meal. You still need to watch what you eat.

      Controlled refeeds on the other hand are when you eat healthy food, but eat more of it than usual. You can think of them as healthy carb-ups.

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  • Mary

    So how much fruit should we eat daily? I normaly have handfull of berries and banana in my smoothie daily,is that ok? I also have 2 teaspoons of sugar or honey in my 2 coffees daily,is that bad? Do I need to cut out artificial sugar completely?

  • Coach Calorie

    It’s hard to overeat fruit. You could eat a serving with each of your 5 meals and be OK.

    As for artificial sweeteners, I avoid them like the plague. I don’t think they have any place in a healthy lifestyle. You’re better off with sugar or honey.

  • Sara

    Tony do you think that a long period of under-eating leading to basically carb binging can cause leptin resistance? I rarely eat processed carbs or high fructose corn syrup or processed foods (except probably for during said binges), and have increased my calorie intake to a more realistic level and have stopped binging except for cheat meals and once in a while overindulgence but no matter what I do weight does not come off. I’m wondering if its possible this is my problem. Is there a way to test for it?

  • Coach Calorie

    Long periods of under eating can definitely lead to metabolism issues, but they can be fixed. See my most recent article titled “how to fix a broken metabolism”.
    If you feel like your calories are at a good level already, try dropping them just 100-200 calories. You don’t always need a 500 cal deficit to see weight loss.
    You also didn’t mention activity levels. Make sure you’re not overdoing it and getting plenty of rest.
    You might also want to check out the article titled “how to break a weight loss plateau”.

    • Sara

      Thanks! I have read those, and I will again. I am fairly active, doing HIIT cardio 2x a week, circuit and weight training 3-4 times a week totalling 5-6 active days a week. My constant question now is how much should I be eating really, to lose BODY FAT. Experimenting with eating more calories has me up 10 pounds (and body fat, s it isn’t all muscle) since January, so I’m scared to try to figure it out the way you suggest in your article “How Many Calories Should I Eat”? I sense that I should focus more right now on repairing my metabolism. I am 5’11, currently 180lb and very active, I was eating 1300 calories a day while burning 600-700 during workouts for probably close to a year, so I suspect its a mess. Right now I’m eating 1200 plus whatever I burn in my workouts, so I usually eat 1700-2000 calories a day, which I feel is plenty. I’m not going hungry anymore! And I think that’s still a decent deficit to lose body fat…? :)

      • Coach Calorie

        Don’t just jump from 1300 to 2000. You will need to make the transition gradually (say 50 extra calories each week) to let your metabolism adjust.

        • Sara

          It’s been 6 months since I increased and the weight gain started when a “nutritionist” jumped my intake up to 2,000 (not gradually). Should I go back down to 1300 and work up gradually, or since the weight has been gained, the damage is done so to speak?

  • Coach Calorie

    The damage is never done. Bring it back down some (say to 1500) and then gradually raise it back up. Check out this article –

  • Sandra Krcmar

    Tony, I would love to see an article about Reactive Hypoglycemia (not of the Type II Diabetes correlation) and what exercises / eat choices can best benefit someone on their road to fat lose. I personally struggle with this. I eat extremely clean (currently on the Ketogenic diet). When I wasn’t on this feeding type I was eating less than 150 g of carbs (this never included pasta or rice or wheat really). I never had a problem gaining a lot of muscle mass with at times no working out but actually losing fat was nearly impossible.

    • Coach Calorie

      Are you still having that issue with a ketogenic diet?

  • Erika

    So we should be eating 5 meals a day?

    • Tony Schober

      Never said that. You should pick a meal frequency that best fits into your lifestyle that you can be consistent with.