Do you seem to gain weight and you don't know why? Are you following a good diet, working out and you still can't shake the extra weight? Maybe you are leptin resistant. Leptin is a hormone that is produced by the body’s fat cells. It is often referred to as the “satiety hormone” or the “starvation hormone.” Leptin’s primary target is in the brain, particularly an area called the hypothalamus. Leptin is supposed to tell the brain that we have enough fat stored, that we don’t need to eat, and that we can burn calories at a normal rate. It also has many other functions related to fertility, immunity, brain function and others. However, leptin’s main role is long-term regulation of energy balance… the amount of calories we eat and expend, and how much fat we store on our bodies.
How does it work?
This hormone is produced by the body’s fat cells. The more body fat they carry, the more leptin they produce. Leptin is carried by the bloodstream and into the brain, where it sends a signal to the hypothalamus… the brain area that controls when and how much we eat. The fat cells use leptin to “tell” the brain how much body fat they carry. Lots of leptin tells the brain that we have plenty of fat stored, while low levels of leptin tell the brain that fat stores are low and that we are at risk of starvation.
This is how the cycle should look according to AuthorityNutrition.com
People who are obese have a lot of body fat in their fat cells.
Because fat cells produce leptin in proportion to their size, obese people also have very high levels of leptin. However… the problem is that the leptin signal isn’t working. There’s a whole ton of leptin floating around, but the brain doesn’t “see” that it is there. This condition is known as leptin resistance. It is now believed to be the main biological abnormality in human obesity. When the brain doesn’t receive the leptin signal, it erroneously thinks that the body is starving, even though it has more than enough energy stored. This makes the brain change our physiology and behavior in order to regain the fat that the brain thinks we’re missing. In this way… eating more and exercising less is not the cause of weight gain, it is the consequence of leptin resistance, a hormonal defect. For the great majority of people, trying to exert cognitive inhibition (willpower) over the leptin-driven starvation signal is next to impossible.
The Vicious Cycle
Losing weight reduces fat mass, which leads to a significant reduction in leptin levels, but the brain doesn’t necessarily reverse its leptin resistance. When leptin goes down, this leads to hunger, increased appetite, reduced motivation to exercise and decreased amount of calories burned at rest. Basically, the reduced leptin makes the brain think it is starving… so it initiates all sorts of powerful mechanisms to regain that lost body fat, erroneously thinking that it is protecting us from starvation. In other words, the brain actively defends the higher amount of fat mass, using strong biochemical forces that compel us to eat back the lost weight. The majority of dieters will be familiar with this… weight loss is often easy in the beginning, especially when motivation is high, but very soon hunger, cravings and a reduced desire for exercise set in. This is the main reason so many people “yo-yo” diet… they lose a significant amount of weight, only to gain it back (and then some).
How do you know if you are resistant?
The best way to know if you are leptin resistant, is to look in the mirror. If you have a lot of body fat, especially in the belly area, then you are almost certainly leptin resistant. A key to preventing (or reversing) leptin resistance, is reducing diet-induced inflammation.
There are several things you can do:
1. Avoid processed food: Highly processed foods may compromise the integrity of the gut and drive inflammation.
2. Eat Soluble Fiber: Eating soluble fiber can help improve gut health and may protect against obesity.
3. Exercise: Physical activity may help to reverse leptin resistance.
4. Sleep: Poor sleep has been implicated in problems with leptin.
5. Lower your triglycerides: Having high blood triglycerides can prevent the transport of leptin from blood and into the brain. The best way to lower triglycerides is to reduce carbohydrate intake.
6. Eat Protein: Eating plenty of protein can cause automatic weight loss. There are many reasons for that, one of them may be an improvement in leptin sensitivity.
7. Intermittent fasting
Check out this infographic on intermittent fasting!
I hope this information will give more insight on why you may have greater challenges with your weight loss. Please know that these challenges can be overcome with great results. I would suggest starting with intermittent fasting a few days out the week to break the hold this may have on you. Give it a try, you have nothing to lose but weight!!
I am with you and in your corner!