If you have struggled with your weight for a long time or constantly cycled on and off crash diets, there is a very good chance that you have messed up the satiety signals within your body. That means that your body might not effectively get the messages from your hormones that you’re full. The result? Endless snacking and munching. A feeling of being hungry all the time. A higher than normal volume of food required to make you feel full and sastisfied. Chronic hunger. That kinda stuff. Fortunately, you can get those signals back in check with some straight forward changes to the types of foods you eat. Let’s look at the hormones in charge of hunger and satiety and how we tend to mess them up with our Standard American Diet (SAD).
Leptin is at the top of the hormonal hierarchy when it comes to fat loss and body composition. Here’s the thing about leptin: it’s JOB is to keep you from storing too much fat. Unfortunately, when it’s signaling ability gets screwed up, it can make it very difficult for you to release and burn fat. Leptin is released by our fat cells. Consider it the “hall monitor” of fat accumulation. It is always assessing how much stored fat you have and signaling the body to trigger feelings of satiety when there’s enough, and turning down satiety when there’s not. When you start accumulating excess body fat in your adipose tissue, your fat cells release leptin to signal the brain that plenty of fuel is available. This signal then kicks off a cascade of events to decrease your hunger and increase your metabolism (via stimulating your thyroid and adrenals).
On the flip side, when there aren’t an excess of fat cells secreting leptin, the low leptin levels communicate to the brain that there isn’t enough energy stored and so your appetite is stimulated and your metabolic rate is slowed down.
Sounds like a pretty perfect system that should keep anyone from gaining too much weight, right? Unfortunately, just like what happens with insulin, we fuel our bodies so poorly that leptin’s ability to signal goes very wrong. Just like we have the carbohydrate cycle, there is a similar cycle I’ve put together to show how chronically high carbohydrate diets and high insulin levels impair the proper function of leptin in a big way.
Let’s look at what happens here – and remember – this is what happens over time, leading to excess weight gain, insulin resistance and ultimately leptin resistance making it hard for overweight and obese people to break the cycle and successfully lose weight.
So you’ll recall that when we routinely eat high carbohydrate diets, especially processed, cheap carbohydrates that send our blood sugar through the roof, our body becomes far less sensitive to the presence of insulin. This is what we call insulin resistance and it causes our body to store more fat. More fat means that more leptin is going to be released (because leptin is released by our fat cells). Well, as you continuously pile on more fat cells, leptin secretion continues to rise. The same thing happens that we saw with insulin. Leptin is always around and your body tunes out the signals it is sending out. Leptin resistance and insulin resistance go hand in hand.
When you are leptin resistant to any degree, your body won’t receive the satiety signals it is supposed to. You can eat in excess without feeling full. Your hunger mechanisms are rarely turned off. Your metabolic rate slows because you aren’t receiving those messages that ample fuel is available (via your fat stores) so your adrenal and thyroid function slows. So you eat more, you are highly likely to store the food you do eat as excess body fat and you rarely feel satisfied.
There is good news though. As with insulin, we have a tremendous amount of control over the action of leptin through the food we eat and the lifestyle habits we adopt. Because leptin is so significantly impacted by insulin, one of the most important things you can do to encourage healthy leptin signaling is to control blood sugar. How do we do that?
- Eliminate processed foods
- Reduce or eliminate wheat and grains
- Focus on whole foods such as vegetables, fish, beef, poultry, nuts, seeds and some fruits
- Eat protein and healthy fat at every meal
- When you are ready, incorporate high intensity interval workouts 2-3 times each week.
- Keep your sugar intake low – even natural sugars like honey
These metabolic hormones are all closely intertwined. We’ve talked about how insulin and leptin go hand in hand but you also see that leptin function influences your thyroid hormones and your adrenals. You cannot address one without impacting the other. If you do damage to one, it will impair the others. Remember that while calories do matter, you can’t make lasting progress without working towards balancing these critical metabolic hormones.
Ghrelin is a hormone secreted by your stomach that is responsible for making you feel hungry. Understanding what triggers ghrelin helps us to control and minimize both hunger and cravings. Increased ghrelin levels triggers your brain to stimulate hunger. It also encourages your body to store fat in your abdominal region. When we control our ghrelin levels, we control our hunger, our cravings and how quickly or slowly hunger returns after we eat. Low levels on ghrelin have the opposite effect – it minimizes our hunger and cravings.
Here are some strategies to consider to help keep ghrelin levels low and hunger and cravings at bay.
- Avoid severe caloric restriction. Low calorie diets increase ghrelin production.
- Eat your veggies. Non-starchy vegetables like Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cabbage are high in both water and fiber. They stretch out your stomach, which lowers your ghrelin levels and keeps them low for longer.
- Eat protein and healthy fats with each meal. This slows the digestive process and slows the rate at which food is emptied from your stomach. The longer you have food in your stomach, the longer your ghrelin levels stay low.
- Avoid fructose, especially from processed foods, soft drinks and fruit juice. Yes, fructose is found in fruit but its most concentrated in processed foods in the form of high fructose corn syrup. Fructose raises ghrelin levels, making you feel hunger, and it also lowers leptin levels, preventing you from feeling full.
- Eat often. Especially when you’re starting out in your fat loss journey you’ll be best served to eat every 3-4 hours. This will help keep your ghrelin low and your hunger and cravings to a minimum.
- Avoid chronic stress. We all need to work on this one, but chronic stress increases ghrelin production.
- Exercise regularly, especially in the form of high intensity intervals and weight training. These activities increase our production of human growth hormone, which inhibits ghrelin.
- Make sure you’re consuming adequate omega 3 fatty acids, especially EPA and DHA, from oily, cold-water fish like salmon, sardines, anchovies or mackerel. Studies have shown that insufficient omega 3 intake increases ghrelin production.
Being hungry and battling intense cravings makes fat loss harder than it needs to be. Controlling hunger and cravings can make healthy eating almost effortless.
Wanna know more and take your results to the next level? Check out my Hormones & Fat Loss ebook! 50 pages of diet & lifestyle strategies to help you naturally optimize your hormones and get into fat-burning mode!!