Hello my hormone-happy friends!
Today we’re talking about leptin & ghrelin, two hormones that regulate our hunger.
Are you excited?? Because I am! I sometimes feel like I am CONSTANTLY hungry. While I often credit it to my activity levels, I also sometimes wonder if the ghrelin gremlin has just decided to come out to play.
Let’s start with leptin.
Leptin is a hormone that let’s us know when we’re full, and when it’s time to stop eating. Which sounds like a great thing, until you become leptin resistant or the body begins to produce less of it.
After we eat a meal leptin is released to let the brain know we’ve had enough and can put the fork down. We don’t always listen, but that’s just a case of consciously eating past fullness because the food is just too damn good.
But when we’re on a calorie-restricted diet in an attempt to lose weight, the body realizes that something different is going on. You see, the human body, as fascinating as it is, is a little boring.
It doesn’t like change. And when it senses change is coming, it does everything in its power to prevent that change from happening. In scientific terms, we say the body is trying to maintain homeostasis. There’s your new word for the day 😉
So when we’re eating less in an effort to shed some body fat, the body starts to release less leptin. It doesn’t want the brain to think we’ve had enough to eat! It wants the brain to eat more so it can stay at its current comfortable weight!
I’ve had clients complain of feeling soooo hungry after just some minor dietary tweaks during their weight loss plans, and we have leptin to thank for that. It’s doing it out of love, because it doesn’t know we’re consciously eating less and not actually enduring a period of starvation like our early ancestors did, but nonetheless it can be a little frustrating.
Ghrelin, on the other hand, lets the body know it’s time to eat. An easy way to remember this is to think of the ghrelin gremlin in your stomach who’s letting you know he’s hungry!
Our stomachs produce ghrelin when it’s time to be fed, and then those levels tend to drop once we’ve eaten a meal. When those meals are higher in protein or fiber, our ghrelin levels tend to decrease even more which keeps us feeling full for a longer period of time.
Now the problem is not necessarily the presence of these hormones. When everything is working fine and dandy leptin and ghrelin work together to make sure we’re eating enough, but not too much.
The problems arises when we’re attempting to lose weight in the case of leptin, and our bodies’ response to these two hormones is dramatically altered when we are overweight or obese.
Similar to obese individuals being insulin-resistant, we can become leptin-resistant, meaning we never get those “I’m full” signals regardless of how much we’ve had to eat. And while it’s still in its early stages, research is beginning to show that overweight individuals are more sensitive to the effects of ghrelin, leading to insatiable cravings for high-fat and high-sugar foods.
Now this might sound pretty disheartening. We put on some weight for whatever reason, whether it’s due to a lack of activity, too much food, or a combination of the two. We realize we need to do something about this so we go on a diet, and then those pesky hormones of ours try to sabotage our efforts!
BUT, not to worry – there are a few things we can do to keep our leptin and ghrelin some messing with our goals of reaching a healthy body composition!
- Don’t starve yourself! Obviously a caloric deficit is required for weight loss, however you don’t need to go crazy by drastically cutting your calories. Doing so will result in less leptin production, meaning you will rarely feel full.
- Include protein and/or fiber at every meal. Remember where I mentioned above that protein & fiber decrease ghrelin levels after a meal? You’ll be able to stay fuller for longer.
- Don’t skip meals. You don’t need to have a regimented eating schedule, but try to avoid going beyond 4 hours without some food. It is believed that the more ghrelin our bodies produce, the more not-so-good-for-you foods we crave. Keep those ghrelin levels in check by eating regularly!
- Consider including probiotics in your diet, either from the foods you eat or from a supplement. Foods like yogurt, kimchi, and miso are high in probiotics which are crucial to maintaining good gut health. Keeping our guts healthy ensures our bodies are getting all the nutrients they need to ensure proper hormone function. So give your guts some love! 🙂
- Know that it’s okay to feel a little hungry from time to time. If you’re on a calorie-restricted diet in an effort to lose weight and you’re careful about consuming an adequate amount of protein, carbohydrates, fats, and micronutrients to support your daily activities and overall health, don’t sweat it if you feel a little hungry between meals. We need to find a balance between starving ourselves and feeling panic at even the slightest sense of hunger.
Have you ever experienced any issues with leptin or ghrelin? Had you even heard of them before? I’d love to hear your tips and tricks for keeping hunger and cravings at bay!