Leptin Resistance and Weight Loss — A Losing Battle

woman running and leptin resistance

Do you ever feel like weight loss is a battle you can’t win? So many women I have seen in my practice feel this way. They’ve tried every diet and exercise program around, but nothing works. Even when they do lose weight, as soon as they go back to their regular diet it comes right back.

These women are often in tears in my office, frustrated to the point of giving up. But I don’t let them do that! Although it may feel like focusing on weight is just about appearance or self-esteem, there’s so much more to it than that. Losing weight is essential to maintaining good health. And good health is critical to be able to lose weight. You usually can’t have one without the other.

That’s the piece that so many women miss. They are desperately trying to lose weight so they can be healthy, but neglecting the lifestyle and diet changes that will get them healthy so they can lose that weight. There’s simply no quick and easy fix — it’s hard work, and it takes a lot of effort!

Sometimes, there’s a hidden issue that is making weight loss even more difficult. That’s when those people who are “doing everything right” have trouble. An internal imbalance is causing weight loss resistance (inability to lose weight).

One of those hidden issues is called leptin resistance. In a nutshell, this means your body is not responding to the hormone leptin the way it should. Leptin sends signals to your brain that tell you to stop eating. If your brain isn’t getting that message, there’s a big problem! To compound the issue, leptin also regulates metabolism, letting your body know when it’s safe to burn excess fat. If the wrong messages are being delivered, your body goes into protective mode, holding on to excess fat to protect against starving. It’s like a giant game of “telephone” gone wrong! The intended message becomes garbled and soon your body is doing exactly the opposite of what it should do!

Let’s take a closer look at what leptin is, how it functions, and what happens if you have leptin resistance. Then I’ll give you 7 tips to help clear the lines of communication and get the right messages to your brain.

What is Leptin?

First things first — what is this leptin? And how come you’ve never heard of it?

Leptin is a hormone produced in fat cells, discovered by scientists just two and a half decades ago. In the world of research, that’s no time at all — so there aren’t clear answers on how it works yet, but there’s plenty of preliminary information that can be really useful in understanding this critical hormone.

When it was first discovered, there was hope that leptin was a huge breakthrough in the treatment of obesity. Many people thought that this might be the magic answer to weight loss. That didn’t prove to be the case — there is no magic answer. Weight loss takes hard work and a commitment to a healthy lifestyle.

But as we understand how leptin works, there are some answers to be found. Leptin is made in fat cells, released into your bloodstream, and travels to your brain. It’s supposed to let your brain know that you have enough stored energy to maintain normal metabolic function. The whispered conversation is “I’ve had enough to eat, I can burn energy at the usual rate and all my body processes can proceed as usual.”

When people diet, they eat less. Less food intake causes fat loss, which means you’re producing less leptin. Now, the message might be “Wait, stop, I’m not getting enough to eat – I’m starving here! Slow down, hold on to that fat, I might need it later!”

What Happens Next?

Once your body gets the message that starvation might be ahead, it jumps into action. It turns on the vagus nerve, which has the primary function of making you take in extra energy to store as fat, until your leptin levels are where they should be (which is different for everyone). So now, the message is “EAT!”

The problem with that is that sometimes, your leptin levels aren’t actually low — your body just thinks they are. So you may have plenty of stored energy, be in no danger of starving whatsoever, but you are receiving signals to eat in the form of intense cravings and hunger pangs. That’s what happens with leptin resistance.

How Are Leptin Resistance and Weight Connected?

High leptin levels have an impact on a lot of other health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, blood sugar regulation, and even fertility. So there are many great reasons to work to keep levels balanced. Since we’re talking about weight loss, for now I’ll focus on how leptin impacts weight.

As I said before, leptin resistance means your body isn’t responding properly to leptin levels. Even when plenty of leptin is present, your brain thinks it needs more. So energy levels drop, metabolism slows, and hunger signals are strong. You move less, you eat more, and you burn less fat – all of which have an impact on your weight.

On top of that, because leptin is also connected to your brain’s reward system, it’s even more complex. When leptin levels are low, food feels more rewarding. When leptin levels are high, your reward system shuts off, making food much less appealing. But when you have leptin resistance, this doesn’t happen. Even when levels are high, your brain isn’t getting the message. So food looks and tastes amazing, and you keep on eating.

While in the beginning, scientists thought that leptin deficiency was the problem and tried to combat the issue by giving patients leptin, it turns out the opposite is true. More recent research has found that leptin actually drives fat gain not loss! People who are obese actually have plenty of leptin — their brain just can’t tell.

Leptin treatment only helps in very, very rare cases of people who simply don’t produce leptin at all. For these people, leptin injections has helped them stop overeating and lose weight. But since the number of people impacted this was is so negligible, it’s not likely that this is your issue.

Where Does Leptin Resistance Come From?

The discovery of leptin itself is relatively recent, and the concept of leptin resistance is even newer. There simply hasn’t been enough research to determine exactly what happens to cause leptin resistance. Some research, however, points to inflammation, elevated free fatty acids, and increased leptin levels. Because all of these are also associated with obesity, you could be gaining weight, increasing leptin levels and increasing leptin resistance in an infinite loop.

There are several other possibilities when it comes to where leptin resistance stems from. The first is that leptin isn’t reaching the brain like it should. One study showed that high blood triglycerides impeded leptin from entering the brain. Reduced leptin receptors and issues with leptin signaling, and low BDNF may also lead to leptin resistance.

Lack of sleep, chronic stress, and chronically high levels of leptin are all other factors that can contribute to leptin resistance. Wherever it’s coming from, the good news is that there are some simple steps you can take to restore balance and reverse leptin resistance.

7 Tips to Balance Leptin and Win the Weight Loss Battle

It’s important to increase leptin sensitivity and prompt your body to respond properly when leptin levels in your blood are appropriate. It’s also important to reduce leptin production if your levels are already high. Try these 7 tips to balance leptin and start shedding those pounds!

1. Reduce or Eliminate Sugar/Fructose Intake

Fructose and high fructose corn syrup have been shown to play a role in leptin resistance. It’s thought that over consumption of sugar can create high triglyceride levels, preventing the leptin from reaching the brain. So many Americans eat a diet high in fructose — and high fructose corn syrup is found in some surprising products like bread and even salad dressing! That’s why it’s so important to read labels, and know what you’re eating. If you can’t control sugar cravings, consider trying 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan), an amino acid that can help curb appetite and make you feel satisfied as you ease off the sugar. Natural fructose found in fruit doesn’t pose the same problem, as long as you aren’t overdoing it.

2. Eat Healthy Protein, Fiber and Fat at Every Meal

The best diet for keeping both insulin and leptin balanced is high in protein, fiber and high-quality fat, which all help increase satiety and balance blood sugar and insulin. Pay particular attention to protein and healthy fat in the morning – they’ll keep you feeling full as you begin your day. Eggs are a fantastic source of protein, and can be dressed up in so many ways, you don’t ever have to get bored with them. Try a new combination of vegetables and some lean protein, or slice avocado to go on top. Cook them in coconut oil for a boost of healthy fat.

3. Sleep More and Set a Consistent Circadian Rhythm

Sleep has such a major impact on weight loss, partly due to leptin. Chronic lack of sleep can lead to reduced leptin levels, making you wake up ravenous. So if you sleep less, you are likely to eat more. Disruption of the circadian rhythm induces leptin resistance so setting a consistent schedule is important. If you are awake and eating during the night, it will be difficult to balance leptin levels.

4. Break the Snacking Habit

So many women I know are “grazers.” Almost as soon as they finish one meal, they’re picking at something else. They snack in front of the television, they snack at social events, they snack when they’re bored, and they snack when they’re stressed. While some hormonal imbalances call for more frequent eating, if leptin resistance is what you’re dealing with the key is to eat less often. That’s because eating releases leptin, and when you’re constantly producing the hormone, your body learns to ignore it. Eating less often will reduce leptin production, making it more likely for your cells to respond to it. But remember, you don’t want to overdo it when restricting calories — you have to find the right balance! Try eating more at meals, but leaving more time in between.

5. Fast for 12 Hours – or More

Intermittent fasting helps with both weight loss and other health issues, and it can help you reset your response to leptin as well. Try setting a time at night to stop eating until the next morning. I suggest leaving at least 12 hours between your last meal of the day and your first.

6. Keep Moving — Gently

Exercise burns calories, and can be a great contributor to weight loss. It’s also been linked to increased leptin sensitivity in at least one animal study. But keep in mind that too much exercise is stressful, and stress plays a role in leptin resistance. If you aren’t already working out, now isn’t the time to start an intense routine — try walking, or just taking the stairs more often at first. If you already have an exercise routine, you might consider easing up or changing how you work out. Reduce cardio workouts and try interval training and resistance training instead.

7. Calm Your Stressed Mind

Stress reduction is so important to balancing hormones. Elevated cortisol levels can wreak havoc on all of the other hormones, so it’s an absolute must to find time to quiet your mind and calm your body. It doesn’t have to take long – even a few deep breaths can work wonders. Even better, however, is really taking time for self-care, and finding something you love that helps release the ongoing stress of everyday life.

Supplement with Specific Nutrients for Weight Loss

Sometimes, you have to support a healthy diet with some targeted nutrients. There are several that promote healthy insulin and leptin levels, including B vitamins, chromium picolinate, L-carnitine, and alpha-lipoic acid. My weight loss support formula was formulated with all of these and more to reduce cravings, improve leptin balance, balance blood sugar levels, and support a healthy metabolism.

A Healthy Lifestyle is the Best Antidote to Leptin Resistance

It can be so discouraging to give weight loss your best efforts and be thwarted at every turn. But remember, there’s no magic solution. Embracing a healthy lifestyle that includes a well balanced diet, essential nutrients, plenty of sleep, and stress reduction is the best way to turn your health around. And that includes leptin resistance. I’m not saying it will be easy to change old habits, but it’s so worth it!

 

References:

https://www.webmd.com/diet/obesity/features/the-facts-on-leptin-faq.

https://wellnessmama.com/5356/leptin-resistance

https://www.selfhacked.com/blog/the-root-causes-of-leptin-resistance-and-12-ways-to-reverse-it/

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/leptin-101

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Marcelle Pick has been working with women just like you for over 20 years to restore their hormonal balance and start feeling more like themselves.

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