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Hello! I’m Dr. Trish Murray – physician, bestselling author, and the Health Catalyst Speaker. Today, the topic for our Discover Health Podcast is the hunger hormones: leptin and ghrelin. Now, listen to those names, leptin and ghrelin. I mean, they sound like cartoon characters or aliens from outer space or something! I mean how many of you have heard of leptin or ghrelin? Well, folks, these are actually very important to your health and to your appetite and to feeling full because they are your hunger hormones.
Leptin is a hormone that is made from fat cells, and its job is to decrease your appetite. Wow! If you didn’t know that…don’t you think it’s kind of important? You may have heard of insulin, and insulin causes your body to be able to use sugar. If you have insulin resistance, then a lot more sugar gets thrown into fat cells and you don’t respond well to sugar and you don’t utilize it well and you don’t burn it off well. So, insulin resistance is extremely tied, and we all have heard about it and are familiar with it in relation to diabetes, particularly adult-onset diabetes or Type 2 diabetes.
Leptin is extremely important in this discussion and people, again, typically don’t know about it because you can have resistance to insulin, insulin resistance, which causes more leptin resistance. Again, leptin is your appetite suppressing hormone. It tells you when you’re full. So, if you have resistance to leptin and you have resistance to insulin it’s a horrible path, journey down towards illness and disease and chronic problems. Also, the greater the amount of fat and fat cells someone is carrying in your body, the greater amount of leptin there is in your bloodstream. Again, that doesn’t mean that you’re sensitive to it though. That is all very important.
Now, ghrelin…again, the cartoon character or the alien, ghrelin is also a hormone that’s meant to increase your appetite. Leptin decreases your appetite and helps you to feel full. Ghrelin is the hormone that’s primarily produced in your stomach and is thought to signal hunger to the brain. It tells you when you’re hungry and increases your appetite. Now, leptin however as it’s been found is to be the bigger player when we’re talking about our body’s energy balance and ability to utilize energy and deal with our appetite and suppress the appetite. So, we’re going to talk more about leptin for the rest of the talk. They’re both, obviously, counterbalancing hormones.
Now, how do you know if you have insulin…I’m sorry not insulin but today leptin we’re talking about. Insulin resistance you may have some of these symptoms too because, again, they go together, but today our focus is on leptin. What are the common signs and symptoms that your leptin metabolism or balance is out of control? First of all, if you have leptin resistance you are probably ten or fifteen or more pounds above your ideal body weight because, again, you’re holding on to too many fat cells.
Another is you have an out-of-control appetite, particularly after dinner and perhaps right up until bedtime. You simply overeat at night. This is the single most important symptom telling you that your leptin metabolism is out of control.
Next, if you don’t eat before bed you can’t get to sleep. If that’s true for you, you most likely have leptin resistance. Or you wake up with a headache or feel queasy or if you don’t have a nighttime snack you wake up hungry in the middle of the night. If any of these are true for you, you absolutely have leptin resistance and imbalance.
Next, if you are unable to eat breakfast or are not hungry in the morning for up to two or three hours, you probably have leptin imbalance. Next, you do eat in the morning but it’s typically something like a sweet roll, a muffin, or orange juice or coffee also, the caffeine can irritate the balance of your hunger hormones. Also, sweet things are obviously throwing off the balance of your leptin. We’ll talk a little bit more about that, fast foods and sugary foods.
Next, you regularly desire something sweet or something fat that overwhelms your willpower. Hormone imbalances are larger and more powerful than any of our willpower.
Next, you do not feel satisfied eating a normal amount of food. You may feel quite irritable and think you won’t have any energy until you eat more. If that seems to happen and you wonder why you don’t feel full, you most likely have leptin resistance.
Next, it’s impossible for you to go five hours between eating meals, for example between breakfast and lunch. You can’t do it. You’re always snacking between meals. That is a sure sign that your leptin is not working right. Next, you eat too many carbohydrates such as cookies for lunch.
Next, your head is not clear, or you lack vibrant energy. You always feel fatigued.
Next, you are not getting enough exercise.
Next, you’ve lost the desire to do something about being overweight because you’ve failed so many times in the past. You’re someone who’s yo-yoed up and down. That is a sure sign that your leptin is not working properly.
Finally, here, the last point I’ll make as far as common symptoms of leptin resistance or metabolism being out of control is you can become irrational about getting food until you get the fix that you need. Then, you can think rationally again.
So, if any and all of this list is something you’re familiar with and you relate to strongly or even a little, your hunger hormones, particularly leptin, are out of control.
Now, what can you do about it? That is the main thing, and that’s really where I want to help. There are basically five rules that if you start maintaining a strict following of these five rules your leptin and your hunger hormones will start to gain sensitivity, your metabolic balance will be regained and recontroled, and you can get a better signaling of being full or also when you’re hungry. With the ghrelin and leptin, those little cartoon characters or aliens you’re going to get control of them and they’re not going to be running rampant through your system.
What are the five rules?
- Never eat after dinner. Allow between 11 to 12 hours between dinner and the next morning’s breakfast. Remember, breakfast stands for break the fast. You do need to fast overnight. Never go to bed on a full stomach. Finish eating dinner preferably and optimally three hours before you would go to bed and try to go to go to sleep. That’s rule number one – never eat after dinner, and then also add to that the idea of three hours between dinner and going to bed.
- Eat three meals a day and allow five to six hours between those meals. Do not snack. Rule number two is you’re going to eat, you need to have the nutrients to support your body, you’re going to eat three definitive meals a day and make sure that you have enough nutrients from those meals, but you are not going to snack, and you’re going to have five hours maybe six between each meal. That is what’s going to allow your hunger hormones to run the way they’re supposed to.
- Do not eat large meals. If you are overweight, always try to finish a meal when you are slightly less than full. The full signal will usually catch up in about ten or fifteen minutes. Eating slowly is extremely important, and stop when you are slightly less than full. When you are starting to feel satisfied and starting to feel slightly full, push away from the table and drink some more water. The idea will be that in about ten, fifteen, or twenty minutes you will feel completely full. There’s no reason for you to be eating any further. You want to basically, with rule number three, do not eat larger meals than you need basically.
- Eat a breakfast that contains protein. Move away from the donuts! Move away from the sugary, sweet things in the morning. They are not allowing your hunger hormones to act appropriately. In the morning, first of all eat breakfast, but eat a breakfast also that contains protein.
- Reduce the amount of carbohydrates you eat. Remember, all carbohydrates particularly starchy carbs and sugary carbs all get converted to sugar. Remember, sugar and insulin and insulin resistance is very connected to leptin resistance. Decrease your sugar intake and your carbohydrate intake.
Those are the five basic rules to try and get your leptin sensitivity back in check and back on board and decrease its resistance. Now, I get it that you may not be able to go all the way, 100% into these rules right away if you’re someone who had all the whole list of the common symptoms. Some individuals may need to gradually work their eating in the right direction. You may need to have, let’s say, starting out with four meals a day and maybe only four hours in between but with the idea that you’re only going to do that for let’s say two or three weeks. Then you’re going to go to the next step of three meals with five hours in between. You’re going to do a stepwise approach, but you’re going to move your way towards these fives rules with the goal of following them very strictly. Now, as you increase your exercise and improve the condition of your pancreas, your adrenals, your muscles, and your liver you will gradually move to the three meals a day plan without your energy dropping between meals and you’ll feel like this is normal for you. That is actually, obviously, the goal.
Now, some other points I just want to make is if you’re someone who has done a lot of yo-yo dieting…you know, you lost ten or fifteen pounds, gained it all back, then you lost ten or fifteen pounds by starving yourself and then you gained it all back…if you’ve done this in the past, the quicker and easier it is for your brain to go into protective mechanism and kick into action of starvation mode and hold onto more fat is what’s going to happen possibly at first. What you need to do is, again, gradually work your way and hold the course about working your way towards the five rules.
Unless you learn how to balance your leptin metabolism as part of your lifestyle you simply will not be able to achieve and maintain your goal weight. That’s the key and that’s the goal. Your subconscious, folks, pays little if any attention to your willpower. You can have all the will in the world, but if your subconscious is wanting something it’s going to win. Your desire to restrict yourself from eating or craving certain foods is not easy to do and many times it’s not possible to be successful with. The truth it’s frightfully easy for the primitive subconscious to overcome the force of your willpower. You cannot win this battle of leptin misbehavior with willpower alone, unless you’re already close to having a state of balance. The closer you get to balance, the better off you’re going to be with this whole battle with these aliens, leptin and ghrelin.
Now, let’s talk just a few more moments about insulin resistance and leptin resistance. You see, the more your insulin rises due to sugary intake and it’s associated metabolic shift in cortisol, the stress hormones that occurs with that, this shift all leads also to leptin resistance through other metabolic processes. Since leptin is responsible for appetite suppression, resistance to leptin will mean hunger doesn’t get satisfied even though plenty of calories have been consumed.
Fast food is your biggest enemy in this situation. Fast food is generally higher in calories and higher in fat. Remember the fat cells is what produces leptin and does not satisfy your appetite because the leptin because you are resistant to it. If you eat more nutrient-rich foods, fruits and vegetables…think about the colors of the rainbow. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple vegetables and fruits (and I don’t mean M&Ms and Skittles) and eat those whole foods and avoid anything that lives in a box or a bag that can live on a shelf for the next five years and not go bad. That’s all processed food that’s going to take you down a leptin resistant and ghrelin resistant behaviors.
So now as you may have gathered, I’m not asking you to eat actually overall less calories, just less calorie-laden heavily processed high-fat foods. Now, wouldn’t it be more rewarding to eat let’s say three meals a day each with between 400 and 500 calories so you’re at around 1200, 1300, 1500 calories a day rather than one meal of 1500 calories that you don’t even feel full when you’re done eating it. Your hormone balance will love it as will your physique.
So, I hope this has helped. Again, remember the five rules of developing your leptin resistance. To finalize those again: never eat after dinner, put three hours between dinner and bedtime, eat three meals a day and no snacks in between, do not eat large meals, try to end and push away from the table when you are starting to feel full and you are feeling just less than full, eat breakfast and particularly a breakfast with protein, and rule number five reduce the amount of carbohydrates you eat altogether so that you don’t eat so much sugar. I hope this helps! Leptin and ghrelin, your hunger hormones. Let’s learn how to get them under control.
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