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Hormones and Weight Loss: Leptin and Ghrelin

Mar 23, 2015

Mention the words "leptin" and "ghrelin" and our brains immediately think of a popular iced tea brand and what our stomachs do when we're hungry. Little do most folks know, these are the names of two hormones that have a significant influence on how are bodies choose to lose or gain weight.

Leptin is a hormone whose key function is to tell us that we are full and to STOP eating. It is secreted by our fat cells when these cells determine they have an abundance of food. The goal, then, of the hormone is to help us recognize satiety and not to eat more than our bodies actually need to survive.

The tricky thing about leptin is this: We think it's secreted by fat cells, so more fat cells must mean more leptin which would lead to more signaling of satiety...right? Not hardly! People who carry extra fat, that have more leptin secreted than they need, and eat a diet of processed, refined foods are sending all the wrong signals to their brains. Sense the diet is nutrient deficient, the brain senses starvation--even with too much leptin coming from the fat cells! The end result is a constant desire to reach satiety AND the urge to reach it through all the wrong types of foods.

Much like glucagon is the "opposite" of insulin, ghrelin is the "opposite" of leptin. This hormone's role is to tell us when we are hungry...think "growling," the sound your stomach makes when you haven't eaten. Ghrelin is produced in the stomach and the pancreas, increasing prior to a meal and decreasing once we've eaten.

When the body perceives that it needs nourishment, it will secrete ghrelin in an effort to get us to eat nourishing food by increasing our hunger sensation. However, when you eat food that is void of nutrients, the brain doesn't recognize satiety (enter leptin conversation!), and therefore still thinks it needs more nourishment, so hunger continues. With a diet of poor choices, it becomes a vicious cycle.

These two hormones are understandably confusing, but there are some simple things you can do to manage their roles. Here's some practical implementation:

  • Eat foods that are full of nutrients: colorful fruits (low sugar varieties) and vegetables, healthy sources of protein from land and seas, sources of natural fats.
  • Ditch processed, nutrient-void foods made of refined ingredients.
  • Avoid anything labeled "low-fat" or "low-calorie."
  • Avoid sugars and trans fats.
  • Practice listening to your body. Eat until you are full and then stop.
  • Eat more slowly, chewing your food thoroughly after each bite.

If you're still curious about leptin and ghrelin and what they do and why, feel free to send me an email or comment below. I love keeping the conversation going! Keep in mind I'm not a doctor or a diagnostician, so take anything I say as information to do with as you wish.

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