How to Increase Leptin

Nutritionist’s Tips to Naturally Reduce Appetite

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTPublished: May 15, 2020

Hunger and cravings make dieting a struggle. But it’s not a lack of will power that’s holding you back. Rather, it’s a hormone called leptin that regulates your appetite.

In this article, you’ll learn how leptin works. So you can take control of your appetite and lose weight with less effort.

Leptin Hormone

What is Leptin?

Leptin is a hormone produced in your fat cells. Its job is to make you feel full.

More importantly, it’s part of a physiological system for maintaining your body weight.

How Does Leptin Function?

As an example, think of it as a closed-loop feedback system. Like your home’s thermostat.

When the temperature in your house goes up, the thermostat turns on the air conditioner. Similarly, when your weight goes up, leptin turns down your appetite.

Through appetite, your body controls energy balance to regulate your weight.

how the leptin feedback loop regulates weight

When this cycle works properly, you intuitively know how much to eat to maintain your weight. But it’s a delicate balance, and sometimes the system gets out of whack.

For instance, many overweight people don’t feel full when they should. That’s called leptin resistance.

Leptin Resistance

Imagine a hot summer day. But this time, the AC doesn’t get the signal from the thermostat. So the temperature in your house just keeps climbing.

With leptin resistance, your appetite doesn’t get the signal that you’re overweight. As a result, you continue to eat and gain weight.

It’s like you develop a tolerance to leptin and get numb to the signal. Therefore, the solution is to restore your sensitivity.

How to Increase Leptin Sensitivity

While the cause of leptin resistance isn’t fully understood, studies suggest it can result from regular overeating and chronic inflammation1.

Fortunately, you can increase your leptin sensitivity with diet and exercise.

  • Avoid continuous overeating
  • Reduce dietary fat intake(particularly inflammatory trans fats)
  • Cut back on sugar
  • Exercise regularly at medium to high intensity3,4

Once your sensitivity is restored, you can take measures to maintain healthy leptin levels.

What Affects Leptin Levels?

First, there’s a direct relationship between body fat and leptin levels. That is, the more fat you have, the more leptin you produce.

In addition, there are several other factors that affect leptin levels.

factors that affect leptin level

As contradictory as it seems, some of the factors that help you lose weight also decrease leptin and make it harder to lose weight.

With this in mind, the goal is to maintain leptin levels while losing weight.

How to Increase Leptin And Lose More Weight

There are 4 things you can do to offset the drop in leptin brought on by weight loss. Moreover, these strategies can help you maintain or increase leptin in order to lose more weight.

Vary Your Calorie Intake

Studies indicate that leptin levels reflect cumulative energy balance5. In other words, leptin goes up when calories go up. And it goes down when calories go down.

Therefore, it makes sense to regularly increase your calorie intake – also known as refeed days. Varying calorie intake in this way should keep leptin levels higher, making it easier to lose weight in the long run.

How to Use Refeed Days to Lose More Weight

Include High Carb, Low Fat Days

Another hormone, called insulin, regulates long-term leptin production6. This means eating carbs (which raises blood sugar) increases leptin over time.

While low carb diets are common for weight loss, it’s a good idea to include some higher carb days. For that reason, refeed days should be both high calorie and high carb.

Alternate Your Activity Level

Resistance training helps you burn more calories and build lean muscle. But studies show that lifting weights can lower leptin levels in both men and women7.

In addition, aerobic exercise is commonly used for weight loss, but it seems to lower leptin in women more than men8.

Before you use this as an excuse to skip workouts, remember that exercise is an essential part of a weight loss plan!

However, it’s also important to include rest days so that you don’t overdo it. And women, in particular, should scale back cardio when increased appetite prevents weight loss.

Get Plenty Of Sleep

One study found that just 2 nights of sleep deprivation resulted in an 18% decrease in leptin9. As well as a 28% increase in ghrelin, the “hunger hormone”.

As a result, participants were more likely to overeat. And had a stronger appetite for unhealthy salty foods and sweets.

effect of sleep deprivation on leptin-ghrelin

Adapted from Spiegel, Karine, et al.

A change of this magnitude is similar to the effects of diet and exercise. And it can drastically alter the course of weight loss.

Therefore, an adequate amount of sleep is another major factor in maintaining healthy leptin levels.

relationship of body weight leptin appetite

At the end of the day, weight loss is a complex system of seemingly opposing forces. While it’s easy to get frustrated, just remember too much of one thing usually isn’t a good thing.

Balance restriction and indulgence. But don’t go too far in either direction.

And the next time you have a craving for something sweet or salty, recognize that you don’t lack will power. More than likely, what you lack is leptin.

EER Calculator

EER (estimated energy requirement) is the number of calories needed to repay the energy you expend through activity. Knowing your EER prevents fat gain and muscle loss.

1) Wang, Jiali, et al. “Overfeeding rapidly induces leptin and insulin resistance.” Diabetes 50.12 (2001): 2786-2791.
2) Enriori, Pablo J., et al. “Diet-induced obesity causes severe but reversible leptin resistance in arcuate melanocortin neurons.” Cell metabolism 5.3 (2007): 181-194.
3) Flores, Marcelo BS, et al. “Exercise improves insulin and leptin sensitivity in hypothalamus of Wistar rats.” Diabetes 55.9 (2006): 2554-2561.
4) Shapiro, Alexandra, et al. “Synergy between leptin therapy and a seemingly negligible amount of voluntary wheel running prevents progression of dietary obesity in leptin-resistant rats.” Diabetes 57.3 (2008): 614-622.
5) Chin-Chance, Catherine, Kenneth S. Polonsky, and Dale A. Schoeller. “Twenty-four-hour leptin levels respond to cumulative short-term energy imbalance and predict subsequent intake.” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 85.8 (2000): 2685-2691.
6) Kolaczynski, Jerzy W., et al. “Acute and chronic effect of insulin on leptin production in humans: studies in vivo and in vitro.” Diabetes 45.5 (1996): 699-701.
7) De Salles, B. F., et al. “Effects of resistance training on cytokines.” International journal of sports medicine 31.07 (2010): 441-450.
8) Hickey, Matthew S., et al. “Gender-dependent effects of exercise training on serum leptin levels in humans.” American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology And Metabolism 272.4 (1997): E562-E566.
9) Spiegel, Karine, et al. “Brief communication: sleep curtailment in healthy young men is associated with decreased leptin levels, elevated ghrelin levels, and increased hunger and appetite.” Annals of internal medicine 141.11 (2004): 846-850.

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