Fat Loss, Cheat Meals and a Hormone called Leptin

01 December 2014

 Just about every physiological process that occurs within our bodies, is controlled by the endocrine system (our hormones). Hormones orchestrate internal physical actions and reactions to maintain homeostasis (balance). As with physical function, energy intake versus expenditure (or huger) are also regulated by these internal dictators. A key hormone that is responsible for hunger regulation and fat metabolism is leptin, which works to maintain caloric homeostasis. Leptin is the gatekeeper to fat metabolism by regulating energy intake in proportion to caloric expenditure. Leptin controls hunger via the following pathways:

  • By counteracting the effects of powerful feeding stimulants secreted by the hypothalamus and certain cells in the gut
  • By promoting the production of a-MSH – a powerful appetite suppressant.

Leptin is secreted by fat cells and is received by receptors in the hypothalamus. If leptin is present and receptors are sensitive, then hunger is inhibited. More body fat means less food is required and so leptin is secreted to inhibit hunger and the accumulation of excess adipose (fatty) tissue. Leptin also responds to short term energy balance: a severe caloric deficit will reduce the secretion of leptin to encourage an individual to eat more in order to replenish required energy. A severe caloric overdose temporarily boosts leptin secretion to reduce hunger.

In healthy-weight individuals, leptin functions normally by regulating the amount of food consumed in relation to fat stores in the body. In the short-term leptin signals that the body has had enough to eat, while in the long term leptin indicates that the body has sufficient energy stores. In both instances, leptin works to reduce the appetite in order to maintain homeostasis, or a healthy body weight.

On the contrary, in overweight individuals, the leptin regulation process is affected. This can occur in one of two ways: either the secretion of leptin is down-regulated (the individual becomes resistant to leptin) or, leptin is unable to reach receptors in the hypothalamus. In both instances, hunger is no longer regulated and therefore becomes uncontrolled and relentless.

What Causes Leptin Resistance?

If we look to the animal kingdom, we see that most living creatures appear to be optimally built for survival, in relation to their environment. This is because wild animals are not exposed to drastic changes in their diet, which allows their internal hunger regulation process and metabolism efficiency to be maintained. Humans on the other hand have been exposed to such a severe dietary evolution that as much as 80% of the foods consumed today did not even exist 100 years ago. Our current era has seen more disease and pathology than any era in history – all attributable to what has now become the fundamental norms of modern society – stress, poor nutrition, sleep deprivation and substance abuse. Preservatives, colorants, additives, processed foods, refined carbohydrates, hormones, genetically modified organisms and pesticides have become custom dietary consumptions for modern society, which in turn has contributed to a plethora of health-related problems. One in particular being leptin resistance. Food is no longer just food, but a selection of the “finest fake consumables” that exist in abundance and offer a lower price tag than natural, wholesome produce. Due to this drastic change in the human diet, more and more cases of leptin resistance are becoming evident – a really good reason to change the way we eat!

How Can I combat Leptin Resistance?

The answer is simple and all boils down to adopting healthy habits:

  • Eat lots of fresh wholesome foods: nuts, whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables and lean proteins.
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Get enough sleep
  • Exercise regularly
  • Do not allow stress to control your life: relax when you need to and learn how to say no when it is time for a break – balance is essential!
  • Say NO to any form of severe caloric restriction. I cannot stress enough how harmful Yoyo dieting and starving the body are to the metabolism. Heavily restrictive diets place the body under enormous stress and cause the body to step into starvation mode which causes binge eating and disrupts leptin secretion completely. The body begins to store fat like crazy to counteract the calorie deficit thereby resulting in the complete opposite outcome of that intended – weight gain.

How Can I use the Leptin Process to Maximise my Fat Loss?

Most weight loss candidates will tell you that the last few kilograms are the hardest to lose. This is because the body recognises that fat stores are diminishing, and so leptin secretion is reduced. When leptin levels are very low fat metabolism is reduced, which is why the difficulty in shedding those final kilograms comes about. The good news in all of this is that we can use food (our favourite foods in fact) to raise leptin levels in order to promote further fat loss. Enjoying starchy, sugary foods on occasion (once a week or once every 10 days) is actually beneficial for fat loss because this promotes the secretion of leptin, which regulates hunger and stimulates fat metabolism. Most refer to this as the glorified “cheat meal”; however I prefer the term “treat meal” as cheat implies something negative, which is counterintuitive to developing a healthy relationship with food. A treat does not mean we must now and gorge on everything we can get our hands on – allowing this kind of behaviour will lead to binge eating which opens the door to another dilemma altogether. A treat meal means ONE meal…not seven meals in one day. For example, a medium sized piece of chocolate cake, 2-3 biscuits, a serving of pasta or a handful of your favourite sweets.

Enjoying the occasional treat ties in to building a positive relationship with food – one that is healthy, sustainable and non-restrictive. This means eating clean 80% of the time and indulging occasionally (20% of the time). In so doing, the perception of forbidden foods is eliminated, leptin secretion is maintained and fat loss is optimised.

Yours in Health Always,



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