Leptin – you’ve probably heard someone mention it at one time, but aren’t really sure what it is.
I remember when I first heard a bodybuilding coach mention it, saying that managing leptin was crucial to keeping the metabolism humming.
I had no clue what he was talking about, but it did intrigue me.
I then read a great book which explained to me the importance of controlling it and not ignoring it.
But what the hell is it?
Leptin is a hormone produced by the fat cells in your body. The word leptin comes from the Greek word Leptos (meaning thin). The amount of leptin released from those fat cells is dependent upon how much fat there actually is. Basically, more fat results in the release of more leptin.
Leptin essentially controls your metabolism, hunger, and energy expenditure. A leptin system that is working properly improves brain fitness, mental sharpness, leads to better memory, and enhances mood.
What Controls Leptin?
Simply put the hypothalamus in the brain controls leptin. The hypothalamus is comprised of an elaborate system of leptin receptors.
When leptin levels increase, leptin attaches to leptin receptors in the hypothalamus, and your brain sends a signal that you are fueled, or “full,” so to speak.
Your metabolic rate will increase as a result of this signal. When leptin levels decrease, the brain thinks you are no longer fueled. Consequently, your brain sends a message that you are hungry, and your metabolic rate decreases. Leptin receptors are mainly in the hypothalamus, but they are also located throughout the body.
So, What Does All This Actually Mean?
What it means is you need leptin levels to be in order if you want to be or stay lean, think clearly, be in a good mood, etc. The longer your body is in a calorie deficit, then the lower your leptin levels and metabolic rate become. What this means is your metabolism slows, and it will be extremely hard to lose that last bit of fat.
On the flipside, leptin can also be your enemy. If you constantly eat excessively above maintenance levels, then the body can become leptin resistant. What this means is your body cannot distinguish that your body fat levels are too high, and leptin receptors are desensitized. The more leptin resistant the body becomes, then the more the body tends to sway towards staying fat compared to lean.
Also, toxins or other stressors in our body can result in leptin resistance. These can range from anything from our diet to lack of sleep.
Leptin resistance causes a new “set-point,” which leads to the defense of a higher level of body fat storage and slower metabolic rate.In other words, your body is smart, and if it thinks a “diet” is coming, it immediately holds on to fat as much as it can.
The more leptin resistant you are, the more your metabolic set point will shift towards “fat” and away from “lean.” Have you ever dieted down and got lean, then after you started eating normally again you started putting back the pounds.
When you decrease calories, your super-enlarged fat cells start to shrink, causing a reduction in leptin levels. The problem is, the leptin resistance caused a new “set point,” which prompts your screwed up metabolism to defend your increased fat stores, for survival purposes!
Think of it this way: under normal circumstances, the leaner you get, the harder it is to lose body fat without burning muscle. Your body eventually goes into “survival” mode – you become more tired, lethargic, and your appetite increases. When things are working correctly, this only happens when body fat levels are extremely low.
But when you start a diet in a leptin resistant state, you lose some weight at first but quickly get into the same survival mode, only now you’re nowhere close to being in shape as you were before.
This leads to no man’s land real quick. You’re eating less and less, feeling worse and worse, weak and stringy, but still can’t lose weight. Your leptin receptors are resistant – at a higher set point – so even small decreases in leptin are perceived as starvation. Start a diet in a leptin-resistant state and reduced calorie levels will simply put your body into perpetual starvation mode.
This is the ugly side of dieting for many, and the main reason why I hate popular calorie reduced diets.
What can I do to keep leptin levels in check?
A good way to control leptin is to stay lean!
-When you feel that your metabolism slows or that you have been in a deficit for too long, you may periodically include a cheat meal, or refeed day.
-Also, don’t go often overboard on the carbs. Large amounts of carbs result in insulin spikes, which in turn raise leptin production. Avoid excessive amounts of sugary foods, high fructose corn syrup, or any foods that are high on the GI scale.
-Get your sleep! A recent study just showed those who didn’t get a good night’s rest had a 15% lower leptin level than those who got enough sleep, since leptin levels typically rise during the sleep cycle.
-Perform high-intensity exercise for short stints. This will stimulate large secretions of human growth hormone, which boost fat-burning mechanisms and help to regulate leptin levels. A good form of this type of exercise is H.I.I.T. (high intensity interval training)
-Lift weights. Increasing your lean muscle mass will increase your metabolic rate.
Leptin is quite possibly the most important hormone you have never heard about. If your leptin levels are not in check, then you will never acquire the leanness of which you are capable. Not only may you never get as lean as you want, but your energy levels, mental acuity, and performance may suffer as well.