Happy Columbus Day! Today I want to talk about calories and hormones. A calorie is not a calorie. The equation calorie in vs. calories out says nothing about lean tissue and water; it states you will only lose fat. We know this is not all true. If a calorie is just a calorie then they would all work the same way inside the body. We know this is not true as well. We know that lean proteins, vegetables, and healthy fat calories work different in the body than calories that come from sugar.
Instead we need to focus on eating the right types of food to turn on our fat burning and turn off fat storing. This is where our hormones come into play. The hormone that we have talked about for the last 50-60 years in regards to storing fat is insulin. Another important hormone that is just as important to achieve our fat loss goals is leptin.
Why is insulin important?
Insulin is the regulator of fat metabolism. It puts fat into fat tissue and it’s insulin that suppresses fat mobilization. In order to get fat out of fat tissues you must lower your insulin. The bottom line is when insulin is secreted or chronically elevated, fat accumulates in the fat tissue. When insulin levels drop, fat escapes from the fat tissue and the fat deposits shrink. We secrete insulin primarily in response to the carbohydrates in our diet. Insulin is not on or off in our body, it is secreted in either a trickle, stream, or flood based on what we eat.
What is Leptin and why is it so important?
Leptin is a relatively new hormone that has only come onto the scene in the late 1990’s. It is the king of all hormones and is the most powerful hormone in the human body because it is the commander in chief for the use of energy. No other hormone orders leptin. When leptin is not working correctly lots of issues can arise such as: fatigue, depression, irritability, inability to focus, poor metabolism, faulty immune function, problems extracting energy from food, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and the list goes on and on. Leptin is made in fat cells. If leptin is working well then you will have a healthy metabolism and your appetite will be at bay. If leptin is low you will have a slower metabolism and your appetite will be stimulated. So in theory if someone has a lot of fat stores they should also have a lot of leptin and have a high metabolism and not be hungry BUT quite the opposite is true most of the time overweight or obese individuals have a slow metabolism and are hungry all the time.
Because their brains have become resistance to leptin and therefore thinks leptin is low which slows down their metabolism and increases their appetite. Insulin resistance and leptin resistance mean that the hormones don’t communicate efficiently in response to food. Therefore, a person has to overeat in order to get enough leptin into the brain to get a full signal.
What causes leptin resistance?
Caloric restriction, insulin and blood sugar issues, stress, overeating, increased triglycerides, and fructose (specifically high fructose corn syrup) are a few contributing factors. Whenever insulin is negatively impacted, leptin is negatively impacted as well.
How do we manage leptin?
By first managing insulin, we know insulin is increased when more carbohydrates than the body can handle are eaten, you manage insulin by managing carbohydrate intake. Decrease stress and put in place stress management techniques (see section on stress). If cortisol is deregulated, you will have blood sugar issues despite a diet low in carbohydrates. Always including protein at breakfast and not overeating will help to control leptin. If you are overweight, always try to finish a meal when you are slightly less than full. It takes 10-20 minutes for the brain to catch up and signal the body that you are full. Eating slowly can assist with this as well. In the following section, meal timing, I will address other strategies to manage leptin…stay tuned!