The past two weeks theme has been Hunger Hormones, especially Leptin and Insulin, and how they impact obesity, hormonal dysfunctions and metabolic syndrome.
So today is the last part of this series and I guess it is the part you will find the most useful! If you haven’t read the other parts, I definitely recommend reading them first, though.
Even if you are not interested in the scientific background, I think that the tips I give below will have a much higher effect if you know why you are implementing them.
Who this guide is for
The following nutritional and training tips to balance Insulin and Leptin can be used by anyone, whether you are struggling with weight loss, Diabetes, PCOS etc. However, if you do have an underlying disease, like Diabetes, you should not expect to be healed overnight. Make sure to talk to your physician first and be aware that nutrition and exercise often show their effects in the long run.
Sure, you can go on a strict low carb diet but how long will you be able to maintain that?
Maybe one or two weeks, before you fall back to your old habits. As a result, your hormones will be even more out of balance than before.
This is why I want you to understand the scientific background to all of this. Before you make any changes that could affect your health, know what exactly you are doing and why. Take responsibility for your body!
How to reverse Insulin and Leptin resistance
I have already addressed Insulin resistance before and how to increase Insulin sensitivity. Make sure to read that article as well for more tips.
Reversing Leptin resistance works in a similar manner.
The following tips are shown to be very effective for (obese) individuals with Leptin resistance. In fact, it has been confirmed that fixing Leptin resistance can help people with Diabetes, as Leptin has a major influence on Insulin levels and helps to regulate the glucose metabolism.
Thus, to fix Insulin resistance, you need to balance your Leptin levels first.
Watch your magnesium levels
Leptin stimulates diuresis and natriuresis, causing urinary Magnesium loss. Thus, people with very high Leptin levels (Leptin resistance) often have very low Magnesium blood levels.
However, Magnesium makes dieting easier by increasing Leptin sensitivity in the brain. Thus, the hunger decreasing effects of Leptin are enhanced.
Now, you can imagine that Leptin resistance and low Magnesium further decrease Leptin’s effect on our brain. As a result, our brain cannot recognize we have eaten enough and does not decrease hunger.
In fact, many studies have shown that high Leptin and low Magnesium levels are pro-inflammatory and are not only linked to obesity and diabetes, but also to heart disease, osteoporosis, autoimmune diseases, reproductive disorders and even the process of aging itself.
More than that, the body needs Magnesium to properly absorb protein, fats and carbohydrates, as well as many micronutrients (vitamins) in our gut.
If your body lacks nutrients, it will increase hunger, even if your caloric intake is sufficient. In fact, normal Magnesium levels balance not only leptin but also Insulin levels.
Low Magnesium levels can contribute to stress as well. It was confirmed that magnesium supports healthy adrenal glands , which regulate the release of stress hormones, Cortisol and Adrenaline. The stress hormones are vital to living but too high levels of them cause weight gain and many more serious diseases as well.
In addition to that, Magnesium regulates nervous system responses. Low magnesium levels lead to overstimulation of our nervous system, which results in irritation, increased alert, nervousness and stress.
If you are obese or show symptoms of Leptin resistance (fail to lose weight although you are dieting), make sure to check your blood Magnesium levels. If you are deficient in Magnesium, you might benefit from supplementation.
The sleep inducing hormone, Melatonin, is closely linked to Leptin production. Too little sleep can decrease Leptin production, as most of Leptin is synthesized at night. Furthermore, the lack of sleep increases hunger, as more Ghrelin, the hunger-inducing hormone, is released.
Right after nutrition, exercise is one of the best ways to balance Leptin and Insulin levels.
Strength training and High Intensity Interval training have been shown to have the best effects on Leptin and Insulin resistance. If you haven’t been exercising at all, start slowly but do not make the mistake to jog for hours on the treadmill.
Even if you can only do 5 minutes of Interval Training, it will benefit you in the long run. Work with what you have and try to improve each session.
If you are short on time, 2-3 sessions per week are better than nothing.
Researchers have not found a “magic pill” to reverse Insulin and Leptin resistance yet but it has been proven that you can change a lot by exercising and eating well.
What should I eat?
If you have read my other articles, you know I am an advocate of a balanced intake of all three macronutrients; Carbohydrates, Protein and Fats.
However, people with Insulin and Leptin resistance, as well as with autoimmune diseases, are much more sensitive to carbohydrates and need to alter their diet.
I would recommend to cut out all sugar and slowly decrease carbohydrate consumption, while increasing protein and healthy fats. If you leave out carbohydrates too quickly, your metabolism will slow down, which is not the result we want.
Your carbohydrates should mainly consist of complex kinds like quinoa, buckwheat, sweet potatoes and oatmeal. No white potatoes, no white flour or white rice and watch your intake on vegetables such as carrots and red pepper.
Also, reduce your fruit intake. Fruits have many health benefits but to reverse Leptin and Insulin resistance, you need to reduce fructose consumption. You can eat fruits very low in fructose, such as berries and papaya, as well as peaches (to an extend).
Have a cup of berries in the morning and some papaya in the afternoon and you will still get enough micronutrients.
Stay away from bananas, grapes, apricots etc.
Polyunsaturated, healthy fats
Increase your intake of healthy fats, aka polyunsaturated fats. Olive-, coconut- and sesame oil, nuts and nut butters, eggs, olives should be staples in your diet. These will help you to feel satiated and increase Leptin sensitivity. I also recommend a good Omega 3 supplement and CLA. These are both essential fats that our body needs to balance its hunger hormones. I will write a very detailed guide on those as well!
No saturated fats
Reduce your consumption of fatty cheese, fatty meat and even chicken thighs. Until your Leptin levels are balanced, you need to reduce sugar and saturated fat consumption as much as possible.
Lastly, increase your protein intake. Make sure to eat a variety of protein from animals (lean beef, chicken breast, fish), as well as plants (beans, chickpeas, peas).
To sum it up:
- What to avoid: Fructose, sugar, processed foods, reduce intake of grains (for a while);
- Increase intake of: Healthy fats, vegetables (green mostly) and protein
I hope these tips will help you to balance your hunger hormones.
In fact, not only obese people benefit from these tips. If you have been trying to lose some belly fat but are not overweight, you can still benefit from these tips.
You don’t need to reduce complex carbohydrates as much but you should watch your sugar and saturated fat intake as well.
In fact, I have used this technique to balance my mother’s hormones when she started taking high doses of cortisol because of her rheumatic disease. She gained 5kg in only one week but since I have changed her diet and exercise plan, she has lost 8kg and has built beautiful shapely muscles (she is 65!)… .