To know and not do, is not really to know. When I first started my health and fitness journey it was very much a case of doing and not really much knowing. At first my own results were fluked, as a result of eating less, training more, following fad diets with not really with much knowing how it would affect my health and how it would affect my results. That lead to a lot of frustrations when results didn’t happen. A lot of doing and a lot of going around in circles.
What really gave me true empowerment and confidence over my choices was in the knowing. I could confidently explain to someone the reasons behind my actions and why I was eating the way I was eating (even though it’s physiologically completely normal to eat real food healthy food at every meal). It became less about weight loss and fat loss and more about how things reacted in my body which ultimately affected my goals in one way or another.
Body fat is not a bad thing. It’s healthy, we all need in different levels and it’s important for our health and reproduction, especially for females. Sticking to a low calorie or low carb diet, is never going to work, especially if you’re starting overweight or if your have more body-fat to lose. You’re actually working with your physiology against you.
Here’s what you need to know about Leptin, Leptin Resistance, Your Appetite and Body Composition.
Why adequate levels of body fat is important for health.
Stored body fat has been important for human survival throughout evolution. Thousands of years ago a man would go and hunt animals to eat. Depending on seasons there would be an abundance of foods, vegetables, fruits and seeds and in other times there would be times when these foods were scarce. In times of scarcity or famine (for e.g. if you were living in the snow or in an area where winter would be dreadful) humans would then have to tap into their stored body fat stores until it was safe enough to go on the hunt again.
Stored body fat is important for the survival of our vital internal organs, especially in times of famine.
Imagine a caveman having to hibernate in a cave until it was warm enough to go out and hunt again. During that time of hibernation the body would automatically slow down and utilise it’s stored body fat as energy because it wouldn’t have access to go out and eat animals, plants and vegetables etc. Women as well would naturally have more stored body fat as they would potentially need to have enough energy to support themselves and a baby.
Healthy body fat levels for men is around 10-15% and women 15-20%. Optimal body fat levels vary from individual to individual. It depends on how well they function at the optimal body composition they wish to be at.
In today’s world we simply live with an abundance of food. Supermarkets everywhere, fast food chains, restaurant and agricultural farming. This is all great, we have easy access to food and we’re not going to go into a famine but this has also resulted in a surplace of stored body fat. Why couldn’t it be as simple as we would eat until we were full and then eat again when we were hungry? Simply if we worked like that our body would naturally maintain healthy levels of body fat, weight and body composition right?
Well, it does work that way. It’s just that not things have gotten in the way.
Why then, can’t we stop eating when we’re full and eat when we’re hungry?
Leptin resistance my friend. Leptin resistance combined with insulin resistance.
Leptin is a hormone that controls our appetite. It’s stored primarily in fat cells and after we eat enough food, the hormone leptin gets secreted from our fat cells to send a signal to our hypothalamus (a part of your brain) to tell you that you’ve eaten enough food and that you’re full.
Ideally leptin would work like this:
- Eat food and you’ll gain enough healthy body fat
- More healthy body fat means you’ll have more leptin in your fat cells
- The leptin in your fat cells will send a signal to your hypothalamus to say you’re full and to stop eating
- You’ll eat enough just to maintain healthy body fat as your appetite would be healthily regulated
You’d only eat enough food to keep you full. Leptin would send a signal to your brain to tell you that you’re full and your body would utilise your stored body fat as energy. When your body fat levels would drop, leptin levels would also drop and then you’d get hungry again and eat to get more energy.
This cycle would repeat itself, regulating your appetite and your body fat.
So why then has my body fat skyrocketed and I’m eating more. Shouldn’t leptin be telling me that I’m not hungry and that I can be utilising my stored energy as fuel?
That’s the way it should work but no. This can be a sign of leptin resistance, similar to insulin resistance.
Resistance in both leptin and insulin occur quite similarly. With insulin resistance there’s too much blood sugar being raised; with the inclusion of too much sugar or simple carbohydrates. Your pancreas sends a signal to your brain to release insulin to bring blood sugar back down and drive it to your muscle cells, liver cells and fat cells. But when this happens way too much your muscles and liver cells become less and less responsive to insulin trying to store carbohydrates within those cells. So instead; your muscles and liver cells tells insulin to drive those nutrients and store it into your fat cells.
Think of it this way. Your partner loves watching The Bachelor and you’re reading something on your iPhone. Your partner asks you to stop reading whatever you’re reading and to start watching The Bachelor with her so you can both have some quality couch potato couple time. At first you’re like, ok I’m going to watch The Bachelor and have some quality couch potato time. But after the 4th, 5th and 6th time of your partner asking you become a little bit more resistant to watching The Bachelor, your tolerance to entertaining yet cheesy TV becomes a little bit more resistant. You become more occupied with reading whatever you’re reading on your iPhone and turn a blind a eye to your partners constant request of watching The Bachelor.
The result of quality couch potato couple time becomes non-existent. That is until a better and more healthier show comes along such as Masterchef. Now then, your partner has your utmost attention at every request.
Back to leptin resistance, so with the abundance of food and the more body fat you start to gain; the more leptin you’ll have. Given the way leptin is suppose to work if you do have more than above normal body fat you should not be hungry, you should be burning your stored body fat as energy until leptin levels go down again to tell you that you need to eat because you’re hungry.
Well the thing is, it’s now that you have too much leptin floating around and your brain has turned a deaf ear on the signalling of leptin. When the brain doesn’t receive the right signals, your physiology and behaviours change. Instead of having the feeling of being full it wants to regain fat that it thinks it’s missing.
Because your brain isn’t receiving the signals from leptin:
- The brain thinks you have to eat so you don’t starve to death; even though you’re full.
- The brain thinks because you don’t have enough stored fuel to burn it makes you naturally want to conserve energy and feel lazy so you burn less calories at rest. It doesn’t receive the signals that you have energy and that you’re full; so it conserves energy and makes you feel tired because going out and running right now would further deplete the energy stores that it think it doesn’t have.
It then becomes a vicious cycle. You eat food and store energy, your brain doesn’t receive the signal from leptin to tell you that you’re full and that you can utilise this stored energy. The brain thinks you still need energy so you eat, don’t burn energy and still remain and feel tired.
The solution, so what can you do?
The quick fix solution and what most calorie counting diet solutions will tell you to do is to exercise more and eat less. What can happen in this scenario is you exercise more and eat less, but with leptin resistance your brain is already thinking you’re hungry and that you need to eat because your brain is not receiving the right signals.
Physiologically your body wants to eat. Mentally you want to exercise more and eat less. Willpower is unfortunately not an infinite source and the more people go into the process of exercising more and eating less it only makes the body physiologically want to eat more. You’re naturally starving it of what it wants to do so when it is time to eat, trust me, it will eat.
The key is finding balance and eating foods that will naturally improve leptin signalling from fat cells to your brain as well as reducing body fat.
Here is what you need to know:
Exercising and weight training is a good thing. At the start of the process if you do have more stored body fat and it’s tiring for you to get up and get to training it’s only because your body thinks that it doesn’t have stored energy to utilise.
The more regularly you train, the more your body will come back into balance and signalling will improve. You’ll wake up with energy to go about your day and train because your body will know that it has energy. The start is the hardest but when you cross that line
Continue to nourish your body. At first you are tricking your body, you have to eat because it thinks that it’s low on energy and hungry. Eat real food to satisfy this hunger but still train to reduce body fat and improve your health and body composition.
Moving in the right direction. Signs that your appetite and physiology is moving in the right direction is that you are feeling a bit more hungry when you train and eat. This isn’t a sign to train harder when you’re hungry but it’s a sign that things are moving in the right direction.
When your body comes back into balance it will self regulate itself because the signals will start to become more receptive. For e.g. after you train you become more hungry. That’s normal because your body is utilising it’s stored fuel, it will need to refuel. You will eat but you will only eat enough to make you full and then your body will utilise that as energy and then you will become hungry again. That’s your metabolism working efficiently.
C-Reactive proteins (CRP) is an acute marker for inflammation in the body. The more inflammation you have the more CRP you have circulating around your body. When CRP combines with leptin in the blood in can’t cross the blood brain barrier to the hypothalamus to help regulate your appetite. Reduce inflammation to reduce the amount of CRP in your body to improve leptin signalling.
This is an example of why when people don’t get much sleep they tend to eat more because sleep deprivation along with a pro-inflammatory diet creates stress and inflammation in the body.
Reduce stress by getting enough sleep, eating real foods, getting enough rest as well as exercising to help circulation and removal of toxins.