Many emotions come to mind when considering weight loss. You may feel excitement, anticipation or determination. Imagine knowing the obstacles ahead and being able to prevent certain struggles. Understanding how your body reacts to weight loss can mentally and physically prepare you for the rewarding journey ahead. Surprisingly, not all of your hormones help you to lose weight, and one in particular -- leptin -- will pull out the big guns in response to your efforts.
In 1994, two scientists from Rockefeller University discovered leptin, a hormone created by your fat tissues that functions to increase your appetite and regulate your metabolism. Leptin has proved to be the best friend and worst enemy of many individuals. The goal of leptin is to prevent starvation by reminding your brain when it is time to eat. The more leptin in circulation, the lower your appetite will be; the less leptin, the higher your appetite will be. When you are trying to lose weight, ideally your body will produce higher amounts of leptin to decrease your desire for food.
Weight loss lowers your fat mass and affects your circulating leptin. When your fat stores decrease, leptin responds by decreasing and going into starvation mode. Your metabolism decreases, and your appetite increases. Thereby, leptin can be counterproductive to weight loss. Do not fret. Learn how leptin responds to weight loss and how to control this hormone.
Lose weight gradually because leptin can interpret drastic weight loss as starvation by sending signals to your brain, prompting you to eat. Since leptin can confuse drastic weight loss with starvation, gradual weight loss is key. When you lose a lot of weight in a short period of time, leptin negatively reacts to the drastic change. Allowing leptin time to adjust to the changes in your body increases the likelihood of successful weight loss. The healthy rate to lose weight is 1 to 2 pounds per week. This is equivalent to an energy deficit of 3,500 to 7,000 calories every week.
Research has suggested that a high-fat diet can lead to lower leptin levels and an increased appetite. Consuming a low-fat diet may lower your appetite by increasing leptin. Cutting back on fried foods, high-fat meats and processed snacks can result in leptin being on your weight-loss team. Try focusing your meals around fresh fruits, vegetables and lean proteins, such as poultry, pork tenderloin, beans and other legumes. When snacking, reach for a low-fat yogurt or raw vegetables to satisfy you until the next meal. This will help leptin adjust more quickly to the changes in your body.
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Laura Michele Oliver received her bachelor's degree in nutrition from Auburn University. She served as a dietetic intern at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, where she also graduated with a Master of Science in clinical nutrition. She now works as a registered dietitian in Brooklyn, N.Y.