The media tells us that fat loss is not about calories, but it is actually about hormones. Is it true?
Modern obesity research found that a hormone called leptin directly influences our metabolic rate. Leptin, often referred to as the “satiety hormone” or the “starvation hormone,” is released by our bodies from fat cells, and its main role is the long-term regulation of energy.
In other words, this hormone is telling your brain when your body needs food and when it is time to stop eating.
In this new Real Talk Friday episode, Ted will answer a listener’s question about the link between hormones and fat loss.
If you want to know the truth about fat loss and hormones, listen to this new episode.
- Do hormones really influence our metabolic rate?
- What is leptin?
- How does leptin influence fat loss?
- Leptin resistance: Why are people so hungry, if they’ve got so much body fat?
- What causes leptin resistance?
- Efficient ways to manage leptin resistance:
- Understand what you’re up against
- Don’t get overweight
- Lose fat with a calorie deficit
- Learn how to manage your hunger
- Have a good night of sleep
- And much more
Podcast Transcription: Ask Ted: Do Hormones Stop Me From Losing Fat?
Ted Ryce: What is the deal with hormones in fat loss? So many people try to tell us, “Oh, fat loss isn’t about calories, it’s about hormones.” But what is the reality about this and what can I share with you to help you understand this situation better because hormones are implicated in fat loss, they do play a role in fat loss. But here’s the kicker, folks, it’s not the way you’ve been led to believe.
So, what is up, my friend? Welcome back to the show. Today, we’re going to be answering a question about this very thing. And I forget where this question came from, or who this question came from. It came from Facebook. So sorry about that. But let’s jump right into it.
So, do hormones stop me from losing fat? Well, yes, but not in the way you think. And when people say this, what hormones are we really talking about here? Like, what are the hormones that come to your mind when we’re talking about hormones and fat loss? And I want you to just name a few right now, just out loud, as long as nobody else is listening, so you don’t say “estrogen,” and get weird looks from people. But go ahead, name them.
Which ones are you coming up with? Cortisol, estrogen, testosterone, progesterone, insulin growth hormone, IGF1, and so on. And listen, if you’re really sharp, you’ll mention thyroid hormone. Why? Because it’s the only hormone that directly influences metabolic rate. But you know which hormones no one ever mentions? Go on, give it a try. Give it a guess. Leptin.
That’s right, folks, leptin. People just don’t talk about this when they talk about hormones. Now, few people do. And you’ve probably heard it before and you’ve heard me talk about it before, so it’s not exactly no one talking about this stuff. But it’s just when people talk about hormones and fat loss, they don’t bring up leptin.
Now, what is leptin? Well, it’s a hormone, right? We got that out of the way. But it’s called this satiety hormone, or sometimes it’s called this starvation hormone. It’s produced in your fat cells and the target because all hormones have a target is your brain. So, testosterone is made in your testes, and then it goes to your muscles and your brain in other places, and leptin is created by your fat cells and its target is your brain.
And this is going to be important. This isn’t just some ridiculous trivia that I’m sharing with you that is not relevant. So, I want you to pay attention now. Leptin is supposed to tell your brain that, ‘Hey, we have enough fat stored on our body, so stop eating and get your ass moving.”
And it does other things, too. But we’re not going to get into that, because I don’t know them, is probably the biggest reason. But the second biggest reason would be I want you to stay with this idea of how is this hormone leptin influencing fat loss.
So, leptin’s main role is long term regulation of energy. In other words, the number of calories you eat, the number of calories you expend. It’s kind of like some people have talked about it as like the mercury in the thermostat that you have in your house. So, your hypothalamus would be the actual thermostat, this would be like the mercury that, you know, when it gets too hot, the AC comes on, when it gets too cold, the AC goes off.
I don’t know how great of analogy that is or how great you feel it is, but that’s the analogy that’s commonly used. So, why do we have this thing? Why do we need this? Because we certainly don’t need...Well, let me just get to it like this.
The leptin system evolved to keep humans from starving, or from overeating, because both of which would have made you less likely to survive in a more natural environment.
If you’re overweight and you can’t move fast, you are food for predators or you can’t escape harsh environmental conditions like we actually had to do in the past and sometimes still have to do these days. If you ever saw some of the flooding that happened in the past few years, right? And if you are starving to death, again, you don’t have the energy to get away from things and to thrive.
So there is like this perfect range, let’s say, there’s not a perfect point, there’s no perfect body fat, but there’s a perfect range, right? And so fat cells use leptin to tell your brain how much body fat you carry. And so the more body fat you have, the higher levels of leptin you have. And when you get high levels of leptin, it tells your brain that you have plenty of fat stored, and you don’t need to eat more and you can move around and do all the things that you want to do.
Now, low levels of fat, tell your brain that the fat stores are low, and that you need to eat and you need to kind of back off on activity. Okay, I want you to pay attention to that, because I’m going to say it again, fat cells use leptin to tell your brain how much body fat you have. And high levels of body fat equal high levels of leptin, that let your brain know that you have enough fat stored in case you need it, so go ahead and stop eating as much because you don’t need more fat, and you can move around, right?
And low levels tell your brain that fat stores low, it increases your hunger, and causes you to move around less. So this is known as a negative feedback loop, by the way, in case you’re interested. So what does this have to do with obesity, right?
Because we’re not talking about these ancestors of ours who lived in either the Paleolithic or what’s the other one? The agricultural era, I forget what it was called, because, you know, do I really need to remember all this stuff? So much to remember sometimes.
So people who are obese, obviously have a lot of body fat. And because leptin is produced by body fat in proportion in amount to the body fat someone has, obese folks have a lot of leptin, too. But the thing is this: why are people so hungry then, if they’ve got so much body fat?
And there’s layers to this that we’re not going to go too deep into, we’re going to keep it on what I think is the more superficial/physiological level, we’re not going to talk about childhood trauma and that type of thing, right? But we’re going to talk about the physiology.
So why are the obese folks feeling so hungry, when it’s so obvious, they don’t need more food, and what site now, and I don’t want to say this too, because what we want to do here is...I’m not a big fan of fat shaming. I’m a fan of tough talk, but I’m a fan of also understanding the nuances here. Because if we understand what’s going on, we can stop resorting to just, “Oh, just stop being lazy,” right? Because once you get to a certain point, it just gets a lot harder.
And this is something that I want you to pay attention to because there’s a few important things here. Scientists have found that obese folks are resistant to leptin. What does that mean? Well, it’s kind of like insulin resistance. What is insulin resistance? You don’t have a problem with insulin, insulin levels, that’s Type I Diabetes, they don’t make enough insulin, their pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin, so they need to inject it into their bodies.
What is Type II Diabetes? Well, that’s when you make so much insulin, that your cells get resistant to it, and it circulates and destroys your body. And it’s just really bad. I know some diabetic folks, they’ve had parts of them amputated, and it’s just, “You know, there goes another toe,” and I really feel for them. So leptin resistance is..., works somewhat similar, but on the leptin system.
So in other words, obese folks have a lot of leptin circling circulating in their system, but it’s just their brain isn’t responding to it. And because given the way leptin is supposed to work, many obese folks should naturally limit their food intake.
In other words, their brain should know that, “Oh, gosh, we’ve got so much energy here, we don’t need to eat more, lower that appetite.” However, the leptin signaling just doesn’t work. And even though there’s a lot of leptin in the system, the brain just doesn’t react to it.
And when your brain doesn’t receive the leptin signal, it incorrectly thinks that your body is starving, even though it has more than enough energy stored, and this makes your brain change its behavior in order to regain body fat. So, in other words, you’ve got this really tough situation where under normal circumstances, leptin levels go up and your hunger goes down, your need to eat goes down.
But in this situation, leptin levels go up, and your brain still feels like you don’t have enough body fat on you, like you don’t have enough energy. And so your appetite stays up. And this encourages people...So, this is the important part here. Because you can’t… again, we’re coming back to…, we’re talking about how a hormone influences behavior. We’re not talking about, “Oh, I have leptin resistance and that’s why I’m fat and it doesn’t matter what I eat.”
No, that’s not what we’re talking about. This doesn’t violate the fact that calories are the number one thing. This adds the nuance to the calorie conversation, this is the next level, but we have to understand, well, what is the mechanism? Too many calories coming in versus going out? You gain weight and most of the time it’s body fat, to you’re taking in fewer calories than you burn, you lose weight. So that’s what happens here.
What we’re talking about is how this hormone influences you to change your behavior. And this is happening on an unconscious level, unconscious level. We’re talking about physiology here. And I’ll tell you, I deal with this sometimes with clients when it’s like, “Hey, Ted, I’m doing everything. But my hunger just keeps growing and growing and I’m getting more hunger.”
I had a situation with a client recently, where this happened. And we had to make some changes because he was doing everything right, he was getting results, but the hunger just kept getting more and more crazy for him, so we had to shift strategies so that so he didn’t hit the wall and just go completely backwards.
So how does this happen? Well, eating more. Your brain thinks that it must eat in order to prevent starvation. So your brain thinks you’re starving, even though what’s really happening is you’re getting poisoned by all the body fat that you have. And in another ironic, I guess, change in behavior, in an effort to conserve energy, your brain decreases your energy levels and makes you burn fewer calories at rest. So, it decreases your activity so you don’t move as much. And this again, happens unconsciously.
It’s not that, “Oh, I get my 10,000 steps in a day,” it can happen with how you hold yourself, because your posture is isometric that costs energy. Maybe you talk with your hands, I talk with my hands a lot. You don’t do that as much. These things, you just don’t know, right? You’re not aware, but you’re you move less.
So again, people with leptin resistance have a lot of leptin but their brain doesn’t recognize it and it causes them to eat more and to reduce the amount of energy. In fact, they may feel kind of tired all the time. So if you’re leptin resistant, losing weight still reduces fat mass, right? Losing weight reduces fat, right? Which leaves leads to a reduction in leptin levels, but your brain may not necessarily reverse its leptin resistance.
And when leptin goes down—and I want you to think about this, if this has ever happened to you, if you’re kind of a person really struggling with more than just a little bit of weight—when leptin resistance goes down, it leads to hunger, reduced motivation to exercise and a decreased number of calories burned at rest.
And you think it’s your metabolism slowing down. But what is really happening is, yeah, your metabolism is slowed, because you’re not moving that much and you don’t feel like moving that much because you just lost your motivation to do it, and you’re also hungrier.
So, let’s talk about this. What causes this leptin resistance? Well, it seems that once you start putting on body fat, there’s a certain point in obesity where it’s just—something happens, the gears switch and you start developing leptin resistance, and they think it’s partly due to inflammation. So they’re not 100% sure, this is kind of new stuff a little bit, but inflammation, specifically inflammation in your brain, in your hypothalamus.
There’s some evidence showing inflammatory signaling in your hypothalamus is an important cause of leptin resistance, And this has been found in both animal and human studies.
So that’s probably the biggest thing, right? So what do we do about it? What can we do about it? It’s a great question. And there are several things you can do. Now this is going to come from my personal experience dealing with this with clients.
So number one is understand what you’re up against. Stop falling for the nonsense about other hormones, and realize, this is really about hunger, and your brain and brain physiological processes that are causing you to feel hungry and unmotivated to exercise.
So if you’re obese, or maybe next level obese, which…right? You are struggling with this thing—you may be struggling, let’s say, we don’t know for sure because you’d have to go to a doctor, get tested to really have that diagnosis. That’s not what I’m trying to do here.
But if any of this resonates with you, if you have this experience, know what you’re up against, stop falling for the nonsense talk about menopause or andropause, if you’re a guy or testosterone or estrogen, this is really about hunger, this is really about the lack of motivation to move.
And this comes from, at least at a superficial level, we’re not talking about psychology, we’re not talking about the traumas you’ve been through in life or the tough time you’re going through with Coronavirus. We’re not talking about that stuff. We’re talking physiological levels here, just like my client was doing everything right and his stress levels were good, his sleep was good but he was still struggling with hunger. He was making good choices with food, and he was still struggling with hunger.
So understanding this will help you. Knowledge is power, when you can start to apply it to your situation and realize, okay, this is what’s going on. I’m not broken, I’m not messed up, I’m not lazy, I’m not lacking motivation at a deep level, I’m a lazy person, I’m dealing with some serious physiological stuff here, and it’s going to take some work to; understand that it’s going to take some work.
If you’ve gotten to the point where you’re obese, you’re looking at, I mean, the way the medical community defines it, and I definitely don’t disagree with this. Obesity is a disease. And if you’ve gotten to that point, and you’ve been quite obese, it’s probably going to be something that you’re going to have to deal with for the rest of your life.
And even if you’re not obese, lifestyle change, even if you’re just overweight and wanted to get lean, again, it’s something you’re going to be dealing with the rest of your life because we live in an obesogenic environment, what some scientists call an obesogenic environment.
In other words, we’re stressed out, we don’t sleep well, we eat too much because there’s food everywhere and we reward ourselves culturally with food. Going out to dinner, ribeye steaks, two bottles of wine, you know what I mean? Flourless chocolate cake for dessert. So this is the type of battle that you’re up against. This is the battle, right, the battlefield. So, understand it.
And the second thing I would say is don’t get obese. If you’re overweight, let me tell you something. If you get to this point where you’re obese and you start having leptin resistance, oh, man, you are just going to create so much more work for yourself. Okay, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, in other words.
So just understand, if you’re kind of gaining weight right now, the Coronavirus thing, you’re not moving a lot, whatever it is, working really hard, whatever it is, look, the bill comes to. So don’t get obese, do what you need to stop yourself from getting obese.
And obviously, if you’re already obese and you’re suffering from some signs that you may be leptin resistant, then you know what you need to do, right?
Which brings us to number three, lose fat with a calorie deficit. Lowering excess body fat will lower inflammation, and it will also help you get back to that normal place. But you’re going to need some strategies, but just, I need to say this, the way you lower body fat is with a calorie deficit.
Again, you’re going to need some strategies to deal with the hunger to deal with the psychological stuff, the lack of motivation to move, etc. But you know, when we get overweight, there’s just a price to pay, folks. It is what it is, right? It is what it is. There’s a price to pay.
And the more overweight you’ve gotten, and now you want to change it because you want the health benefits that come along with being at a normal weight. We’re not even talking about getting ripped here. We’re not even talking about anything like that, we’re talking about at a normal weight, low risk weight. Some people don’t like “normal weight”, because the wording but low risk for health issues weight, okay? However you like to think about it.
I like both, but sometimes it’s just easier to say like, “Hey, just get normal, okay?” If that’s what’s normal, it’s not normal to be obese. It’s becoming normal, but it’s going to become very normal before things change. But what is normal for a human being in the course of history, not just for this moment, from the past few decades, where obesity has skyrocketed is to not be obese, okay, that’s what’s normal, right?
And we’re living in a cool time in many ways—pandemic aside, right? We’re living in a cool time in many ways, but it’s coming with this problem, where we’re not required to move and we got a lot of food everywhere, if you’re living in a rich country, which, you know, you’re listening to a podcast, so that’s probably your situation.
So, again, we’ve got, understand what you’re up against. Don’t get obese. If you’re overweight, do something about it. If you’re already obese, well, understand, you’re going to have a battle. You may have a bigger battle than you would have had. That’s okay. Don’t cry about the spilled milk. Just clean it up. Get to work.
All right, no crying here. All right, you know, cry for a minute or two or three or five minutes, whatever you need to, but just get to work, okay, get to work. Don’t spend time crying about this stuff. Lose fat with a calorie deficit.
Now the next thing is satiety index foods. Look, folks, again, I’ll say it again. Hunger is where the fat loss battle is fat, okay, soldier? So forget about the other things that people were talking about. Learn how to manage your hunger. Well, how do you do that? Look up the satiety index and eat foods with the highest satiety rating. Just Google satiety index, bring it up, look at it, study it, make choices about what you’re going to eat based on it.
And again, if you haven’t listened to my Episode 445: The Best Diet For Fat Loss, go listen to Episode: 445, I go into the satiety index in more depth, as well as how to create a calorie deficit etc, etc. People have gotten amazing results just from listening to that episode and taking action—not just from listening to it, but taking action.
Exercise: look, you’ve got to exercise, it’s just part of the lifestyle. In the past, we didn’t need to exercise because guess what, hunting was exercise, fighting off predators and tribes that wanted to take your stuff was exercise, building log cabins or tepees or whatever, was exercise. We don’t have to do that. Farming was exercise.
Now we sit on our butts like I am right now in front of a computer, okay? That’s why you don’t want to exercise. There are so many people who don’t like to exercise. It’s weird to go to a gym. It is weird, but guess what? It’s weird that I’m talking into a microphone staring at my Macbook, too, and knowing that this is going to be go out to thousands and thousands and thousands of people.
It’s totally weird. But guess what, that’s where we are, so get with the weirdness. You don’t necessarily got to get to a gym, but you’ve got to exercise. There’s no way around it. In fact, it’s the number one thing you can do.
We talk a lot about fat loss in this show. But the number one thing you can do is starting to exercise, even if you never lose a pound. If you exercise, you can really offset a lot of the worst things that can happen to you.
Again, definitely lose fat because there’s no reason to pick exercise or fat loss. You can do both. But certainly, exercise is probably the number one thing you can do. Losing fat just helps in a number of other ways.
The last thing we’ll talk about here is sleep. Poor Sleep is implicated in leptin problems and we know that even if you’re not obese, not leptin resistant, it causes appetite issues, i.e. cravings on its own.
You’re not going to reach for the kale shake or superfood salad, so get adequate sleep. If you’re struggling with sleep, the best thing I can tell you use an Oura ring. I’ve had sleep issues for decades. I used to joke that I used to sleep like a Vietnam vet, and I was making that joke in my 20s so that gives you an idea of my struggle with sleep, you know, dealing with post-traumatic stress syndrome or disorder, whatever. You know, I don’t remember what the psychologists called it, but I have a lot of sleep issues, but I sleep better than ever even though I’m 44 now. I almost said 45 but I’m 44.
And it was oura that gave me the data and helped me to dial in my sleep more. I don’t have any affiliate relationship with them, don’t own stock in the company or anything like that, I’m just a huge fan of the product. And I get my clients to get one whenever I think sleep might be an issue, it’s Oura ring.
So, again, understand what you’re up against. Don’t get obese, lose fat with a calorie deficit, focus on high satiety foods from the satiety index. Exercise resistance training is king, by the way, steps and cardio are second and then fix your sleep, if you’ve got sleep issues.
So, there’s no simple way to eliminate leptin resistance. It’s really about making long term lifestyle changes. But just to bring you back to the question, because we’ve covered a lot today. And the question was: “Do hormones really stop us from losing fat?” And as you can see, there’s this hormone leptin that very few people talk about.
If you look at popular “balance your hormones” and all that other stuff, that’s just marketing, folks. And I don’t want to to say don’t necessarily disagree with it, because I would never say that, right? To sell something, even though I could. I could say, “Hey, it’s your hormones, man. Buy my thing and learn how to fix your hormones.”
But really, the number one hormone we’re talking about when we’re talking about fat loss, we’re talking about leptin, we’re talking about the brain issues that happen, hypothalamic inflammation, that area of your brain that regulates your metabolism, hypothalamus, inflammation there, caused by an inflammatory lifestyle, not the least of which—I’m struggling with English. That’s what happens after being in Brazil for eight months—not the least of which, I think that’s an English thing to say, is excess body fat. And ultimately, the changes in your brain that lead to higher levels of hunger and lower levels of activity.
In other words, it is about the hormone, the way it influences your brain and the way your brain influences your behavior, okay? That’s how hormones, or this hormone really stops you from losing fat.
So, what was your biggest takeaway from listening today? And what do you feel like you can implement today, most importantly? That’s what I want you to think about. That’s what I want you to take away from this.
So, enjoy your weekend, take action on this, and speak to you on Monday!
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