As a culture we are seriously obsessed with dieting and losing weight; social media, television, and bookstores are filled with endless ways to drop the pounds and get a six-pack. Yet despite all the information and the fitness centers at our fingertips, we are the heaviest, sickest generation in human history. When it comes to weight loss—we've got it all wrong.
In functional medicine we know the truth: that weight gain is a symptom, not the cause of health problems. We have to get healthy to lose weight, not lose weight to get healthy. Weight-loss resistance is a sign that something is going on underneath the surface, and that can rarely be solved in the long-term by just another fad diet. We need to ditch dieting and get healthy first, then we'll reach our goal weight and look great, without all the effort. Weight loss will simply be a natural by-product of radiant health.
Allow me to introduce you to leptin resistance.
One of the most common reasons my patients have a difficult time losing weight is because of something called leptin resistance. And until you deal with this underlying hormonal imbalance, losing weight will always be a struggle. What the heck is leptin resistance, you ask? Leptin is a hormone produced in your fat cells. And many people don't realize that fat cells aren't just some unsightly source of insecurity that jiggle and make clothes tighter; they're actually a super-intelligent part of your hormone system. Leptin resistance is a disruption in the balance of this hormone.
One of leptin's jobs is to tell your brain to use the body's fat stores for energy. Leptin resistance occurs when leptin is not recognized by the body—specifically the hypothalamic cells of your brain. Your body then thinks it's in starvation mode, which makes it want to store more fat. Welcome to weight-loss resistance. You could look at food and gain weight with leptin resistance. This hormone imbalance is one of the most common hidden drivers of weight gain that I find in patients. So if you live in the gym and eat like a rabbit but can't lose weight, underlying leptin resistance should be ruled out!
Here's how you become leptin resistant.
So what causes the brain cells to be resistant to leptin? The short answer: inflammation. There are a ton of problems caused by chronic inflammation, and leptin resistance is another to add to the list. Inflammation dulls the brain's leptin receptor sites causing the body to produce more leptin to, in effect, scream at the brain to pick up what the fat cells are throwing down. It's this impaired signaling by inflammation, like a couple with bad communication skills, that drives leptin resistance. What are the symptoms of high leptin? As if trouble losing and keeping weight off wasn't enough, high leptin levels are also associated with fatigue and histamine intolerance.
Your leptin resistance quiz:
If you answer "yes" to more than one of these, I suggest finding out if you are leptin resistant.
- Is it difficult for you to lose weight?
- When you go on a diet, can you drop some pounds but still look flabby?
- Do you hold onto weight in your midsection, no matter how much you try to lose it?
- Do you have trouble keeping weight off?
- Are you constantly hungry?
- Do you crave sugary foods and get "hangry" if you don't get your fix?
- Are you stressed out a lot?
- Do you have high triglycerides?
- Do you have high blood pressure?
Your leptin resistance reversal guide:
1. Find out for sure.
I run a simple blood test to measure leptin levels. Optimal fasting leptin levels should be 4 to 6 ng/dL. The reason why this lab is not commonly run in mainstream medicine? There's no medication for it. If there was—believe me—everyone would be tested for high leptin.
2. Clean up your sleep habits.
DVR Jimmy Fallon, turn off your smartphone, and get yourself to bed! People with poor sleep habits and subsequent altered circadian rhythms have increased rates of leptin resistance.
3. Don't eat too late.
For better leptin balance, avoid the late-night snacks. Eating after 8 p.m. has been associated with higher leptin levels and weight gain in various research studies.
4. Calm your life.
Stress is no bueno for your health in so many ways, but high levels of stress and cortisol definitely increase leptin—another reason to bring some mindfulness and self-care into your life. You can thank me later.
5. Get your omegas.
A healthy intake of omega fats from wild-caught fish is one of the best ways to balance out leptin levels. Plant-based omega fats such as flax oil can also be fine to bring into your routine, but the bioavailability can be low for people struggling with leptin resistance.
6. Calm your inflammation.
Since inflammation is one of the main factors in leptin resistance, bring anti-inflammatory foods into your routine. Try out my one-day diet to start balancing out inflammation levels.