3 secrets to mastering leptin & ghrelin on a weight loss diet: Are your hormones hijacking your willpower?

Has this ever happened to you?

You discipline yourself to a calorie-restricted diet to lose a few pounds.  You have some success, though after a few weeks you have a weight loss slow down that comes paired with growing, gnawing hunger.

You end up craving and caving. Your drive to eat overcomes your better judgement and deepest dietary resolve, and eventually you plow through enough food – forbidden or otherwise – and pile all the weight lost back on.  And then some.

It’s not your fault.  The good news is that there is a way to nudge those numbers on the scale downward without hooking a reactive rise in appetite and rebound weight gain.

Are your hormones hijacking your willpower?

Leptin and ghrelin are 2 hormones (among others) that play a pivotal role in our appetite or lack of it.  Put simply, ghrelin is the hormone that tells us to eat, and leptin is the hormone that tells we’ve had enough and it’s time to stop eating.

Leptin plays a big enough role in your appetite signalling that I make a point of addressing it in the second training call of Body Transformation Booty Camp.  Ghrelin is known more as a ‘fast-acting’ hormone, playing a major role in meal initiation, meaning signalling you to eat.  Now.

There are of course several biochemicals involved in the process of controlling your appetite, but leptin is a major player that we don’t want to mess with.  Leptin came into the spotlight a few years ago when scientists discovered that mice injected with leptin became slim almost overnight.  Unfortunately for the diet pill industry, this did not translate to humans.  However, it shed important light on  how important it is to manage our eating to keep leptin levels optimal.

Leptin & ghrelin basics


  • is made by your fat cells
  • the name leptin comes from the Greek ‘leptos’, which means ‘thin‘ – interesting!
  • is released into the blood when there are sufficient calories coming in, to:
    1)  signal the brain to reduce appetite
    2)  boost metabolic rate by encouraging your body to combust calories more quickly


  • is secreted by the stomach
  • seems to function as a meal-initiation signal
  • apparently changes in response to low calorie dieting in order to help maintain body weight.

Leptin and ghrelin in English

Not to oversimplify, but here’s what all of this means to you.  Calorie restriction in your attempt to lose weight can backfire by lowering leptin levels and raising ghrelin, which to you means a boost in appetite and whiter knuckles as you attempt to kick in you will power to control your appetite.  And you know how long that lasts.

You know that a calorie deficit is necessary in order for your body to reduce its fat stores.

So, what are you supposed to do?  If calorie restriction sets of a hormonal cascade that drives you hunger up and keeps you prowling for food, is the cause for weight loss hopeless?

Not at all.  And you don’t need to go all psycho-Leptin Diet about it either.  As a matter of fact, that’s one thing I want to warn you against.  In our magic-bullet thinking, we tend to hook onto these factors that play a role to make them the holy grail.  Don’t.

The secret to creating a calorie deficit without hooking the leptin and ghrelin response that backfires in roaring appetite and easy regain of weight is to:

  1. reduce caloric load but not too much
  2. find a way of eating that allows you to have satiety and avoid hunger while reducing the caloric load.

3 secrets for mastering leptin and ghrelin so you can successfully lose weight and keep it off

1)  Follow the ‘rule of 10′:  There seems to be a point beyond which lowering calories creates problems with leptin and ghrelin.  Here’s how you find that number.

Take your ideal weight and multiply it by 10.  You should aspire to never going below this number in calorie consumption each day.  For example, if your ideal weight is 140, 1400 calories should be your lower limit.  Don’t get obsessed about it, just check in with your numbers on occasion until you get the hang of it.

2)  Eat a whole foods, low fat, high fiber diet:  Fiber is deeply connected with satiety. (See”The 3 rules of satiety & why they are critical to your weight loss plan: Becoming naturally thin”

Can a low fat diet enhance the action of leptin and ghrelin?

Not only the size and frequency of meals have an effect on circulating leptin and ghrelin levels, but also the composition of a meal is a determinant of leptin and ghrelin levels in humans . For example, low-fat/high-carbohydrate meals result in an increase in circulating leptin concentrations, which is larger, compared with high-fat/low-carbohydrate meals. In addition, high-fat meals lower 24-h circulating leptin levels relative to high-carbohydrate meals.  A low-fat diet seems to have an inhibitory effect on ghrelin levels, as one study reported that a low-fat/high-carbohydrate diet resulted in weight loss, without an increase in plasma ghrelin levels. 1

3)  Move!  Exercise tunes up your leptin machinery.  A half hour of activity a day will do it, as far as leptin is concerned.

Chronic over-restriction of calories can be the eating mistake that dooms your weight loss and body-shaping goals.  Remember, your body does everything for a reason and working with your hormonal profile by eating a low fat, unprocessed, and whole food plant-based diet, you can have your satiety and weight loss too. How perfect is that?


1[The role of leptin and ghrelin in the regulation of food intake and body weight in humans: a review Obseity Reviews M. D. KlokS. Jakobsdottir, M. L. Drent] DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-789X.2006.00270.x]

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2003 Apr;88(4):1577-86.Roles of leptin and ghrelin in the loss of body weight caused by a low fat, high carbohydrate diet.Weigle DS, Cummings DE, Newby PD, Breen PA, Frayo RS, Matthys CC, Callahan HS, Purnell JQ. University of Washington School of Medicine, Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System, and Harborview Medical Center, Seattle, Washington 98104, USA. weigle@u.washington.edu

Turn off Your Fat Genes, Dr. Neal Barnard


About Lani & your FREE Fit Kit
Lani Muelrath, M.A., CGFI, CPBN, is the creator of Fit Quickies™ & the Body Shaping Breakthrough Kit, a FREE collection you can download instantly to learn Fit Quickie #1: ‘7 Seconds to a Flat Belly‘ and your Burst Training Guide: How to fit 45 minutes of cardio into only 15 minutes. You can access your free kit here: Body Shaping Breakthrough Kit


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  1. What an excellent article and bears out to my personal experience. For many years I was a yo-yo dieter and it was a very frustrating experience. I could never keep the weight off and always got so hungry I couldn’t stay with anything for long.

    I want you to know Lani that finding you made all the difference. I started reading your blog about a 3 months ago. I was looking for something that would solve this problem of weight and not being able to stick to a diet, and saw your post on a forum that suddenly made it seem like there was an answer. The fact that you have had these experiences too made caused me to really listen as well.

    It was hard at first to give up my habit of undereating and trying to control everything, but you made it look so doable with giving examples of how you eat and why you eat that way. The better I got at that, the easier it was to stick to eating that has now resulted in a 12 lb weight loss. I couldn’t be happier and it’s time I came by and told you about it.

    This article on leptin and ghrelin shed even more light. Thanks for putting this one up and thanks for all the incredible help you have been to me. A life changer!


    • Lani

      Sheri, well, you’ve made my morning. It is so exciting to me – really – to see what cutting through diet and fitness chaos to some simple
      basics make a difference, and I can’t thank you enough for coming by to tell me about it. I’m thrilled for your successful, ongong weight management and isn’t it good to have the power and control back in your hands – without the hunger? You go! Please keep me posted on your progress and thanks for stopping in to share your story!


  2. I can agree with this.

    I lost 140lbs by restricting my calories to about 1600 per day (167 is my ideal weight) and by eating a nutrient-dense high fiber/high fruit/veggie diet while lowering fat intake, although I more concentrated on bad fats like saturated. I still included nuts and low-fat dairy foods. Whole grains is a great way to increase fiber. Reducing foods high in added sugar is a great way to get nutrient-dense foods (most foods nutrient dense has no and not much added sugars). I also walked between 3-5 miles per day (minimum 5 days a week). Its been 6 years and I continue to follow these rules and have kept the weight off.

  3. Caloric restriction may have its evolutionary roots as a survival mechanism, allowing species to survive on scraps when food is scarce in order to continue to reproduce. But that restriction only has lasting positive effects if the overall diet is a balanced one, which may not always be the case in conditions of famine. (That also explains why anorexia is so unhealthy: people who starve themselves become malnourished). It’s possible the strategy developed as a way to protect species from consuming toxic plants or foods, when it wasn’t always obvious which sources were verboten.;;^’

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  1. What should you eat before and after your workout? The plant-based diet solution | Lani Muelrath - [...] in your muscles and liver. Exercise depletes your glycogen stores.  Right after you exercise, your insulin – the hormone …

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