I’m happy that I wrote about leptins for last week’s blog because it helped me figure out why I was craving carbs and gaining weight. I reversed both of those trends in one day and I’ll explain how.
To review, leptin is a “boss” hormone / messenger produced by our fat cells. One function is to tell us to stop eating when have put on enough body fat to survive through lean times. It also cranks up our metabolism to burn more energy from that stored fat. Conversely, when we lose a significant amount of body fat, there are fewer fat cells to make leptin and so the appetite comes back and our metabolism slows. Extended fasting, calorie-restrictive diets and meal-skipping can also turn off the fat-burning machinery.
Eating fat also sends the brain a signal that we are satisfied and tells the metabolism that we are not in lean times and therefore don’t need to pack on calories. However, when we eat refined carbohydrates (the kind that spike our blood sugar), our brain gets a primal message that we better store fat and go get more food.
Timing may also make a difference. According to the late Byron J. Richards in his book The Leptin Diet: How Fit Is Your Fat?, “A healthy person who has not eaten for four to five hours prior to bed will burn sixty percent fatty acids [fat] and forty percent sugar the last three to four hours of sleep…If a person eats before bed, it shuts off this prime fat-burning time during sleep.” (I knew him from my clinical nutrition seminars)
Back to my personal ahah! moment. I’m embarrassed to say I realized I was eating too many carbohydrates. I do know better, but it snuck up on me gradually… a couple of gluten free crackers here, ½ a sweet potato there, ancient grains cereal, samples of chips at the market, granola, popcorn, tiny desserts each night, monthly ice cream cone, raisins or dried cranberries in dishes, cashews, balsamic vinegar, rice, organic food bar, a little barbecue sauce, gluten free toast, bean soup, larger portion of banana in my otherwise low carb protein drink, apple more frequently (I only eat ¼ but some of those suckers weigh over a pound), pasta as a Saturday night treat, gluten free pizza, a few corn chips at the Mexican restaurant, and so on.
Individually, those foods are not awful. It was just that the total carb load was high enough that my body’s survival mechanism must have decided I needed to put on fat. (I did not!) Those “eat-more” signals were overpowering leptin’s “don’t-eat” signals and its ability to burn fat. I was constantly craving comfort carbs…sugary foods and starchy foods that quickly turn to sugar. Those cravings are powerful and can overcome common sense. (I’m updating my chart on other reasons for cravings. I’ll announce that in the newsletter.)
I began strictly limiting carbs that weren’t vegetables. Instead of dessert, I used a couple xylitol mints as a palette cleanser. I ate more fat including avocadoes, eggs, olive oil, macadamia nuts, good cheese and butter. (In a future blog I’ll say why I’m not afraid of saturated fat.) I instantly stopped craving carbs and felt so full that I’d forget to eat lunch. I can already feel my waist shrinking because I’m eating fewer calories and burning more. I also feel better. As I now judiciously add back a few non-vegetable carbs, e.g. for fiber, I watch for any signs cravings.
It bears repeating: consumed sugar turns to fat and tells the brain to find more. However, eating fat (in the absence of sugars) tells the body you are full and can burn fat. We must shake our unreasonable fear of healthy fats. Sadly, counting calories encourages you forces you to cut fats. Instead, count added sugars and starchy carbs. If you are concerned about a recent study supposedly showing that low carb diets slightly increase atrial fibrillation (a heart issue), read this. (It was messy science and the researchers apparently don’t know what a low carb diet is.)
Leptin also helps direct our immune, nervous and digestive systems. So, when the body stops responding fully to leptin (leptin resistance), that can result in obesity, fatigue, depression, poor mental focus, high cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes, infertility, immune problems and so on. It is similar to insulin resistance which leads to diabetes. Toxins, free radicals, poor gut health, low fiber, lack of sleep and inflammation seem to be involved in creating both conditions. Remember, the type of carbohydrates that cause blood sugar spikes (sugars and refined starches) and oils that are high in omega-6 fatty acids are inflammatory. It is also theorized that persons who are obese may produce inflammation and so many leptins that they kind of wear out the receptors. Those folks should be even more cautious to avoid sugars.
If you are trying to lose weight, in addition to the exercise you know you need, get a good night’s sleep and drink plenty of water.