If we should achieve our weight loss goals, it is particularly disheartening to regain some or all of those pounds. Grabbing the brass ring is great, dropping and losing it is not. Equally disheartening is the discovery that the weight regain may be the result of a betrayal by an ally. Our own bodies may very well have ambushed us, and leading the revolution were the culprits ghrelin and leptin. Although this duo may have names that suggest hobbits and elves, they are actually hunger hormones.
What are Ghrelin and Leptin?
A group of Australian scientists discovered a few years back that hunger hormone levels had changed for a group of patients who had completed a ten week long low-calorie diet. Most of those changes supported the body’s effort to gain back the weight that had been lost.
A one year long follow-up found that ghrelin, an appetite stimulator produced by cells in the stomach lining, increased after weight had been lost and continued to do so for the entire length of the study. Leptin, a hormone that suppresses appetite, decreased.
In fact, a study that looked at 14 former Biggest Loser contestants showed that, indeed, leptin levels declined in those who lost large amounts of weight (average of ~130 pounds). That could explain why most of them regained much of the weight over time.
Ghrelin is the feed me hormone, a persistent little fellow who relentlessly tugs at our appetites. Leptin is the hormone that tells us we are full and that it is time to retire ghrelin, at least for the moment.
When levels of ghrelin increase at the same time that levels of leptin decrease…well, I’m sure you have this one figured out already.
Controlling Hunger Hormones
Can we control hunger hormones? The answer is a resounding maybe. One possible way to rein in our mischievous hormones is to avoid high-fat foods.
Both ghrelin and leptin send signals to the brain. One signals hunger and the other satiety. Messages are also sent out to various parts of the body when we eat, alerting us that we have had enough. When we indulge in fatty meals, this alert system does not work as well.
Fatty diets lead to more calories which leads to weight gain which leads to fat storage. Researchers have shown that a diet high in protein suppresses ghrelin more effectively than a diet that is high in fat.
Something else that might help is to simply get enough sleep. A study of a dozen young men found that sleep deprivation was associated with an increase in the level of ghrelin, appetite, and hunger when compared against a ten hour long sleep.
What can be taken away from all this is the simple understanding that weight loss requires maintenance. If you do not protect what you have won, you might very well lose it.
In good health,