The Truth About Leptin Resistance

Worried about the dangers of excessive abdominal fat, and how it can create a vicious circle? Or have you ever wondered why obese people find it so hard to lose weight, surely with that much fat to lose it must be quite straightforward a task right? Sadly, due to something called Leptin resistance it is very hard to lose weight when you are obese.

Leptin may be one of the most misunderstood hormones in the body, and that misunderstanding led to an entire supplement industry that sprung up overnight. This article will look at what Leptin is, what Leptin Resistance entails, and how it can affect you.

What is Leptin?

There are two hormones that control appetite, these are Leptin and Ghrelin. Leptin is produced by adipose tissue (fat cells) and its main job is to make you feel full after a meal. Ghrelin on the other hand is there to signal that you are hungry, both hormones are essential to a healthy lifestyle. That much should be made clear.

If both Leptin and Ghrelin are being released at the correct rate then you should be in an energy balance, the amount of calories that you consume is equal to the amount of calories that you are expending (burning). We say “should” because there are many other reasons why we might be eating more or less than our bodies want. For example if you are looking to lose weight you would have to try and ignore hunger pangs in order to diet.

On the other side, if you were trying to finish an 8lb steak in order to win a competition you would be trying to ignore the feeling of fullness that Leptin provides. Obviously this last one is not a common nor healthy decision to make – but it does help illustrate a point. If people always listened to their bodies, then they would never gain or lose weight.

The Misunderstanding

Because Leptin is released to tell your body that you are full, many people believed that the Obese would have naturally lower levels of Leptin in their bodies. It makes sense, if your body is not capable of telling you that you are full then you will keep eating past the point of fullness.

As a result of this belief a lot of companies decided to sell Leptin boosting supplements. The idea was that boosting Leptin would lead to weight loss, as Obese people would start to feel full after smaller amounts of food.

Sadly this theory proved to be baseless, and was a complete misunderstanding of the problem. Studies have shown that overweight and obese people actually have more Leptin than people who are average weight [1]. This is because Leptin is stored in fat cells, and an overweight person will have more fat cells than a lean person.

So increasing Leptin with a supplement is not going to cause any weight loss. The reason that people seem to gain weight is not that they have low levels of Leptin, but rather that the signals from Leptin are not reaching the brain [2]. This is known as Leptin Resistance.

The suppression of Leptin will cause overeating which leads to additional adipose tissue, this weight gain is what is responsible for the suppression of Leptin signals. So you can see how weight-gain can snowball pretty fast.

How to Reverse Leptin Resistance

The most obvious way to reverse Leptin resistance would be to lose the weight, but this is easier said than done. If it was easy then there would be no Obese people. Dieting will reduce the excess body fat that you have, but will also lower Leptin levels.

Which if you remember is what people originally believed was responsible for Obesity, because low levels of Leptin mean that you will not feel full. In other words dieting for someone with Leptin Resistance will be more difficult than for someone who is only slightly overweight. If you’ve ever felt starved to death whilst on a diet then you’ll probably have some sympathy here.

It is for this reason that the best advice for someone who is Obese is to slowly increase their activity levels, whilst lowering their calories in small gradients. Rather than just dropping their calories to very low levels. If you talk to a lot of people who went from Obese to lean (and stayed that way) then you’ll see that they 1) Increased their step count by walking more, and 2) Made small changes to their diet.

It will still be difficult, all dieting is. But making changes like this and being patient (rather than extreme) will lead to the best weight-loss results.


[1] Pan, H., Guo, J., Su, Z. 2014. Advances in understanding the interrelations between leptin resistance and obesity. Physiology & Behaviour 130: 157-169

[2] Woods, S. 2009. The control of food intake: behavioural versus molecular perspectives. Cell metabolism 9(6): 489-98

Please Note: Before following exercise routines or changing your fitness regime, please consult a certified fitness professional. Always talk with a medical practitioner before following dietary advice or taking supplements.

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