You’ve probably experienced a day or two when you felt like nothing would satisfy your hunger and you never truly felt “full.” While you may have wondered what was going on with your body, it could have been that your body’s hunger hormones—leptin and ghrelin—weren’t functioning optimally.

Leptin is produced by your fat cells and is responsible for keeping your food intake at normal levels. This hormone will keep you from overeating and experiencing that bloated, uncomfortable feeling after a meal. Leptin tells your brain, “I’ve had enough.” This hunger hormone aids in keeping you at a normal body weight while also helping you increase the rate at which you burn calories during workouts and rest.

How Do These Hormones Impact Eating?

Overweight people can be “leptin resistant.” This means that the signal to the brain that tells us, “I’m full” gets disrupted so they don’t realize it’s time to stop eating. They continue to overindulge and experience a decrease in energy levels resulting in weight gain.

Ghrelin is the exact opposite of leptin. Ghrelin is an appetite-inducing hormone released by the lining of the stomach. There have been studies done that say suppressing this hormone may help stimulate weight loss and increase energy output.

Manipulate These Hormones to Reach Your Goals

It’s been shown in research that when you consume a diet high in processed fatty foods the leptin hormonal signals that tell your brain “I’m feeling full” are suppressed. This can result in overeating, and unwanted pounds of stored body fat. Doing this day in and day out will only lead to weight gain, obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

Studies have shown that those appetite-inducing ghrelin levels can be suppressed by eating a diethigher in protein and complex carbohydrates.

Lack of sleep has also been shown to be a contributing factor to increased ghrelin levels. When research participants were studied after sleep deprivation, it was noted that their ghrelin levels were elevated. When those same individuals were observed after sleeping 10 hours at night, their ghrelin returned to the normal, healthy range. Have you ever noticed that when you didn’t have a good night’s sleep you reach for foods higher in fat or simple carbohydrates? It happens to us, too!


1. Drink a full glass of water before eating a meal. This can suppress ghrelin production causing you to eat less when you dine.

2. Stop yo-yo dieting. When you diet, ghrelin levels tend to rise and make you feel hungry. Many people will be successful on a diet for a period of time but once they stop being restrictive, they tend to gain weight back and then some.

3. Nosh five to six smaller meals daily. This will keep your metabolism fueled and ghrelin levels suppressed.

4.  Eat a high fiber, healthy fat, clean diet every day.  Diets high in fiber increase satiety and make you feel fuller longer. This will help keep ghrelin levels suppressed.  (For example: Eating fiber-rich oats for breakfast will satisfy you longer than a white carb bagel that will send insulin levels rising and then crashing before lunch).

Leptin and ghrelin are key hormones to maintaining a healthy body weight. The most important thing you can do to keep these hunger levels normal is to add in strength training and cardiovascular exercise. Exercise is key in maintaining body weight and stabilizing hormone levels so your body can perform at optimum capacity.

 BY , RD