Old school weight loss creed tells us that muscle is a metabolically active tissue and fat is not. Old school weight loss creed is a liar.

Fat is not a passive storage depot. It’s extremely metabolically active and one of its greatest contributions is the hormone leptin.

Leptin is sometimes references as the “satiety hormone” because it tells our brain (specifically the hypothalamus) that we’re full. Leptin is created in fat cells so the more fat cells we have and the bigger the fat cells are, the more leptin we produce (1).

This seems like a good thing that would have an auto-regulatory effect – if we eat too much, our fat cells grow. As our fat cells grow, they produce more leptin. As they produce more leptin, our brain thinks we’re full, so we eat less and lose weight. Homeostasis!!! 

Here’s the problem: our incredibly processed diets and stressful lives override this natural and magical feedback loop. When our bodies are over-fueled and over-stressed, we blunt our relationship to leptin. In other words, our fat cells are producing so much of it that our brain stops listening (very similar things happen with chronically elevated insulin levels.) 

This is why it has been said that body fat perpetuates itself, why fat sometimes feels impossible to shed, and why people who fat-shame deserve to be punched in the throat. Managing obesity is not simply about self-control – it’s our own biology working against us. 

It’s a fools errand to fight our bodies own biochemistry. We’ll either lose or win miserably (which let’s be honest, is just another way of losing.) “Mind over matter” can leave us burnt out, hungry, and frustrated. But if we make choices that improve our bodies biochemical environment, let’s call it “mind in support of matter”, we’ll create a virtuous cycle in which our choices improve our brain chemistry and our brain chemistry then helps reinforce our choices. If we want to be successful, our fat loss strategy needs to be less about the grind and more about the science.

Instagram Quote - science

If we have a lot of body fat, we’re leptin resistance (2). So the real question is what the hell can we do about it?

The first thing we can’t do about it is crash diet. Crash dieting will help us lose weight but it won’t improve our leptin sensitivity. We end up with less leptin because our body fat cells have shrunk but our brain couldn’t even “hear” the abundance of leptin in the first place. With even less leptin in our system it becomes impossible to manage our hunger. If this sounds like the perfect recipe for binge eating and weight gain, it most certainly is. It’s a big part of the reason a lot of people end up gaining more weight after they stop dieting than when they began their weight loss journey. (1) 

So what can we do?

One of the primary driving forces behind leptin resistance is inflammation, which means that managing our inflammation might be our most important weight loss strategy. 

Here’s your checklist: 

  1. Processed foods cause inflammation. Eliminating most (if not all) processed foods will help improve our sensitivity to leptin.
  2. The relationship between leptin and sleep cannot be overemphasized. If we’re not sleeping long enough or well enough, it’s impossible for us to regulate our appetite (3, 4, 5).
  3. Fiber is one of our most effective detoxifiers and inflammation reducers. In the name of Zeus, that doesn’t mean going on a juice cleans. Just make sure you’re eating two fists of vegetables at every meal. Fiber supplementation might also be a good idea. (6) 
  4. Taking fish oil will have a positive effect on leptin resistance, possibly because of it’s anti-inflammatory effects (7).
  5. Exercise has a positive effect on our relationship to leptin, so a weight loss strategy that doesn’t include exercise is not as awesome as it could be (7, 8). 
  6. A higher protein diet has an effortless and positive effect on hunger levels. High protein diets help us eat less, perhaps through increasing our sensitivity to leptin (9). 

I fully realize that an unprocessed, fiber-rich, high-protein diet with smart supplementation, aggressive exercise, and plenty of sleep isn’t revolutionary, but connecting the dots back to our relationship with leptin endorses these holistic recommendations as the best recipe for rockstar health.

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As the work cited list mentions, a lot of this article was inspired by Dr. Layne Norton’s presentation at this years International Society of Sports Nutrition Conference. He’s doing some impressive research on the topic, so if you’re looking for more info, I’d suggest checking him out.
Works Cites:
(1) Norton PhD, Layne. Weight Regain and Metabolic Adaptation. International Society of Sports Nutrition Seminar, Clearwater Beach, FL. June 11, 2016.
(2) http://www.metabolismjournal.com/article/S0026-0495(14)00241-8/abstract?cc=y=)
(3) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15531540
(4) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26919408
(5) http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.0010062
(6) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18031592
(7) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16239836?ordinalpos=1&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed
SingleItemSupl.Pubmed_Discovery_RA&linkpos=4&log$=relatedreviews&logdbfrom=pubmed
(8) http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/73/2/240.full
(9) http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/82/1/41.long
Cover illustration – Getty Images 

QUESTIONS? COMMENTS? LET’S CHAT. DROP A NOTE WITH THE HASHTAG #BANDANAARMY FOR A CHANGE TO WIN SOME SWAG. 

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  • Eric Keyes

    #BandanaArmy
    Always love seeing how the science behind fitness can help us train smarter and live longer! Thanks for being one of the best in the business Rob!

    • BandanaTraining

      Appreciate the kind words Eric. Absolutely – a better understanding of the science helps justify all of our hard work, cha know?

  • Kelly Colgan

    #BandanaArmy
    This is gold. Bringing it back to basic principles and words we all understand is freakin’ key. I love that this article is easy to relate to and contains clear, simple steps we can all follow to battle our fat. Well done!

    You are awesome, Rob. DUH.

    • BandanaTraining

      As always, appreciate the kind words Kelly. YOU’RE awesome. No YOU.

      • Kelly Colgan

        Awwwww shucks .

        • BandanaTraining

          Congrats Kelly. You were the first name outta the hat for the badass bandana lottery. Can you message me on FB with your mailing address so I can drop this badboy in the mail today??

          • Kelly Colgan

            All of the yes!!!!!! So excited, thank you! Yours truly, a member of the #bandanaarmy 4 LYFE!!

            Is that how the cool kids say it??

          • BandanaTraining

            haha. Exactly. The cool kids spell things differently. #WERKit

  • Jamie

    Oh man this is so true and so good. People just don’t realize all the CRAP they consume now a days! And if they would try it they might find improved moods and more energy too! As always, I enjoy your posts tremendously. Thanks Rob for keepin it real.
    #BANDANAARMY

    • BandanaTraining

      You got it. Thanks for reading Jamie. Keep on keeping it real.

  • Matt

    Ahh processed foods… so easy for the busy world today and so so bad for every part of the human body. I dont like laws in general but there ought to be a law. Thanks Rob!
    #bandanaarmy

    • BandanaTraining

      Yes. I agree – our food processing systems are severely broken. Thanks for reading amigo. #BandanaArmy

  • jonsey

    Is there any realtionship between, Testosterone, Estrogyn, and/or Insulin and Leptin? And if so how do those all tie in together. #bandanaarmy

    • BandanaTraining

      Great question, hommie. All of the hormones have a sort of complicated interplay. Hormones can be converted into other hormones and they like to talk to each other and even pretend to be one another in order to accomplish certain tasks – they’re like little ninjas. And sometimes if one hormone is low it’ll effect how another hormones acts. T and leptin seem to be inversely proportional – so as T increases, lepin decreases (and vice versa). Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as saying, “You want high T and low leptin” because these things happen (or should happen) in pulses. Estrogen and lepin tend to correlate because both are produced in our fat tissue, so as body fat increases, estrogen and leptin will increase (to clarify, estrogen is also produced in the ovaries, the liver, and adrenal glans, and during pregnancy in the placenta.) Insulin is most commonly associated with our carb intake. There are no good hormones or bad hormones, the problem is in the amounts, ratios, and constant, ever-changing regulation of them.

    • BandanaTraining

      Congrats @bjolnir:disqus. You’ve got a BT bandana coming your way. Hit me up with a FB message so I can grab your mailing address.

  • Michelle Derochick

    This is BRILLIANT. Thank you for this article. Recently I started a nutrition plan with pretty much all these key points. (Eat clean, veggies, protein, exercise, sleep!) But I was just given it to follow. To have a clear explanation as to why and how it’s working so well is priceless. Science is cool! #bandanaarmy

    • BandanaTraining

      The B word!? *gush* Thanks Michelle, glad it’s all making sense. Keep crushing it!! #BandanaArmy

  • NYBeefNutrition

    Thanks for connecting the dots of protein and fat loss.

    • BandanaTraining

      Heck yea. My pleasure My Beef Nutrition. Stay beefy, my friend.

  • Melissa Redsy Love

    #BandanaArmy

    Ahhhhh Fiber presents itself yet again. Definitely helps your tummy go down. Processed foods are the devil. I’m on my journey & processed foods had to go. You got me started with Fish oil as well with another article you wrote. Keep it up with the knowledge…it’s helping me big time!!

    Mel

    • BandanaTraining

      Love it Mel. Keep crushing it and thanks for reading. #BandanaArmy

  • Mac Thomas

    Thank you Coach Rob. I’m so grateful how you continue to experience and learn and grow more to give us better information in better context to help us. You helped enlighten me again! Now I can go forth and provide better, smarter nutrition for my family. What a guy. #BandanaArmy #BUH!

    • BandanaTraining

      Amen. We’re stronger together. Keep fighting the good fight, Mac. #BandanaArmy

  • Laila

    You ROCK! <3 from Scandinavia!

    • BandanaTraining

      Thanks Laila. Sending love and bicep flexes right back over to Scandinavia.

  • Goose

    The processed foods part of this is HUGE. Everyone I know that (mostly) cuts processed stuff like frozen meals and soda out of their diet has been shocked at how much of a difference it makes. Can’t recommend making that change enough. Trust me, after a few weeks, you won’t even miss them! #bandanaarmy

    • BandanaTraining

      So true Goose. SO true. Keep crushing. #BandanaArmy

  • max nelson

    Why doesn’t your blog have a feed url, I would love to keep it in the mix with my other blogs