A woman thinking about her hunger hormones as she steps onto a scale.

Leptin, Ghrelin and Peptide YY, Oh My

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(Also known as ‘What is YOUR healthy weight? And, how do you successfully maintain it?’)

We all know the statistics are GRIM, yet we all think we can ‘beat the odds’. Virtually everyone who makes a pact to start a healthier living program fails before the first month is even over.

When the new year comes along, most of us are committed to taking steps to regain our health. And we start with a bang and pure enthusiasm. Then the second week in January comes along and nearly 95% of people give up on their promise of better health. These are called Quitters Days….and they typically start mid-January, most everyone has stopped striving for better health.

Why do people give up on health-related New Year’s resolutions?

In nearly all cases, it’s because we failed to properly prepare for the resolution. We didn’t put any action steps into place. We simply made a verbal proclamation, and moved forward with our new, healthier life.

Without a plan in place, failure is almost certainly guaranteed.

Wouldn’t it be great if you were one of the people who beat the odds and actually saw improved health over the year?

Making a plan for success

Let’s talk about having a plan…..and working the plan.

Having a plan in place means being prepared for hiccups along the way. And, if you’re not aware of things that might not be working properly, it will be easy to get discouraged and quit. 

Sometimes, even with the best intentions, things can go wrong.

There could be hormone disorders that are preventing you from seeing the success you want.

So, let’s talk about hormones and their role in achieving a healthy weight. And, no, we aren’t talking about estrogen and testosterone (though they play an important role in healthy weight).

We are talking about hormones that, until the 1990s, weren’t even identified by scientists. Of course, these hormones were always there, working for, or against, us, but scientists hadn’t identified them.

Leptin, discovered in 1994, is a hormone that is secreted to tell our brain that we are ‘full’. If this hormone is signaling correctly, all is well, and you are likely at a healthy weight.

Sadly, there can be problems with how well this hormone works.

Leptin is secreted from our fat cells. When our fat cells are full, this hormone is secreted and sends a signal to the brain to tell us to stop eating.

Two things can go wrong with the hormone leptin

  1. Leptin Deficiency – Fat cells fail to secrete this hormone.
    1. We will continue to eat, even when full, because we don’t physically have the feeling of being full.
    2. This is rare.
    3. Requires leptin injections.
  2. Leptin Resistance – Fat cells are secreting this hormone, but we are resistant to their effects.
    1. Think about insulin resistance in Type 2 Diabetes. (Same thing, with leptin)
    2. More common.
    3. Actually, leptin levels are abnormally HIGH in obese people, yet fail to suppress appetite.
    4. We will soon discuss how to minimize leptin resistance and improve leptin signaling.

The Hunger Hormones

Ghrelin, discovered in 1999, is secreted in the stomach and sends a signal to our brain to tell us that we are hungry. This hormone plays other key roles in our health, too. However, for our discussion today, we are going to focus on the ‘hunger’ aspect of this hormone.

Peptide YY, found primarily in the small and large intestines, was discovered in the 1980s, so it’s been studied a bit longer than the above-mentioned hormones. This hormone, like leptin, signals when we are full. Not surprisingly, low levels of this hormone are found in obese people while higher levels are found in ‘normal-weight’ people.

Throughout the early 2000s, there have been many rodent studies showing that injecting PYY into obese mice leads to decreased appetite and weight loss.  

Many people, yourself included, might wonder why we don’t just inject leptin and/or PYY into people to help them regulate their optimal weight.  To date, human studies have not been done…..only rodent studies.

Good News

Thankfully there are things that we can do to improve leptin functioning for those who have Leptin resistance. And there are specific foods that we can eat that will help with secretion of Peptide YY.

If you understand how these hormones work and enhance strategies to implement them effectively, your success at achieving your ideal weight will be significantly improved.

It’s important to understand that this is not an ‘overnight’ process. It will take some time to recalibrate proper hormone secretion…..but it can be done. And, it’s important to remain encouraged and optimistic in the process. The goal is to improve your health since that’s your most important asset.

Improving Leptin Function

If you, or a loved one, has Type 2 diabetes, you know it’s important to minimize consumption of processed carbohydrates to help regulate a normal insulin response. A similar approach must be taken for leptin.

  1. It’s not fun to say….but everybody knows this to be true…..you must ditch the simple sugars and processed carbs. Whole-food carbs will absolutely be an important part of your healthy eating program….but processed carbs don’t offer health benefits to anyone.
  2. Make sure you are eating plenty of healthy proteins and fats. Yes, FATS! Some people got the memo, but in case you didn’t, please understand, fats are not the enemy. They play a critical role in optimal health. 
    1. There are bad fats, to be sure, and you will want to avoid them. But, healthy fats, like avocado, eggs, nuts, seeds, olives, coconut, etc. offer many important benefits. 
    2. There are many free apps that you can download to your phone to help you keep track of your fat and protein intake. I personally use CarbManager because it’s intuitive for me. However, there are many, many to choose from.
    3. Any ‘diet’ that has you consuming artificial sweeteners and minimizing your fat intake will not support optimal health.
  3. Don’t snack. I know this sounds cruel and counter-intuitive. We’ve been told for many years to eat every couple of hours to regulate blood sugar. Sadly, this was bad information and new imaging techniques can show the harm this really does to our body.
    1. Make sure there are 4, or more, hours between eating. This will help to reset hormones so that they can start sending proper signals to the brain, instead of jumbled signals.  Additionally, 4 hours between meals allows for a very important bodily function to take place. This is called the Migrating Motor Complex and sweeps undigested food particles through the digestive tract so they can be excreted. If you don’t allow for 4 hours between meals, undigested food continues to build up in the digestive tract, causing a lot of health challenges.
  4. Aim for 12, or more, hours between dinner and breakfast. (If you stop eating at 7P, don’t eat again until 7A)
    1. In a perfect world, you might aim for a bigger time frame in the future. For now, start with 12 hours. 

Remember, the goal is to rewire our chemistry so that the brain and fat cells are communicating with one another, giving you the signal that you are full, and allowing Leptin to do its job properly.

There are more things to discuss and this blog is already long, so I’ll finish up in part 2.

It’s important to understand that since the science on leptin and ghrelin is so new (yes, 20 years is new in medicine), many doctors aren’t even aware of these hormones…..let alone their role in weight challenges.

The good news is that the Nutrition Therapists from Nutrition Therapy Institute are well trained in understanding these hormones and their role in your optimal health. Check out our graduate page to find a holistic nutrition practitioner to help provide guidance on your journey to improved health.

Chocolate Mug Cake

Since the first part of your success is to ditch the processed carbs and sugar, I thought the most important thing I could do was give you a recipe for chocolate cake. YEP! Chocolate cake! And, it’s ready in the microwave in less than 60 seconds. YEP! In less than 1 minute you can eat chocolate cake that is DELICIOUS.  I top mine off with a glop of real whipped cream. (NO Cool-Whip! That’s chemical junk!) I also have a simple 3-ingredient chocolate mousse recipe that I’ll be happy to share with you. That yummy treat only takes 30-60 seconds to make. 

chocolate mug cake

  • 2 tbsp almond flour
  • 1 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsp low-carb sugar (I personally use Monk Fruit/Erythritol blend from Lakanto)
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tbsp mayonnaise (use sour cream in a pinch) (Make sure mayo does not have added sugar. Many brands do. Or, you can make your own!)
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 tsp water
  • Instructions:


Be very careful using only stevia to sweeten chocolate baked goods. The bitter compounds in stevia and the bitter compounds in chocolate have a synergistic effect, making your treat terribly bitter!


Fluff up the almond flour and cocoa powder with a whisk before measuring. This makes sure the powders aren’t clumpy.


  1. Measure the dry ingredients into a mug or jelly jar and mix completely with a fork.
  2. Add the mayonnaise, egg yolk, and water, stirring completely making sure to get it all from the bottom. Let batter sit 1-2 minutes.  
  3. Microwave for 50 seconds, depending on your microwave. 

NOTE: Although the texture is a little different, 1 large egg white can be used instead of the large egg yolk, solving the problem of a leftover egg white.  😉

About the Author: Dr Becky Spacke, is a course instructor at Nutrition Therapy Institute. In addition, she has a private practice, working with people at risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease. You can learn more by visiting www.HealingFromAlz.com

Images: Image by alan KO is free for use by Unsplash; Image by Brooke Lark is free for use by Unsplash; Chocolate Mug Cake- permission to use given by Live Well Bake Often

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