A woman looking at a case of cupcakes

Leptin Resistance and Getting Your Cravings Under Control

Every week, new patients tell me, “Kellyann, I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I just can’t control my urge to eat.” They think their problem is low willpower, and they blame themselves. But I know better, because the culprit isn’t low willpower. It’s a biological phenomenon called leptin resistance—and if you’re battling food cravings yourself, you need to understand your enemy. So here’s the story.

What is leptin?

If you’re not familiar with leptin, it’s a hormone made by your fat cells. Put simply, leptin tells your brain whether you have enough stored energy to do the things you need to do. I call it your hunger trigger, because when it gets too low, you crave food. For millennia, leptin did its job effortlessly. When people had enough fuel in their bodies, their leptin levels rose and they felt full. When they had too little, their leptin levels dropped and they got hungry. Simple, right? But then we started eating a diet that’s massively overloaded with carbs—and that’s when it all went off the rails. Here’s why.

How a high-carb diet short-circuits leptin’s message

It seems counter-intuitive, but if you eat pizza and bread and rice and French fries from sunup to sundown, you aren’t going to feel satisfied… you’re going to feel hungry. Why? Because when you load up on carbs, you’re spiking your leptin levels all day long. At first glance, this seems like a good thing. After all, that big dose of leptin is telling you that you’re not hungry.

However, there’s a catch. Eventually, that non-stop leptin overdose leads to leptin resistance. This is similar to insulin resistance—and in fact, insulin resistance generates leptin resistance. We’re still unraveling the connections, but one link between the two problems is that insulin-resistant people have high levels of triglycerides, which appear to block the transport of leptin into the brain.

Because leptin resistance prevents your brain from receiving the “I’m full” message, it can make you feel a powerful urge to reach for the nearest cupcake or bagel even if you just ate breakfast two hours ago. And it can make your body panic and say “Eat!” even if you have plenty of energy stored in your fat.

How to reset your leptin

What’s the solution to leptin resistance? It’s the same as the solution to insulin resistance: Cut the carbs. Stop spiking your leptin levels all day long, and soon your brain will be able to hear leptin’s message again. As a result, those food cravings will start to disappear. I’m reminded of the experiences that Lora Probert, a member of our Bone Broth Diet test group, shared with me for my book, Dr. Kellyann’s Bone Broth Diet.

She told me that when food was in front of her, “I had to eat it. If I saw it, I wanted it. It was a real struggle.” When Lora started my diet, she was skeptical when I told her that her cravings would vanish. But during her diet, she went to four birthday parties and didn’t have any urge to dive into the cake or pizza. “That to me has been really, really amazing,” she told me. “That I feel like I have control over my food and I’m not missing the chocolate and the cake and the ice cream. It’s been life changing for me.”

I hear this story over and over again from people who switch from a high-carb diet to a low-carb diet centered around healthy, natural foods. People whose whole lives used to revolve around food—especially the sweet, sugary, carby foods that are so tempting when we’re hungry—now tell me that they can walk right by the cookies and chips at the store without a single twinge. In fact, some of them tell me that it’s actually a chore to eat a bite of birthday cake at a party!

So if you’re tired of letting cravings control your life, it’s time to take charge. Cut down on grains—or better yet, eliminate them entirely. Banish sugar, and get high-fructose corn syrup out of your life because research shows that it’s a huge culprit in leptin resistance. Instead, eat a diet that’s rich in vegetables, high-quality proteins, and healthy fats like coconut, avocado, and clarified butter.

Things won’t change overnight—but keep it up, and one day you’ll be surprised to realize that your cravings are history. For even better results, take these steps as well:

  • Break the sugar substitute habit. Limit your use of artificial sweeteners, because they can cause leptin resistance.
  • Get more sleep. A large-scale sleep study showed that shortened sleep causes levels of leptin to drop, levels of ghrelin (a hormone that triggers hunger in a different way) to rise, and weight to increase.
  • Reach for your mug. Drink a cup of bone broth when you have a craving. It’ll make you feel satisfied without adding any of those leptin-hiking carbs, and it’s loaded with calming nutrients including glycine and magnesium.

If you’ve suffered from intense food cravings for years, you may doubt that you can free yourself from them. But follow all of these steps, and I’m betting that those cravings will start to ease within weeks, and will eventually disappear altogether. At that point, for the first time in years or even decades, food won’t control you… you’ll control it.

Keep thinking Big and living BOLD!