#019: Feel satisfied with your food—leaning into leptin

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Learn how to maximise signals of satiety

Feeling safe, secure and calm in your own body is such a key part of healing from feeling compulsive or out of control around food, eating in secret or binge eating.

Which is why feeling genuinely physically satisfied by the food you eat is so important.

When the body is physically content, you can begin to ease away from a high alert, hyper-focused on food. There’s less likelihood of being triggered by external stuff, like cafes pumping out smells of fresh pastries. 

The hormone, leptin, is integral to feeling satisfied by your food. 

Listen in to discover: 

—what leptin does

—how it gets out of whack 

—3 simple & effective ways to maximise those satiety signals

Click here for your FREE Guide: 8 simple strategies to break the binge eating cycle

View the full episode transcript

I just want to pause here and say that I don’t for a moment think that hormone imbalances alone are the issue for most people who are feeling compulsive or out of control around food, eating in secret or binge eating. BUT feeling safe and calm and secure in your own body is such a key part of the healing process, which is why feeling genuinely physically satisfied by the food you eat is so important.

Welcome to the YoYo Freedom Podcast.

This is the place to learn actionable, step-by-step tools and strategies to help you stop bingeing or overeating and start feeling relaxed and confident around food, 

so that you can show up for your life on your terms.

I’m Gemma Keys and I know first hand what it’s like to feel out-of-control around food and trapped in the pain of binge eating and body-shame.

There is a way out. 

Keep listening to discover your path to food freedom.

Welcome again to the YoYo podcast.

If you’ve been listening, over the last couple of episodes we’ve had a sort of mini series on some of the key hormones that regulate and impact hunger.

Which is an area that’s really helpful to understand so you know a bit more about what’s happening in your body and why. It can help create more curiosity and inquisitiveness and, hopefully, less self-criticism and judgement about what you’re feeling in any given moment.

So today, we’re going to finish up this section on hunger hormones for now by adding in just one more hormone – and it’s a hormone that helps you feel full. 

But actually, full is probably the wrong word because, if binge eating or feeling sort of compulsive around food is a thing for you, feeling full probably has a very different meaning. For me, it meant getting to stuffed—so full that it felt as if there was no emptiness left in my body and I sort of mentally & emotionally became heavy in a grounded way, and lethargic and zoned out … and, in that moment, I finally felt calm. Or full could mean having uncomfortable digestive symptoms or headaches or having to loosen waistbands or change clothes, or not be able to focus any more—that’s a kind of full that I talked more about in episode 16—because there are actually some really compelling reasons to want to feel that full, so do go back and listen if you’d like to—-but, having said all that, that’s not the kind of full we’re talking about here.

Instead, it’s more of a pleasant satisfaction. A sense that enough food has been eaten, that the body has what it needs. Instead of being on alert and focused on food, there’s more of a feeling of physical contentment and an ability to relax and focus on something different because all is right in the world when it comes to getting enough sustenance to be safe and well. When you feel that sense of satiety, you’re much less likely to get triggered by external stuff like cafes pumping out smells of fresh bread or pizza or fries. It’s like you can get those things if you want them, but you’re kinda ok for now, so maybe another time would be find.

And actually, as a slight tangent, having those conversations with yourself—like ”hmmm, I could have it but I feel kinda ok now, so maybe later or another time”—those internal conversations can be really validating and affirming and support you in a moment that might be exactly what you need to hear. 

So the hormone we’re talking about today—the hormone that helps you feel full and satisfied—is called leptin. We touched on it very briefly a couple of episodes ago but we’re going to get into more detail now.

My favourite way to think about it is like a warm house on a snowy winter’s day. Or a lodge—just because it has the same first letter as leptin, and I like that!

If you picture a wooden lodge, maybe on a snowy mountain—let’s use a ski resort as an example—the lodge has a log fire burning and it’s all warm and cosy with blankets and snuggliness and all those hygge elements. It’s snowing and cold outside, but inside is this gorgeous warmth and welcome. 

Now, if you love skiing or want to build snowmen or hike or play, it’s so fun to get out in that snow. In your imagination, you’re probably raring to go and explore and have some adventures. and getting out in that snow and having a bit of fun is all the more appealing knowing that lovely warm lodge is waiting for you afterwards.

So I like to think of leptin a bit like that warm lodge. A warm sense of satisfaction and satiety cos there’s enough food in your body, and it gives you a safe and sure base that creates the energy to focus on different things—it allows you to look outside and explore or play or whatever it is that your dreams involve.

But imagine what it would be like if that lodge is cold and abandoned—no fire, ice on the insides of the windows, sort of stark and bare. If that was where you were staying, probably your focus would be on finding ways to stay warm and safe. Venturing out and enjoying the snow wouldn’t be top of your list.

And that can be a bit of what it’s like to be hungry or unsatiated. It takes up your attention and mental and physical resources. When leptin is out of balance, it’s as if your body doesn’t create that safe, warm lodge that you can return to. Cos, even if the fire goes out in the lodge, you have everything you need right there to light it again and recreate the environment that feels nurturing and good.

I guess that idea kinda draws some parallels with attachment theory—but that’s another conversation for another day!

Hopefully, the warm lodge is a helpful visual or metaphor for what leptin offers in the body.

It’s a hormone that signals satiety and satisfaction when you’ve had enough to eat.

And by letting you know when you’ve had enough to eat, the complementary role of leptin is to keep the body at a healthy weight with the right amount of fat stores—in fact, leptin is actually released from fat cells.

So leptin sends messages to the brain to let it know when you’ve had enough to eat and when there’s enough fat on your body, to allow you to stop eating and move your body. In other words, going back to the metaphor, leptin provides a signal that lodge is warm & snug enough for you to want to venture out into the snow—to work or travel or just have fun.

Now that’s kind’ve a feeling we all want to have, right? And when leptin was discovered, you can probably imagine the pharmaceutical industry went wild and tried to translate this knowledge into yet another miracle weight loss drug that would help all of us who were struggling with food and weight-related health issues!

But the body is such a complex, dynamic, living system that it didn’t turn out to be quite so simple. Even if lots of leptin is being produced, it’s not always being recognised. And hormones work together, not individually, and are impacted by many other factors.

Which is why, in this episode, we’re looking at how and why leptin can get out of whack and the ways to rebalance leptin levels in your body so you can have that sense of a warm, welcoming lodge to return to—or, in other words, a sense of satisfaction and satiety so that you feel safe and looked after in your own body – your own home – which can be such an important part of the puzzle in helping ease urgency for and compulsions around food.

So, a super-quick recap:

Leptin is the hormone that helps you feel that sense of having had enough to eat. It sends signals to the brain that it’s ok to stop eating and to move, and that you have enough energy stores on your body—aka body fat stores—to survive and stay alive.

When hunger hormones are out of whack, there might still be lots of leptin in your body BUT it may not be recognised—the brain doesn’t register the signals that leptin is trying to send.

And when that happens, there’s no message in the body to stop eating or to move. Your body may even think it’s underfed, so you’re driven to eat more, move less and store more back up energy supplies in fat cells. It even makes more leptin but, because it’s not being recognised properly, when even more iss released it just creates more confusion—there’s loads of leptin but it’s not being recognised and the body’s in a sort of overload so reduces its response to leptin even more. 

So the impact for us when that happens is that it becomes more and more difficult to feel satisfied by the food we have eaten.

Now, I just want to pause here and say that I don’t for a moment think that hormone imbalances alone are the issue for most people who are feeling compulsive or out of control around food, eating in secret or binge eating. BUT feeling safe and calm and secure in your own body is such a key part of the healing process, which is why feeling genuinely physically satisfied by the food you eat is so important.

So, finding ways to increase sensitivity to this satiety hormone, leptin—it’s a “yes please” from me, that’s for sure!

And this is how to begin to make small changes that can have a BIG impact on your body actually being able to hear those messages of fullness and having had enough to eat that leptin is sending:

I always like to pick out a few that have the biggest impact with the simplest changes, so that’s what’s coming next. I know simple doesn’t always mean easy or automatic, but picking one of these to focus on that feels most poignant for you is a great way to start.

So the first way is to do your very best to get enough sleep in. That 7-9 hours helps reduce hunger and cravings so much, and part of that is due to this hormone leptin.

Leptin is actually produced while you’re sleeping. That’s a pretty straight forward reason to want to get the sleep in, isn’t it? I want my body to feel less hungry and more satisfied and it’s gonna really, really help with that if I get enough sleep.

Now, I know the sleep isn’t always going to happen. I’m 47 so must be perimenopausal, and I have 2 kids so remember oh so well what it’s like when they’re little, and work pressure—waking up in the middle of the night worrying or stressed—I get it. There are so many really valid reasons that sleep can be tricky—including being on a bit of a sugar rollercoaster at bedtime, which is so common with nighttime eating— so I just wanted to quickly mention that if you do struggle with sleep because you have a little one, or maybe have hot flushes, or have other stressors in your life—I get it. Getting enough sleep might not be the easiest thing in the world right now. BUT what you can do is try to create a window for rest—that 7-9 hours without looking at your phone or ipad or whatever. Or, if you have a little one, make lying down for half an hour more important that clearing up the carnage they’ve created so far in the day, or catching up on other chores. 

Having that window when you lie down and rest your body can be so helpful in beginning to relax and move toward more sleep

The second way is to slow down when you’re eating.

Part of me can’t decide whether to laugh or cry when I hear that one, because eating slowly when you’re feeling out of control around food … it just don’t fit together. The number of times I’ve eaten a bag of fresh cookies in under 90 seconds …. Well, it must be a number in the thousands …

But one of the reasons eating slowly works is that it allows stretch receptors to register the food. There are different ways those signals are created, and leptin is an important part of it as it interacts with different hormones to signal fullness. No matter what you’re eating, slowing it down is always helpful. 

So, eating slowly means signals of fullness are sent to your brain way more effectively, and you’re more likely to register pleasure from eating and satiety. 

Now, if you’re anything like me and almost every person I work with, starting to try to eat slowly when you’re already frantic for the ice-cream or super-size Maccy-D’s isn’t always gonna work.

So I recommend experimenting with a “safe” meal. You know, those one’s, perhaps in the morning, where the day’s just started and you’re not overly hungry or frazzled and are in a place of feeling relaxed and making choices that feel good—eating in a way you like. Or maybe for you it’s lunch time or another time of day. Whenever it is, try slowing down a little and see what happens. Sometimes a few tricks can be helpful here, like putting down your fork or your sandwich in between bites, or trying to chew the food 20 times before swallowing, or having a couple of minutes break half way through your plate of food, or even taking 3 slightly slower between mouthfuls—what works is different for everyone. 

ANY eating you can slow down and become a little more conscious around—including that second pint of ice-cream or second bag of Doritos—it is always so worthwhile.

And the third way to help feel fuller and more satisfied for longer is to reduce those blood sugar and insulin spikes.

Now that doesn’t have to mean cutting out sugar, so keep listening if that immediately sounded like a complete turn off!!

The reason it makes sense to reduce spikes in insulin (which is a hormone we need to move sugar from our blood into our cells to create energy to live—so it’s pretty important!) but the reason is that insulin gets in the way of leptin being recognised in the body. 

So, how to even out blood sugar and insulin? Well, I went into much more detail in episode 17, so I suggest you go back to that episode, and I’ll also link to it in the show notes if you want to listen, but here’s a sample of some things you can start to do that will support you:

One, Eat veggies or salad first—because just changing the order of the food you eat, even if you finish with dessert or sweets, can help reduce insulin spikes

And 2, add something to a sugary or refined-carb type treat. Add something? That’s a bit of joy to hear, right? But yes, if you add a dollop of greek yoghurt to pudding, or eat butter or cheese with your crackers, it can help lower the impact of those refined carbs on your body and your hormones.

If you want to hear more, just go back and listen to episode 17.

So, let’s sum up. Leptin is a hormone that helps you feel satisfied rather than hungry. The more our bodies register the signals from leptin, the more content we feel with the food we’ve eaten—think of that warm, cosy, welcoming lodge that’s so safe and inviting.

When hormones are out of balance, the messages get scrambled and our bodies get confused.

And the places you can begin to rebalance leptin are by:

  • Getting those 7-9 hours of sleep in,
  • Eating slowly, and
  • Evening out sugar spikes and insulin spikes in your blood.

Try choosing one of those that you’re drawn to. If you want, treat it as an experiment—do you like it, does it fit in with your day? When you feel comfortable and ready, maybe add another, like prioritising sleeping AND slowing down the food, or reducing sugar spikes AND eating more slowly. These strategies are so complementary that you’re likely to notice the benefits increase exponentially when you combine them.

And if you haven’t got it already, get your hands on my FREE guide, 8 simple strategies to break the binge eating cycle. I’ll link to it in the show notes and, when you sign up for it, you’ll also get a weekly encouraging, supportive email from me which I really hope helps you feel as seen and understood and loved as possible!

That’s it for today’s episode. Thank you for listening.

I hope you’ve found this episode helpful. Subscribe to The YoYo Freedom Podcast for more insight, tools and support as you pull back from bingeing, overeating or yoyo-dieting and step into your most authentic, vibrant life.

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Thank you so much! And Bye-bye for now.

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Disclaimer: The content in the podcast and on this webpage is not intended to constitute or be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical or psychological condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have heard on the podcast or on my website.

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