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Hunger Hormone Hacks

Meet Ghrelin and Leptin: you may not know them by name, but they know you. Ghrelin and Leptin are chemicals, or hormones, that we have in our bodies to regulate our weight and eating. Specifically, Leptin, made from fat cells, decreases the appetite, whereas Ghrelin increases the appetite and also affects body weight. As with most of our bodily functions, these hormones respond to how we treat ourselves—essentially, they are a blueprint for how we put what we put into our bodies.


Ghrelin is a hormone produced in the gut. It is often termed the hunger hormone and it travels through your bloodstream and to your brain, where it tells your brain to become hungry and seek out food. Ghrelin’s main function is to increase appetite. It makes you consume more food, take in more calories and store fat (1). In addition, it affects your sleep/wake cycle, reward-seeking behavior, taste sensation and carbohydrate metabolism (2). The higher your levels, the hungrier you get. The lower your levels, the more full you feel and the easier it is to eat fewer calories. So if you want to lose weight, lowering your ghrelin levels can be beneficial.


Leptin is a hormone that's produced by fat cells, and it works to suppress appetite in the brain. Because leptin is produced by fat cells, the amount of leptin released is directly related to the amount of body fat; so the more fat an individual has, the more leptin they will have circulating in their blood. Leptin levels increase if an individual increases their fat mass over a period of time and, similarly, leptin levels decrease if an individual decreases their fat mass over a period of time. Leptin has a profound effect when we lose weight and levels of the hormone fall. This stimulates a huge appetite and increases food intake (3). The hormone helps us to maintain our normal weight and unfortunately for dieters, makes it hard to lose those extra pounds!

Managing Appetite Hormones

The following tips can help stabilize hormone levels that affect hunger:

  1. Eat on a schedule: This helps prevent wide swings in appetite hormones, so you don't get overly hungry, and it reduces the likelihood you'll overeat, especially in the evening, which is when 90% of people are overeating. 
  2. Eat a high-protein breakfast: Eating breakfast helps stabilize hunger for the entire day. Protein reduces ghrelin levels best, and generally increases leptin activity too. 
  3. Get adequate sleep (generally seven to eight hours): When people get just two hours less sleep than what their body needs, their ghrelin levels will be higher the next day. Insufficient sleep also can negatively impact leptin and insulin levels.
  4. Commit to regular exercise: Physical activity not only burns calories but also can increase levels of certain satiety hormones, such as PYY and CRF (corticotropin releasing factor), and reduce leptin resistance (4).
  5. Eat a mix of macronutrients (carbs, protein, and fat) at meals and snacks: Protein is best at stimulating release of many satiety hormones, but carbohydrates and fat are more effective for stimulating certain satiety hormones, such as GIP (glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide) and GLP-1, respectively (4).


  1. Klok MD, Jakobsdottir S, Drent ML. The role of leptin and ghrelin in the regulation of food intake and body weight in humans: a review. Obes Rev. 2007;8(1):21-34.
  2. Müller TD, Nogueiras R, Andermann ML, et al. Ghrelin. Mol Metab. 2015;4(6):437-460.
  3. Leptin. Yourhormones.info. Accessed October 11, 2021.

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