Leptin Resistance:

Something I hear often from many of my shift working clients is “ever since starting shift work, I’ve continued to gain weight.”

Perhaps this is something that you can relate too as well.

But why is this so?

Well the etiology (or cause) of weight gain and/or obesity is certainly very multifactorial, but one of the biggest drivers behind weight gain is due to a satiety or ‘hunger hormone’ called leptin.  You may remember from a previous blog post – Weight Loss and Shift Work, where I discuss how sleep deprivation is actually a type of endocrine or hormone disruptor – one of which includes leptin.

Leptin is a hormone that is stored in our fat cells and essentially tells us when we are feeling full.  It does this by sending a message to the pituitary gland in our brain, telling us when we’ve had enough to eat, and that we do not require any more food.

Quite simply, it acts a bit like a petrol gauge in our car, telling us when we’re full, versus getting close to empty.

But what happens in leptin resistance?

Well when we put on more and more weight, we produce more and more leptin which causes the receptors of our cells (the part of the cell which receives stimuli) to become fatigued (or resistant).  In other words, the body fails to receive those “I’m feeling full” signals, subsequently tricking the body into believing it isn’t carrying enough weight and needs to eat more.

It’s kind of a Catch 22 really, because the more fat we have, the more leptin is produced.

See the dilema here?

So if you keep putting on more and more weight, then you gain more and more fat cells which triggers more and more leptin, which causes the body to wrongly tell you that you’re starving, when in fact, you’ve probably had more than enough to eat.

It really can become a vicious cycle, but what can you do about it?

First and foremost, be mindful of what you’re putting into your mouth – always.

As I said earlier, the causes of weight gain can be multifactorial.

For example, a study in the International Journal of Obesity and Metabolic Disorders,  evaluated 718 Italian shift workers, aged 35 to 60 years, and showed that the meals commonly consumed during the night shift were poor in fiber and rich in animal proteins and saturated fat which are known to produce an increase in body fat in individuals.

I’m sure the term ‘comfort food’ resonates with many a night shifter reading this!

However, eating highly refined and processed foods (such as takeaway pizzas, lollies, cakes and muffins), is not going to do you any favours.  They essentially contain ’empty calories’, in other words, they contain calories, but do not contain any nutritional benefits.

Adopting more of a ‘clean eating’ approach, that is, avoiding processed and refined foods as much as possible, and basing your diet around whole foods that don’t come with an ingredients label (remember those things called fruits and veggies?!) combined with plenty of healthy fats (avocados, oily fish, butter, nuts and seeds) along with protein (grass fed beef, lentils, black beans, yoghurt and eggs) to help keep you feeling full, will always set the foundation to reducing the likelihood of you becoming another overweight, leptin and insulin resistance statistic.

Big shift working hugs,

Audra x


Crispima, C , Waterhouse, J, Dâmasoa, A,  Zimberga, I, Padilhaa, H, Oyamaa, L, Tufika, S & Túlio de Melloa, M 2011, ‘Hormonal appetite control is altered by shift work:  a preliminary study’, Metabolism, vol. 60, no. 12, pp. 1726-1735.

Di Lorenzo, L, De Pergola, G, Zocchetti, C, L’Abbate, N, Basso, A, Pannacciulli, N, Cignarelli, M, Giorgino, R & Soleo L 2003, ‘Effect of shift work on body mass index:  results of a study performed in 319 glucose-tolerant men working in a Southern Italian industry’, International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, vol. 27, no. 11, pp. 1353-1358.


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