If you’ve ever snapped at someone uncharacteristically, honked your horn angrily because it took a driver a millisecond too long to accelerate through a green light, you may be hangry. Maybe you were hard at work, then suddenly, you couldn’t concentrate or remember what you were getting ready to do. That also can be the sign of someone who is hangry.
Hunger can cause us to do things we wouldn’t ordinarily do. I am a patient person. I typically don’t snap when someone asks me a question, regardless of how trivial I think it may be. However, there are days when I skip lunch or think I can get by on a granola bar or a handful of chips. (It happens, I’m human.) When I do this, inevitably, by mid-day I turn into someone I’m not always proud of.
Hungry + Angry = Hangry
Anyone who’s ever experienced a sudden burst of anger when hungry knows what I’m referring to, but we don’t always understand what’s happening to us.
Here’s a simple explanation. Your food is digested into simple sugars, amino acids and fatty acids, which feed your body and give you energy. If you wait too long between feedings, your blood-glucose levels fall. If that level gets too low, your brain sends out warning signs. Glucose is essential to your brain to be at its top performance. That’s why if you’re hungry, you can find it hard to concentrate, you make silly mistakes, or you feel like you can’t find the right words. It also can be much harder to stay calm and be patient when your brain is trying to tell the rest of your body that something is out of whack.
That triggers all kinds of things to happen, including making bad decisions.
The worst thing (yet often easiest) you can do when this happens is reach for the quickest bag of chips or cookies or stale donuts you were going to throw away. Junk food may make you feel better for a second or two, but it isn’t going to give your body the nutrients it needs.
Eat This When You Feel Hangry
When you feel you’re getting hangry – or want to prevent it – here are some mood-boosting foods to consider:
- Eggs are high in tryptophan, the “feel-good” hormone that helps increase serotonin.
- Dark chocolate is high in antioxidants, which stimulates the production of endorphins. Antioxidants also can reduce levels of cortisol and other stress hormones. Eating too much, though, can have negative consequences on the scales, so enjoy dark chocolate in moderation.
- Yogurt contains probiotics which keep gut bacteria in check. Balanced gut bacteria has been linked to improved moods in recent medical studies. Just be careful of flavored yogurts because they are higher in sugar. The best choice is plain yogurt with added fruit. If you don’t enjoy plain yogurt, flavored yogurts are fine and much more nutritious than other easy-to-grab options.
- Nuts, such as walnuts and almonds, are great choices as they contain both healthy fat and protein. These are also great because they are shelf stable and easy to stash in your desk or bag when you are on the go. It is a good idea to count out a serving because calories can add up quickly.
- Salmon is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which help ward off depression and boost mood. Fatty acids found in fish are absorbed more efficiently than ones found in plant sources.
Tips to avoid becoming hangry
- Eat at regular intervals and make sure you’re giving your body a mix of good carbohydrates (green, leafy vegetables), lean proteins and healthy fats.
- If you know your schedule is going to make it difficult to eat regular meals, put a few packets of nuts in your bag or car. Grab an apple or other piece of fruit on your way out the door.
- Pack snacks or lunch if you’ll be out. Don’t feel guilty about packing something healthy to eat if you are visiting friends or family who may not always have healthy choices. It’s OK to take along some fresh blueberries or strawberries, cut up some veggies or offer to bring over a healthy salad for lunch.
Starving your body to lose a few pounds can have negative consequences if you turn into a hangry monster. Do yourself, your friends and family a favor and keep some healthy snacks at hand. That way when your stomach starts to growl, you can keep your brain fed before you eat or do something you’ll later regret.