Feeling hangry? That’s right, I’m talking about anger due to hunger. You’ve either experienced this phenomenon first-hand or have known someone whose temper is directly correlated to the loudness of their stomach grumbles. Either way, hanger (Note: For the purposes of this post, 'hanger' is in reference to hunger hanger, not a clothes hanger) is a preventable and treatable 'condition'. Hanger has received some serious publicity as of late due to advertisements by a few candy bar companies. These ads imply that by simply eating sugary, chocolate-covered treats, you can effectively 'cure' your hanger; however, in my opinion, these sugar-laden snacks will only perpetuate the problem (a great problem to have as a candy bar manufacturer). As many of you may know, sugar-rich foods give us a sudden burst of energy, quickly raising our blood sugar and releasing feelings of pleasure. However, very soon after consuming these sugary snickety snacks, you most likely experience a crash - a large drop in blood sugar accompanied by fatigue, headache, nausea, and oftentimes, extreme hunger. So here you are - you’re sugared-out, your head hurts, you feel sick, and you’re still hungry. Hanger management mission, not accomplished. But don’t worry, there are better options out there.
Before I share the 5 Ways to Control your Hanger, let’s discuss the physiology behind this whole 'hanger' thing. The hanger, or change in mood that we feel when we experience hunger, is actually due to changes in our serotonin levels - a hormone that regulates our behavior. According to a study published in Biological Psychiatry, serotonin levels have been found to fluctuate particularly when people are stressed out or haven't eaten. This makes sense, as the rising and falling of our serotonin levels affects the parts of our brain that allow us to control our anger. Bottom line: the key to hanger management is not sugar, but is instead prevention of hanger altogether. By eating balanced meals and snacks throughout the day, we will maintain a more even blood sugar level, thus preventing large changes in our serotonin levels.
5 Ways to Control your Hanger (aka 5 ways to Stay Full and Happy):
- Don’t skip meals. This may be easier said than done, but it is definitely the most important on this list. By skipping meals, we give our bodies the opportunity to go into 'starvation mode' (the fasting state). This drop in blood sugar drives several hormonal changes in the body, one being changes in our serotonin levels (the hanger culprit). Additionally, skipping meals often leads to overeating later in the day, which can then lead to weight gain and several other issues associated with overweight and obesity. Bottom line: Aim to eat three medium-sized meals per day to prevent large fluctuations in blood sugar and serotonin levels.
- Snack on multiple food groups. Okay, so you’re hungry - but what should you eat? An apple? A scoop of nut butter? Close. The answer is both! While individually these foods are healthy choices, when combined, they pack the ideal mix of carbohydrate, protein, and healthy fat. Carbohydrates give us instant energy - they efficiently provide our brains and red blood cells with their preferred energy source, glucose. Protein is literally part of our DNA - we need it to make hormones, transport oxygen, and build and maintain our body’s structure. Protein also helps control how quickly our blood sugar rises, preventing that 'sugar crash' described above. Fats are essential for energy - they help maintain the functionality of our nerves and brain, transport fat-soluble vitamins, and form steroid hormones. Bottom line: Choose snacks with a combo of these three macronutrients for optimal hanger prevention and management.
- Detect feelings of hunger vs. thirst. Hunger’s doppelgänger might come as a shock: thirst. More often than not, we mistake dehydration for feelings of hunger because the symptoms of hunger and thirst are pretty similar - headache, fatigue, lightheadedness, and/or upset stomach. In order to determine what your body needs, I recommend drinking just shy of a glass (6 ounces) of water prior to eating (unless you have a health condition where this is not recommended). By drinking water prior to eating, you give your body a chance to figure out what it needs. Additionally, most of us don't drink enough water as it is, so this added hydration may be a good habit to develop. Added bonus: drinking water before meals can curb real feelings of hunger, helping you achieve your weight-loss goals. Bottom line: Give your body a chance to tell you what it needs.
- Limit the sweet stuff. You’re thinking: are you talking about sugar, again? Yes, my friends. The sugar-crash scenario as described above is real, and it can make you a very mean and hangry person. Reaching for a sugary snack to curb your hunger/hanger, like a candy bar or a soda, will leave you dissatisfied and, most likely, still hangry. If you are hungry and craving something sweet, reach for a piece of fresh, whole fruit or a small handful of dried fruit. But remember: work to pair fruits and dried fruits (both forms of carbohydrate) with a protein and/or fat like, nuts, seeds, lean meats, a hard-boiled egg, fresh cheese, or Greek yogurt. Bottom line: Avoid processed, sugary snacks when hungry, as these provide only temporary energy, leaving you dissatisfied, possibly sick, and oftentimes, still hungry.
- Be prepared. One of the biggest reasons many of us experience hanger is because we leave the house unprepared. Caught up in the hustle and bustle of the morning routine, we forget to grab our snack, leaving us with two options: take a stab at buying who-knows-what from who-knows-where from the vending machine, or go hangry (and potentially take a stab at a co-worker). Been there, done that! In order to prevent this hanger situation, it is essential to plan ahead. Keep healthy, non-perishable snacks in plastic bags, glass jars, or plastic containers in your purse, fanny pack (no judgment), briefcase, car, and/or desk, just in case Monday morning catches you off guard. Additionally, keep a spare water bottle at work, in your car, et cetera, to prevent that all-too-familiar soda temptation. Bottom line: Being prepared for your hanger does take some planning and effort; however, once part of your daily routine, hanger management becomes as habitual as brushing your teeth.
Despite this scientific explanation for your hunger rage, you are no longer allowed to use your hanger as an excuse to lash out at your friends, family, pets, or random inanimate objects. So gimme five, and start living hanger-free today!
Eat well (& be nice),