You haven’t eaten in hours; your energy levels are completely zapped, you feel weak and even a bit dizzy, your stomach is rumbling and you’ve suddenly noticed you’re short-tempered and irritable – sound familiar? What started out as a bit of hunger can quickly transform our personality and soon we’re snapping at everyone around us – we are officially ‘hangry’.

It’s interesting to notice and observe in others. My husband went through a period of giving up sugar and I always noticed that when he went back to it, a ‘hangry’ episode could follow (everyone, duck!). I’m the same – if I don’t eat regularly, the mood can quickly change and you might not want to look at me the wrong way (my children will attest to this!). All jokes aside, this really can be the reason for adult ‘tantrums’.

One of my previous clients described the feeling was so extreme that he once had to pull his car over for fear of getting in a road rage incident (he hadn’t eaten for 6 hours)…mmm, perhaps we should travel around with protein snacks for angry motorists? It could be a sideline business!

Is it Really Happening?
Yes it is. Research shows that hunger tends to amplify negative feelings, and people who haven’t eaten for hours on end tend to express more feelings of stress and anger. This is what happens: as time passes after your last meal, the amount of these nutrients circulating in your bloodstream starts to drop. If your blood-glucose levels fall far enough, your brain will perceive it as a life-threatening situation. Unlike most other organs and tissues in your body which can use a variety of nutrients to keep functioning, your brain is critically dependent on glucose to do its job. Simple things can become difficult when you’re hungry. You may find it hard to concentrate, or you may make silly mistakes. Your brain literally is not working.

Hunger seems to activate many of the same physiological systems as emotions. Hunger causes the body to release the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. The hungrier you are, the more hormones are released, causing stress and priming us for action, just like lashing out in anger. When you’re hungry—like when you’re in the grip of a strong emotion—it can temporarily change how you see the world. Elizabeth Davis, a psychologist at the University of California, says, “[Hunger] signals to us that something is wrong — that it’s time to eat but, as humans, we may misattribute that aversive feeling to something external before we look into what our body is telling us.”

What’s the link with weight?
Becoming hangry can be avoided – and absolutely should be if you are concerned about your weight (never mind the impact it has on our nearest and dearest!). Why? Because when we get hangry, we are much more likely reach for sugary foods or overly processed carbs, only to regret it later. The body cries out for sugar in order to fix chronically low blood sugar cycles. In fact, ironically, and to the surprise of many people, many new clients in our clinics are actually people who don’t eat that much during the day. But it turns out that starving yourself during the day, and then overeating at night, is possibly one of the worst moves you can make for your weight and health.

How can I avoid becoming ‘hangry’?

1) Eat more often
When we are distracted, we can lose touch with our bodies and what they need. Then we end up snapping at our children or partner. But this should a rule you never, or rarely break: you need to eat every 3-4 hours, and make sure each meal has a good quality source of protein. Your body needs a steady supply of fuel if you want it to perform both mentally and physically.

Look out for the side effects of low blood sugar: headaches, anxiety, and agitation – vow to never let it get to that stage. If you need more convincing, think about this: although you may think that eating less throughout the day is good for your weight, research shows the opposite is true. In fact, you lose lean muscle mass when you fast like this, meaning an overall slowing down of your metabolism – it’s the opposite that you want! If it helps at the start, programme your mobile alarm to go off to remind you to stop and eat your lunch and snacks throughout the day. My go-to snacks are a protein bar or a packet of pumpkin seeds or almond nuts, which I always keep in my handbag.

2) Fill up on fibre
This is an essential if you want to help regulate blood sugar and insulin response, resulting in a slow release of energy over a longer period of time. Most people consume about 15 grams of fibre each day, but the goal should be more like 25 grams.

Try to eat veggies at each meal – mushrooms or tomatoes at breakfast and the usual salad and greens at lunch and dinner. Swop refined grains like white rice for wholegrains and try new sources of protein which are full of fibre such as lentils or chickpeas (a great way to get them in is via soup). Incorporating nuts and seeds (such as chia seeds) into your meals will also boost your fibre intake, and these are also full of protein, which is crucial to be incorporating regularly throughout the day – both for blood sugar balancing and also for maintaining optimum muscle mass (alongside regular exercise ideally).

Perhaps you could do with the added benefit of private one-to-one weight loss consultations. Book your first consultation today and take your first step to a hangry free life.

Blog Post by Maebh Coyle