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Hanger...physical response or excuse?

Updated: Oct 15, 2020

Hangry, the clever word combo of hungry & angry but where did it come from & could it just be an excuse for being irritable? I really wanted to know the answer to this personally & if you’re anything like me, you already know what hangry is.

On the other hand if you haven’t experienced it yourself maybe you’ve witnessed it? Those moments when the slightest thing throws a person’s whole world out of order & you can’t quite understand why…well it could be more to do with hungry & hormones than realized.

I quite literally just had one of these moments about an hour ago & after eating my breakfast & reflecting on what had just happened I decided to find out the root cause of why some of us suffer from hangry & others don’t. Fortunately, there is a physiological reason for getting angry when hungry says gastroenterologist Christine Lee MD of the Cleveland Clinic.

As most of know blood sugar levels rise & fall depending on what we’ve eaten & when. If you haven’t eaten in a while your blood sugars will naturally start to decrease.

- When blood sugars (glucose) get to low the body will release hormones like cortisol (a stress hormone) & adrenaline (fight or flight hormone) into the body to try to increase & re-balance blood sugar levels.

- Increased levels of cortisol can cause aggression in some people & likewise low blood sugars may also interfere with brain functions that help us control impulses as well as regulate our drives & behaviors. This is why we often make poorer choices when we are hungry or have low blood sugars.

Being hungry can also affect us in other ways & is not just an angry or hangry thing. When our blood sugars get too low we can also feel:

- Sleepy or lethargic, have difficulty concentrating, poor memory or recall, & we have even have a hard time with coordination or motor functions.

Sometimes it’s hard to recognize that we are hungry & not just in a bad mood or feeling tired & lazy. I myself deal with this often, as I may not be physically hungry but because our brains use approx. 120g of glucose daily which works out to roughly 60% of the utilization of glucose by the whole body in resting state, it is very important to keep ourselves fueled.

The amount of glucose your brain uses can vary from person to person & even depending on which type of “diet” you follow but regardless the bottom line is the brain needs glucose to function as does the rest of the body to one degree or another.

Fueling our bodies to avoid the hangry trap…

- Avoid foods that spike blood sugars like: refined carbohydrates such as white breads, pastries, cakes, sweets, pop/soda, juices (bar natural), chips or crisps, crackers, & of course chocolate bars & candy.

- Increase foods that will release glucose slower thus keeping your blood sugars stable for longer like: whole grains, sweet potatoes, high fibre foods such as oats, most fruits, broccoli, berries, avocados & of course nuts & seeds.

- The added bonus of good quality fats in the nuts, seeds, & avocados will also help to control blood sugar levels & keep you feeling fuller longer

- Increase your protein intake if you are not already getting an adequate amount (0.8g for every kg of body weight or 2.2 lbs ex. 170 lb person needs approx. 63g of protein daily) this of course differs depending on activity levels & goals but as a general rule the math noted can be used.

- Aim for lean proteins like: fish, especially salmon for additional benefits of omega-3’s & fatty acids, chicken, turkey, greek yogurt or aged cheeses, tofu, tempeh, edamame, beans, hemp & seeds.

- Eat smaller meals more often during the day if this works for you but try & give your body at least 12 consecutive hours each day without food or drink. Think 8pm to 8am or longer if you are able, you can see post on Intermittent Fasting for more details.

- Drink water, the benefits can be seen in brain function, movement, mood, skin, hair, energy levels & digestion. Since we are up to 65% water already keeping yourself hydrated will help with feeling your best.

Additional ways to help regulate cortisol & adrenaline in your favor…

- Walk, this is a proven method for reducing cortisol & the belly fat that it is often associated with. Walking lowers your stress hormone levels, increases blood flow & oxygen to the brain & in return will often boost our mood. It is also very beneficial in aiding in digestion so I would also advocate for an after meal walk, especially after dinner.

- Get proper sleep, 7-8 hour nightly to give your body a chance to recover each night, sleep is so important to all of the body's functions.

- Avoid caffeine late in the day & eating before bed, 3-4 pm is a good cut off point for most people but you will know your own tolerance levels.

- Include some tasty & beneficial foods like: 70-80% dark chocolate, bananas & pears, green tea, probiotics found in foods like yogurt, kefir, pickles, sauerkraut, & cheese just to name a few.

- Keep healthy snacks on hand (nuts, seeds, veggies, rice cakes & nut butter, fruits) so you don’t overindulge in poor quality quick fixes that you will crave due to the brains need to fuel itself.

So the next time you feel irritated or angry for no clear reason it might be worth stopping to think about what you ate & when. Becoming more aware of how we treat ourselves mental & physically can help us to be kinder to our brain & body, something all of us can benefit from.

Health doesn’t have to be hard, just start with small steps to lead you in the direction of big results. As always if you have questions on this topic or other health & wellness questions please get in touch.

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