Hangry? Grab a Snickers

Well, maybe refrain from grabbing a snickers.  After all, there’s little nutritional benefit in that sugar and fat-filled log. However, if you’re not acting like yourself as a result of hunger, that anger, resentment, and general desire to sucker-punch everything in sight may be warranted (DISCLAIMER: I am NOT condoning violence). 

As a busy professional and former pageant competitor, I've experienced countless moments of hunger.  Similarly, my co-workers, friends, and family members have encountered just how 'hangry' I can be.  In those busy moments before lunch, my co-workers know to stay out of my path.  My mother will often begin a phone conversation with me, only to stop me mid-sentence and tell me to call her back when I'm "in a better mood."  

Perhaps my "hunger swings" are more pronounced than others (keep in mind I dieted for years in preparation for pageants); however, so is the joy I feel after eating a meal.  In fact--if I've been hungry for any period of time--the first bite of a meal can send my endorphins through the roof, eliciting what my ex affectionately calls my "food dance."  My "food dance" includes a simple sway of my shoulders accompanied by a closed-mouth smile on my face as I touch the edge of satiety. 

I know I'm not alone in experiencing this dangerous combination of hunger and anger, as there is now ample research to make sense of the connection between hunger and bad mood/behavior. The response we all know as being hangry is closely linked to low glucose levels. One study found that individuals with low glucose levels placed significantly more pins in voodoo dolls resembling their spouses than those with well-regulated glucose levels. Another study links hunger to making riskier decisions. And because glucose (created when carbohydrates, fats and proteins are broken down) fuels our brain, we have all experienced difficulty concentrating or the inability to think and perform optimally after skipping breakfast.

So, How do we avoid being hangry?

It probably goes without saying that we should eat, but let me explain to you why what we eat matters.  Often when we are hungry, we reach for an easy snack--you all cited pizza, burritos, and candy as some of your vices on my Facebook wall-- which is counterproductive.  While that sugary or fat-filled snack may temporarily thwart your desire to go off on a friend, consuming foods high in sugar (including white breads) will also temporarily spike your blood glucose then lead to a dive in your blood glucose (and mood) shortly after.  Because the decline in blood glucose happens so quickly, you risk experiencing even more stark hanger symptoms the second time around. 

Instead, choose foods that take longer for your body to digest.  Eating foods that are rich in protein and fiber will keep you feeling satisfied for a longer period of time and help to regulate your blood glucose levels. 

  • Apples are a great choice because they are rich in fiber and easy to take on the go.  They also have a lower glycemic index than more sugary fruits, like melons.
  • Pine nuts, Brazil nuts, walnuts, almonds, and pistachios are great, protein-rich snacks that travel well
  • Drink water.  When your stomach is empty, your body releases your 'hunger hormone,' called ghrelin, which signals your brain to tell you to eat.  However, an empty stomach does not necessarily correlate to a lack of nutrition. Often, filling your belly with water can cause that sensation to dissipate. 
  • Increase your protein intake, especially in the morning.  So many people grab a granola bar or cereal for breakfast in the morning.  However, one study demonstrated that women who ate two eggs for breakfast--in comparison to a carbohydrate rich breakfast--lost more weight and demonstrated greater reduction in waist circumference.
  • Edamame (boiled soybeans) are filled with both protein and fiber, and can be eaten both hot and cold.  Raw sugar snap peas or snow peas are also great options.

Lastly, the best way to avoid hanger is to be prepared to fight hanger with an arsenal of healthy snack options.  While packing snacks takes a little bit of preparation, all of the snacks listed above can be thrown in your bag at the beginning of the day and last in a temperate environment without spoiling. After all, having a snack on hand--espeically in your most desparately hungry moments--may just save your job or friendship.