Have you ever noticed irritability creep in when you haven’t had something to eat? You know, the kind that makes you impatient, intolerant, and basically feel like you want to cut the next person who asks something of you? It’s called being “hangry,” or the point when hunger merges with anger, creating an Incredible Hulk-like transformation. While it’s not a scientifically or medically backed term, it should be. After all, food–or lack there of–can have big effects on your mood. Research shows that dietary changes can alter your brain both chemically or physiologically. The end result is a change in behavior, including fatigue, sadness, elation, and anger.
While hunger plays an important role in your mood, the end result doesn’t stop with your brain; your body feels the aftermath, too. When you experience normal hunger, your brain sends cues to eat something. If you respond by giving your body the fuel it needs, you can likely go about your day without much difference (barring that you didn’t decide to stuff yourself with junk).
However, if you ignore the cues because of lack of time or food available, your body and brain will at some point “turn.” Hunger will escalate from normal to ravenous, and any accompanying unstable mood will only exasperate the need to eat. Once you do, you might not do so responsibly–meaning, grabbing a light snack or making a healthy meal of whole foods might give way to shoveling in handfuls of processed foods, or just eating too quickly in general. It may feel as though you’re satisfying the hunger, but in reality, you’re simultaneously sabotaging your fat loss efforts.
How? Well, the obvious is that you likely just took in a lot of calories that could lead to fat gain. But you’ve also just set the course for your brain and body to respond to the junk food. The food can leave you feeling sluggish, which may cause you to take in something sugary to perk up. However, the sugar will likely lead to another crash later, leaving you cranky and reaching for comfort food. It’s a cycle; and in the end has very little to do with hunger or nutrients your body actually needs. If you find yourself stuck in this loop, try these quick tips to get back on track.
- Eat Early: Start your day with a breakfast that contains protein, such as eggs and lean meats, and slow digesting carbs like greens and oatmeal. Skip the sweet stuff; they’ll only urge on hunger.
- Eat Often: Small meals and snacks, five to six times a day, can help keep hunger at bay. If you typically eat three times a day or less, watch your portion sizes when making the switch.
- Carry Snacks: Treat yourself like a toddler and always have snacks on hand. You never know when you’re going to get stuck in traffic, have a meeting run late, or have an unexpected appointment. A small baggie of almonds or string cheese can keep your brain and body in check.
- Curb Carbs and Sugar: Sodas, candy, some cereals, and even fruit can cause a spike in your blood sugar. This might feel like a much-needed pick-me-up at the time; however, it can also cause your blood sugar to later crash and hunger to soar. Instead go to carbs with high fiber, such as broccoli and celery, and reduce sugar whenever possible.
Hunger and foods don’t have to get the better of you and your moods. When you start to notice the signals, grab something to eat before the “turn” happens. If you can’t, do what you can to make good decision.
What moods do you most experience from foods? Share with us in the comments.