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Is “Hangry” a Real Thing?

By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness

A lot of people get in a bad mood when they’re hungry. They can throw a temper tantrum and lash out at the simplest little thing.

These days there is a name for it. We call it being “hangry.”

But is it really just a mental state? A bad mood? A feeling of irritation or annoyance?

I wouldn’t call it any of those things. Instead, I would call it a “hormonal neurotransmitter warning ” state.

Let’s say you skipped breakfast and now it’s one or two o’clock in the afternoon. Your blood sugar (glucose) levels are getting pretty low. So are the levels of glucose available for your brain to use as energy.

When that happens, self-control flies out the window. It becomes hard to regulate emotions and ignore aggressive impulses.

That’s because you need energy to exercise self-control. And that energy is fueled by glucose – which is then converted to neurotransmitters to keep your brain processes running smoothly.

But your brain is a glucose hog. When it runs out of fuel, it doesn’t have the energy to control anger and aggression. That’s why you might say or do things you regret later.

Low blood sugar doesn’t just mess with your brain. It also messes with your stress hormones.

When levels dip too much, your body starts releasing hormones like cortisol, adrenaline and epinephrine to try and increase the availability of glucose to the brain. The lower your blood sugar goes, the more of these hormones will be released.

In some people, this cascade of stress hormones can contribute to that “hangry” feeling.

So you see, it’s not just a matter of being in a foul mood or having minor irritations set off your temper. There is a lot more involved. 

Diabetics May be Prone to “Hangriness”

Here’s something really interesting. Not only do people with low blood sugar experience greater aggression and violence, diabetes in and of itself is also associated with lower self-control and more aggressiveness.

Now, I’m not saying that if you’re diabetic you are going to suddenly fly into a red-hot rage. It’s not pre-ordained. It’s just something you should be aware of.

And it makes a lot sense. After all, if otherwise healthy individuals can become cranky and irritable when their blood sugar drops, just imagine how tough it might be to maintain self-control if you experience glucose highs and lows several times a day.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can quickly get rid of those hostile feelings by eating something. However, exactly what you eat is just as important as when you eat.

Keep it Steady

When you feel hangry, you may be tempted to reach for a sugary snack or beverage to get those blood sugar levels back up to par as quickly as possible. I only recommend doing this if you are diabetic and experience a hypoglycemic event. Otherwise, they will just set you up for a round of sugar highs and crashes.

You see, when you eat those sugary foods your blood sugar rises steeply and quickly. Insulin immediately kicks in to bring it back down. But after those high-sugar foods, your body can release too much insulin. This, in turn, causes your blood sugar to drop below normal levels.

The best thing you can do to maintain healthy blood sugar levels throughout the day is to maintain a regular eating schedule loaded with plenty of healthy, filling foods.

Trade those simple, high glycemic carbs in for more complex carbohydrates. Fill your plate mostly with non-starchy vegetables like kale, spinach, broccoli, and cauliflower. 

Include a high-quality protein with your meals. Eggs, fish, nuts, plain Greek yogurt, beans, cage free turkey or chicken and grass-fed beef are all good choices. And they’ll keep you feeling satisfied and energized for longer. 

Don’t avoid healthy fats. Your brain needs fats to function properly. In fact, about 60% of your brain is composed of fats, and it is so easy to get more of them in your diet. You can find them in extra virgin olive oil, omega-3 fatty fish, nuts and avocados.

Enjoy some fruit. The fiber in most fruits slow down how fast their natural sugars get into your bloodstream. They aren’t converted into sugar until they are digested. Berries, apples, mangoes, pears and peaches are some of my favorites. I try to avoid the melons with minimal fiber and higher amounts of fructose .  

Avoid skipping meals. Keeping your mealtimes at regular intervals helps keep your blood glucose stable throughout the day. Your body is probably used to eating something every five hours or so.

This means three meals at around 8 a.m., 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. work well for most people. If you need a snack between meals, they should be eaten around the half-way mark. In this example that would put snack times at around 10:30 a.m., 3:30 p.m. and 9 p.m.

What’s been working for me recently is not to snack, but to fuel my body in those in between times with a lean protein like turkey or chicken or cheese with a celery stick or gluten free cracker. See what works for you in your world and try it.


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