Written by Eva Gizowska
Feeling hangry all the time? Healthista spoke to the experts – here’s what you can do to help curb your hunger
Ever had one of those busy days when you ended up skipping breakfast or lunch? Or, perhaps you’re on a diet and consciously cutting back on what you eat?
Notice what happens to your mood? Does hunger make you angry – or, hangry?
‘It’s one thing to feel generally hungry,’ says Rob Hobson, Head of Nutrition at supplement brand Healthspan.
‘But, when you go beyond that point and feel like you’re starving, this can really affect your mood, making you angry, snappy and irritable.
‘You’re also more likely to grab fatty, sugary, stodgy, quick fix foods (eg: crisps, chocolates, chips) to quench your hunger and this can cause you to get into unhealthy eating habits.’
How hunger affects your hormones
As well as making you a pain to be around, if you let hunger get out of control this upsets your physical and emotional equilibrium.
‘When you go into extreme hunger, this changes the hormones in your body,’ says Rob.
‘There’s a physiological reason for this. If you’re hungry and haven’t eaten in a while, your blood sugar (glucose) levels decrease. When blood sugar levels drop too low, your body releases the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline.
‘These help to bring blood sugar levels back up, but a surge in stress hormones also puts you into ‘fight or flight’ mode which makes you feel more anxious, tense and angry.
When blood sugar levels drop too low, your body releases the stress hormones
‘Low blood sugar also triggers the release of a brain chemical called neuropeptide Y which can make you more aggressive and crave sugary carbs for instant energy.’
While it’s fine to get a bit peckish at times, the key is to not get so hungry that this makes you hangry. Here are some tactics to keep ‘hanger’ at bay…
#1 Eat regularly
‘If you’re prone to hanger, the trick is to eat regularly and choose highly, nutritious foods that will keep you fuller for longer,’ says Nutritionist Rob Hobson.
‘You don’t even need to eat that much. The best foods are those that will give you sustained energy. Focus on foods that are high in nutrients – eg: vegetables, fresh fruit, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fish and lean meat.
‘If you combine protein, healthy fats and fibre, this will keep you satiated for longer. It’s also important to eat a variety of foods to get a good balance of different nutrients.’
#2 Plan ahead
If you know you’ve got a busy few days or weeks coming up, you may need to plan ahead. Ideally, make a list of all the things you’ll need and stock up well in advance.
For a quick nutrient packed breakfast – soak oats, berries, nuts and seeds in almond milk in the fridge the night before.
Grab a portion of last night’s left overs (eg: a slice of vegetable frittata) to have for lunch. Make sure you have the ingredients you need to make a quick healthy meal in the evening.
#3 Eat protein at every meal
Protein helps you feel fuller for longer. It regulates blood sugar levels (by slowing down the release of blood glucose into the bloodstream from carbs) and increases metabolism.
a higher protein diet improves appetite control
Protein also raises the satiety hormone, leptin, and reduces levels of the hunger hormone, ghrelin. In a recent study (published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2015) it was shown that a higher protein diet improves appetite control.
Good sources of protein include chickpeas, nuts, seeds, quinoa, lentils, tofu, lean meat, poultry, fish, yoghurt, cheese, eggs.
#4 Curb hunger with healthy fats
‘Eating healthy fats stimulates the metabolism, increases fat burning and satiates your appetite, so you don’t feel so hungry,’ says Rob.
‘You also need good fats for healthy hormone production. Your best tactic is to combine protein foods with healthy fats and fibre to keep you full.’
Foods that are high in healthy fats include oily fish such as wild mackerel, salmon, sardines, tuna and herring, chia seeds, flaxseeds (pre-soaked), nuts and seeds, olive oil, yoghurt and avocado.
#5 Carry portable healthy snacks
‘If you’re dashing around, it’s tempting to grab whatever sugary snack you can lay your hands on’ says Nutritionist Rick Hay.
‘But, this will only lead to a sugar crash later, making you even more hungry and irritable’.
Keep blood sugar levels balanced with these healthy snacks:
- An apple or pear with a handful of nuts or seeds.
- Almond or peanut butter on an oatcake.
- A small can of tuna for a quick protein fix.
- A handful of berries with nuts.
- Plant based protein bar – Try: Healthspan Elite HiLo Protein Bar White Chocolate and Raspberry (20g protein)
#6 Keep stress levels down
If you’re madly busy, you’re also likely to be highly stressed. That’s not a good combo when it comes to keeping hanger under control.
Stress automatically sparks an increase in cortisol and adrenaline which causes a drop in blood sugar, exacerbating those mood swings and ravenous food cravings. As well as making you hangry, you’re also more likely to struggle with your weight.
‘During chronic stress, cortisol suppresses an enzyme, hormone sensitive lipase, so that fat break down is blocked, making it more difficult to lose weight,’ says Dr Sarah Brewer, Healthspan Medical Director.
Stress can also lead to comfort eating in attempt to replenish energy stores
‘This may be a survival mechanism to conserve energy stores during hard times. Stress can also lead to comfort eating in attempt to replenish energy stores.’
Dr Brewer recommends the following tactics to manage stress:
- Top up on stress busting nutrients.
These include magnesium, also known as ‘nature’s tranquilizer’, vitamin C and B vitamins – which are used up more quickly when you’re stressed.
- Talk to someone (eg: counsellor, friend) who can help you to deal with your emotions.
- Take a herbal remedy such as passion flower or valerian to help your body manage stress better.
Try A.Vogel Passiflora Complex Tablets – contain calming passion flower, lemon balm, valerian and magnesium.
- Practice yoga, meditation, mindfulness, listen to relaxing music, laugh regularly and spend time with friends.
#7 Get enough sleep
‘Stress hormones normally drop while you sleep,’ says Rob.
‘But, if you struggle with sleep, cortisol levels remain elevated, sugar levels drop and you wake up feeling tired, irritable and grouchy.
‘Sleep deprivation also lowers leptin, the appetite suppressing hormone and raises levels of ghrelin, the ‘hunger’ hormone. So, you’re more likely to feel hungry and overeat.’
In one study (King’s College London, 2016) it was found that lack of sleep caused people to eat (on average) an extra 385 calories the next day.
Try the below to help your sweet quality and quantity:
- Practice some form of relaxation before bedtime such as yoga, meditation or do breathing exercises.
- Have a hot bath with magnesium flakes or Epsom salts to relax you at bedtime.
- Avoid stimulating drinks such as coffee, tea and energy drinks for six hours before you go to sleep.
- Turn all electronic gadgets off at least one hour before you go to bed.
- Keep your room and bedding cool.
- Herbal remedies such as Valerian, 5-HTP and CBD may also help
- Try the Sleepio app which is now being used by the NHS to help with insomnia and sleep problems.