How to avoid getting hangry

Avoiding the rollercoaster of being hangry

There’s an English proverb that says, “A hungry man is an angry man”.

Do you ever get hangry?

Hanger is a combination of hunger and anger. When you’re hungry, you get angry.

And it’s not just in your head. A recent study found hanger is a real phenomenon.

In this study, researchers gathered data from 64 participants over 21 days. Every day the participants were asked to report their hunger, anger, irritability, pleasure, and arousal at five time-points.

Hangry study

What did they find?

The researchers concluded:

“The results of the present study suggest that the experience of being hangry is real, insofar as hunger was associated with greater anger and irritability, and lower pleasure, in our sample over a period of three weeks.”

The researchers went on to state:

“Although our results do not present ways to mitigate against negative-hunger-induced emotions, existing research suggests that being able to label an emotion by putting feelings into words (e.g., “anger”) could help individual to regulate those emotions.”

In other words, if you are able to recognise that you’re hangry that gives you power. You can then decide to do something about it.

Hangry all the time

When I was in high school, I was always hangry. But there was no language for this state back then.

I also had no idea about healthy eating. So, when I became hangry, I felt confused. I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know what to do.

But knowing what I know now, I can see I was the maker of my own misfortune. Let me explain.

As a teenager, I’d start the school day with a big bowl of nutrigrain (i.e., a sickly sweet cereal). Since iron men were plastered all over the cereal box, I foolishly believed that this was a highly nutritious breakfast.

By 10am, my stomach would be rumbling at max volume in class, which usually always coincided with silent reading.

Stomach rumbling in class

This left me feeling embarrassed, highly irritable, and distracted (I was more focused on my noisy stomach than on my textbook).

Recess would arrive and I’d eat a packet of potato crisps or an Uncle Tobys Le Snak (i.e., a pre-packaged combo of cheesy spread and crackers).

On the menu for lunch was a sausage roll or meat pie packed full of mystery meats.

Then I’d come home and eat another bowl of sugary cereal as a snack.

Vegetables and fruit were more like ‘sometimes/occasional’ foods than a significant part of my diet.

You don’t need to be a nutritionist to see why I felt hangry all the time. I was eating high GI foods that contained little to no fibre.

Breaking free from hanger

When I hit my thirties, I realised I had to improve my diet. Over the course of a year, I studied plant-based nutrition through eCornell University and participated in online culinary school.

All of this training was time and money well spent.

Not only did I learn how to cook with plants and wholefoods, but I learnt how to eat for optimal brain power and keep hanger at bay.

If you find yourself getting hangry, I want you to know that you can learn to eat in a way that leaves you feeling satisfied and able to focus in class.

Here are my top tips for preventing and handling hanger when it strikes:

1. Eat high fibre foods that fill you up

What foods fill you up and keep you satisfied? Foods that are packed full of fibre.

High fibre foods include:

• Vegetables
• Fruits
• Wholegrain foods (e.g., brown rice, oats, wholemeal pasta, and wholemeal bread)
• Legumes (e.g., lentils, kidney beans, and chickpeas)
• Nuts (e.g., almonds, cashews, and walnuts)
• Seeds (e.g., sunflower and pumpkin seeds)

You won’t find any fibre in eggs, dairy, and meat (note: the grisly tough bits in meat are fat, not fibre). You also will find little to no fibre in processed cereals and junk foods.

2. Reset your palate

Not a fan of fruits and vegetables? Never fear.

Here’s a fun fact: your taste buds repopulate every 10 days.

This means you can retrain your palate to prefer the subtle flavours of healthy, high fibre foods.

Challenge yourself to stop eating processed junk food for two weeks and see what it does to your food experience. This was a game changer for me!

3. Always carry healthy snacks

I have a motto: “Always carry healthy snacks”.

If I have a little pack of healthy snacks when I head out on the road to present, I know I’m going to be okay.

What do I put in my snack pack?

Usually nuts, veggie sticks, and chopped up fruit.

I tend to steer clear of potato chips, cakes, and biscuits as these foods don’t leave me feeling full or particularly good.

4. Have a back up plan if you forget your snacks

Occasionally, I’ll forget my snack pack. When this happens and hanger is about to strike when I’m out presenting at a school, I have a plan that I execute immediately following the presentation: I drive to a Subway or Zambrero store (whichever is closest).

I know exactly what I will order at these places:

Subway – Veggie delight sub with avocado (no cheese)
Zambrero – Bean burrito with half the rice and lots of salad (no cheese)

Deciding on what I’m going to order well in advance means I am less likely to make poor food choices when my willpower hits rock bottom.

5. Avoid addictive high GI foods

High GI foods (e.g., white bread, white potato, white pasta, and cakes) create a surge in glucose in your blood. Whilst you need glucose to function, too much glucose all in one hit overwhelms your body, particularly your brain. You’ll have a sugar high, but it will be followed by a low. That low is usually hanger.

Here’s the dilemma . . . .

When hanger strikes as a result of consuming high GI addictive foods, you’re more likely to make poor food choices. When you’re having a hanger melt down, you’re not going to be reaching for carrot sticks or broccoli. You’ll be reaching for foods that give you another blast of dopamine. You end up in a vicious cycle (Eat addictive junk > Hanger > Eat addictive junk).

This doesn’t mean you need to cut out all high GI foods though. Professor Jennie Brand-Miller and her colleagues state in the New Glucose Revolution series:

“High GI foods such as potatoes and wholemeal bread make a valuable nutritional contribution to your diet, and when eaten with protein foods or low GI carbs the overall GI value of the meal will be about medium.”

6. Have a breakfast of champions

I know you’ve heard this a million times before but breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. But most people are saying “Bring on the hanger!” by starting the day with Rice Bubbles, Coco Pops, and jam on white bread.

These breakfasts are devoid of fibre and are high GI. In other words, they’re quickly digested and cause a spike in blood sugar levels (cue rumbling stomach).

Swap the processed, sugary breakfasts with one of the following high fibre breakfasts:

• Baked beans (low in salt and sugar) on wholemeal bread
• Tofu scramble
• My favourite choco-bluberry smoothie
• Overnight oats

7. Embrace lentils and beans

Lentils and beans have been shown to have magical properties. Meals containing beans can delay the return of hunger (making us feel fuller for longer). Studies have also shown consuming beans creates something called “The Second Meal Effect”. Dr Michael Greger explains this effect as follows:

“Eat lentils for dinner, and eleven hours later, your body reacts differently to breakfast. Even when made to drink straight sugar water the next morning, your body is better able to handle it.”

In other words, eating a meal containing beans or lentils will lower the GI index of the next meal you eat. For example, if you have a bean burrito for lunch and a few hours later you eat a piece of chocolate cake, your blood sugar levels won’t spike as much (thanks, beans!). Pretty amazing, right?

To sum up

We know that hanger is real, but it’s not something you need to struggle with. By making a few simple tweaks to your diet, you’ll be amazed at how certain foods can help stabilise your mood and leave you feeling fuller for longer.