Everybody knows the feeling: The time between meals stretches a little too long, and your stomach begins to rumble. Soon, you feel a little weak in the knees, and maybe a bit lightheaded.
You need food. And until you get it, you are going to be “hangry.”
What is hangry, and why do we get that way?
Hangry is modern slang for that state of mind when we are “hungry,” and feeling a little “angry” about the fact – thus, we are “hangry.” While hangry may describe an emotional state, the source of this angst is grounded in the body and how it reacts to food deprivation.
In fact, several factors can contribute to our feeling “hangry,” says Jessica Crandall, a registered dietitian nutritionist, certified diabetes educator and founder of Denver Wellness & Nutrition Center-Sodexo in Englewood, Colorado.
Changes in gastric emptying, and falling hormone and blood sugar levels all can contribute to feeling hangry. These sensations – although unpleasant – actually play a positive and protective role.
Take the drop in blood sugar, for instance. When this occurs, the body’s natural response is to send hunger signals so glucose levels don’t fall dangerously.
“It’s part of your body’s normal response to signal you that your brain needs glucose, or that your body needs fuel,” Crandall says.
So, that hangry feeling is simply the body’s way of telling you it is time to eat.
Preventing yourself from getting ‘hangry’
Looking for food is the natural – and correct – response to being hangry. But just reaching for any type of sustenance can be counterproductive.
For example, people who are eating less in an effort to lose weight can easily become hangry if they are not careful. “Then, they make really bad food decisions,” Crandall says. Eating junk food to satisfy your “hanger” can wreck your diet.
Rather than reacting to feeling hangry, try to avoid becoming hungry in the first place. “I think prevention is really the best focus,” Crandall says.
Crandall recommends always eating breakfast, preferably within one hour of waking. Then, eat approximately every four to six hours throughout the day.
“You’re really trying to get those hunger signals suppressed,” she says.
Making wise food choices also is critical to avoiding becoming hangry. Crandall recommends building your diet around lean proteins and produce, “because that’s really the basis for helping you to feel full and satisfied,” she says.
Eating whole grain and dairy products also helps you to fill in the “nutrient gap,” she says. In general, a high-fiber diet is more likely to keep you feeling full instead of hangry.
By contrast, avoid simple carbohydrates, the sugars that are found in sodas, cookies, cereals and other foods.
“It’s going to spike your blood sugars, and then usually shortly thereafter they are going to drop,” she says. “That’s going to make you feel hangry.”
Staying hydrated is an overlooked way of avoiding feeling hangry. “Being dehydrated can also send you false hunger signals,” Crandall says.
What to do if you become hangry
No matter how hard you try, it is still likely that you will become hangry from time to time. That is especially true if a busy schedule makes it difficult to stay on your meal plan.
Crandall says its best to plan for this inevitability.
“I always try to plan in advance and put something in my purse or glove box that is going to be somewhat nutritious that I can grab,” she says.
For some people, that might be almonds. Others might find that something like a mint or a little bit of caffeine will “give them a burst of energy, or help sustain them a little bit longer,” Crandall says.
But those are short-term fixes. The key to avoiding feeling hangry is to plan your meals carefully, and to eat foods that are healthful, filling and satisfying.
“Hopefully, we can help encourage healthier eating habits so we are fuller longer,” Crandall says.