Stop a dreaded “food swing” from materializing with these immediate and long-term fixes.
It’s nearing 8 p.m., and after a frantic day of dashing from one meeting to the next, working late to meet a tight deadline, and impatiently waiting for a delayed train, you’re in no jolly mood. On top of it all, you haven’t eaten more than a granola bar since your 15-minute lunch break at noon. You’re not just grouchy now — you’re hangry.
When you’re hungry, your body experiences a sudden drop in blood sugar, and in a laboratory study with rats, researchers found that this dip in glucose can negatively affect your mood. And if you’re in a negative situation, additional research has shown that you might be more likely to feel hangry than if you’re in a pleasant or neutral situation. To prevent your hunger-related irritability from driving you to lash out at your partner for not having dinner ready when you walk in the door, follow these simple tips.
Eat a Fiber and Protein-Packed Breakfast
One of the best ways to prevent a seemingly inevitable hunger-fueled bout of rage? Start your day with a breakfast rich in fiber and protein. Chowing down on fibrous foods first thing in the morning can slow your digestion, keeping your stomach fuller longer and promoting a greater feeling of satiety. A 2014 study also found that fiber releases the molecule acetate in the gut when it’s digested, which then makes its way to the brain, colon, or bloodstream and sends you a signal to stop eating. To further satisfy your appetite long-term, fuel up on protein: the macronutrient uses more energy than refined carbs to digest, and studies have shown it can increase feelings of fullness.
Hit these marks by nourishing yourself with a slice of rye toast topped with avocado and a fried egg — a dish that boasts 12 grams of fiber and nearly 9 grams of protein. Pair it with a side of apple slices dipped in raw almond butter or a bowl of Greek yogurt sprinkled with whole-grain granola and raspberries, which contain eight grams of fiber per cup, for an even greater chance of curbing mid-afternoon hanger.
Have a Meal Every Few Hours
After eating a standard-sized meal, it takes about three to five hours for your stomach’s contents to empty into your small intestine, Dr. Edward Bitok, an assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics at Loma Linda University, reports. If the break between your meals is longer, you may find yourself being unable to focus, having low energy, and binging the next time you eat. To avoid these undesirable symptoms, plan out your mealtimes for the day and stick to them.
Keep a Healthy Snack on Hand
If you’re always on the go, carving out the time and finding a place to eat a full-fledged meal might not be possible. To stay fueled and in good spirits until your next meal, stash a pack of nutritious munchies in your bag that you can reach for when the first pang of hunger hits. Single-serve hummus packs will provide you with four grams of protein and three grams of fiber, and since they’re pre-portioned, you won’t end up mindlessly snacking. A cup of sliced carrots, which contains 12 percent of the daily recommended dose of fiber, and a handful of protein-dense almonds will do the trick, too.
Understand Your Hunger Cues
Recognizing when your body is telling you to eat and honoring that request is essential to keeping a “food swing” at bay. Be on the lookout for the typical hunger cues, like stomach growling, headaches, lack of energy, lightheadedness, shakiness, and nausea, and don’t blow off the signals once you notice them.
But before you reach for a snack, think about how much water you drank that day and ask yourself if you could be dehydrated rather than hungry. Mild dehydration occurs when your body’s normal fluid levels decrease just two percent, and some of its symptoms overlap with those of hunger, including headaches, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating. In a recent study, researchers found that the participants correctly drank water when they were thirsty and not hungry only two percent of the time. So if you’ve had only one glass of water all day, consider filling your body with fluids first.
Keep Your Blood Sugar in Check
Since the drop in glucose levels plays an important role in becoming hangry, choose to fill up on foods that stabilize your blood sugar. Unlike most carbs, fiber can’t be broken down into sugar molecules, so consuming fibrous foods can help regulate your body’s use of sugars. Foods that have a high glycemic load, which takes into account the quality of a food’s carbs and the number of carbs it has in one serving, can cause blood sugar spikes, so steer clear of foods laden with refined carbs, like sugary breakfast cereals, white bread, and candy bars. Instead, pack your plate with lentils, black beans, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, quinoa, and spinach and munch on fruits like blackberries and plums, all of which have a low glycemic load.