one cup of fresh pineapple

How to Handle Hunger (or Hanger) on a Diet

woman holding a cupcake and rubbing her stomach

I have a reputation in my family for being the person most likely to be hungry. I feel more hungry for various reasons and go from being hungry to “gotta eat now” very quickly. This always surprises my family because they have this annoying tendency not to need much food. My teenage daughter, for example, can take food or leave it. At 5’ 9”, she has a trim body type that seems to maintain itself with little to no effort on her part. She is capable of “forgetting” to eat if I don’t remind her.

On the other hand, I require food at specific intervals because I tend to get hangry along with getting hungry. What’s hangry, you ask? It’s a nasty combo of hunger and anger that arises when I’ve gone too long without eating.

I’m Sorry for What I Said When I Was Hungry 😞

Pink Sign says Sorry for What I Said When I Was Hungry

I once saw this sign in front of a coffee shop that said, “I’m sorry for what I said when I was hungry,” and it captured my life exactly. Why was I always having to apologize for the things I said and did when I was hungry?

Was my hanger a real thing? If it was, perhaps I could get some sympathy from my family. Or was it just a negative consequence of so many years of overeating and dieting? Perhaps my body didn’t know what it needed, or maybe my hunger mechanism was all messed up.

What Is Hanger and Why Does it Have a Hold on Me?

I researched; those who know me know that I immediately dig up info when I have questions. I found some answers on why we get hangry. It turns out the mechanism for feeling hangry goes something like this: Not eating for some time (and it varies for everyone) causes the blood sugar (glucose) levels in your body to decrease. That triggers an increase in hormones like cortisol (stress hormone) and adrenaline (fight-or-flight hormone) as the body tries to raise your blood sugar levels.

Damn those hormones! The release of stress hormones can trigger aggression in some people (like me), and that (along with how the low blood sugar messes with your brain’s impulse control) can cause these little hangry outbursts.

Getting hangry isn’t a serious medical condition, but it can wreak havoc with your inner state of wellbeing (not to mention being unbearable for the people who live with you). I’ve had to apologize so many times for being hangry that my family now anticipates it. For example, when we go on outings or vacation, if I seem the least bit testy at something, they suggest that I eat a snack. They even go so far as to remind me to bring snacks before we leave the house. The reminder is usually accompanied by an annoying, “you know how you get when you’re hungry.” They’re my family, and I love them, but some days I hate living in a house with naturally-thin people. J

The Dangers of Getting Hangry

closeup of woman's mouth eating pizza

I used to get hangry quite a bit. The danger for me with hanger was the tendency to get myself in such a state that I felt like I needed to eat, and at that moment, I would eat anything. I truly got to a place where my mind and body were screaming for food. My stomach was growling and felt tight, and I felt nauseous at times, while my mind obsessed about favorite (usually high-fat, high-sugar) foods. I felt sort of desperate in those moments. I was likely to eat anything I could get my hands on to make those symptoms go away. It was very uncomfortable for me.

If you get hangry, you know that it can feel like you have no control over yourself. You don’t think that you can make rational choices in that state of mind. It can also jeopardize your weight loss efforts by making it harder to stay on your food plan.

To help my fellow hangry tribe members, I’d like to share my strategies for managing hunger throughout the day. The goal is to prevent the hangry mechanism from being activated. I’ve developed habits that reduce the likelihood of experiencing hanger (and yes, my family is delighted I did).

Top Hangry-Busting Tips

HodgeonRepeat favorite Trader Joe's snacks
  • Snack throughout the day—this sounds obvious (and it is), but it is also the most effective strategy for keeping hanger at bay, and one that can be difficult to stick with week in and week out. How many times have you left the house without healthy snacks and then gotten hungry while out and about? Planning for and purchasing healthy snacks is essential, so make sure to include snacks on your weekly grocery list (just like fruit, veggies, eggs, etc.). Here are some of my favorite snack options: bananas, natural beef jerky, raw nuts and raisins, strawberries or pineapple, hummus/green pepper, hard-boiled eggs and dates.
  • Make sure you are getting enough calories. Are you hangry all the time because you are eating too restrictive a diet? Weight loss is about balance—finding an optimal level of calories to keep you in a calorie deficit so you can lose weight while eating enough food to satisfy you to sustain your eating pattern. Generally, the more restrictive a diet plan is in calories, the harder it is to stay on. Because we know weight loss is a long game (and takes time), we want to choose a food plan that causes the least amount of sacrifice to us in terms of how much we can eat, how often and what type of foods. Again, I like a whole foods diet because I can eat a larger volume of foods without having to count calories, but there are tons of weight loss plans out there, and one of them will be right for you.
one cup of fresh pineapple

  • Eat nutrient-dense, whole foods. Whatever diet you choose, make sure it includes a core of whole, unprocessed foods to choose from. These foods will help you stay fuller longer and will help your body maintain higher levels of energy. You can eat more volume of whole foods too because they typically have fewer calories. Think of the difference between how much pineapple you can eat and the same amount of calories in food like cookies or cheese.

  • Don’t compare your hunger levels to others. Recognize (and be okay with) the fact that your body is communicating with you that it needs food. If you know you need snacks, then eat them and enjoy taking care of yourself. It doesn’t matter if no one else is hungry. You are, and you need to stop and eat so that you can take care of your needs and move on with your day. I used to wait till it was “time” to eat. That was code for when it was a socially-sanctioned time to eat. Now, I listen to my body and eat whenever I want to. If I can’t stop for 10 minutes to have a snack, something is wrong in my life, and I need to address that. We should all have time for this necessary self-care.
Colorful water bottles

  • Drink water throughout the day to make sure you aren’t confusing hunger with thirst, and to make any snacks you do eat satisfying by getting enough volume to fill your belly. Drinking water is a simple yet highly-underrated weight loss technique. I suggest buying a large, colorful water bottle (they come in all shapes, sizes and materials these days) that you can take with you during the day. Make it a point to drink in between meals to identify real hunger vs. thirst.
  • Don’t wait too long to address the hunger when it first comes on. If you are drinking enough water and know it isn’t thirst you are feeling but real hunger, don’t wait. Eat when you need to. I used to put it off, telling myself to get one more task or chore in or make one more phone call. But while I was doing that “one last thing,” my hunger level was rising quickly. I was hassled and extra hangry when I did eat and set myself up for failure.
  • Consider whether you should choose a food plan that doesn’t allow for snacking. Some diet plans don’t allow for snacks, and instead require that you eat three meals a day or have windows of time when you don’t eat anything. If you tend to get hangry, I would consider carefully whether that type of plan is best for you. Choosing a plan that allows for snacks throughout the day as needed might be a better fit for your body’s needs. I eat a whole foods diet because I like to eat a higher volume of food throughout the day (whenever I want it), and I know I can do that while staying in the ever-important calorie deficit on a whole foods plan.
Woman looking in refrigerator and holding grapes
  • Make a snack shopping list as part of your weekly food shopping list. Think about which snacks you like, which ones are portable and easy to grab on the go. Which snacks will you enjoy, and which ones will fit easily into your food plan? It will take several weeks for snacking this way to become a part of your routine, but feeling calmer and emotionally regulated because you aren’t getting hangry, should be a good incentive for keeping up with this new habit.

At first, you won’t always be able to prevent getting hangry. You may miss some snacks or get so involved with “life” that you forget to eat, but over time, if you follow these tips, you should experience hanger much less. Tell your family they can thank me. J

And remember, as, with all habit-forming, consistency is key. Shop for snacks…eat snacks…drink water…repeat. Drop a comment below, let me know how it’s going, and follow me on social media for more healthy snacking tips.

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