On some days, you might feel like Elmo – happy, cheerful, and without a care in the world. But on other days, you might feel like the Cookie Monster – frenzied, impatient, and “hungry”. After all, you’re not your regular self without a certain chocolate bar, aren’t you?
We’ve all been there before, finding ourselves irritable and short-tempered when our stomach begins to growl. We’ve all been “hangry”, and our loved ones might be caught off guard. However, is this phenomenon real or just a made-up excuse for bad behavior? Let’s take a closer look at the science behind hunger and what we can do to manage both our hunger and our behavior.
What is “hunger”?
Hunger is a natural feeling we all get, a gnawing sensation in our stomachs which is a sign from our body telling us it’s time to eat. But what happens when we ignore that hunger for too long? Our bodies start to release hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which are responsible for the “fight or flight” response. These aren’t “hunger hormones”, as they perform several other key functions, but this response is what causes us to feel irritable, anxious, and even angry when we’re hungry. It’s the combination of hunger and these hormones that makes us snap.
The Science Behind hunger
So why does this happen? The answer lies in our brain chemistry. When we’re hungry, our brain produces a hormone called ghrelin, which tells us that we need to eat. This hormone also affects our mood, making us more prone to irritability and anger. At the same time, our brains are producing less serotonin – the “feel good” hormone that regulates our moods and emotions. With less serotonin in our system, we’re more likely to feel moody, depressed, or anxious.
On top of that, when our blood sugar levels drop due to hunger, our brains have less fuel to function properly. This can cause our cognitive abilities to decline, making it harder to focus and think clearly. We all experience hunger to varying degrees in response to these stimuli, but all these factors can lead to the perfect storm of hunger, making us feel like we’re losing our grip.
4 Ways to Manage Your hunger
While hunger is a natural response to hunger, it’s important to manage it to prevent negative consequences. Here are 4 effective tips to do just that:
One of the easiest ways to manage hunger is to prevent hunger in the first place by strategically dividing your portions, eating regular meals and snacks throughout the day. This will help keep your blood sugar levels stable, which in turn will help regulate your mood.
Plan Your Meals Ahead of Time
Meal preparation can help you avoid getting caught off guard and experiencing hunger. Make sure to keep healthy snacks on hand, like nuts, fruit, or protein bars, so that you can quickly satisfy your hunger if you need to. If you know you’ll be out and about for a while, pack a small snack to take with you.
Practice Mindful Eating
Mindful eating is all about paying attention to your body’s signals and eating slowly and intentionally. This can help you tune in to your hunger levels and prevent overeating or undereating, both of which can contribute to hunger. Take the time to savor your food and focus on the experience of eating, rather than just rushing through it. It’s also important to make sure you’re eating a balanced diet that includes protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats.
Stress and nutrition are more related than you think, after all, some people deal with stress by eating more. At the chemical level, stress can exacerbate hunger by triggering the release of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. You can cut off the damage that stress can cause by incorporating relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or yoga into your daily routine. If you’re working a lot, and you know that it can be a source of stress, taking breaks throughout the day to go for a walk can also be helpful.
Is “hunger” in Your Genes?
Now you know, for all the times you’ve snapped at someone while on an empty stomach, you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself. hunger is a very real phenomenon based on science. Our brains and bodies are wired to respond to hunger with a combination of hormones and emotions that turns us into a version of ourselves that we don’t really like. But don’t forget, if the Cookie Monster could learn to be patient and tame his hunger, then so could we.
If you’re curious to know more about how your body uniquely responds to being hungry and stressed, then CircleDNA’s nutrition and stress profile insights are just for you. By identifying how our genes affect our metabolism and nutrient absorption, we can make informed decisions about our diets to support our overall health.