You haven't eaten in hours. You're struggling to concentrate on your latest work project, but an escalating mix of hunger and anger has hijacked your brain. You just can't cope. You need a caramel latte, stat. Or a "healthy" protein bar. Or even a handful of almonds. Whatever it is, if you don't eat soon, things are going to get very ugly...
Does that sound like you? I know I used to feel jittery, anxious, and unfocused when I was forced to go hours without food. My patience would drop to nil. It felt absolutely awful.
That's no way to live. The fact is, you're made to fast, remember? Humans can comfortably go for hours and hours without eating. It's actually beneficial for your health. Doing so isn't fun but it shouldn't be "hanger"-inducing, either.
What you aren't made for is grazing. That may go against all of the advice you hear: "Eat small meals every few hours! Keep snacks with you to ward off hunger!" This advice is wrong. It doesn't work. It makes you a slave to a near-constant appetite, with a purse full of nuts, protein bars, and other snacks, lest you're away from food between meals. That sounds as un-fun as fasting. Even worse, it's unhealthy for you, too.
Every time you eat, the food needs to broken down into simple sugars, amino acids, and free fatty acids. Eating any sugar or anything that breaks down into sugar (carbohydrate) elevates your blood glucose levels. This triggers the release of insulin, which deposits the glucose into the muscles for energy. What isn't used is stored as body fat.
That last part isn't ideal but what's worse is what happens in your brain. Your brain is a dynamic energy-burner. It gets this energy in the form of glucose (from sugars) or ketones (from fat). As your blood glucose levels lower, your brain goes on high-alert. If your levels continue to drop, it uses chemical messengers to call out for major support from the body. In particular, it'll task your adrenal glands to produce adrenaline and cortisol, which are commonly known as stress hormones.
That's why it becomes harder to concentrate, your moods become unstable, and you feel like you need to eat immediately. It's not your willpower. It's evolution.
It doesn't just affect you during the day, either. Hangriness can cause insomnia:
"The standard American diet (built on a bedrock of sugar and refined carbs) promotes a blood sugar roller coaster. With each blood sugar crash, your body is tripped into a stress response. When your blood sugar crashes in the middle of the night, the resulting stress response disrupts your sleep. If you wake up in the middle of the night in a wired state of panic, I'd consider this a blood sugar crash until proven otherwise. The definitive solution is to transition to a real-food diet comprised of vegetables, healthy fats, starchy tubers, well-sourced protein, fruit, nuts, and seeds."
Ready to end these bouts of hanger? Develop a new kind of flexibility: metabolic flexibility. This means that your body can easily switch from sugar-burning to fat-burning. You'll be able to go hours between meals with no snacks necessary. You can even skip a meal and feel fine. Doesn't that sound like freedom?
It may take time for your body to develop metabolic flexibility depending on how long you've been eating a high-carb diet.
News break: If you're eating as most Americans do--even if it's "healthy" with almond butter, protein bars, green juices, and fruited yogurts--you are most likely eating a high-carbohydrate diet.
Focus on getting rid of toxic oils and eating healthy fats and protein. Fill your plate with vegetables. Have a piece of fruit for dessert or a handful of nuts. Don't snack unless you're really hungry. And then notice the shift. Soon you'll gain that edge of metabolic flexibility and the energy stability that comes with it. Bye-bye, hanger!
As always if you need help with focusing on the big picture--and then finessing your unique details--reach out. I'm here for you!