Are You “Hangry”?

Its 1 Pm….your usual lunchtime , but the meeting drags on…..its 1.30 now….you lose interest in the presentation, you feel irritated, your mind wanders to the lunch menu… can smell the lunch outside…You tell yourself- it better end soon or i will scream!!

Its festival day. Your day started at 5 AM. After a long walk you arrived home- to a message that the cook is not coming!!, Its way past 10 AM…. you have look at your watch several times, the food delivery is late too! You are yelling at everyone in the family at the slightest irritation…..

You are HANGRY = hungry + angry.

This is occasional, right? But…what if you were to feel hungry everyday? What would be your emotions? Would it let you work? Would you enjoy life? Wouldn’t it affect your behavior with people around you?

Well then,,,,,let’s dive deep into the celebrity endorsed, health and wellness touted industry of “Diets”

A study of almost 2,000 overweight and obese people who wanted to lose weight found that those who actually managed to do so were nearly 80% more likely to have symptoms of depression than those who didn’t. 

It’s hardly a compelling sales pitch for cutting calories, but being hungry can mess with our minds in manifold ways – not least by making us “HANGRY”, that familiar feeling of rage that erupts when it’s been too long between meals.

In fact, research is starting to reveal that fasting can negatively affect everything from our emotions to our cognition and judgement, at least in the short term. These things ultimately affect how well we reflect and make decisions.The effects of fasting on cognition found that attention and the ability to switch between different tasks are particularly affected.

Researchers discovered that the more people’s minds were wandering, the worse they performed on the task. And the hungry group was the most prone to mind wandering.

The reverse effect- of mid day meals boosting student academic performance has been proved by India’s mid day meals scheme. 

Emotions have a profound influence on how we think – particularly when we don’t really understand or acknowledge them. It’s easier to regulate our emotions when we’re aware of where they come from and how they influence our thinking and decision making.

Low mood often makes us more pessimistic, for example, which biases our thinking to be more negative. 

In a 2022 study from the Netherlands of 129 women – around half of whom had been asked to fast for 14 hours – were asked questions about their hunger level, eating habits and mood. And they found that the hungry women reported more negative emotions, including higher tension, anger, depression, fatigue and confusion. They also reported lower positive emotions, such as vigour.

Low mood can radically change how we interpret the world. If you are in a negative mood, then you remember mostly negative things , which may put you in an even worse mood.

Hunger doesn’t just make us feel negative and low, however. It can also make us both impulsive – something to be aware of if you’re penning your resignation letter before lunch!. Judgements given in court prior to lunch were found to be more punitive than ones given early in the day or after lunch!! Research also found that we become increasingly biased towards the present when hungry.

But once we become aware that a physical sensation is ruling our emotions- we can change it! This could work in a similar way to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), helping us to reframe our thoughts and feelings.

From an evolutionary standpoint, it makes sense that hunger would be accompanied by the impulse to go out and forage for things – to maybe prioritise immediate gains as opposed to long-term gains.

A simple solution for those struggling to make good food choices is to pre-commit to what to eat – making your decisions before hunger, and its many impacts on our thinking, sets in. That might involve reading the menu before going to a restaurant or writing a list prior to going shopping. Simply put- make decisions before hunger sets in. Plan in advance. Have healthy meals/ snacks at hand.

Ultimately, though, you may want to take into consideration the emotional and cognitive price of losing weight by embarking on a diet that will severely restrict your calorie intake – particularly if you’re already close to 23 BMI.

After all, what’s the point of being “in perfect shape”  if you’re so depressed or muddled that you can’t enjoy your function or holiday??

So I’d like to know your thoughts on this. Please comment below. What is your take away ?

  • Deepa Kamath
    Expert Health Coach and Senior Dietician


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