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Hangry no more

Nutritionists from the University of Maryland Medical System regularly contribute guest posts to The Baltimore Sun's Picture of Health blog. The latest post is from Mary Beth Sodus.

Physical hunger or stomach hunger involves a complex interaction between the digestive system, endocrine system and brain. When the body needs refueling, we start to feel weak and tired, and our focus becomes foggy. The stomach starts to ache and rumble. This is true stomach hunger.


What happens if you ignore this hunger? The physical symptoms intensify and you may get irritable and short-tempered or hangry. You may get shaky and nervous or get a headache. Because you are so ravenous at this point, once you do start to eat, you're very vulnerable to uncontrolled eating or bingeing.

Hanger is your body communicating with you, so listen. A lot of people ignore their basic physiological drives. If you're a chronic dieter, chances are it's likely that there have been times when you've ignored hunger signals. Or, conversely, there may have been times you felt full but kept eating, thinking, "Well, I already screwed up, so I might as well eat it all while I can." Over time, these mixed messages can dull hunger and fullness cues. Emotions can also make identifying hunger and fullness cues more complex. Is that hunger or is it boredom, sadness, anger, or exhaustion?


Pay attention to your hunger and appetite patterns by keeping a food diary. There are many apps available that can make this easy. Include the ingredients for every meal and snack, and the portion sizes. And don't forget to track your beverages. You could also include where you purchased or prepared the food, what you were doing while you ate the food and how you felt after you consumed it. For example, name the specific restaurant or note if the meal was made at home. Also, note if you were standing, watching TV or sitting at a table. You might want to include questions such as, "How did I feel before, during and after the meal?"

Ideally, eat until you are full and satisfied. Your body sends signals when it's hungry; it also sends signals when it's full. To pay attention to signs of satiety more carefully, we need to slow down and chew food well. It takes approximately 20 minutes for fullness signals to transmit from the stomach to the brain. So, if you eat too fast and aren't paying attention, it's easy to override this system and eat more than what the body is calling for.

To avoid becoming hangry:

1. Get enough sleep. Over the long term, lack of sleep can influence appetite, nudging you to reach for more empty carbohydrates and sugar. Inadequate sleep also sends a signal to our bodies to store more fat.

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2. Hydrate. The Institute of Medicine states that adult men need 13 cups of water per day and adult women need 9 cups daily. Many people confuse thirst with hunger.

3. Eat high fiber foods. Healthy choices include broccoli, apples, pears, berries, beans and high fiber bread (greater than 3 grams per slice).

4. Eat adequate protein. Add a lean protein to each meal such as turkey, chicken, fish or beans.

5. Avoid the junk. Chips, sugary drinks and desserts are prime offenders.


6. Never skip a meal.

7. Ask yourself if you're hungry before taking that first bite. Then ask yourself if you will eat an apple instead. If you're truly hungry, you'll eat the apple and not the chips.

Pay attention to your hunger to avoid the hangries!