Hangry. It’s a technical term, really: the point where you’re getting so hungry that you’re starting to get angry. Hungry + angry = HANGRY.
Aside from being unpleasant to you and those around you, being hangry comes at a price. It means you’ve gone so long without eating that your blood sugar has dropped too low, leaving you irritable, cranky, anxious, and possibly even jittery or sweaty.
Or it means you are prone to hypoglycemia, which is not a disease but a symptom of glucose mismanagement (most often in relation to diabetes, but also characterized by your blood sugar regularly dropping below 65 mg/dl). No fun.
But it’s not just the physical symptoms that are annoying: the blood sugar crash that comes with being hangry triggers a cascade of stress hormone reactions in the body. When this happens on a recurring basis, it can lead to hormone imbalance, insomnia, inflammation and weight gain. Let’s take a look at what happens when you experience low blood sugar, causing you to get hangry.
Let’s say you start your morning with coffee and a pastry, or coffee and nothing at all (after all, won’t skipping breakfast help you lose weight? And coffee suppresses appetite and gives you energy! That’s a good thing, right?). You probably feel pretty good, and you coast along, putting off lunch until you crash. By then you’re starving, jittery, anxious, moody, irritable. You eat lunch, and you probably eat too much because you’re starving and you miscalculated your hunger needs. After lunch, you feel tired as all your energy is diverted into digesting a large meal.
Or, perhaps you grab a handful of jelly beans or a Snickers to tide you over until lunch, because you’re busy. All that sugar immediately raises your blood glucose level too high, and what goes up must come down. Rising glucose in the bloodstream triggers the pancreas to release insulin to usher all that glucose into your cells so that your blood glucose levels don’t rise too high, which is dangerous. But with all that glucose now inside your cells, your blood glucose drops too low again, leaving you– guess what?–hangry. Your body actually has the ability to convert glycogen, which is stored in the liver, into glucose when blood sugar levels drop too low (a process called glycogenolysis), but if you don’t have sufficient cortisol levels (due to chronic stress), you’ll have a compromised ability to regulate blood sugar levels via glycogenolysis .
What Causes Low Blood Sugar Levels?
- skipping meals
- eating too much sugar
- starting your day with a sugary muffin or juice
- starting your day with cereals, refined grains, or low protein grain-based foods. Yes, that includes your gluten free waffles and muffins (that are often loaded with sugar)
- starting your day with coffee only
- not getting enough protein or healthy fat
Symptoms of Low Blood Sugar/Hypoglycemia
- heart palpitations
- feeling jittery and anxious
The problem with letting yourself get too hangry (other than being a nuisance to yourself and others) is that your body releases cortisol and adrenaline to keep you upright and going, so that you are quite literally running on fumes. As mentioned above, if you don’t have sufficient cortisol production due to tired adrenals, you’ll have more difficulty with blood sugar regulation. And worse, if you are skipping meals frequently and getting hangry regularly, it can further drain your cortisol levels and contribute to adrenal burnout.
Low cortisol causes weight gain, sugar cravings, sex hormone imbalance, and can contribute to inflammation, because one of cortisol’s main jobs is to regulate inflammation in the body. Click here to read about adrenal fatigue, a result of chronically mismanaged blood sugar. Stable blood sugar and good blood sugar management is key in losing and maintaining a healthy weight.
How to Prevent the HANGRY (AKA Low Blood Sugar)
- Start your day with protein and good fat (coconut oil, animal fats, butter, olive oil) NOT cereals, bagels, oatmeal, croissants, yogurt & granola or pastries. When your blood sugar drops too low and you start to crave sugar and get hangry, what you actually need is protein. For breakfast have an egg scramble, a protein smoothie, or chicken sausages sauteed with spinach and topped with avocado. Click here for breakfast suggestions.
- Eat every 4 hours to maintain stable blood sugar.
- Don’t skip meals if you’re prone to hypoglycemia or hangry!
- Is coffee problematic for you? Do you use it to skip meals or kill your appetite? Coffee can contribute to major blood sugar fluctuations, especially if you are caffeine sensitive. Click here for more on coffee.
- Don’t let yourself get to the point of starving. Hangry is sure to follow, and you’ll overeat and crash after your meal.
- Avoid grains at breakfast & lunch. They can contribute to the 3pm crash/sugar craving cycle. Stick to protein, good fats and veggies.
- There is evidence that a ketogenic diet can heal hypoglycemia. And I’ve seen amazing results regulating blood sugar on a paleo plan, or at least going gluten free. Gluten has the potential to really jack blood sugar. Whole foods and healthy fats, for the win!
- Avoid refined sugar! Seems simple, but it causes blood sugar to spike and crash. Plus, the more you eat, the more you’ll crave it. Save the desserts for special occasions, not every day. Coconut palm sugar is a good replacement in baking, as it’s low on the glycemic index and won’t jack your blood glucose levels. Have some 70 percent or higher dark chocolate instead of reaching for the Snickers.
- If you’re out and about during the day, carry a snack with you for emergencies. Try Epic bars.
- Foods that help stabilize blood sugar: organic animal proteins; eggs & fish; good fats (listed above); avocados; walnuts; bone broth with plenty of sea salt; minerals: sea vegetables such as nori, kelp, kombu and wakame are the best sources. Click here for more on minerals.
- This mineral-based supplement can really help ward off sugar cravings and balance blood sugar.
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.