Stay Happy, Not Hangry
You may have seen commercials advertising a popular candy bar with the tagline: You’re not you when you’re hungry. While candy bars are not the most nutritious snack to fix hunger, the premise of this campaign is strikingly accurate. Hunger can most certainly impact your mood and focus throughout the day, one of the reasons the term “hangry” has caught on so quickly.
The link between mood and hunger stems from the connection between your brain and your stomach, also called the gut-brain axis. To better understand this connection, let’s walk through what happens in both your stomach and brain during the hours following a meal.
Immediately After Eating
After you eat, your body releases hormones that signal your brain to make you feel full and calm. Your blood sugar increases, giving your brain the energy that it needs to focus on your work and maintain a consistent mood. Your stomach continues to digest food for a few hours, which provides your body with a consistent supply of energy during this time.
A Few Hours After Eating
After a few hours, two changes start to happen. First, your blood sugar starts to decrease, as you’ve used most of it for energy and stored some for later. With lower blood sugar levels, there is less energy readily available for your brain, and you might start to feel foggy, distracted, or even short-tempered as your blood sugar continues to decline.
Once your food is digested and your stomach is empty, your stomach releases a hormone called ghrelin that tells your brain that you need to eat again. The longer you go without eating, the more ghrelin is released. High levels of ghrelin can lead to distraction and feelings of anxiety and irritability because it’s your body’s way of saying it needs to start looking for food. Many people fondly refer to this feeling as being “hangry”.
When You’ve Become “Hangry”
Once you get hangry, the only way to improve your mood is to eat something. When you get some food in your stomach, your ghrelin levels decrease, your blood sugar goes back up, and your ability to focus returns.
Incorporating foods with protein into your meals and snacks can help to provide you with more stable and lasting energy between meals, limiting the extent to which your mood is affected. Protein takes longer to digest than carbohydrates, causing a slower increase in blood sugar and a delay in the release of ghrelin. This means that foods with protein not only keep you full longer but also focused longer. Aim to include lean protein in meals and snacks throughout the day, and you might find yourself powering through your workday with more composure, focus, and energy!
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