Monday, June 4, 2018

How to Cure the "Hangry" - and it's not with extra snacks

Most of us have heard the word "hangry," which describes the irritability we can feel after not eating for a certain amount of time. In my clinical practice, the magic amount of time that patients say it takes is typically 3 hours. I need to eat every three hours, or I get shaky and really grumpy!

And it's not just what I'm hearing from others, but also what I've experienced first hand. We have a word for it in our family too... when someone starts acting irrational and grumpy because they haven't eaten in a couple hours...

But when you think about it, a few hours is practically nothing. Three hours, and our bodies are begging for food again? Seems a little illogical looking at how many calories we're consuming each day. So what's really happening and how can we fix it?

"Hangry" is a sign of blood sugar dysregulation, and it happens more often in those with higher carbohydrate diets. In a nutshell, consuming regular and relatively large amounts of refined carbohydrates and sugars as a main fuel source results in those sugars ending up in the bloodstream. This is what increases blood sugar levels and it requires insulin to pop up to let the sugar into the body's cells; as well, the liver will help store the sugar you're not using as glycogen.

Spikes and drops in blood sugar levels can definitely affect our mood and energy. It can also lead to further complications long-term like insulin resistance - where we continuously bombard our bodies with so much refined carbs/sugars that insulin can't meet the demand.

Apart from hypoglycaemic symptoms, insulin resistance is associated with obesity, PCOS, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. As well, blood sugar dysregulation can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

The good news is that blood sugar regulation can be corrected with dietary and lifestyle changes (the rate of which will depend on the individual). Here are some tips to get started:

  • Avoid eating at night, or eat only within a 12-hour window, max. Fasting for at least 12 hours will help train the body to not just use sugars/carbohydrates as a fuel source as you're not feeding yourself throughout the night. Therefore, the body tends to use up glycogen stores from the liver, and eventually fat if it needs it.
  • Reduce refined sugars and carbohydrates in the diet. This isn't to say that all grains are terrible for you, but you don't need them as much as our old food pyramids have historically told us. 
    • Avoid those daily breakfast sandwiches, muffins, scones, cookies, and excessive bread, pasta, and pizza intake. Try having 1-2 meals per day that have no grains in them at all. 
    • Avoid sweetened beverages. This also applies to your coffee and tea. Try replacing your sugar with honey, and then slowly wean down the amount that you add daily to your beverage. 
    • Avoid sweet alcoholic beverages, including ciders and mixed drinks with sugary sodas and juices; as well as liqueurs and "sweeter" drinks like rum, and wine. 
  • Include more healthy fats and protein into the diet. Fats and proteins are extremely filling, whereas after finishing a bowl of pasta, you may still reach for a piece of bread, able to eat another few bites. On the other hand, eating something with a high fat or protein content is more likely to leave you satiated. Aim for 20-30g of protein in your first meal of the day. Examples of helpful foods for fat and protein content include:
    • Avocados
    • Unsalted nuts/seeds, 
    • Eggs,
    • Lean cuts of meat, 
    • Fish, 
    • Protein smoothies (see below for recipe)
  • Exercise regularly. Physical activity has been shown to independently induce expression and translocation of the GLUT4 transporter, which helps to transport sugar/glucose into skeletal muscle cells. This is especially helpful for those with insulin resistance. 
  • Drink more water. Sometimes when we chronically feel hungry for carbs, it's not hunger at all. Try drinking a glass of (lemon) water first. Check-in with yourself to find out if your hunger is more just boredom, or thirst, before reaching for a snack. 
Fat-filled Protein Smoothie (1 serving)
In a high-powered blender, mix: 
- 1/2-1 cup unsweetened almond or coconut milk
- 2 tbsp hemp hearts
- handful or 4 strawberries 
- 1/4 cup blueberries OR 1/2 a banana
- 1 scoop whey isolate protein powder
- 1/2 an avocado

Although some people choose to go "cold turkey" with a new dietary plan, jumping in head first, I find changes tend to stick more when they are gradually introduced and practiced.  When we make dietary and lifestyle changes, give the body time to adjust. The key is in being consistent, and not allowing a lot of "cheat days." Even the idea of "everything in moderation" can cause major set backs if it pulls a person back into their old habits. 

Looking for extra resources and meal ideas? I find that blood sugar regulation can be positively influenced with both the Paleo diet and the Mediterranean diet. Both focus on fresh vegetables, and healthy fat sources like olive oil and fish. If paleo sounds too restrictive, then modify it. Allow yourself side dishes of quinoa, or brown rice. Or small portions of potatoes. View food as your body's fuel, and take it one day at a time.