Why being hungry affects your mood

Have you ever felt your mood affected when you are hungry? Perhaps you or someone you know gets grumpy, irritable, moody or angry when hungry? Or perhaps you are just becoming aware of this now as a result of increasing your own self-awareness about your eating habits through doing this program.

To understand why this happens, first we need to understand what is going on in your body when you eat food. All the proteins, carbohydrates and fats you eat are converted by your into amino acids, free fatty acids, and glucose, which are then delivered to your cells, tissues and organs as nutrients, and glucose provides the brain in particular with energy.

When you leave it too long without any food, the glucose level in your blood will fall, nutrients are no longer being transferred around the body, and your body’s survival instincts will kick in.

Your body will perceive this as a stressful situation because the brain depends on glucose to function!

You might even start to notice signs of brain function impairment such as confusion, difficultly concentrating, making decisions, or making mistakes. You may prioritise using your brain power to do what is most important, while dropping your standards on other things – for example you might find yourself being irritable or snappy with people.

Hungry & Angry?

When blood glucose levels drop, your body releases stress hormones from the adrenal gland in response: cortisol and adrenaline – in effect, the fight or flight response you experience in situations that cause fear and anxiety.

This can cause your mood to fluctuate – perhaps you might experience sudden outbursts, or increased anger that you would expect when your body is in a fight or flight response.

Don’t forget that hunger and anger are linked to the survival of the human species – it is a normal, evolutionary, biological response to be more anxious, irritated, or angry when hungry. Only those ancestors who went in for the kill when they were hungry survived!

How to avoid hunger-related mood fluctuations

This is all about planning and preparation – trying to anticipate in your schedule when you may have long gaps between meals, and being prepared with a healthy snack, having it easily available!

It is also about making sure you aren’t eating high GI foods (sugary foods, biscuits, white bread, cakes etc), which will cause your blood sugar to increase rapidly followed by a crash, but instead eating wholemeal, wholegrain, fibre (fruits, veg) and some protein/fat to slow absorption.

Why dieting makes weight loss so hard

The setpoint theory proposes that every person has a set weight (predetermined by both genetics and life experience) that their body is most happy with (this will fluctuate between 10-15lb). If you attempt to change this, for example by losing weight below the setpoint, your survival instincts will kick in and your body will do everything to fight the weight loss and keep you within the setpoint range.

How does the body actually respond?

Your body responds to dieting below your set point by suppressing your metabolism; your body will:

  • Burn less calories. Gary Foster, director of the Center of Obesity Research and Education at Temple University, found that if for example, your body mass decreases by10%, your metabolic rate could decrease by more than that – by 11-15%
  • Produce hormones which make you hungrier (in the long run, research shows that most dieters end up binging in the years that follow
  • Produce stress hormones, which cause a response in fat cells; abdominal fat is increased to protect the internal organs from a perceived threat. Under stress, the body also craves sweet, fatty foods.

Dieters are more likely to gain weight in the long run!

Many studies have shown that most dieters regain all their lost weight ,and many regain MORE weight than they started with within 5 years. On average, the contestants of ‘The Biggest Losers’ regained 70lb since the end of the show. Due to their severely restricted diet during the weight loss, their metabolic rate reduced so much that they needed 500 calories less than normal, or else the weight wold pile on again. The calorie restriction also put them at risk for rebound eating in the future.

A study by King’s College in London found that the chances of a severely obese man reaching a healthy body weight are 1 in 1,290 or 1 in 677 for a severely obese woman. Of those in the weight loss study who managed to lose 5% of their weight, 78% regained the lost weight within 5 years. It is the exception for dieters to lose weight and keep it off!

Research shows that dieters are more likely to become overweight than non – dieters; researchers at Florida State University followed a group of woman from 1982 to investigate how dieting affected their health in the long term. They discovered that the women who began dieting the earliest were more likely to be overweight or obese by the time they reached 30 years old.

Another study published by the Journal of the American Dietetic Association followed a group of 2,500 teenagers and revealed that those who attempted to control their weight were 3 times more likely to be overweight 5 years later. Also, the teenagers who dieted were more likely to suffer binge eating 5 years later.

What can be done as an alternative to dieting?

So if dieting doesn’t work, what now? Don’t let this research discourage you – there is lots that you can do and many things that you can control with regards to your weight and health.

By now you are already well on the way to making healthy changes which will help you to improve your health, manage weight loss and prevent future weight regain – lets just recap on some of the strategies that we are focusing on instead of mere calorie restriction:

Behaviour Change Strategies

The Journal of Psychosomatic Research published a study of 200 overweight people and found that behaviour change was of key importance in keeping lost weight off. One group in the study engaged in an extra hour of therapy which focused on behaviour change, along with other weight-loss strategies, while the other group did not receive therapy, but instead we’re given an extra hour of low-intensity exercise. The group receiving the extra therapy were able to maintain their weight loss, while the others did not.

So, do not underestimate the behaviour modifications you are making week by week and the time you are spending investing in yourself through this program – over time you will have a changed, improved relationship with food and have a better chance of losing weight and keeping it off than if you followed the latest diets.

Nutritional Education

By modifying what you eat and learning what your body needs and why, you are learning to maximise your nutrition and health, eliminate cravings, and balance and regulate your blood sugar.

Mindful Eating

This involves responding to your internal hunger cues, learning to slow down and eat without being distracted, and living a more mindful existence in general.

Thoughts, mindsets, & emotions

Changing your mindset, challenging unhealthy negative ways of thinking and being emotionally healthy can make a huge difference to your progress.

Will power

Willpower can be increased by making a few small tweaks to your lifestyle!

Your environment

Your environment can make or break your progress! Learn how to manage your environment in a way that facilitates your health!