If you notice that you’re starting to become moody, don’t simply label your feelings as “bad,” Fazio says. Instead, interrogate yourself a bit and get more specific. Understanding “bad” to be anxious, jittery, or fatigued can clue you in that you’re experiencing symptoms of low blood sugar, she says, so you can (hopefully) get something to eat before you lose it. Other emotional descriptors that might be a sign of budding hanger might include “foggy-headed,” “irritable,” or “impatient.”
If your foul mood doesn’t seem to be associated with symptoms of low blood sugar, maybe you’re not hangry—maybe you’re just plain mad. Anger is a valid and, when managed appropriately, healthy emotion. Constantly writing off any irritability or anxiety as hunger-related won’t serve you well in the long run—because you might also be feeling depressed, or maybe your coworker really is that annoying. It’s true that sometimes you need some trail mix and a glass of water, but other times the fix may come in the form of a walk outside or a venting session with a trusted friend.
Grab a snack that pairs carbs with protein.
The obvious solution to feeling hangry is to eat something ASAP, but putting some thought into what you eat might help you feel better in the long term. According to Basbaum, the knee-jerk reaction to feeling “hangry” is often to reach for a quick snack that’s high in carbs. Your body is looking for energy replenishment, and foods with simple carbohydrates (think candy, pastries, and granola bars) fit the bill. They also tend to be what we have at hand at work or on the go.
If those foods sound good to you, or they’re all you have access to, there’s nothing wrong with eating them (despite the way diet culture elevates certain foods over others). That said, they might not help you out of a hangry jam; Bausbaum explains that if you don’t pair your carbs with a protein source, you’ll likely have another crash in an hour or so. The goal, she says, is not to spike your blood sugar, but to stabilize it, and protein can help with that.
Fazio recommends pairing carbs like fruit, toast, or crackers with high-protein foods such as Greek yogurt, nuts, or nut butter. A high-protein smoothie or shake is another option, if you have access to a blender. If you’re on the road and hit a rest stop without a wide selection, Bausbaum says that pre-packaged peanut butter crackers or chocolate milk are decent options.
Again, there are no wrong food choices here. If Doritos are calling your name, there’s zero shame in the nacho-cheese game. But if you’re set on staving off hunger, consider pairing your chips with some protein-packed beef jerky (or get chicken nuggets with your fries, or add some nuts to your ice cream) to help steady your blood sugar.
Prevent hanger by regularly fueling your body.
Plan A, Basbaum says, should be to prevent hanger from happening in the first place, and both she and Fazio agree that eating nutrient-dense meals on a predictable schedule each day is one of the best things you can do to keep your blood sugar and energy steady. If you’re regularly getting hangry, Fazio recommends taking an “audit” of each major meal (breakfast, lunch, dinner) to ensure that protein, fat, and carbohydrates (including fiber) are present to help meet your overall nutrient needs and keep your blood sugar (and mood) in a stable range.
Of course, you don’t need to follow these guidelines to a T—no one meal or snack makes or breaks a “healthy” diet, and obsessing over food rules can lead to disordered eating (which can also worsen your mood, by the way). But if you’re regularly getting hangry, it might be worth experimenting with small changes to your eating habits, since consistently getting a variety of foods (and enough food overall) can keep your blood sugar in a happy, versus hangry, place.