Have you ever been Hangry? It’s hungry-angry: when you are so hungry that you turn emotionally reactive. While it might be funny to talk about and relatively inconsequential if it happens occasionally, for those of you who have health and wellness goals, getting hangry can derail efforts.

When we get overly hungry, our bodies produce more and more grehlin which is the hormone that signals hunger. It’s stressful on the body to not get it’s needs met so this hormone will stay elevated for longer, even when food is being eaten, and delay the release of leptin which is the hormone that signals fullness. The more often you get overly hungry, the less likely your body is to signal fullness. When this happens consistently over longer periods, these hormones may quit functioning in accordance with normal homeostasis as an adaption to survival. We do see that when individuals eat regularly (every 3-4 hours or so, 3 meals and 2 snacks), they are less likely to be resistant to leptin, meaning more likely to feel fullness when eating. Regular meals and snacks is what regulates normal hormone signaling, an essential part of meeting our health and wellness goals.

When blood sugar levels drop, it becomes difficult to concentrate. This can make staying level headed about food choices difficult. While I think the terms willpower and self-control are two misguided terms when it comes to describing our relationship with food, a sure fire way to exhaust them is to get overly hungry. We actually FEED willpower; you cannot make decisions that are in your best interest when your brain is inadequately fueled and nourished. The common belief is that eating less is best, but it definitely isn?t. It can leave you physically and psychologically deprived and deprivation always swings the pendulum the opposite way.

I encourage you to eat well-balanced meals – with snacks in between as needed – every 3-4 hours during the day (maybe 5 hours depending on how big your last meal was, but it?s easy to get overly hungry at this point). As you do this consistently, I think you will find that every body process works more effectively – digestion, sleep, mental function, hormone balance, etc. If you?ve done this, we would love to hear what benefits you have seen!

Related: What Time is Too Late To Eat?, Meal and Snack Ideas, Nutrient Density

Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD