Is Hunger Making You Angry?

Hunger Anger

First Posted: 19/09/11 18:28 Updated: 11/10/11 18:54

Ever wondered why you find it hard to keep your temper under control when you haven't eaten for a while?

According to researchers at Cambridge University, when the body starts to feel hungry, levels of the brain chemical serotonin, dip, causing a whirlwind of uncontrollable emotions including anxiety, stress and anger.

These fluctuating serotonin levels affect the brain regions that enable people to regulate anger, making us prone to aggression when hungry.

The findings were discovered after researchers altered the volunteers' diet, feeding them foods that affected the levels of serotonin, such as essential amino acid tryptophan, and then taking it away from their diet to monitor the change.

Their brain reactions were then scanned after they viewed angry, sad and neutral facial expressions. The results showed that those with low serotonin levels communicated with the amygdala (the system that controls emotion in the brain).

The researchers behind the study, which was recently published in the Biological Psychiatry Journal, hope that the results will help diagnose other psychiatric conditions.

“We are hopeful that our research will lead to improved diagnostics as well as better treatments for this and other conditions," says researcher Luca Passamonti.

If you’re worried about your serotonin levels dropping, make sure you stock up on foods which boost your serotonin intake, such as pumpkin seeds, walnuts, avocado, dates, bananas and rolled oats.

Keeping the hunger pangs at bay can be difficult, so check out these top 10 tips from Slimming World nutritionist Dr Jacquie Lavin on how to keep your serotonin levels high and feel fuller longer.


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  • How To Curb Hunger Pangs

    Top tips on how to keep those hunger pangs under control.

  • Choose Filling Foods

    Foods like pasta, rice, potatoes, fish and lean meat have a high satiety value, meaning they fill you up quicker and for longer. They're also relatively low in energy density, which means they contain few calories compared with how filling they are. People who base their meals around these foods are able to enjoy larger amounts of food, meaning they lose weight without ever going hungry and without the stress of feeling deprived.

  • Plan Ahead

    When you feel stressed your body can cry out for a quick energy boost, so readily available snacks like crisps, chocolate and fizzy drinks can be tempting when you crave an immediate pick me up. However these foods can lead to a vicious cycle by causing your blood sugar levels to rise but then crash quickly, making you hungry again. 
Planning ahead for situations like these by having healthy snacks like fruit, fat free yogurt or vegetable crudités ready will help keep your appetite stable, without the sugar rush.

  • Eat To Satisfy Your Appetite

    If you're stressed about your weight you may have tried cutting down your portion sizes in an attempt to slim down. However trying to live on small portions will leave you hungry, which will increase your stress levels and make you more likely to tuck into high fat fast foods or on foods like pie and chips or biscuits and chocolate. To avoid the temptation for unhealthy snacks always eat enough to satisfy your appetite. Healthy, filling meals keep your appetite and energy levels stable, managing stress and your weight at the same time.

  • Get Active

    Taking regular activity is a great way to tackle stress. According to NHS Choices 'physical activity can boost your mental wellbeing and improve your outlook on life.' Moderate to intense activity also suppresses appetite for up to a few hours. There is also evidence that regular activity can 'normalise' your appetite. In other words 'tuning up' the appetite regulatory system so that you're less likely to seek out food when you don't really need it. It can also help you to sleep better, which is great for stress levels.
 The good news is that being active doesn't have to mean signing up for a gym or taking up jogging. Anything from a walk in the park to gardening or even dancing around the house to music can make a difference. If you're having fun you'll reduce your stress levels and be more likely to keep it up in the long run. And regular activity will also boost your weight loss, which will give you one less thing to be stressed about!

  • Eat Breakfast

    Some people just can't face breakfast first thing, but if you can, a healthy, balanced breakfast will give you a great start to the day. People who skip breakfast are more likely to feel hungry and stressed through the morning, and are more likely to turn to easy to grab snacks like crisps or chocolate as a mid morning stop gap. Planning to pause at some point in the morning when you start feeling hungry and enjoy a healthy filling snack of yogurt and fruit and a slice of wholemeal toast will help to keep hunger at bay until lunchtime.

  • Share Ideas With Others

    There's no doubt that the slimmers who attend our groups benefit from talking through their problems and successes, and sharing practical ideas, with likeminded people. They learn to spot the times when they struggle and might be tempted to give up on their slimming campaign - such as in periods of stress - so that they can manage them. Getting together regularly with a supportive group to focus on tackling an issue that is causing stress, like being overweight for example, is in itself one way to tackle the issue.

  • Cut Down On Alcohol

    Studies show that alcohol stimulates the appetite and can cause people to crave quick and easy foods that tend to be high in fat. Alcohol also contains 'empty calories', meaning it adds to your daily energy intake with no other nutritional value. Calories in drinks are also not well recognised by the body's appetite system, so do nothing to stave off hunger.

  • Enjoy Plenty of Fibre

    Foods that are high in fibre, like fruit and vegetables and whole grain foods are among the most powerful appetite-satisfiers so they keep you feeling fuller for longer and keep hunger at bay. Fibre can also help protect against many diseases and keeps your digestive system healthy.

  • Choose Whole Fruits, Not Juice

    Fruit juice and fruit smoothies have become hugely fashionable in recent years as people look for easy ways to hit their 'five a day', but whole fruits are a far more effective way of upping your nutrient intake and they'll satisfy your hunger too.
Government recommendations state that fruit juice can only ever count as one of your five a day as it is lower in fibre and also high in sugar - in fact anything above 125ml still only counts as one of your daily fruit portions.
 Because of their bulk and fibre content, whole fruits keep hunger at bay far more effectively. And if you're still thirsty choose still water or a diet drink as a healthier alternative."

  • Is Your Hunger Physical Or Emotional?

    Many people turn to food for comfort, mistaking their emotional reliance on it as physical hunger and this can lead to stress. If your eating tends to be more mood driven, you can try to find other ways of giving yourself an emotional lift when you're feeling down or lonely. Phoning a friend, putting on your favourite film or going out for a walk will all give you a boost. Finding healthier food alternatives that mean when you do get a craving for something sweet you can overindulge without making yourself feel guilty can also help.


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