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Why Do People Get Hangry?

Kari - Jenny Craig

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“Hanger” is a phrase used when one can trace their anger back to their state of hunger. But why does hanger happen in the first place? Jenny Craig’s Senior Director of Science and Behavioral Interventions, Lisa Talamini, explains that scientists trace the “hanger response” to two things: low blood sugar (glucose) and increased levels of “fight or flight” hormones. 


But how does one get to a point of “hanger?” Lisa notes that skipping meals or delaying eating for too long can lead to a reduced delivery of glucose to the brain, a perceived “danger” that stimulates the release of stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline, which cause the “fight or flight” response), as well as the brain neuropeptide Y. This cascade of events is experienced as anger/anxiety, and the natural response might be to eat! That’s why starvation diets are so counter-productive.  


At Jenny Craig, we encourage frequent meals and snacks—6 of them in a day to maintain even blood sugars and to keep pre-meal hunger at a “mild” vs. “maniac” level. In fact, we encourage clients to practice the HALT strategy to consciously tune in for signs of getting too hungry, angry/anxious, lonely or tired, all of which can lead to a binge.


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How can you check for signs of HALT? Here is a quick checklist you can use:


  • Hunger: “Hanger” begins with hunger, so evaluate when the last time you ate was and what you ate. Was your meal satisfying, or were you still feeling ravenous? If you were still feeling hungry, make sure to add more Fresh & Free Additions to your meals! Make sure that you also have snacks available, like our Classic Hummus & Wheat Crackers that you can add additional vegetables like carrots or bell peppers to, or have a crunchy snack, like celery or an apple, before sinking your teeth into our satisfying S’mores Bar. 
  • Anger/anxious: Evaluate your state of mind and body to figure out what may be making you anxious or angry. What has happened so far in your day, or are you anxious about an upcoming situation or deadline? If so, make a plan for how you can approach the situation to make it less stressful. It’s important to find time to step away from a situation, too, so if you need to go out and get some fresh air, go for it! 
  • Lonely: Loneliness can creep up on you, especially if you’ve had a busy week where you haven’t been able to check-in as often as you like with friends or family. Send a quick text to a few friends or call them to let them know you want to catch up. Making plans to get you out of your work/home routine will break up the loneliness and give you something to look forward to.
  • Tired: Depriving your body of the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep can take its toll.. When you get enough sleep, your body is better able to regulate the hormones that make you feel hungry and full. 


Remember to take the time to HALT so you can take care of your health. If you would like help with other weight loss strategies, find a local neighborhood Jenny Craig center near you or call 866-706-4042. 

Edited by Kari - Jenny Craig

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