Therapy Digest 03

Hangry is a real emotion

The term ‘Hangry’ meaning angry and hungry has been added to Oxford English Dictionary this year.

A real phenomenon for many of us is that as your empty stomach rumbles become more frequent, your temper shortens giving us the concept of being ‘hangry’ which is anger induced hunger.

Studies from the scientific research from the University of North Carolina has found a link to how hunger can generate the feeling of anger in a person.

While experiencing the feeling of hangry the researches found proof of how emotional response to neutral images and scenarios are perceived more negatively when hungry. Another key finding is that anxiety and stress also increase when hangry.

A drop in blood sugar levels from not eating was initially thought to be the cause for these negative feelings. However, a study published by the American Psychological Association reveals it is more complicated than initially thought and is a complex emotional response down to biology, personality and environmental cues.

“We all know that hunger can sometimes affect our emotions and perceptions of the world around us. however, but it’s only recently that the expression hangry, meaning bad-tempered or irritable because of hunger, was accepted by the Oxford Dictionary,” said lead author Jennifer MacCormack, MA, a doctoral student in the department of psychology and neuroscience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The researchers carried out experiments on more than 400 Americans to draw their conclusions.

McCormick continued, “The purpose of our research is to understand the psychological mechanisms of hunger better-

Two key factors determine whether the feeling of hunger will contribute to negative emotions or not: context and self-awareness.

The study’s co-author professor Kristen Lindquist, PhD said, “You don’t just become hungry and start lashing out at the universe.”

“We’ve all felt hungry, recognised the unpleasantness as hunger, had a sandwich and felt better. We find that feeling hangry happens when you feel unpleasantness due to hunger but interpret those feelings as strong emotions about other people or the situation you’re in.”

As well as these environmental cues, how hangry a person feels is affected by their level of emotional awareness – if you’re more aware that your hunger is making you feel irritable, you’re less likely to express a hangry attitude.

In a second experiment, researchers found that hungry individuals reported increased unpleasant emotions like feeling stressed and hateful when they were not aware of their own emotions. They also expressed more negative feelings towards others.

In contrast, those who were mindful awareness of their own emotions and spent time thinking about their feelings, even when hungry, did not report these shifts in emotions or social perceptions.

“By simply taking a step back from the present situation and recognising how you’re feeling, you can still be you even when hungry,” MacCormack said.

“It’s important to take care of our bodies, to pay attention to those bodily signals and not discount them, because they matter not just for our long-term mental health, but also for the day-to-day quality of our psychological experiences, social relationships and work performance.”

So, if you feel you are prone to mood changes when you are hungry and possibly behave in more negative ways at work or home you would gain insight and control over your emotions by taking just a few moments to explore how you are feeling. A more mindful attitude would help reset your negative perceptions to ones that are at least neutral or even more positive – making the world around you seem less negative too.

Experiencing strong emotions around your hunger levels or feeling strong cravings for specific foodstuffs may indicate that your relationship with food is out of kilter. If you want to explore bringing yourself back into balance, then book an obligation free discovery call on this page.


Alcohol replaces food for some bariatric patients.

Bariatric surgery is an effective treatment for severe obesity, but it can have unintended negative psycho-social consequences, including an increased risk of alcohol use disorder or even Class A drug use.

The medical profession believes a greater understanding of the psychosocial effects of bariatric surgery will probably improve treatment outcomes. However, I think that successful long-term results without addiction switching would be enhanced by exploring and resolving the psychosocial reasons for prospective patients with excessive food consumption leading to their morbid obesity.

The UK National Health Service (NHS ) has strict criteria for people who want bariatric surgery.

These include:

1. A body mass index (BMI) of 40 or more, or a BMI of between 35 and 40 together with an obesity-related condition that might improve with weight loss (such as type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure.)

2. Prospective candidates must have exhausted all other weight loss methods, such as dieting and exercise, but have struggled to lose weight or keep it off.

3. Patient has to agree to long-term follow-up after surgery – such as making healthy lifestyle changes and attending regular medical check-ups.

The three-point guide-lines sound straightforward enough in theory. Point 2 demands that prospects have tried and exhausted all other weight loss methods which are not unusual for people who have struggled all their life with yo-yo dieting. However what is not immediately apparent is that bariatric surgery is subjected to the same postcode lottery as many other surgical procedures with a health service struggling to meet the needs of its raging populace.
Hence, I see more post-surgery bariatric clients who had their surgery overseas as private patients.

Why do they seek out a therapist after their surgery?

Two main issues continue to challenge some post-bariatric patients.

The first focus on self-image. Once a once obese person has lost a great deal of their excess weight, which can happen rapidly after bariatric surgery, it is challenging for them to believe and fully absorb the concept that they are slim.

Their subconscious mind maintains an image of themselves as much larger and heavier. For instance, people who have lost a great deal of weight often dream they are still morbidly obese, or on waking in the morning feeling the same familiar negative feelings they had about themselves they felt before their body changed.

They are also often impervious to compliments from friends and family as although the transformation has taken place physically, and they look considerably different, it has not taken place for them emotionally in a way that they can believe and fully accept.

It is vital to correct their misconception of themselves as otherwise, the newly lighter, and fitter person will not feel the emotional benefits from the changes in their physique and so will not be invested emotionally in doing their utmost to support their healthier body.

My therapy work addresses this unique type of body-dysmorphia and through a series of techniques allows them to change and update how their subconscious mind views their new self. The desired result is that the physical self and the subconscious mind are aligned with the new reality and when that is authentically in place a person can thrive in their healthier body.

The second focus of my work is to address the addiction switch from food to alcohol or recreational drugs that international specialists in bariatric surgery are seeing in a percentage of their patients.

My therapy work here explores the emotional drivers of over-eating or disordered eating that led to them becoming morbidly obese in the first place. The medical profession is increasingly recognising that the psychological reasons for eating when not hungry are as essential to resolving as the physiological reasons.

To erase the emotional triggers to binge eating and sugar cravings along with ending the need to over-eat without causing any sense of deprivation or denial is the missing piece to stop addiction switching from food to other substances for some post-bariatric surgery patients.

If you struggle with your cravings for sugar or the need to eat overeat when you are no longer hungry, and you feel ready to reset your relationship with food you can book an obligation free discovery call with me via the link on this page.


When bread can make you sad

Mental health experts have reported that Ireland’s top-selling sliced-pan bread can lead to ‘severe depression’ as additives are having a critical impact on psychological health.

The bread which proved to be the nation’s most-loved comfort food during the recent Storm Emma is among the 50 per cent of ‘hyper-processed’ foods which makes up the weekly shop in the Republic of Ireland.

It is claimed that improvers’ such as enzymes are added to bread to give it extra shelf life. As a result, the bread which should be stale after two days can last much longer.

Nutritionists agree that standard white bread is generally bad for your health as it is made of all-purpose flour and can lead to obesity, high cholesterol and diabetes.

Leading food culture writer John McKenna said indulging on too many sliced pans loaves could also be leading to “severe depression”.

He continued, “The thing that has interested me in recent years is the research that’s gone into the microbiome, in other words, research into all the bacteria in our gut.”

McKenna said, “When you eat a piece of bread, you’re feeding two things, your appetite and all the bugs in your gut.”

“If you don’t feed those bugs you are not going to feel good, and it’s increasingly obvious that problems with depression and other aspects of mental health are now linked to the gut.”

“This is why I get concerned when I see the modern loaf, and it’s just so lifeless. Most wheat now is sprayed with glyphosate, which is one of the most widely used pesticides in the world.”

As Liz Hogon and I wrote in our book How to Feel Differently About Food, bread generally hasn’t been the ‘staff of life’ for a long time. Mechanised Chorleywood-style baking methods and modifications to wheat crops have done nothing for positive for bread. The modern-day loaf is unrecognisable from the bread of our grandmothers’ day. Stodgy and bloat-inducing, it is full of sugar, salt and starchy carbohydrates.

Bread is increasingly linked to digestive issues and weight gain. Either go expensive with artisan bread made from a selection of organic flours using traditional, slow methods such as sourdough which uses a long fermenting process instead of yeast; home bake bread, or leave it out.

The bread rolls given out at dinner to sailors in the Navy are nicknamed ‘fat pills’ and are left uneaten by the more able seamen.

If you want to continue to eat bread, experiment with artisan bread from specialist bakers. Spelt bread and other varieties made with ancient grains are becoming more widely available.

You may find eating a slice of toasted artisan bread along with your morning eggs tastes terrific and doesn’t cause you any bloating.

McKenna continued, “Ted Dinan at UCC (University College Cork) is quite fascinating on this, he is a clinical psychiatrist, and he has given examples of two patients, a male student and a slightly older woman, both with chronic depression, and how he changed their diet and had them turned around in six weeks.”
“These people were severely depressed. The link between mental health and diets comes down to hyper-processed foods.
“Over 50 per cent of the food people are putting in their baskets in the supermarkets are hyper-processed, and the most popular bread in Ireland, (the standard white sliced) is one of these things.

“People eating all these processed foods are essentially malnourished and are suffering as a result.”

Stats from the European Food Information Council shows the average EU citizen munches on 50kg of bread every year or three to four slices per day.

Although Ireland’s consumption is amongst the lowest in Europe, 33 per cent admit to eating bread every day, and experts say the “improvers” in our favourite brands such as Brennan’s and Pat the Baker are “extremely worrying”.

Understanding the link between nutrition and mental health is currently in its infancy. More and more scientific studies are taking place that evidence the connection between poor gut health and depression.

Liz Hogon and I more fully explore this topic in our book How to Feel Differently About food. Available here on Amazon UK.

If you find yourself feeling out of control around food and not able to cut down or eliminate foods that you recognise are not suitable for your health then you may be an emotional eater. You can take our quiz here.

For children to thrive –  say no

The media at the moment is full of stories of children addicted to their smartphones or obsessed with playing ‘Fortnite’ currently their favourite video game.

Today’s parents have been early adopters of home electronics as they grew up playing some of the first favourite computer games available on the market such as Tetris, Donkey Kong and Super Mario Brothers.

It seemed natural for them as parents to gift their children the latest tech so that now many households are choco-block to the eves with PC games, dedicated gaming systems and handheld consoles.

Equally, these very same parents are the first generation to face the challenge of successfully integrating smartphones and video gaming with raising their children.

There is no point in even fantasising we could go back to the simplicity of living in rural Virginia during the Great Depression depicted in the popular 1970s US TV series ‘The Waltons’. They seemingly lived contentedly as a family with barely any electricity let alone without the fastest wi-fi network, super fast fibre-optic-broadband and the ever-growing sophistication of their smart home gadgets.

We live in complex and challenging times where parents are struggling almost as much as their children to put boundaries in place around their compulsive use of video gaming, smartphones and electronic tablets at home.

It’s difficult to claim the moral high ground with their children when they are just as likely to spend their evenings watching Netflix or Prime distracted on their tablets or using their smartphone at the dining table during meal times.

This cohort of parents straddling as they do Gen-X (born 1965-1980) and Millennials (born 1981-1996) are also unique in often wanting to continue the liberal 1960s parenting style and to blur the line between themselves and their children.

It makes it difficult to impose boundaries on their children’s behaviour when the parents themselves no longer want the demarcation between them and their children to be authority based. Instead, they strive to be friends with their children.

Pressured at work and mainly only with their children first thing in the morning or after work in the evenings’ parents are reluctant to come home exhausted and do anything that will cause conflict with their kids as they want their family time to be as enjoyable and hassle-free as possible.

This situation would be tenable if the latest video games were as benign as the ones adults remember from their childhood. Unfortunately, that is not the case, and the multi-million dollar gaming industry has developed the specialist technology and expertise in coding that now results in a completely immersive gaming experience that makes real life seem disappointing and dull by comparison.

The hands-off style of parenting cannot compete with the compulsive power of video gaming, and yet still parents are reluctant to impose restrictions or say no.

There is talk of governments issuing directives to impose restrictions on internet access for children. Also of Schools warning parents how their children’s behaviour influenced by games such as Fortnite are having a detrimental effect on their t children’s education and yet still parents are reluctant to break the spell these games have over their children and say no.

Some parents seem to want to compensate their children for the lack of quality time and energy they spend with them by allowing them free-rein to set their agenda. There is also an expectation that children will be able to impose their good sense in the face of these compelling games.

Children can not develop the resilience they need to succeed in their life by growing up without clear boundaries. No child ever suffered by being fairly treated by compassionate parents who have their children’s best interests at heart. Many children, however, do suffer from being raised in a chaotic and changeable environment where they are unsure of what is expected from them or with an ever-changing set of rules that may or not be enforced on a whim by pre-occupied, or guilt-wracked parents.

Children need adults to take responsibility so that they experience clear boundaries upheld calmly and respectfully. The children in response learn to regulate their behaviour and manage their negative emotions.

In subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways having to comply with their parents’ boundaries about anything from going to bed at a set time to limiting the amount of time spent gaming or on their smartphone teaches children that they can and manage their feelings of frustration, disappointment or even anger.

By never allowing children to feel and manage their uncomfortable emotions they are not able to build up their resilience track record. If a child is always given in to or the parents acquiesce to their demands, then the adult world can later seem more anxiety provoking than necessary.

We are seeing some of the fall-outs from this type of parenting with the effects on the mental well-being of young people living away from home for the first time to attend university.

The many simultaneous challenges of new found independence, relationship building and social pressure together with having to manage their self-guided learning requires new students to draw deeply on their resilience. The young adults who tend to fare better already trust their ability to recover from setbacks and disappointments so that they not only survive their new challenging environment but thrive too which is what we all want for our children.

If you are struggling with your addictive behaviour or are finding it hard to impose boundaries with your children around their behaviour then learning to trust your intuition can be a powerful first step to making the changes you want for you and your family. If this feels familiar to you, then book an obligation free-call with me now