What Are Side Effects of Hunger?

Hanger—it happens to the best of us. Our mood suddenly takes a scary turn when those hunger pains strike. But why does this happen? It’s simple: our body depends on eating to stay alive. It knows when it’s low on energy and manifests into physical symptoms that can be mistaken for other conditions.

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When you’re hungry, the body doesn’t have the proper nutrients to fuel brain power, replenish cells and provide an energy boost. Aside from irritability and mood swings, hunger often causes fatigue—the most common complaint. It can also lead to an inability to concentrate, feelings of confusion and lack of focus. On a larger scale, children that go to school on an empty stomach can suffer academically. (In 2016, 6.5 million children lived in homes that were food-insecure, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture). Similarly, if you’ve had a long day of work without food and suddenly find your mind wandering, you may be in need of a high-calorie snack or meal to get back on track.

Even scarier, hunger can cause abdominal pain. Eating too little can cause similar sensations to those you get once you’ve overeaten. Abdominal pain is variable per person but it’s possible your bowels may start to feel a little out of whack when they’re not being properly furnished with food. According to many tertiary care hospitals, symptoms of nausea can also accompany abdominal pain caused by hunger.

The brain is a very high utilizer of glucose and it’s important to keep refueling with food at the appropriate intervals needed for your body. These intervals vary from person to person; some people rarely eat breakfast or lunch and can live off a 3,000 calorie dinner every day. More commonly, it helps to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner to promote continuity in nutritional intake.

When someone is extremely hungry, I suggest eating high calorie and high sugar foods. A banana or a protein shake is what I turn to when I need something high in fiber, sugar and protein to replenish energy fast.

dr. uruj kamal

dr. uruj kamal

Dr. Uruj Kamal is Chief Resident of Adult Outpatient Psychiatry at Baystate Medical Center-University of Massachusetts Medical School. A Stony Brook native, she enjoys combining her knowledge of mental health with healthy living. Dr. Kamal has a special interest in outpatient adult psychiatry.