It’s normal to be hungry for certain periods during the day or leading up to a meal, but some people fear the feeling. That type of distress can lead to poor food choices, like eating whatever’s available to avoid the pangs.
“People have a real fear that they’ll be angry, aggressive, or lethargic if they don’t eat when they’re hungry,” explains Bethany Snodgrass, holistic health coach and operations manager at the Equinox Fitness Training Institute in New York City. That makes sense, since your brain’s hypothalamus controls hunger, thirst, and several emotions. But it’s not just a product of biology—we’ve also been conditioned to think this way. If you’re used to eating regularly, the thought of food scarcity (even if it’s just for one meal) can be anxiety-inducing.
The often-subconscious fear can lead to unhealthy choices, especially if it sets in when you’re overwhelmed or on-the-go. In those circumstances, your body goes into survival mode and craves simple carbohydrates, Snodgrass explains. So if you’re about to hop on a plane and you’re worried you’ll get hungry mid-flight, you could end up buying processed snacks instead of waiting to have a healthy meal once you land.
The bottom line:
Hunger comes in waves, and sometimes you need to ride one out to realize you can make it through with no harm done, Snodgrass says. Fasting for 12 to 16 hours can help you come to that conclusion. If you do find yourself anxious about getting hungry on a long flight or during an hours-long outing, bring a piece of fruit. The natural sugars will satisfy the need for a quick blood sugar boost, she says.