Admit it: You're not yourself when you're hungry. But it's not just you: An empty belly has a way of bringing out the worst in people (hence the term hangry).
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Hunger affects much more than your mood, though. Which is why there are certain things you should definitely put on hold when your stomach is rumbling.
We tapped Bonnie Taub-Dix, RD, registered dietitian, creator of BetterThanDieting.com and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table, to break down the things you just shouldn't do if you haven't eaten in awhile.
1. Make a Big Decision
Not only can hunger make you irritable, it can make you impatient and impulsive, too. In fact, a study published in the September 2019 issue of Psychonomic Bulletin & Review found that hunger pains can impair your ability to make healthy decisions — and not just about food. Researchers noted that people who were hungry made choices based on instant gratification and at the expense of long-term goals.
Moral of the story? Avoid making any important decisions before you have food in your belly.
2. Pop Your Vitamins
Ever felt sick to your stomach after swallowing a daily multivitamin? That's probably because you took it on an empty stomach. Some vitamins are acidic and can upset your tummy. Taking them with food may help buffer these unpleasant gastrointestinal effects.
Plus, your body can absorb certain vitamins better when they're ingested with food, says Taub-Dix. For example, pairing an iron supplement with vitamin C-rich foods like citrus fruits, broccoli or strawberries will aid its absorption by the body. Taking vitamins before bed, when your stomach is full, is also another way to avoid any unwanted queasiness, says Taub-Dix.
That said, some vitamins may be better absorbed without food in your stomach, which might be important if you have certain medical conditions or nutritional deficiencies. If you take daily supplements, make sure to consult your doctor to devise a plan that works best for you.
3. Fill Your Food Cart
You probably already know this one, but never go food shopping on an empty stomach. It's hard to think clearly over the grumbling of your tummy. Even if you usually have the resolve to pass the cookie aisle, your willpower may wane in the face of hunger. Not only will you spend more money on things you don't need, but you're also more likely to buy unhealthy, high-caloric foods, says Taub-Dix.
Before you find yourself breaking open that new bag of chips on your way home, make a plan. Taub-Dix recommends carrying a KIND bar in your purse or stashing one in your glove compartment. Healthy snacks that have the right balance of protein, fat and carbs will keep you satisfied and stave off hunger (and bad decisions) for a few hours.
4. Sip on a Cocktail
Drinking alcohol on an empty stomach might give you a quick buzz, but it can also make you feel lightheaded, dizzy and sick. That's because alcohol decreases your blood sugar, says Taub-Dix. And if you haven't eaten anything in hours, you might already have low blood sugar, which creates a potentially dangerous situation. Why? Well, when your blood sugar level dips too low, you can pass out. So, if falling off a bar stool is not your idea of fun, keep the booze to a minimum before you can get some food in your belly.
Need another reason to skip the spirits when you're operating on an empty stomach? Alcohol will make you even hungrier. Yup, alcohol is an appetite stimulant. That's why you're usually ravenous after you toss back a few — which is bad news for people who are trying to lose weight. Picture this: You planned to eat a healthy dinner, but now that you're starving and a little tipsy, you proceed to binge all the bread and butter on the table. Yikes.
5. Eat Spicy Food
Love food with a kick? Some people can tolerate spicy foods better than others, but if you missed lunch, you might want to hold off on the hot sauce during dinner. Eating spicy foods on an empty stomach might feel like you're burning a hole through your innards, says Taub-Dix. That's because there's no other food in your system to act as a buffer. In other words, make sure you snack on something before you dig into a dish seasoned with cayenne or chili pepper. Or drink a glass of milk — dairy, which coats your stomach, can cut the heat and take the edge off super spicy foods.
6. Down a Coffee
Do you have a cup of joe first thing in the morning? If you sip some brew before breakfast, you might notice a slight stomachache. That's because the acid found in your coffee can be harsh on your tummy, says Taub-Dix, adding that people who suffer with acid reflux and ingestion are particularly vulnerable to these effects. To make matters worse, coffee may stimulate your stomach to produce even more acid.
What can a coffee-lover do, then? Listen to your body. If a cup before breakfast upsets your stomach, eat a little something before you fire up the Keurig.
7. Do a Tough Workout
If you're the type who can go beast-mode in a HIIT class on an empty stomach, kudos. Conversely, if you skipped breakfast and feel sapped during class, your body might need food — pre-gym — to perform its best. For some, not eating enough before hitting the gym can make you dizzy, lightheaded or queasy.
A pre-exercise meal or snack gives you the energy and endurance to push harder and power through a tough workout, says Taub-Dix. A half hour or so before you exercise, nosh on a piece of fruit, which will give you the healthy carbs you need for a quick energy boost.
But, ultimately, whether you choose to eat before a sweat session (or not) is a personal preference. Bottom line: It all depends on your body, so heed what it tells you.