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Master Your Hunger and Improve Your Mood, Mind, and Relationships
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The inspiration for this book began eleven years ago—in church.
No, it wasn’t divine intervention. It was a moment of sheer embarrassment.
That day in church I had made a grave mistake, but I didn’t know it until about twenty minutes into the service.
I remember it vividly. At first, everything was going well. It was like any other Sunday. My eighteen-month-old daughter was smiling and waving, entertaining the people seated around us. I was so proud of her. She looked cute as a button and angelic in a pink, ruffly dress with a pink bow secured in her blond hair.
But then she began to get fussy and wiggly.
I recognized this change in her demeanor immediately and knew exactly what it meant. I smiled and reached calmly into my oversized bag for her Cheerios. My hand fished around the bottom of the bag. Then I began to frantically search the pockets.
Oh no. Did I forget the Cheerios? I thought. These were essential to getting through an hour-long service. I made the baggie, I know I did. But then a memory flashed before my eyes: the bag of Cheerios, still sitting on our marble kitchen countertop.
I tried to distract her with her plush Elmo and silly faces, but before my horrified eyes, she began to unravel. She stomped her feet and insisted on her Cheerios. I tried some frantic shushing. The people around me were beginning to give me “that look.”
Then, before I knew it, she dashed up the aisle, threw herself down in front of the congregation and had a full-on meltdown. Oh yes. Screaming. Wailing.
I wanted to disappear into the floor. Instead, I dashed to the front to carry her off—arms and feet flailing. As I rushed her out, in front of everyone, my face was a dark shade of crimson.
I had just had an unforgettable lesson in the power of hunger to change our moods.
Let’s fast-forward to today. My daughter is a teenager now, but despite all the ways in which she’s grown up since that day in church, I still see how the power of food influences her mood.
When I pick her up from school, I can read the emotional climate as soon as the car door shuts. It ranges from “Hey Mom, ask me all about my day!” to “Don’t talk to me until I feel human again.” True, lots of things besides hunger affect a teenager’s mood. But I am still in awe of how big a factor hunger is on that list. So I’ve learned to wait until we are home and she has had a healthy snack before I ask too many questions about her day. It’s worth the wait to hear about what is happening when she has a well-nourished stomach. It’s often the difference between a curt “My day was fine” or “Let me tell you all about what happened today, Mom.…”
I often talk with my daughter and son about the food and mood connection. Cognitively, they get it. Good food = good mood. Pretty straightforward.
But it wasn’t until I took a trip to New York City with my daughter that this concept really hit home for her. My mother, my daughter, and I drove to New York City from Ohio—about eight hours. We started the day with a solid breakfast and had almost reached New Jersey before everyone in the car really began to talk about how hungry they were getting.
I had packed some snacks. My daughter suggested we dig into them so we could skip the mediocre roadside options and focus on finding amazing food in NYC.
I liked this plan. I was dreaming about Thai food in Chelsea.
But to my surprise, my mom crossed her arms and snipped angrily, “I don’t want junk. I want food. Real food.”
My daughter and I exchanged glances. But as my mom had insisted, I drove until I found the next exit.
At the restaurant where we stopped, when my mom went to the bathroom, my daughter tapped me on the shoulder. “I’m sorry for all the things I’ve ever said when I was hangry,” she said earnestly. I knew this word—the combination of hungry and angry. It was the perfect description of what was happening here.
I smiled internally at my daughter’s dead-serious expression. Until that day, she had not witnessed the power of hunger to turn her sweet, mild-mannered grandma into a hungry bear!
“We could all use some hanger management in our lives,” I told her. And voila! The title for this book was born.
I want to take a moment here for an important caveat. There are many people in the world today who are hungry because they do not have access to food. They are hungry, and sometimes literally starving, for reasons other than the ones that we cover in this book. I don’t mention this to provoke guilt. But I think it is important to acknowledge that the hunger I’ll be talking about in these pages isn’t the type that comes from lack of access to food. It comes from a different problem, and one that we can be grateful for even as we manage it: the struggles we face because we have an abundance of food. Kind of like the way a flood presents a problem different from those caused by a drought.
My hope is that my daughter and son both learn the art of managing their emotional and physical hunger well, so that they can be at their best as young adults—and as adults. And I work in my office at the Cleveland Clinic and through the virtual office of my website (eatingmindfully.com) every day with people who are trying to be their best selves—as parents, employees, students, friends, family members, and significant others.
When we are running on empty—attempting to diet and live on as little food as possible—we are distracted constantly by thoughts of food. Or when we are just plain too busy to make eating well a priority, hunger-induced moodiness can take over. Often, we chalk our bad moods up to stress. In fact, it’s the impact of being undernourished—or filled with foods that completely wreck our mood.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
In this book, you will learn about how food can help you to be your best self, too.
Right now, I am smiling. I’m excited to share what I have learned about the psychological power of food.
Thank you for joining me, my kids, and my clients on this journey, turning any hangriness you might have in your life into happiness.
Bad-tempered or irritable as a result of hunger. A blend of hungry and angry.
“My boyfriend and I almost broke up today. We had been waiting for an hour to be seated at our favorite restaurant. The hostess barely acknowledged our presence. I tapped my foot impatiently. As each moment ticked by, I became more and more hangry. I kept needling him about whether he had gone grocery shopping today. Then I critiqued the list of things he bought. We’ve been trying to eat healthier. The result? No food in the house. He told me to be quiet and turned away from me. He didn’t feel like talking. He said, “I’m starving, what’s the freaking holdup?” Eventually, he walked out the door. He stood outside and paced. I screamed out the door for him to just leave. It got ugly, fast. When we are hangry, neither one of us is a rational human being.”
We’ve all been there.
All of us have snapped at someone just because we were hungry. And probably someone we know and love has crabbed at us simply because they had a seriously empty belly. When we’re not well fed, none of us are at our best. Irritable. Snappy. Downright angry. With my clients, I call this feeling “hangry,” a popular term that combines hungry and angry.
But it’s not just being hungry that can ruin our mood. Overeating leads to feelings that are just as unpleasant. Hanger can lead us to overeat, which leaves us feeling what I call “regretfull”—a combination of regret and full. It is the physical and emotional discomfort that comes from overeating in a mindless way. I’ll explain these concepts in more detail throughout the book. But my guess is that if you are reading this right now, you’ve experienced them firsthand already. At one time or another, we have all experienced the downright unpleasant feelings that come from being too hungry or overly full.
In my work with thousands of clients in my office and through my virtual practice, I’ve learned an important truth. Emotions have a huge impact on the way you eat. And what you eat has a significant impact on how you feel. But managing your hunger isn’t easy. It’s tricky to stay on top of hunger—feeding your stomach just the right amount, not too much and not too little.
The good news is that there are simple, effective strategies for managing hunger-induced moodiness. And strategies that don’t just prevent moodiness, but actually boost your mood through eating. Yes, that’s right. Eating well can make you feel amazing!
I call it Hanger Management. In this book, we’ll get to the bottom of what causes hanger—and how to prevent it. And using the techniques of mindful eating, you’ll learn to be on top of your eating habits and at your best. As a special bonus for buying this book, please visit my website, eatingmindfully.com, for freebies to help you kick hanger to the curb.
HANGER MANAGEMENT: IT’S PROBABLY NOT WHAT YOU THINK—AND THAT’S GOOD NEWS!
The other day I went to a birthday party for a colleague of mine who was turning forty. Her husband had it catered, and the dining room table was a sea of desserts, including cookies, cakes, and pie: everything a sweet tooth could desire. As I was standing by the table, eyeing the spread, a woman who didn’t know me well came up. “You would never touch this,” she said, gesturing at the feast. I cringed a little and quickly dispelled this idea by letting her know that I’d been eyeing the chocolate peanut butter pie.
People who don’t know me make a lot of assumptions about the way I eat, probably because they know food is my area of expertise. That makes sense. But I’m often surprised by their assumptions. They hypothesize that I don’t like food or that I’m a strict mouse who only eats salad. I guess that surprises me because what human being doesn’t like food? So over and over again, I tell them: “I love food. It makes me happy. What makes me unhappy isn’t food. It’s when I eat too much of it. Or too little. That’s what makes me unhappy.” And that is the truth.
It’s likely the same for you. It’s not chocolate-chip cookies that ruin your day. It’s when you eat five of them and find yourself deep in the throes of regret that causes you grief.
Food makes me happy in all kinds of ways. It tastes good—so amazingly spectacular. I spend my free time looking up new restaurants, food reviews, inventive recipes, and cooking videos. Next week, I am going to Charleston for the first time. The very first thing I did after making plans to be in the city was look up restaurant reviews and make a list of the best options. In fact, my favorite thing to do in new cities I visit is schedule a food tour. Almost every city has one. A guide walks you around the city taking a bite of food here and there at different well-loved restaurants. Often, the foods they choose have a historical significance to the city. For example, I mindfully tasted beignets in New Orleans and Detroit-style pizza when in Michigan. I even like to watch food being made when I don’t get to eat it: in the past few years, I’ve been mesmerized by internet videos that show just hands, at fast speed, making recipes.
Most of all, I love to enjoy great food at home. My husband and I have friends, parents of our kids’ friends, who love to cook. They bring over their creations, and my family gets to be the guinea pig—lucky us! Yesterday, they brought a vegan strawberry, blueberry, and blackberry crisp with a brown-sugar-sprinkled crust. We spend Friday nights making food together, drinking wine, and chatting. I can’t even tell you how happy that makes me.
I love the taste of my favorite flavors on my tongue and expanding my palate. This year, for example, when traveling in Sicily, I ate a prickly pear for the very first time. I remember looking at it closely. The green skin was bumpy and unfamiliar to me. I didn’t even know how to eat it. Thankfully, my friend showed me how to slice it and take a bite—seeds and all. It was sweet and different—unlike any other fruit I have had. Now it’s added to my list of dessert items that I enjoy.
Think for a moment right now. What about food makes you happy? Trying new things? The taste? Sharing food with friends? There are just so many aspects of food to love.
Still, it’s not just the deliciousness of food that makes me joyous. Yes, that’s a big part of it. But here is a confession. I am such a better person when I am well fed and eating mindfully. Maybe you are, too. Well-fed Susan is much more patient with her kids. She doesn’t let their minor squabbles bother her. She can wade through tasks she doesn’t enjoy as much, like paying bills or paperwork. The not-hungry, mindfully fed Susan is very present mentally. She can listen to your story in counseling or on the phone and remember every single word of it. On the other hand, the empty-stomached version of Susan misses details because that nagging little thought, “What should I eat?” keeps popping into her mind, distracting her.
I’m at my best when I’m like a mindful-eating Goldilocks: I don’t have too much or too little, but something that’s just right. I love the feeling of having eaten just enough—satisfied, but not too full.
“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well,” Virginia Woolf wrote, close to a hundred years ago. It’s one of my favorite mantras in life, and I include it in all my writing. And my goal is to help people do just that. But what I have found for myself, and others, it is that it takes some very specific strategies to make that happen. It’s not easy, but possible!
CHOOSING HAPPY VS. HANGRY
Growing up, I loved Choose Your Own Adventure books. They were a series of children’s books in which you get to decide the next step of the main character in the book, by making a choice at the end of each page: Do you want to run out of a cave because you’re afraid of dangerous animals? Then you turn to a certain page of the book. Do you want to continue into the cave, searching for treasure? Then you turn to a different page. This is very different from most traditional books, in which you follow along with the plot and have to go where it leads you, whether or not you like the ending. In the Choose Your Own Adventure series, you take a much more dynamic role, with active choices.
Unfortunately, in many ways, we treat our eating choices like traditional books, just seeing where things go. We feel powerless to change the plot. But I believe eating can be more like one big Choose Your Own Eating Adventure. You have the power to choose where you end up: how your eating will evolve, and how that will affect your mood.
Every day, we have all kinds of opportunities (#hungertunities or #hangrytohappy) to pick foods that turn our hunger into happiness. Every time we eat, we choose between happiness and hanger. And hanger isn’t something that happens only before we eat. We can also feel moody after we’ve eaten things that don’t really satisfy us or that fill us up too much. But whether it happens before or after we eat, hanger is the opposite of happy: feeling content with and sustained by our food choices. Happiness, for me, isn’t really smiling and feeling joyous. It’s a feeling of contentment and satisfaction.
Whenever I eat, I ask myself a simple question: Will eating this right now bring me hanger or happiness?
It’s a question I hope you’ll start to ask yourself, too.
Let me give you an example. This morning, I opened the refrigerator, coffee in hand. “Okay, what’s for breakfast, Susan?” I asked myself. Then I ran through my options: everything from a premade smoothie to some dry cereal. I knew I had a big day ahead of me. Clients that needed me to focus on them. A staff meeting. Soccer practice for my kids.
I like a lot of different breakfast foods. So my question wasn’t what would taste good to me.
It was “What will make me happy, not hangry?”
When I ask that question, instantly the conversation changes in my head. I start to think about the foods that will fill me and keep my energy up and prevent me from getting hangry, which can happen so easily when we’re busy. At the end of the day, it’s a chicken-and-egg experience. Which comes first in the hanger spiral, not eating well, or being hangry? It’s hard to tell, because not eating well leads to hanger and being hangry leads to not eating well.
My guess is that you picked up this book because you know all too well the downsides of not feeding yourself mindfully. Maybe you haven’t eaten enough and withered into a not-so-nice version of yourself. Or maybe you ate too much and turned into someone wracked by regret, guilt, and irritation—at yourself, most of all. Maybe, like most people, you’ve had both experiences.
I won’t promise you that there’s a magic bullet for eating mindfully 100 percent of the time. From working with hundreds of clients, I know that’s not true. And I know it from trying to manage my own hunger myself. You won’t find any magic bullets in this Hanger Management system. Instead, it’s a set of strategies and a way of being. It’s built to help in any scenario. And it works!
We’ll begin by understanding hanger—the science behind it: psychological, biological, and social. Once you learn the roots of hanger, you’ll get to know how hanger affects your life directly. Is it something that you struggle with only now and then? Or do you fret about your hunger level every day? Understanding how hanger affects you is the jumping-off point for the rest of the book: the tips that can help you deal with hunger in all kinds of situations.
As a busy professional and parent, I know that time is of the essence for my clients. Like you, they’re already busy. They don’t want to add anything extra to their day. So the tools I’ve developed to help them eat more mindfully are quick and easy to grasp, even for someone with the busiest of schedules. This book is designed so that you can crack it open and find relevant strategies in just moments.
And when you finish this book, this is my wish for you: I want you to understand that hanger is a real issue that impacts your life on so many levels that it deserves your attention. I want you to stop blaming yourself for not eating mindfully, as if it’s a personal failure. You will see that it isn’t. And I want you to have the mindful-eating tools to manage your hunger into happiness.
Hanger’s a big deal. Bigger than a lot of us realize or want to admit.
But the good news is that we can do something about it.
It’s in our hands.
It’s up to us to choose.
HANGER MANAGEMENT 101
From Hangry to Happy
- On Sale
- Dec 24, 2019
- Page Count
- 272 pages
- Little Brown Spark