Hungry or Hangry: The answer may lie in a little known fungus called Candida

Hanieh Sigari
7 min readDec 11, 2019

SPOILER ALERT: There is a video I made with Aiden on this topic, you can check it out on YouTube here.

OR, just keep reading!

We all know that feeling, when it’s been too long since breakfast or you’re on a new diet and suddenly you can’t escape the craving for chocolate cake. Is that rumble in your belly a sign you need to consider a snack, or is it a warning of a more serious underlying health complaint? Knowing the difference between hunger and hanger, and learning to recognize which you’re feeling, can help you keep your body and digestive health in balance, leading to a calmer, healthier life.

What is hunger, anyway?

Your body is designed to work like a well-oiled machine. Just as you fill your car with gas, you need to eat to fuel your body. When the tank’s running low, you switch from the food you ate, to the food you stored. That switch from running on glucose (carbs and sugars) to burning ketones (fat) means you can keep moving between meals. However, to prevent you from starving, your primitive limbic system will send a few warning rumbles to remind you to refill the tank — and might even insist on that slice of cake!

Hunger is telling you that you’ve run out of an energy resource and need to resupply your system. However, like with many functions of your complex body, that’s only part of the story.

How we convert and use energy

Our bodies like to run on glucose. It’s a fast-acting and efficient fuel that powers our systems without requiring a lot of effort to convert into the energy we need. We metabolize glucose from sugars and carbs, such as bread, pasta, and cake. That’s why we often crave unhealthy foods — our bodies know what they need in order to run as well as possible.

In the past, people couldn’t get enough sugar and carbs to survive consistently on glucose. The ability to eat vast quantities of energy-rich foods has only been made possible in the last century or so, as snacks became cheaper and more widely available. Before we all had cupboards filled with chips and chocolate, human diets looked very different, and our bodies worked differently as a result, burning multiple types of fuel to get by. Today our metabolisms still have that ability, but few of us rarely use it to its full potential.

Once all the sugars from our food have been absorbed, we can switch to another source of energy — ketones, or fat. This is a more intensive process, and ketones are harder to convert to energy, so our bodies resist this change. With many people working in offices, living sedentary lives, and snacking frequently, lots of people go months or even years since their bodies were fuelled by anything except glucose.

The process of encouraging your system to burn fat is known as ketosis. It’s a metabolic change to using a different energy source, just like a hybrid car switching from gas to electric. In a way, your body is a Prius, capable of running off multiple fuel sources. Burning fat is great not only because it keeps you in shape, but it can also make you feel better.

A good way to enter ketosis is to try intermittent fasting. This keeps sources of glucose such as sugar and carbs out of your system for long enough for your metabolism to look for an alternative source of fuel. At first, fasting might seem like you’re starving yourself, and your body will definitely send signals telling you that’s what’s happening! When you begin intermittent fasting, it’s recommended to start with shorter fasts and work up to a longer fast. The point isn’t to starve, or even to lose weight, but to change the way your metabolism works. As your body gets used to switching between fuel sources, fasting becomes easier and easier.

The benefits of ketosis

Starving yourself, even for a few hours per day, might seem like a silly idea. Why bother with changing your metabolism when you can eat plenty of glucose and never feel hungry? It comes back to how our bodies were designed to work. In ketosis, you release cellular waste, which is carried to the GI tract and ultimately removed. We produce more stem cells, awaken neural networks, and repair damaged cells and clean the system, just like a car getting an oil change.

This magic can only happen when you’ve used up your supply of glucose, which means powering through hunger pains until your metabolism shifts to running on ketones. During the changeover you might find you’re craving chips or cake more than usual, but once your metabolism has shifted, the hunger will go away. That’s because hunger is just a warning signal that you’ve run out of one type of fuel.

Getting into ketosis can be hard at first, but running on ketones feels great. Your blood sugar decreases, insulin levels drop, and you’ll feel a significant reduction in appetite and hunger, as well as improved brain function and more stable moods.

What’s happening when hunger makes me angry?

Burning fat is great for your long-term health, but that doesn’t mean your body has to be happy about making the switch. All your internal organs and systems want to take the easiest path to keep doing what they do, which means craving glucose. As you start to run low on energy from the food you’ve eaten, your body sends more and more signals to your brain, telling you that you’re hungry for cake.

For some people, that hunger crosses over into hanger. If you’re the type to get short tempered when it’s been too long since breakfast, you could be suffering from Candida overgrowth.

Candida is a fungus, specifically a type of yeast, that lives in your mouth and gut and helps to digest your food. In particular, Candida loves nothing more than cake and chips and greasy fries and all the other sources of glucose it can get. When your body is craving carbs, it’s Candida that sends the signals to your brain telling you to eat more, because without glucose, Candida dies. It literally starves to death when you go too long between meals.

In a healthy system, the amount of Candida in your system is low enough that the signals it sends to your brain are drowned out by your body’s normal hunger messages, and you don’t notice. However if you have too many Candida living in your gut, they can override your system and send increasingly urgent messages telling you to eat, even when your metabolism has shifted to processing ketones for fuel.

Candida is what makes you feel hangry, and that feeling has nothing to do with the normal workings of your body. Hanger is telling you to feed the fungus, not yourself.

Causes and consequences of Candida overgrowth

Candida overgrowth is the most common source of fungal infections in humans, a disease known as candidiasis. Too much Candida can cause thrush, UTIs, sinus infections, joint pain, and digestive upsets. While anything can cause a sudden overgrowth, from a course of antibiotics or weakened immune system to just feeling stressed and rundown, Candida overgrowth can be a sign of more serious diseases such as diabetes.

Although not the only cause, the root of long-term Candida overgrowth can be eating too much of the wrong type of food. When you consume enough carbs and sugar to feed your body and leave an excess, Candida will happily dig in to polish off the rest. Providing Candida with a constant supply of extra food encourages more to grow, just like fertilizing your garden makes plants bloom.

Once overgrowth has taken hold, it can be really hard to cut back and starve Candida out, because its hunger signals are transmitted to the brain as your hunger. Watching what you eat and cutting out carbs and sugar starves Candida out, but it won’t go quietly! That’s why it’s important to really listen to your body, and know if you’re feeling hungry, or downright hangry.

Stop the hunger/hanger cycle

There’s nothing worse than feeling hungry and being unable to control it. Relentless cravings can overtake all other thoughts, cramps hurt, and if you feel angry on top, you can be left spiralling in a cycle of cravings, irritation, and guilt. The good news is, you can break free. By listening to your body and understanding what your cravings are telling you, you can make the choice to control your cravings, rather than letting them control you. Feed hunger, starve hanger, for a healthy, balanced body and mind.

Thanks for reading and email me with any feedback — hanieh@qyral.com

P.S. In case you’ve missed it, you can watch the video I made with Aiden on YouTube, click here.

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Hanieh Sigari

Entrepreneur, biochemist, and skincare rebel @qyral.com