Ever noticed yourself getting grumpy when you’re hungry? Caught yourself becoming irritable and short-tempered before dinner? You may have even snapped at a colleague or a loved one, feeling embarrassed about it later after realising that you were just hangry.
What is ‘hangry’?
‘Hangry’ is a combination of the words ‘hungry’ and ‘angry’. Coined by the world of social media users, ‘hangry’ refers to the uptick in anger or aggression when a person is hungry.
Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. And, you’ll be pleased to know that being hangry is a real thing. Yes, that’s right － hangry is completely explained by science (still, I’d advise you to try your best not to snap at your colleagues!).
So, why do we get hangry?
The answer lies in the science of our brains.
Scientists have long recognised that hunger can lead to irritability. Sophie Medlin, a nutrition and dietetics lecturer from King’s College London, explains that this is because our blood glucose levels drop when we’re hungry, causing the stress-related hormones － cortisol and adrenaline － to increase. These hormones then affect our brain. Neurons secrete neuropeptides which control the chemicals in our brain; the chemicals that set off when you’re hungry are the same ones that set off for anger, aggression and impulsive behaviours.
Unlike other organs, our brains are dependent on glucose to function properly. Psychology professor Dr Brad Bushman from Ohio State University notes that the brain is extremely demanding; despite only making up 2% of our body weight, the brain uses 20%-30% of the energy we consume. This is why it’s often difficult to concentrate when we're hungry and we may make more silly mistakes.
In spite of all its negative effects, we should all give hanger a bit of a break. After all, it’s a survival mechanism that serves to protect us and other animals. Dr Paul Currie, psychology and neuroscience professor at Reed College in Oregon, explains that hungry animals need food to survive, so it’s only natural to feel irritable and anxious until that need is met.
Hanger also varies from person to person. Currie says that the chemical and neuronal processes occurring in our brains are complex and differ between people, so even if you’re able to remain calm when hungry, your friend or colleague may be near ready to explode at any second.
Hanger can affect your relationships
That’s right - hanger can take a toll on our personal relationships. A 2014 study found that low glucose levels in the blood cause increased aggression amongst married couples. In the study, in response to being angry with their partner, participants had to stick pins into a voodoo-style doll of their partner as well as blasting a loud noise through headphones worn by their partner. Blood glucose levels were measured during the study and it was found that participants with lower levels stuck more pins into the voodoo doll and blasted louder noises through their partners headphones.
How do we avoid hanger?
Luckily for us, there’s an easy solution to combat hanger: eat.
Make sure to eat something before you get too hungry and enter the dangerous hanger zone. If you notice yourself getting hangry before dinner, remember to have an afternoon snack. Don’t just eat any snack, though; we want to bring our blood glucose levels up and keep them there. So, while you may reach for quick, processed foods like crisps or chocolate, junk foods actually cause glucose levels to increase fast and then crash back down again. Your best option for a snack is natural food containing a bit of carbs and protein which will satisfy your hunger for a longer time.