That familiar feeling begins to wash over you. It couldn’t have been TOO long since you last ate… your stomach though doesn’t feel the same way. An irritable mood begins to take over, as you impulsively snap at those around you. The weird thing is, as soon as you take one bite into your sandwich, all those feelings go away.
This is a concept that is experienced by all ages alike, a state known as “hangry”. A term coined as the mixture of “hungry” and “angry”, it is often viewed as a simple exaggeration. This is, in fact, untrue through; there is real science behind this!
Research shows that the emotions, often ostensibly negative, are a bodily response to a craving for food. (1) “The carbohydrates, proteins, and fats in everything you eat are digested into simple sugars (such as glucose), amino acids and free fatty acids.” (2) Glucose happens to be a substance that the brain is very dependent on. When you haven’t eaten for a while, the amount of nutrients in your blood begins to drop and cannot be used for energy per usual. (2) Without the fuel it needs, the brain cannot properly regulate anger (3). Lack of glucose can indeed have mild but prevailing effects; it can interfere with concentration abilities, slur speech, and you guessed it, make you more prone to grumpiness. (1)
Another process going hand in hand with this is the glucose counter-regulatory response (2). When blood sugars drop, the body is, of course, going to react and try to synthesize an increased amount of sugars. Two of these regulatory hormones happen to be in the adrenal glands (2); so when glucose drops in our bodies, the amount of adrenaline and cortisol is rising (4). These hormones are well associated with the “flight or fight” response – a natural reaction to perceived threatening or stressful situations. This can, in turn, impact the brain. Neuropeptides are the molecules that control and influence the brain and body. (1) Sophie Medlin, an expert in nutrition from Kings College London explains, “the ones that trigger for hunger are the same ones that trigger for anger and rage and impulsive type behaviors. So that’s why you get that sort of same response.” (4) This response helps account for that increased stress and hostility we all feel in the desire for food.
Though society and media often portray women as being more susceptible to this mixed-emotional state, that is not the case. According to neuroscience-based research, men are the ones to more likely experience hanger. This is due to the fact that men actually contain more of the neuropeptide receptors, as mentioned in the previous paragraph, that combine with levels of testosterone to produce outwards aggression. (4)
Some researchers believe that hanger may even have an evolutionary basis. Previous generations may have been forced to be hostile; for if someone was taking their food or if they simply didn’t have enough, they may not have survived. This survival mechanism could simply be passed through genes, and we now perceive a lack of glucose as “life-threatening” and respond similarly. (3) The aggression associated with being hangry is simply seen as the human instinct to fight for one’s food. Though an exact cause for hanger cannot be determined, it continues to be described as “a complicated emotional response due to biology, personality, and environmental cues.” (5)
As to how to cure your hanger? Well, it could depend on the individual. Researchers suggest a savory snack consisting of carbohydrates, in order to allow blood sugar levels to increase and be maintained. (4) Self-awareness is a key factor that can act as a means to check your behavior. (5) Make sure to eat before you become entirely monstrous, and to not allow your emotions to rise to the extremities (no matter how difficult it may be). Of course, it is difficult to provide a solution to a state that is based on the perception of “socially acceptable” hostility. It’s a common experience, that I believe, is completely understandable. So next time you snap at someone due to a missed meal, just explain it’s because you’re hangry. And if they don’t believe you, well… just show them the science behind it.