“Hanger” or feeling “hangry,” a combination of “hungry” and “angry,” is such a widespread feeling that it has its own emoji. But have you ever stopped to wonder why being hungry would make you feel angry? It turns out that there is a science behind being hangry, and it is another example of the strong connection between the mind and the gut.
When you consume food, especially carbohydrates, your body breaks down the food into useable fuel known as glucose. Glucose is then carried throughout the body via the bloodstream to provide energy for the cells, including those in the brain. When blood glucose levels begin to drop, the brain perceives it as a threat; and you begin to have difficulty concentrating and performing simple tasks.
For some people, that drop in blood glucose levels can also mean behaving outside of usual social norms—like yelling or snapping at someone or exhibiting other signs of annoyance or anger. If you are aware of the problem, you can focus on not yelling at important people, like clients and bosses; but you might take your hanger out on people that you are more familiar with, like parents, spouses, kids, or friends.
Another connection between hunger and anger is based on genetics. The receptors in your brain that are responsible for hunger are also responsible for anger. Different societal and cultural norms also contribute to how you respond when you are hangry. This is why people react so differently. Some may lash out, others may just become testy, while others don’t exhibit any signs of hanger at all.
It’s also possible that diet plays a role in hangar. People who eat junk food or carbs may become hangrier because these foods produce a high and then a low in glucose levels. By contrast, people who don’t experience hanger, or experience it with less severity, may eat a healthier diet high in low-glycemic carbs so that blood sugar levels remain relatively steady and there is no sudden “crash” and resulting mood swing.
If you are susceptible to becoming hangry, you may want to avoid becoming overly hungry. Keep healthy snacks on hand so that you’re not tempted to reach for a candy bar or bag of chips, foods that keep your hanger at bay temporarily. Instead, try a handful of nuts; they satisfy you longer and help you maintain a more even temper.