When your tummy’s rumbling, have you ever noticed that your patience wears thin faster than normal?
That sudden, inexplicable rage is often referred to as ‘hanger’ – a combination of being hungry and angry – which experts say is an actual thing.
“When we do not eat, blood sugar goes low,” explains Deena Adimoolam, MD, an assistant professor in the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Bone Disease at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
When blood sugar drops, two hormones – cortisol and epinephrine – are released as a response to raise blood-sugar to normal levels. But, those hormones are also linked to irritability, which explains why people can be crabby if their breakfast is interrupted or skipped altogether.
Another hormone, Neuropeptide Y, contributes to your hanger too, adds Dr. Adimoolam. That hormone instills a hungry feeling when your body yearns for more food – but this hormone is linked to aggression, too.
Further support of the hangry phenomenon has been documented in past studies: this one, from Ohio State University on married couples, found that the lower blood sugar levels dropped, the angrier and more aggressive they felt toward their partners.
So when does hanger usually manifest between meals?
“It varies by every individual,” says Dr. Adimoolam. “But the lower your blood sugar goes, the hangrier you are. It’s our body’s defense mechanism to get food ASAP.”
Ironically, hangry people tend to opt for cookies, pastries, and candy. While these sugary snacks will raise blood sugar levels fast, that high will lead to a low, sugar crash – meaning you’re back to being cranky once again.
Therefore, when hanger does strike, you need to be prepared – armed with healthy snacks.
“Carry healthy snacks with you—like vegetables, fruit, and yogurt—so that when you are hungry [they] will hold you over until the next meal,” says Dr. Adimoolam.
And if you’re still finding yourself getting hangry throughout the week, try shying away from anything mentally or emotionally draining until you’re well fed, adds Dr. Adimoolam.
“Get in a meal and your mind will be in a much better place.”
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