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BOD-ities: Is hangry a real thing?

Conshohocken - Spring Mill June 5, 2019 BOD-ities By Elizabeth Daly, MD

In a word, yes. If you’ve ever lashed out at a partner or sent off a terse text to a friend who’s late to lunch, you know how real ‘hangry’ can be. This phrase—a combination of the words angry and hungry—describes the tendency to react hastily to a person or situation (that you otherwise might not) when you have an empty stomach.

A recent Snickers commercial even says: You’re not you when you’re hungry.

There’s more to this feeling, though, than longing for your next meal. Several studies have been conducted to determine why hangry happens and what causes the brain to have such extreme reactions to hunger. The answer is both biological and emotional.

First, let’s examine the biology behind feeling hangry.

When you haven’t eaten in a while, your blood sugar decreases. If it gets too low, it can trigger several hormones including cortisol and adrenaline. These are the same hormones that are associated with triggering a “fight or flight” response when you’re facing an unpleasant or scary situation, and it helps explain why when you’re hungry, you tend to be more aggressive.

Many recent studies have also shed some light on the emotional reasons why we act hangry. In 2018, the American Psychological Association’s medical journal Emotion chronicled an experiment involving 200 college students. It found that students who fasted before completing a tedious task and encountering a frustrating conclusion reacted more negatively than those who had eaten before they began the task.

In other words, frustrating situations happen. But when we’re hungry, we’re doubly frustrated.

For most people, hangry isn’t a permanent state; it’s typically a problem during a busy day or a late night. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore it. While a confluence of biological and emotional factors can make it difficult to keep the hangry version of you in check, you can try a few techniques to keep your appetite (and attitude) at bay:

  • Drink a glass of water
  • Eat a snack…but not junk food. Look for high-fiber snacks like cereal, apples and peanut butter or a protein bar.
  • Spread your meals out throughout the day to eat several small meals instead of three larger meals
  • Exercise regularly
  • Get plenty of sleep

If you still find yourself feeling hungry throughout the day, talk to your primary care doctor. They can help you identify what’s causing this hungry feeling and, if necessary, can refer you to a specialist.

Main Line Health serves patients at hospitals and health centers throughout the western suburbs of Philadelphia. To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.