Here’s Why You’re Always Hangry, and How to Avoid It

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You know the feeling. You’re at work or stuck in traffic, there’s a rumbling in your belly, you’re irritable, next thing you know you’re lashing out at people. It’s so common, we have a clever word for it: Hangry, a portmanteau of “hungry” and “angry.”

“Hangry” was only just recently recognized as a word in the Oxford English Dictionary and Webster’s Dictionary, and health experts have also acknowledged it as a real emotional state. But why do we get hangry anyway? Truth is, there’s no one conclusive explanation for it (yet), but scientists do have some varying theories.

It’s in Your Genes

If you get into a fight with your spouse because one of you is hangry, blame your ancestors. According to Dr. Amanda Salis, associate professor at the Boden Institute at the University of Sydney, becoming aggressive whenever we’re hungry is a survival mechanism passed down to us genetically.

“If our predecessors just stood back and politely let others get to the food before them, there is a good chance that they may not have gotten enough to eat, and they would have died — possibly before they could pass their genes on to the next generation,” Salis told HuffPost

“So it was likely the individuals that were aggressive when hungry that had a survival advantage, and we hence carry their genes to this day, whether we live with a shortage or abundance of food.”

You’re Not Satisfying Your Sweet Tooth

Anyone who hasn’t had dessert in a while would, understandably, get cranky. But the science behind it is that, to work properly our brain needs energy, which it gets in the form of glucose. When you’re low on this simple sugar, your brain and bodily functions are affected, including your ability to think rationally and control your emotions.

To prove this, in a 2014 study published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,” researchers tested 107 couples over 21 days to see whether low blood sugar will make them moodier towards each other. Indeed, a plunge in glucose consumption resulted in subjects more likely to display anger at their significant others. This was measured by having the participants stick needles into voodoo dolls representing their partners. 

It’s All in the Mind

But low blood sugar isn’t the entire story. According to Elizabeth Davis, a psychologist at the University of California, Riverside, there’s a psychological aspect to it, too, and that hangry depends on context. 

For instance, say you’re hungry but you can’t grab a snack because you have a deadline at work and your boss shows up and starts yelling at you, the chances of you exploding with anger are high. This also explains why we often feel hangry during rush hour. However, say you’re feeling hungry because you jogged a half mile under a rainbow, with the love of your life, and an adorable little puppy in tow, you probably won’t be pulling your hair out in frustration.

Simply put, hunger amplifies feelings — whether positive or negative — so always be self-aware before reacting.

“[Hunger] signals to us that something is wrong — that it’s time to eat,” Davis told Angus Chen at NPR. “But as humans, we may misattribute that aversive feeling to something external before we look into what our body is telling us.”

How to Avoid Getting Hangry

The most obvious solution is to eat and make sure there’s always something left in the tank to stave off the hunger pangs. But don’t just grab the nearest sugary chocolate bar or bag of chips. There are snacks that are better than others. According to dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner, the best snacks include a mix of high-fiber produce, whole grains, and protein. 

The following combinations work wonders: mangoes and pistachios, apples and almonds, bananas and walnuts, and cherry tomatoes and string cheese. 

“Aim for balanced meal ratios,” Blatner told HuffPost. “When you eat this way, energy and fuel are like a time-released vitamin, slowly trickling into your system for hours. When you don’t eat balanced ratios, energy levels are more like a roller coaster of a quick up and crash down. This works for satisfaction and energy because the grains give immediate fuel/energy, protein and fat have staying power, and the water and fiber in the vegetables give fullness and much-needed vitamins and minerals.”

Happy snacking!