Everyone has felt hangry before. You might have been stuck in traffic, or waiting for hours to get a table at a new restaurant, or just plain stuck in a meeting without a snack — and then the misery hit. Hunger can inspire a wide range of emotions, but is being hangry a real emotion? Or is it just a word that we use for already-established emotions that we're feeling in a certain circumstance?
As it turns out, some people do think that "hanger," otherwise known as "hungry anger," is a distinct emotion that a person can feel when they're absolutely starving. According to a recent episode of Woman's Hour, a BBC radio show, hanger is a very real and distinct emotion that you get when you're hungry, and there's a chemical reason for why it happens. Sophie Medlin, a lecturer in nutrition and dietetics from Kings College London, explained on the radio show that hanger happens when your blood sugar plummets, which in turn causes your cortisol (aka stress levels) and adrenaline levels to spike in your body.
When you're extremely hungry, your body basically experiences a fight-or-flight response, which is why you suddenly feel so panicked and stressed out.
To make your relationship with hunger even more intense, Medlin explained just how correlated hunger and anger can be: "The [neuropeptides] that trigger for hunger are the same ones that trigger for anger and rage and impulsive type behaviors," Medlin said. "So that’s why you get that sort of same response."
In other words, feeling intensely hungry sort of trips up the same wires in your brain as intense anger, which is why the emotions are so inextricably linked. So, to all of your friends who have been annoyed by your streaks of hanger in the past, you can now tell them that it's basically a full-on certified medical condition — or, at least, that there's a medical explanation for why you're suddenly a complete and utter monster in your college group text between the hours of 2 and 4 p.m.
Since hanger is often triggered by extremely low blood sugar, one of the best ways to combat it is to pay attention to what types of meals you're eating, and how they can affect your blood sugar levels. For example, if you eat a sugary meal that's loaded with carbs, then you'll likely experience a spike of blood sugar, followed by a crash, which could leave you feeling just as grumpy as if you'd never eaten at all.
Although anger can often be solved psychologically, actual hanger (i.e. anger as the result of low blood sugar levels) is best solved by paying attention to the foods you're eating — although a few deep breathing exercises technically never hurt anybody.
One way to avoid hanger is to make a point of eating snacks throughout the day that you know will stabilize your blood sugar levels.
According to Everyday Health, the best snacks to stabilize blood sugar levels are ones that combine protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates, like pistachios, avocados, hummus, or whole-grain toast with peanut butter.
Foods that you want to avoid at all costs, SELF reports, are the ones that, again, will cause a big spike, followed by a massive plummet of blood sugar, like a bowl of pasta, or anything high in sugar and low in protein, fats, and fiber, like junk food or sweets.
When all else fails, and you're suddenly in a deep pit of despair with hours to go before your next meal, don't forget that feeling hangry is totally normal, and you shouldn't feel like you're the only one who gets this way sometimes. Hanger is real, and it happens to everyone. In the meantime, just do your best not to flip over a desk when the hanger strikes.