Being hungry can make you a little irritable, but that’s nothing compared to hanger - as in anger fueled by hunger. That’s when people get grumpy and short-tempered and basically turn into ravenous, crazy people. It happens when someone’s long overdue for a snack and their blood sugar is running low and it can be really uncomfortable for the hangry person, as well as anyone else around them.
This is what’s really going on with your body when you’re hangry:
- Your stomach yells at your brain to eat - Blame it on ghrelin, the hunger hormone that’s released when the stomach is empty. It’s produced in the gut based on your standard meal schedule, as well as the sight and smell of food, and it signals to the brain that your body needs more food for energy. So when ghrelin does its thing and you don’t listen by eating, your brain isn’t happy either.
- Your dopamine levels decrease - Not eating can lead to low levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps mental function and concentration, and that can affect your ability to concentrate and focus on work. And since dopamine is also in charge of keeping emotions in check, when it’s low, you have less control over your anger.
- Your brain feels like it’s in a fog - Here’s a fun fact: 25% of the energy you get from food is used for your brain alone. So when the sugar in your bloodstream goes down after going hours without eating, so does your brainpower. And when your brain doesn’t have enough fuel, the part that regulates angry impulses doesn’t have enough resources for self-control.
- Your stress hormones increase - If your blood sugar levels fall low enough, your brain will perceive it as a life-threatening situation and that kicks stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol into high gear. Being flooded with those when you’re hangry can lead to reactions you might instinctively have during a stressful situation, like yelling in anger at someone, that you wouldn’t normally do.
- So what can you do about it? - Eat something, just try to make healthy choices. Processed foods like soda or chips may satisfy you ASAP, but those can lead to another spike in blood sugar levels that come crashing down, leaving you hangrier. So grabbing nutrient-dense foods with healthy fats, protein and fiber, like nuts or a smoothie, is a better option.
Source: Eat This, Not That