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Hangry Is Now a Real Word: Why Hangry Emotions Happen and What to Do

7 minute read


Hangry may be a made-up term, but it is a real feeling that we have all felt and has even grown popular enough to be added to the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary. Everyone can agree, even based on their own experience: there is a link between your mood and whether or not you are hungry.

Typically, being hungry causes a negative mood, hence the blend of the terms hungry and angry. More than just a creative label, hangry is actually substantiated by scientific evidence. Missing a meal can make you moody.

Your Mood and Your Food

A rumbling stomach is trying to tell you to eat, and not eating can cause changes in mood. Science has found that a sudden drop in blood sugar levels can impact your mood and make you slightly irritable.

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Using rats, researchers have found that low glucose levels cause sluggish behavior and high cortisol levels. This behavior and hormone release is also associated with poor mood. This provides evidence as to why our mood can shift when we are hungry.

The link between gut and brain was established long ago with the discovery of the gut-brain axis. Because the gut and brain communicate directly, there is reason to believe that diet impacts depression and vice versa.

Occurrence of depression alongside diseases such as diabetes, obesity and anorexia all demonstrate this link. These recent findings only further support the fact that an unhappy gut can cause unhappy feelings.

The brain’s main source of fuel is glucose, so it follows that low glucose levels will impact brain function. To make matters worse, your brain is quite greedy.

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While only accounting for 2% of your body weight, your brain uses up close to 30% of the energy you consume. This means you need to keep glucose levels sufficient in order to keep your brain happy. When your stomach starts to grumble, your brain is going to grumble too.

As glucose levels drop, your brain struggles to control emotions, which is why lashing out and irritability are common side effects of hunger.

Apart from a lack of glucose, your brain is also influenced by the appetite hormones which are released when you are hungry. These hormones are linked to anxiety and stress, which can make you more prone to small bursts of anger, or “hanger.”

Boosting Emotional Health With Food

Understanding that diet plays a role in mood and emotions can help to develop treatment plans for those with eating disorders as well as depression. Poor diet and poor mood can become a vicious cycle if not corrected, and your health will suffer greatly.

A small mood change from skipping a meal is one thing, but prolonged diet and eating issues can contribute to serious mental health problems that can interfere with your life.

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Making sure you never skip a meal is one way to prevent being hangry. In addition to this, you can boost your mental and emotional health with certain dietary changes.

Sugar highs and lows clearly impact your mental health, so managing these levels with nutritional strategies may help prevent those hangry outbursts and promote overall good mental health. Here’s what you can do:

Eat Often

Eating regular meals has been shown to keep your blood sugar levels steady. When you are constantly providing an even source of fuel for your body, blood sugar and mood will remain stable too.

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The occasional drop in blood sugar and energy levels may be from missing a meal, but you need to watch for hypoglycemia, which is a condition where you need to eat more often than normal.

Should you notice the hangry feeling and drops in blood glucose frequently throughout the day, make sure to discuss this with your doctor.

Know What to Avoid

Certain foods will negatively impact your mood so need to be removed from your shopping list. Refined carbohydrates are the biggest culprit and can be found in sodas, candy, and most other junk foods. The simple sugars in these foods cause large spikes and crashes in your blood glucose levels which will cause your mood to take a roller-coaster ride.

The constant up and down will upset your physical and mental health. You may get a burst of energy when you first eat these foods, but the crash you get will leave you drained of energy, fatigued, and cranky.

Happy Foods

Just as removing some foods will prevent mood swings, adding foods can boost your mood. Increased protein consumption has been linked to increased release of dopamine and norepinephrine, which are feel-good hormones.

When cravings appear, opt for eggs, seafood, poultry, and yogurt to curb the hangry feeling and elevate your mood. Fiber also helps to control the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream and triggers production of serotonin, another feel good hormone.

Eat plenty of oats, beans, peas, and pears and you can keep your mood and blood sugar levels steady.

Mindful Eating

The practice of mindful eating benefits you in the same way that mindful thinking improves you mental health. Paying attention to portion sizes, frequency of meals, and eating without distractions can help improve digestion as well as mental health.

When it is time to eat, set everything else aside because the more your mind is doing the more stressed it can be. You also need to take your time when eating.

It takes your brain twenty minutes to even register that you are eating, so allow time for satiety to set in. When it comes to portions, remember that your stomach is only the size of two fists, so eat according to that and not with how hungry you think you are.

The Bottom Line

When you remember that food is a necessity for survival and that this has been programmed into us through evolution, it is understandable why we get angry when hungry. Hunger could indicate a potential threat to survival, which will cause anxiety.

It will also fuel you with the necessary anger and motivation to go get the required food. It is important to prevent hangry episodes and not skip meals for your gut, your brain, and for those around you.

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