“Hangry” sounds like a silly made-up word — because it is — you hear in candy bar commercials to try to entice you to buy more. While it makes for a fun commercial, there is some real science behind it. Hanger, or a combination of hungry and angry, is a real problem. Let's take a closer look at the science of hanger and what's going on inside your body when it kicks in.
How Hanger Happens
Ever heard your stomach growling when you're hungry? Hanger is the same reaction, just for your brain. Your brain needs fuel — specifically, glucose — to regulate your moods and your emotions. Your brain doesn't use any other fuel, so if your body's glucose levels are low, it doesn’t have any sort of backup fuel source.
When you eat carbohydrates, your body breaks them down into simple sugars and glucose. After eating, your blood glucose levels are higher, giving your brain the fuel it needs to function properly. It keeps you from experiencing extreme anger when you’re hungry and can help make you an overall better functioning person.
Low Blood Glucose Leads to Hanger
So now you're probably asking yourself, “Why do I get angry when I'm hungry?” Sure, we just explained your brain needs glucose to function, but how does that trigger hanger?
Hangry symptoms are a survival response. When you don't eat for a long time, your blood glucose levels drop, which sends a signal to the brain that it must be in danger. As a result, the rest of your body starts producing more epinephrine and cortisol — the same hormones that kick in during your body's fight-or-flight response. To your brain, a lack of glucose is just as scary as getting attacked by a bear or being in a high-speed car chase.
Essentially, if you're not eating enough, your body releases chemicals that force you to eat to improve your blood glucose levels. It's a bit dramatic, but it is an excellent survival tactic. From an evolutionary perspective, it makes perfect sense — not having enough food makes your body react, so you seek out more food. In today's world, it just takes picking up a snack or eating a proper meal to keep your blood sugar in check.
How to Prevent Hanger
You might be more susceptible to hanger if you have hypoglycemia — the scientific term for low blood sugar — but anyone can experience it if they don't eat enough of the proper foods. You need to try to eat more healthy fats, proteins and complex carbohydrates to give your body the glucose level it needs to survive and thrive.
It can be tempting to pick up a candy bar or a bag of chips, but sugary or junky snacks are the last thing you want to reach for when your blood sugar is low. Low blood sugar can make you feel angry, anxious or lethargic, but eating a sugary snack can make your blood sugar spike, which causes a whole new set of problems.
Managing your hanger doesn't have to be hard — all you need to do is to eat a balanced diet throughout the day to keep your blood sugar from spiking or dipping too quickly. By keeping your blood sugar stable, you keep your brain from going into survival mode and making you hangry. No one wants to be grumpy or angry because of their blood sugar, so make sure you keep up with your healthy snacks and meals throughout the day. Managing hanger doesn't have to be hard, but it does require that you eat right.