Yes, Being Hangry Is a Real Thing—and Here’s How It Works

Updated: Aug. 18, 2017

Have you ever snapped at a friend or family member while on an empty stomach? No, you're not crazy—there's a scientific explanation why.

stressAlliance/ShutterstockIt hits you in the most unexpected places and at the most unexpected times; you could be sitting in traffic, sightseeing with friends, or waiting in the doctor’s office. Suddenly, your stomach starts rumbling, your head feels light, and you’re losing your cool over things you typically wouldn’t think twice about. Yep, the signs are unmistakable: You’re hangry.

Feeling hungry and angry at the same time isn’t just your imagination, scientists say. In fact, this behavior could be genetically passed down to us from our ancestors.

“Getting aggressive in times of hunger is a survival mechanism,” Dr. Amanda Salis, associate professor at the Boden Institute at the University of Sydney in Australia, told HuffPost. “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.”

Medically speaking, when we wait too long between meals, our blood glucose takes a dive—hence our lightheadedness. Low blood sugar can also make it difficult for us to concentrate and make decisions, as well as more likely to lose our temper at the slightest annoyance.

All of this could spell bad news for our relationships. In 2014, Ohio State University researchers asked married couples to stick pins into voodoo dolls to symbolize their anger towards their spouse. Afterward, the participants competed against their spouse in a game, and the winner could blast loud noise through the loser’s headphones. Those with lower blood sugar levels both administered longer blasts of noise to their spouse and stuck more pins into their doll. Yikes!

To handle your hanger (and save your relationships!), try to eat something before you get too hungry or pack snacks if it’s a long trip. And while you may be tempted to reach for junk food for a quick fix, those burgers and chips could actually have the opposite effect. Fat or sugar-loaded grub can cause your blood sugar level to rise and crash too fast, leaving you feeling hangrier in the long run. Stick with natural and nutrient-rich foods, instead, to calm your hunger—and your temper. These are the best foods to eat when you’re hangry.

[Sources: New Scientist, CNN, Huffington Post]