If you find yourself growling just as much as your stomach when you miss a meal, you’re not alone. “Hangry”- a mix between being hungry and angry- is a feeling that plenty of people are familiar with. It’s a well-known fact that hungry people generally tend to be grumpy people, but why do being hungry and angry go together so often and what can you do to prevent the effects?
Here are physiological facts behind the “hangry” feeling:
1. Your Brain Panics
Everything you eat ends up being digested and turned into amino acids, free fatty acids and simple sugars such as glucose. You absorb these nutrients into your bloodstream and pass them along to be used for energy by your tissues and organs. But while most of your other organs can operate on a variety of different energy sources, your brain’s primary fuel is glucose. When your brain can’t access its main source of fuel, it sees a skipped meal as a life-or-death emergency and switches into crisis mode.
Tip: We need about 25 grams of glucose in our bloodstreams for our brain’s to work properly. A small banana can supply this needed glucose when you don’t have time for a meal.
2. Your Problem-Solving Skills Disappear
Your brain has a hard time regulating the thought process when glucose is low, so you may find that you slip-up more often or have trouble controlling your reactions when you’re hungry. In fact, not only does hunger leave you more likely to make hasty decisions, it also leads to major mood swings.
Tip: You can avoid the ugly side of hunger by eating regular, protein-packed meals that keep blood sugar levels even for longer.
3. Serotonin Levels Plunge
When you go too long without food, your serotonin levels drop. Serotonin is a feel-good hormone so this sudden plunge may be your brain’s protective way of letting your body know that your hunger is reaching “dangerous” levels. Because serotonin is also in charge of helping you to control anger, low levels of serotonin could be behind your sudden irritability.
Tip: Prevent any cranky outbursts by snacking on serotonin-rich foods like a handful of dates, walnuts or pumpkin seeds.
4. You Enter “Fight-or-Flight” Mode
One minute you’re busily typing away, the next minute, your hands are shaking or your heart is racing. But while it’s easy to think something is seriously wrong, chances are it’s just your body’s overreaction to an empty stomach. It’s your brain’s job to send your body life-saving signals in risky situations so when it senses what looks like starvation, it starts pumping out adrenaline. Adrenaline is a “fight-or-flight” stress hormone that’s behind those shaky hands, racing heart and that growing grumpiness you’re experiencing.
Tip: Keep calm and step away from the coffee machine! Caffeine-loaded drinks like coffee or tea are likely to spike your adrenaline levels and make your stress response to hunger even worse. If you’ve only got time for a drink, choose a calming cup of chamomile instead.
5. A Natural Chemical Affects Your Brain
When you don’t eat for a long time, a natural chemical called neuropeptide Y is released into your brain. This chemical acts on your brain’s Y1 receptor, causing you to feel both hungry and angry at the same time.
Tip: The aggressive reactions that neuropeptide Y causes are temporary but can be severe, so try to avoid tricky conversations that could lead to conflicts until after you’ve had a chance to eat something.
While feelings of panic, shakiness and sudden anger are not the most pleasant symptoms to experience, keep in mind that these are all just natural parts of your body and brain’s survival strategy. No matter how busy you are, simply reaching for a banana or a handful of nuts every 3-4 hours can balance your glucose levels and help to keep those “hangry” feelings away.