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The Science Behind Feeling Hangry: Why Hunger Can Make You Angry

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Have you ever experienced that overwhelming feeling of irritability when you’re hungry? You’re not alone. Many of us have felt the effects of being “hangry” – a combination of hunger and anger that can make even the smallest annoyances feel overwhelming. But why does hunger have such a profound impact on our mood? In this article, we will explore the science behind feeling hangry and provide tips on how to avoid it.

The Hangry Phenomenon: A Real and Validated Experience

The concept of being hangry has gained significant recognition in recent years. A study published in the peer-reviewed journal Plos One found a strong association between hunger and anger. The research, conducted by Viren Swami, a social psychology professor at Anglia Ruskin University, involved 64 participants who recorded their levels of hunger and emotional well-being over three weeks.

The results were clear: hunger was linked to increased anger, irritability, and reduced levels of pleasure. In fact, hunger was responsible for 37% of changes in irritability, 34% in anger, and 38% in pleasure. This study provided scientific evidence that being hangry is a real phenomenon, validating the experiences of those who have felt the effects of hunger on their mood.

Understanding the Biological Mechanisms of Hangry

To comprehend why hunger can trigger anger, we need to delve into the biological mechanisms at play. One factor is the effect of hunger on blood sugar levels. When we haven’t eaten for a while, the glucose levels in our blood can drop, leading to the release of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. While these hormones help raise blood sugar levels, they can also contribute to irritability, making us more prone to experiencing the hangry feeling.

Another aspect to consider is the influence of hunger on brain function. Low blood sugar can affect higher brain functions, including impulse control and behavioral regulation. Additionally, hunger triggers the release of neuropeptide Y, a brain chemical that plays a role in both hunger and anger. While neuropeptide Y helps regulate aggression, it can also intensify anger when we are hungry.

The Evolutionary Significance of Hangry

Feeling angry when hungry isn’t just a random occurrence; it has evolutionary roots. As hunter-gatherers, our ancestors had to compete for limited food resources. Being aggressive when hungry helped them secure their share of food, ensuring their survival. Thus, the hangry response can be seen as a biological mechanism that has been advantageous throughout human history.

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Tips to Avoid Getting Hangry

While feeling hangry may have had its benefits in the past, it’s not always ideal in our modern lives. The good news is that there are strategies you can employ to prevent hunger-induced anger and irritability. Here are some tips to help you avoid getting hangry:

1. Eat Regularly and Maintain Stable Blood Sugar Levels

One of the most effective ways to prevent hanger is to eat regular meals and snacks throughout the day. Avoid long gaps between meals, as this can cause your blood sugar levels to drop. Having consistent meal patterns helps maintain stable blood sugar levels and prevents the onset of hunger-induced irritability.

If you know you won’t be able to have a proper meal for a while, carry a prepared snack with you. A small handful of nuts and a piece of fruit can provide a quick and convenient source of energy to keep hunger at bay.

2. Choose Nutrient-Rich Foods to Stabilize Blood Sugar

Opt for nutrient-rich, high-fiber foods that can stabilize your blood sugar levels. Avoid highly processed foods with added sugar, as these can cause rapid spikes and crashes in blood sugar, leading to mood fluctuations. Instead, focus on whole grains, vegetables, fruits, pulses, beans, and protein sources. These foods take longer to digest, providing a steady release of energy and reducing the likelihood of experiencing hunger-induced anger.

3. Pay Attention to Emotional Self-Awareness

Being mindful of your emotions and paying attention to how you feel in the moment can help prevent hanger. Emotional self-awareness allows you to recognize when hunger is starting to affect your mood and take proactive steps to address it. Techniques like mindfulness can enhance your emotional self-awareness and help you maintain a more balanced state of mind, even when hungry.

4. Keep Snacks Handy

Knowing your triggers and having snacks readily available can be a game-changer in avoiding hanger. If you’re aware that certain situations or times of day tend to make you hungry and irritable, be prepared. Keep a stash of healthy snacks at your desk, in your car, or in your bag, so you can easily satisfy your hunger and prevent the onset of anger.

5. Stay Hydrated

Sometimes, what we perceive as hunger is actually thirst. Dehydration can cause feelings of fatigue and irritability, mimicking the symptoms of hunger. Make sure to drink enough water throughout the day to stay hydrated and prevent unnecessary hunger-related mood swings.

6. Practice Stress Management

Stress can amplify feelings of hunger and make you more susceptible to becoming hangry. Implementing stress management techniques, such as exercise, meditation, or engaging in hobbies, can help regulate your mood and reduce the likelihood of hunger-induced irritability. Find activities that relax and rejuvenate you, allowing you to navigate hunger without succumbing to anger.

7. Plan Ahead

Planning your meals and snacks in advance can help you stay on top of your hunger and prevent hanger. By having a well-thought-out meal plan, you can ensure that you have satisfying and balanced meals throughout the day, minimizing the risk of becoming excessively hungry. Additionally, having pre-prepared snacks or meals on hand can save you from making impulsive, unhealthy food choices when hunger strikes.

8. Get Enough Sleep

Lack of sleep can disrupt your hunger hormones and increase your likelihood of feeling hangry. Aim for a consistent sleep schedule and prioritize getting enough restful sleep each night. By taking care of your sleep, you can better regulate your appetite and reduce the chances of experiencing hunger-related mood swings.

9. Seek Support

If you frequently find yourself struggling with hanger or have difficulty managing your emotions when hungry, consider seeking support from a healthcare professional. They can provide guidance tailored to your specific needs and help you develop strategies to prevent hanger from negatively impacting your daily life.

10. Be Kind to Yourself

Lastly, remember to be kind to yourself. We all experience hunger and its effects on our mood from time to time. Instead of beating yourself up for feeling hangry, practice self-compassion. Recognize that it’s a normal response and focus on implementing strategies to mitigate its impact rather than dwelling on the negative feelings associated with it.


Feeling hangry is a common phenomenon that many of us have experienced. The science behind it reveals the intricate relationship between hunger and anger, highlighting the impact of blood sugar levels and brain chemistry on our mood. By understanding the biological mechanisms at play and implementing practical strategies to prevent hanger, you can maintain a more balanced state of mind and navigate hunger without succumbing to anger. Remember, taking care of your physical and emotional well-being is key to leading a fulfilling and harmonious life, free from the grips of hanger.

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