No one likes the Hulk when he’s angry, and no one likes you when you’re hungry. But don’t worry, you’re not the only one. Feeling “hangry,” or angry due to hunger, is so common it’s even become a word in the Oxford English Dictionary — though, for some reason, “hanger” is not. But the hanger is real. It’s so strong, it may have driven some sufferers to literally stab someone.
Oxford’s definition of “hangry” is “bad-tempered or irritable as a result of hunger.” And it turns out that there’s a perfectly logical and scientific explanation for feeling crabby when you haven’t eaten.
“Hanger, or extreme hunger that results in angry behavior, is attributed to low blood sugar,” registered dietitian Bari Stricoff, who also specializes in psychology, told The Daily Meal in an email. “When you go an extended period of time without food, your blood sugar levels begin to steadily fall.”
This drop in blood sugar, she explained, can cause hypoglycemia if you go too long without eating a morsel.
“There are many side effects to hypoglycemia,” Stricoff explained, “including shakiness, tiredness, headaches, or in this case, irritability.”
Those Snickers commercials are starting to make a lot of sense; you really aren’t yourself when you’re hungry.
Deena Adimoolam, MD, from the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Bone Disease at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai told Health that your hormones are involved, too. When your blood sugar takes a dive, your levels of the stress hormone cortisol and adrenaline start to rise, making you feel on-edge.
Another hormone, called neuropeptide Y, is also released when you’re hungry; this hormone is directly linked to aggression. And the science confirms it: One 2014 study conducted at Ohio State University showed that married couples were more likely to squabble if their blood sugar dipped too low.
So next time you snap something sassy when your stomach is grumbling, blame hanger. Science is on your side.
The good news is that ending hanger is simple: Just eat food.
“Make sure you carry snacks,” Stricoff advised. “Think carbohydrates, plus a fat or protein.” Making sure your snack includes these nutrients helps prevent low blood sugar (and helps guarantee you won’t get hangry).
A Snickers bar totally counts — again, those commercials aren’t lying. They do technically have the carbs and fat to do the trick; but they’re probably not the healthiest snack bar around. Try one of these healthy options for a snack bar that’ll actually give your body the nutrients it needs.