The Science Behind Hanger

Urban Dictionary defined “hangry” as lack of food which often causes one to be angry, frustrated or both. While Urban Dictionary may not be the most reliable source, there is an actual science behind this new-age word.

It is true that most of us have experienced the grouchiness that takes over when we’ve gone too long without food. In our busy and overlooked lives, we often forget to eat or choose to ignore the hunger signs. The body’s response to being ignored and deprived of its needs can cause an emotional reaction very much like anxiety and stress. The longer the body is being deprived, the greater the emotional response.

It is important to note that the stomach and brain are connected to one another. In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, research found a correlation between hunger, feeling angry and having low blood sugar. When the blood sugar level drops, it signals the release of hanger-related hormones.


The Hanger Hormones


Ghrelin is produced in the stomach that stimulates the feelings of hunger. It can also produce anxiety, which is where the hanger begins. When hungry, one becomes more irritable and more aware of emotions. This reinforces the drive to seek food to satisfy nutritional needs. The release of this hormone creates the hungry sensation and should be the motivation to look for food. Once fed, ghrelin disappears along with the anxiety. However, ignoring this hunger signal can disrupt the other hormones in the body.

Cortisol and Adrenaline

Stress related hormones like cortisol and adrenaline are triggered by low blood sugar levels. As these hormones increase, the body goes into a fight-or- flight response. These effects are expressed emotionally, physically and mentally.

When hungry, the brain doesn’t function properly. The prefrontal cortex doesn’t function at its normal high capacity. This affects personality while temporarily shutting down long term-memory. Emotionally, the mind feels the anxiety and stress. This further leads to loss of patience and focus causing an abnormal behavior. Physically, this increases the heart rate, blood pressure and respiration.

Neuropeptide Y

Continuing to ignore the hunger signs will lead the body to a point of no return. With the spike of gherlin, cortisol and adrenaline, the body will go into a full panic mode, experiencing hanger in full effect! Studies have shown that the release of neuropeptide Y causes aggressive behaviors. Additionally, this hormone stimulates food intake with the preference for quick digestible carbohydrates. Furthermore, neuropeptide Y also increases the motivation to eat large amounts of food while delaying the feeling of being satisfied. With that being said, the body will crave for more food and more carbohydrates which causes overeating.

Effects of Hanger in Real-Life

Till Hunger Do Us Part

In a study, married couples were asked to stick pins into ‘voodoo dolls’ that represented their significant other to reflect their anger. The study found that when people had lower blood sugar levels, they are more likely to stick pins into their dolls. Ouch!

Kitchen, Your Honor

A study done a few years ago attracted the public. It was found that judges are likely to set lenient sentences when it is closer to the lunch hour. Their hanger affected their decision-making skills!

Preventing Hanger Strikes

Be Prepared

Always keep travel-friendly snacks! A snack should contain a mix of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. High fiber, whole-grain carbohydrates raises serotonin levels to give the blood a quick boost while keeping the stomach full. Proteins and fats are digested slowly which keeps the stomach feeling full longer. By keeping a healthy stash of food, the body will less likely be tempted to over indulge in less-healthy fare that lacks nutrition.

Be Mindful

Listen to your body! Feeling more irritable is likely caused by hunger. Take a break and have a snack. Most people should not go more than 4 to 5 hours without eating. This eating pattern will help relieve hunger and balance out blood sugar levels to prevent an emotional hanger rollercoaster.


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