Why Do We Get Hangry?

By Lizzie Streit, MS, RDN, LD  

Have you ever found yourself in a fit of anger, only to be completely calm as soon as you eat? Or maybe you’ve seen your friends or family pick fights when it’s been a while since their last meal?  

If you have experienced any of these emotions, you are probably familiar with feeling hangry. Hangry refers to the combination of being hungry and angry. It’s a real word (we promise) and a science-backed phenomenon!  

Read on to learn more about what causes you to feel hangry and how you can prevent it.  

What Causes You to be Hangry?  

You feel hangry when your brain needs more fuel.  

When you eat food, your body breaks it down into sources of energy. Carbohydrates become simple sugar molecules called glucose. This is the brain’s primary source of fuel.  

The breakdown of carbs into glucose causes blood sugar to increase. When your blood sugar levels stay consistent throughout the day, your brain has a steady stream of energy. If these levels fall, you may start to experience irritability and anger.  

In other words, your body senses that your blood sugar has dropped and takes that as a sign that you need to replenish glucose stores immediately. As a result, your brain tells you to act quickly and get food as soon as possible. Cue the strong emotions and temper!  

Low blood sugar also signals the release of hormones, such as cortisol and epinephrine, that can increase the level of glucose in your blood. Since these messengers are stress hormones, they may also contribute to the feelings of stress, anger, and irritability when you are hungry.  

How to Prevent Feeling Hangry  

Being hangry is an unpleasant feeling. The good news is that you can prevent yourself from feeling hangry by eating balanced meals.  

Try eating a meal or snack with complex carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats every three to five hours. The fiber in the complex carbs will lead to a slow and steady digestion of glucose, keeping your blood sugar levels stable for your brain. Eating protein or fat with carbohydrates also slows down their digestion and prevents blood sugar from crashing.  

Good sources of complex carbohydrates include fruits, whole grains, legumes, and starchy vegetables. Limit refined carbohydrates, such as bagels, pastas, pastries, soda, and candy, since these can cause blood sugars to rise and fall very quickly.   

By following this eating pattern and not waiting too long to eat your next meal or snack, you can stop yourself from becoming hangry.  

Note from Healthy For Life Meals: Do you want to prevent yourself from feeling hangry, but don’t know where to start? We're here to help.  Our menus are carefully designed to include the optimal composition and distribution of nutrients you need. Get started today. 

Stef Keegan