Hangry? Science explains hunger related aggression

Hangry? Science explains hunger related aggression
Hangry? Science explains hunger related aggression

Ever been ‘hangry’ (so hungry, you get angry over trivial things)? If so, there’s a scientific reason for why you find everything unbearable when your stomach is bare. A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that a lack of food means there is not enough energy to fuel your self-control, sparking the ‘hanger’ emotion.

Self-control is the ability to override a desire, compulsion, impulse, or craving. It’s also the ability we used to keep our anger in check. However, while almost everyone seems to have a self-control technique to keep them from eating a second slice of cake, most of us don’t have these same kinds of techniques to control our anger. You need self-control to control anger, and self-control requires energy.

Our body is provided with energy in part by glucose, a carbohydrate that is easily broken down by the body and that is used as fuel in most organisms, from bacteria to humans. The glucose in our diet is converted into neurotransmitters that provide fuel for brain processes. When you’re past the hunger point and glucose is low, there is not enough energy in your body to overcome unwanted challenges (people breathing on you oddly when you’re starving) and impulses (throwing said people out of a window).

This also means you’ll have more difficulty paying attention, controlling your emotions, and resisting aggressive behaviors. This may explain the increased feelings of road rage when traffic is not allowing you to get home to your lunch as quickly as your stomach is needing you to. This also explains why the concept of dieting is such a miserable experience – since your body is being starved of glucose, your impulse control is lowered, and it’s easier to find experiences to be more painful and certain annoyances to be more obnoxious.

The best way to prevent these feelings of ‘hanger’ is to make sure you eat often. Try these tips for avoiding ‘hanger’ throughout the day (your friends and family will thank you for it):

Eat a large breakfast.

Eating a breakfast filled with complex (think whole grains and fruit) carbohydrates, proteins and healthy fats will ensure by mid-morning you won’t be feeling that ‘hangry’ urge to fling a stapler at your co-worker.

Snack In Between Meals

For those trying to lose weight, snacking between meals may seem counterproductive, but research has shown that eating three meals a day with two snack in between can help reduce appetite compared with only eating three meals a day. Just make sure to choose nutrient dense snacks such as almonds, hummus with vegetables, apples with peanut butter, or whole wheat crackers with low-fat cheese.

Lay Off the Simple Carbs

Simple carbohydrates (think white grains and office break-room snacks such as candy, cookies, and pastries) can drastically spike the amount of glucose in your body, setting you up for a hard crash later on (perfect conditions for feelings of ‘hanger’).


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