What to do about feel­ing ‘hangry’


Good Health Choices - - Content -

Pic­ture your usual group gath­er­ing of fam­ily or friends – you’re all out to din­ner and start off chat­ting nicely. If it’s a late din­ner or your meals take a while to ar­rive, the mood changes. As time wears on, ev­ery­one’s pa­tience wears out. You turn into snap­ping tur­tles, dredg­ing up old griev­ances and pick­ing on each other. You’re not usu­ally so un­pleas­ant, you’re all just mighty, mighty hangry (hun­gry + an­gry).

If you’ve been known to snap at loved ones, growl at wait­staff and prac­ti­cally gnaw in­no­cent by­standers’ arms off, you’ll be pleased to know your hangri­ness is not all in your imag­i­na­tion and you’re not alone.

The phe­nom­e­non is all too real.


Sev­eral sci­en­tific stud­ies have ex­am­ined how ag­gres­sion rises as our blood glu­cose lev­els drop since our last meal. One such study sug­gests judges pass heav­ier sen­tences the longer they’ve gone with­out food. In an­other ex­am­in­ing mar­ried cou­ples, peo­ple

stuck more pins in a voodoo doll rep­re­sent­ing their part­ner as they be­came hangrier (yikes!).

As­so­ciate pro­fes­sor Zane An­drews stud­ies the sci­ence be­hind food and mood in his role at the Monash Biomedicine Dis­cov­ery In­sti­tute in Mel­bourne. The key to your hangri­ness, he ex­plains, is ghrelin, a hor­mone from the stom­ach that’s im­por­tant for reg­u­lat­ing food in­take, as well as your moods and mo­ti­va­tion.

“As the food you’ve con­sumed goes through the in­tes­tine and gets lower and lower, and your stom­ach be­comes more and more empty, you start to re­lease this hor­mone, ghrelin,” he says. “If you don’t eat, the parts of the brain that think you’re hun­gry send sig­nals to other parts of the brain that con­trol your mood and emo­tions.”

Ghrelin causes your stom­ach wall to con­tract, so you feel hun­gry. It also plays a role in mon­i­tor­ing your blood glu­cose lev­els, which are nec­es­sary for keep­ing your brain tick­ing. Low blood glu­cose lev­els en­cour­age your body to se­crete stress hor­mones such as cor­ti­sol and ep­i­neph­rine. These stress hor­mones in turn set your sym­pa­thetic ner­vous sys­tem into ac­tion, caus­ing you to feel shaky, dizzy, and po­ten­tially ir­ri­ta­ble and an­gry.

This is your body’s way of pro­vid­ing enough neg­a­tive re­in­force­ment to mo­ti­vate you to eat. While you of­ten feel ris­ing lev­els of ag­gres­sion as hunger sets in, there are some ben­e­fits when you’re in this state that fade away once you’re full again.

“We’re more alert lead­ing up to our meals,” says Dr An­drews. “When you eat, you get a lot of glu­cose and in­sulin, and those make us drowsy.”

Some foods, such as those rich in car­bo­hy­drates, make us drowsier than oth­ers. To work and play at our best, it’s all about main­tain­ing bal­ance and eat­ing reg­u­larly to make sure we stay on an even keel.

In this way, we nav­i­gate nicely be­tween mak­ing hangry, rash de­ci­sions be­fore eat­ing and be­com­ing too docile and drowsy after a meal.

the fast­ing facts

Go­ing on a fast or a diet where your calo­ries are re­stricted throws off the body’s ex­pec­ta­tions about when to ex­pect its next meal and the usual in­take for your en­ergy needs. Dr An­drews says the main thing is to be pre­pared for these mood swings when em­bark­ing on these types of di­ets.

“They’re cer­tainly go­ing to make you more hangry than nor­mal be­cause your body’s go­ing to try to fight your brain to make sure the brain tells you to eat food,” he ex­plains. “That’s why los­ing weight and keep­ing it off is so hard.”

Once the time for your usual meal passes, how­ever, your hunger will sub­side be­cause of your body’s cir­ca­dian rhythm – the sys­tem that mon­i­tors your 24-hour sleep­ing and eat­ing sched­ule ac­cord­ing to day­light and other sig­nals. Your body will give up on the cur­rent AWOL meal and be­gin look­ing for­ward to the next one.

Sim­i­larly, this sys­tem learns to ad­just when you’re trav­el­ling. It’s tem­po­rar­ily thrown into chaos when you fly over­seas and cross time zones. Your gut will be ex­pect­ing meals at all sorts of strange hours, but then adapts to the new light cy­cle and ex­pects meals at ap­pro­pri­ate times for your new lo­ca­tion.

You’ll be pleased to know your hangri­ness is not all in your imag­i­na­tion

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