'Hangry' is now a commonly-used term — is it real? What does it actually mean?

What most people don’t always understand is the reasons for the crankiness, how it works and the right fix for it.

Myupchar December 18, 2019 20:04:18 IST
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'Hangry' is now a commonly-used term — is it real? What does it actually mean?

Life often gets in the way of eating breakfast. Say, the alarm did go off but it was impossible to get out of a warm bed for at least five more minutes. Say, the geyser took its time heating up the water and by the time the hair gel set in, it was time to dash to the metro. Say, you made it by the skin of your teeth and caught the train, but there was a review meeting as soon as you reached office. On any given day, there could be a thousand reasons why it just wasn’t possible to grab a bite and reach office on time. 

Whatever your reasons for missing breakfast, there are consequences. And some of us just feel them sooner rather than later: we’re cranky and snap at unsuspecting coworkers all day! In other words, we're plain hangry till we eat.

Hangry is now a commonlyused term  is it real What does it actually mean

Representational image. Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay.

Hangry, a slightly dubious and widely misunderstood portmanteau of hunger and anger, is a well-known concept today, thanks to an advertisement for a chocolate bar that debuted at the American Superbowl in 2010. And the symptoms — increased irritability, difficulty concentrating and fatigue — of hangriness are somewhat known too.

What most people don’t always understand is the reasons for the crankiness, how it works and the right fix for it.

Low blood sugar equals unhappy  

There is ample evidence to show that hunger affects our mood. Here's how it happens:

It varies from person to person, but blood sugar levels start dropping as the body starts feeling hungry. The low glucose level causes the body to release cortisol and epinephrine (also known as adrenaline), the presence of which has also been linked to irritability and aggression. Additionally, studies show that our mood temporarily affects how we see the world (scientists describe this as affect-as-information). Since hunger excites negative feelings, we may be more likely to react poorly to situations. So it makes sense that we are quick to anger when we’re hungry.

Unhappiness adds up

A string of studies has challenged these claims of aggravated feelings linked to hangriness. It turns out that hunger alone isn’t sufficient reason to be angry; everything depends on the context.

Jennifer MacCormack, a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, conducted a bunch of experiments to study the effect of hunger on mood.

In the first set of studies, conducted online, MacCormack asked 400 participants to rate how hungry they felt. Next, she asked them to look at positive, negative and neutral emotional images. Finally, she showed them an ambiguous pictograph that they had not seen before and asked the participants to rate the pictograph on a seven-point scale on pleasantness. While their level of hunger did not affect how people reacted to positive and neutral images, hungry participants reacted more strongly to the negative images and were more likely to label the pictograph unpleasant.

As the affect-as-information theory suggests, emotions are more likely to frame situations when they match them. The negative feelings associated with hunger are amplified in adverse situations. So when people lash out, they may be projecting the negative feelings onto coworkers (or a spouse) without realizing that hunger may be the real reason for their frustrations.

Hanger is a feeling with the wrong outlet

In another study, MacCormack asked 118 students to skip a meal and another 118 to participate on a full stomach. The participants were then randomly assorted and one group was asked to write about their feelings and how they were doing while the other group was asked to write about an ordinary, unremarkable day. Following this, they were asked to complete an intentionally convoluted computer task. Towards the end of the task, the computers were programmed to show error messages and stop responding. At this point, researchers would enter the scene and blame the crash on the students. 

In the end, the students were asked to fill out a survey detailing what they thought of the structure and layout of the study. Interestingly, more students who had eaten but written about an unremarkable day expressed frustration with the study. Hungry students who had written about their feelings before the computer-crashing incident presented more level and restrained reactions. 

The authors suggested that “hanger” may be contained by some self-reflection and taking a step back from the frustrating situation. (Don't tell a spouse or colleague to stop being hangry, though. That could just make things worse, and focus their ire on you.)

Also, you are less likely to be “hangry” if you are having an otherwise pleasant day. While the latter is intuitive, the intention of the study was to complicate the definition of “hanger” and develop an understanding of how our bodies and physical health shape our mental health.

The authors of the study suggested carrying healthy, protein-rich snacks on you to ward off hunger pangs. Avoid junk food, though, as it can cause another sugar crash and elevate irritability and stimulate a desire for more food.

For more information, please read our article on Low Blood Sugar.

Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.

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