Every new generation, as it enters young adulthood, contributes its own lingo to the culture. Most of it remains within that generation’s subculture and out of the realm (and understanding) of mature generations. But, every once in a while, a few of these new terms make it into the mainstream with universal appeal. Such is the case with hangry – a mash-up of hungry and angry.
“When you are so hungry that your lack of food causes you to be angry, frustrated or both.”
But also accepted into the Western culture lexicon by none other than Merriam-Webster:
“An adjective that describes being irritable due to hunger.”
The noun version, hanger (hunger + anger), has also emerged. It’s not surprising the clever word twist has been so readily adopted, given most people have experienced it at one time or another. It also turns out studies have shown the human body does, quite literally, turn physical feelings of hunger into emotional feelings akin to anger.
Hanger is Real
It all comes down to the stomach’s direct connection to the brain via the endocrine (hormonal) system. When the belly is empty and the reserve fuel from the last snack or meal has been spent, blood sugar levels drop and various hormones are released that are meant to cue the brain to get into action. Specifically, the hormones ghrelin, cortisol, adrenaline and neuropeptide Y are released into the blood stream, in that order, to spur us to eat something, quickly!
Ghrelin makes us feel hunger. Once we start feeling hungry, we should seek to remedy it immediately. Often, we don’t. Sometimes, it’s out of choice from self-imposed calorie restriction (dieting) or we don’t want to stop what we’re doing to eat. Busy toddlers are susceptible to this. Who hasn’t witnessed (or been a victim of) a hangry two year old? Other times, it’s out of necessity, as in we’re stuck in a situation where we can’t eat or don’t have food available.
Whatever the reason, when we don’t heed ghrelin’s call, cortisol and adrenaline up the ante. These are known as the “fight or flight” hormones, which increase heart rate, blood pressure and respiration. In other words, the body begins to go into a mini-panic at the thought of an empty fuel tank. This is when the situation goes from a purely physical reaction into emotional and cognitive reactions and the first symptoms of hanger are detected. Anxiety heightens and the brain is distracted. The results will be different from person to person but it’s common for people to exhibit impatience, irritability or an inability to concentrate on a task at this stage.
If we’re foolish enough to continue on from here without nourishment, our bodies lay down the gauntlet with neuropeptide Y – the aggression hormone. This is as hangry as hangry gets. Not only might we lose our temper but, when we do get our hands on food, it’s probably going to be ugly. With rational thinking and self-control out the window. over-consumption of high-calorie, low-nutrient foods is highly likely.
Nip Hanger in the Bud
Once we realize the hangry phenomenon isn’t a personality flaw but a natural, normal, physiological reality, we can do something about it:
- Eat when you’re hungry. It really is as easy as that. Don’t put it off if. If you have a commitment on your schedule that will last a few hours during which it won’t be possible to eat, have a snack before hand.
- Be aware. Sometimes we get to the second stage of hanger because we’re too distracted to recognize the early signs of hunger. You know the times of day when you tend to get in trouble with hangry tendencies. Take a moment every so often to notice how you’re feeling. Set an alarm if you need to. Most people need to eat every three to four hours to keep blood glucose from tanking.
- Eat smartly. Your body needs carbohydrates, protein, fat and fiber. The carbohydrates are fast-burning energy to address immediate needs. Protein is slow-burning and necessary to ensure you won’t be hungry again in an hour. Fats and fiber each work in their own unique way to make you feel full in the short and long term to avoid over-consuming now and later.
- Be prepared. Many times, we’re in places where we can eat but don’t have good food choices available. At the office, vending machines and left-over donuts and birthday cake in the break room might be your only options. If driving is a big part of your work day, the expedience of fast food drive throughs and convenience stores is tempting but unwise. Avoid those pitfalls by always having healthy, portable snacks with you.
- Fresh or Dried Fruit with Nuts, Seeds or Nut/Seed Butter
- Vegetables with Hummus
- Whole Grain Toast with Avocado and Cheese
- Plain, Greek Yogurt (not fat-free) with Fresh Berries
- Plain Kefir (not fat-free), Nut/Seed Butter and Banana Smoothie
- Cottage Cheese (not fat-free) with Crushed Pineapple or Berries
- Fruit and Cheese
- Whole Grain Bread with Nut/Seed Butter