Snack More, Fight Less: The Science Behind Being "Hangry" & How to Cure It

The Science Behind Being "Hangry" & How to Cure It

True story: a friend of mine regularly started a fight with her boyfriend everyday at 4 p.m. Every day. This went on for years until he finally got the bright idea of shoving a granola bar at her the minute she came home from work. Shazam! The fights were a thing of the past.

Hanger Causes Fights Between Loved Ones

Being hangry (hungry/angry) hasn't always had its own cute neologism, but anyone who's ever babysat a crabby, underfed toddler knows it's a real thing.

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According to a study done by Brad J. Bushman, a psychologist from Ohio State University, "Self-control of aggressive impulses requires energy and much of this energy is provided by glucose derived from the food we eat."

In other words, if you're hungry, you're less likely to be in control of your actions. When we can't regulate our actions, we lash out at the people closest to us, including our significant others, according to the same study.

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In Bushman's experiment, participants were asked to chart their blood sugar levels. They were also told to stick voodoo dolls with pins depending on how angry they were with their spouses (to measure aggressive impulses), as well as blast their spouses with noise through headphones (to demonstrate actual aggression).

If you've ever snapped at someone in those long, foodless hours between lunch and dinner, you won't be surprised to find that the participants with lower glucose levels stuck more pins in the dolls and dealt their spouses longer, louder noise blasts.

What's interesting about this study is that one might assume adults, who have a lot more coping mechanisms and reasoning skills than children, would be able to override their hunger and behave like, well, adults.

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Why Low Blood Sugar Messes with Your Emotions

Turns out that it's tough for your body's organs and your emotions to operate at their peak when your stomach is empty. Blood sugar levels that are too high or too low can make your moods swing radically.

In addition, Dr. Amir Mehran of the Center for Weight Loss Surgery points out that being hungry makes your body go into flight-or-fight mode, which triggers your adrenaline levels to go up. Then, however, comes the subsequent crash.

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Being under that kind of stress isn't great for impulse control, either.

Better Eating Habits = No More Hanger

To prevent "hanger," you need to do two things. First, train yourself to recognize the cues of physical hunger, which is different from eating because you're bored, anxious, or upset.

You also need to learn to eat the right things. Noshing on a candy bar or baked good will provide you with a quick energy spike as your insulin levels rise, but the resulting crash will leave you crabbier than ever.

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Dr. Laura Thompson of the Southern California Institute for Clinical Nutrition has several great tips on how to eat to keep your blood sugar (and thus your physical, mental, and emotional systems) at healthy levels. These include:

  1. Eat high nutrient foods: vegetables and fruits (no juices).
  2. Eat high fiber foods: beans and legumes, whole grains, raw fruits and vegetables.
  3. Eat a low-glycemic diet with very little sugar, white flour, or juices.
  4. Eat 4-5 small meals throughout the day, evenly spaced.
  5. Eliminate hydrogenated fats and oils in margarine, fast food and processed food, and utilize good fats and oils such as avocado, coconut oil, olive oil, unheated flax oil, raw nuts and seeds.
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I personally take old-fashioned trail mix with me every time I leave the house as a precaution. I even keep stashes of it in my purse and car. Not only have my relationships improved immensely, it's saved me from having to eat fast food when I'm on the road, and that's a win-win for everybody.

What do you do when you get "hangry?"

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