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Hunger not sole reason for being ‘hangry’
August 2, 2018, 5:26 pm

Though toddlers are most often associated with emptybellied crankiness, we are all guilty of feeling angry when hungry, or hangry for short. While hanger is no doubt unpleasant, it serves an important physiological function. Your body does not know that you did not eat lunch because of a heavy work schedule, all it knows is that it need more energy, and hanger is a way of signaling this need. Like toddlers, we are biochemically affected by our hunger and it impacts our behaviors.

A new study from the University of North Carolina sheds more light on the precise conditions that produce hanger. In one experiment, the participants were asked to either fast for five hours or more, or come to the lab after eating a full meal. Once at the lab, they were asked to write a story about emotions, or to write a story about an average day that was meant to be unemotional. Then the subjects did a visual perception task on a computer that then suddenly crashed.

The experimenter then blamed the participant for the computer crash. This created a negative situation that enabled the researchers to find if the participants who were hungry became ‘hangry’. The study showed that people who had written stories about emotions, and thus had more emotional self-awareness in the moment, had a steadier keel. The study found that even though everyone was in a negative situation or context, hungry people did not just automatically become hangry. It was only the hungry people who had not been thinking about emotions beforehand who got hangry. The finding suggests hungry people who pay attention to their feelings, or are aware of them in the moment, may be able to reduce the chances of becoming hangry. This can have potentially important applications for the management of hunger — and hanger.

We can also de-fang hanger by making smarter nutritional choices that allow us to manage our blood sugar levels, which are key to keeping anger in control. Foods with a lot of carbohydrates, which produces the highest amount of blood sugar or blood glucose, should be eaten with protein or fat in order to slow digestion and leave people feeling satiated.

These types of food also help keep blood sugar and energy levels stable longer. Breakfast is a particularly tricky meal to navigate because our bodies have usually been without food for eight or more hours, and we may crave the sugary fullness of carbs. But if you are going to have an important morning office meeting, doughnuts are the worst breakfast choice as it is full of sugar, which is a recipe for anger and not exactly the best for problem-solving. While we may not always be able to control when we are hangry, understanding why it happens and what we can do to minimize it can help us better manage our grumpiness when our stomachs are growling in the future.

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