Reality check: Is being ‘hangry’ a real emotional response?

Click to play video 'Have you ever been ‘hangry’? Expert says being hungry and angry is a real emotion' Have you ever been ‘hangry’? Expert says being hungry and angry is a real emotion
WATCH: Have you ever been ‘hangry’? Expert says being hungry and angry is a real emotion

Being so hungry it makes you angry – it’s a feeling we’ve all known at one point or another.

But is being “hangry” a real emotional state?

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According to one lecturer in nutrition and dietetics from King’s College in London, Sophie Medlin, yes it is, and science has recognized that link for some time.

On BBC Radio’s Woman’s Hour, Medlin explains that a chemical response is triggered when hunger manifests, and that chemical response is similar to anger for everyone, the NY Post details.

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As our blood sugar drops when we have irregular meals, she says our cortisol and adrenaline levels increase in the body and this sets off a “fight or flight” response in the brain – just like it would if the reaction was anger.

“The [chemicals in the brain] that trigger for hunger are the same ones that trigger for anger and rage and impulsive type behaviours,” she said on the radio show, the NY Post reports. “So that is why you get that sort of same response.”

So what do registered dietitians in Canada think — is there such an emotion as “hangry?”

Nicole Osinga says yes.

“Hanger comes about when we neglect to listen to our body,” Osinga says. “It’s our body’s way of screaming for attention and care.”

Too much cortisol can lead to feelings of burnout and low energy, she explains. It can also lead to weight gain over time, especially around the abdominal region —and not to mention constantly being hangry can harm one’s relationship with food.

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A hangry feeling can also be the result of restricting one’s diet, which can cause low blood sugar as well as a drop in energy.

“Consequently, when we are under-eating, this can cause a corresponding surge in cravings,” says registered dietitian Andrea D’Ambrosio of Dietetic Directions. “This is why it’s important for people to understand how to fuel their bodies with foods that will leave them feeling satisfied.”

This is a problem for long-term sustainability, she adds. This also means that by the time you are eating, you are likely in what she calls a “craving zone,” and likely to over-indulge on sweets and salty treats since the body is craving a boost in energy.

Registered dietitian Andy De Santis agrees.

“I also think there is something to be said for the fact that if we are actively aware that we are hungry, it can become more challenging for us to deal with other issues in a rational and calm manner because we are expending mental energy on controlling this desire to eat, and have less to spare elsewhere,” he says. “As with everything else in the field of nutrition, the individuals themselves and other contextual factors play large roles.”

So two quick solutions to manage the hanger, he says, would be to include adequate protein and fibre at your major meals and snacks. Also, think about incorporating a snack in between meals if you don’t already.

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Also, stick to low-glycemic carbohydrates that are high in fibre, like sweet potatoes and whole grains, and include a source of healthy fat (like avocado), Osinga adds.