Hanger: what is it, and how can you prevent it?

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You know the feeling. You haven’t eaten all day. Your stomach is growling, you’re feeling light headed, and everything just bothers you. Your only goal is to get something in your stomach and anything keeping you from realizing this goal just makes you upset, stressed, frustrated and angry.


So you snap – at a co-worker, parent, significant other, etc. What is going on? You’re usually such a nice person! Well congratulations, you’re experiencing a phenomenon called hanger.

Wait, is that even a word?

Well, although this word is still considered slang by the Oxford English Dictionary, it has been entering the American English lexicon more and more as of late as its definition becomes more widely known and as people are starting to realize that this is something real which happens to them all the time!

Why does it happen?

Well, there are three prevailing theories as to why people get hangry. The first two have to do with how the body produces glucose – or natural sugars.

The third has to do with genetics. Many scientists believe that the people with the more prevalent genes for hanger were more likely to survive when our ancestors were hunter-gatherers.

As the theory goes, if our ancestors stood back from a meal to be polite and let others eat before them during times of hardship, then our ancestors would have potentially died out due to starvation. But because our ancestors were hangry, they were more likely to fight and get at the food they wanted, ensuring that they survived!

Too little glucose

Whenever we eat something our bodies take whatever is in the food and take the nutrients to use as fuel for different parts of our bodies and so that our bodies can carry out various natural processes. One of these processes is producing glucose from the food we eat. When we haven’t eaten in a long time our bodies begin producing less glucose.

So what does glucose have to do with hanger? Well, it turns out that when we aren’t producing enough glucose, our bodies respond by sending us into survival mode. Various bodily processes slow down, including our brains, which need glucose to help it fire synapses which help us think and make decisions.

This makes it harder to concentrate overall, and you make start actually slurring your speech or make silly mistakes!

Glucose overdrive

Shockingly, the third prevailing theory as to why we humans get hangry is because our brains may be working in overdrive to PRODUCE more glucose!

When our glucose levels sink too low, our brains send out distress signals to our pituitary glands, pancreas, and adrenal glands. Our bodies then produce hormones meant to increase glucose levels in our bloodstreams.

However, one of these hormones which get released is the “fight or flight” hormone adrenaline. This adrenaline makes us more aggressive and may be the reason that when we get really super hungry we also get angry and more irritable

So I should eat right now

Well, kind of. Your brain is going to be craving foods high in fats, sugars, and sodium. So while that candy bar or bag of chips may hit the spot, it will only do so for a little bit, as you are only tricking your brain into thinking that it is getting nutrients when it really isn’t.

The best things to eat if you are hangry and want to stave it off for a while? Foods high in natural sugars like grapes or an apple, foods high in natural fats like almonds, peanuts, and cashews. Some people will even eat a bell pepper like it’s an apple!

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