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Food For Thought

Yes, "hangry" is a thing...and here's how to handle it

You know those commercials that show someone acting crabby or oddly and then they eat a candy bar and suddenly they are changed back into their normal-acting "real" self? Can you relate?

"Hangry" happens

I sometimes get "hangry," although it's pretty rare these days. I learned this the hard way (like on one of the first dates with my now-husband). 😆 That time I didn't take it out on him since I barely knew him. Hangry tends to show its face with those we know better, lucky for us (unlucky for them).

How does "hangry" show up for you? For me, setting off on multiple errands, a long walk or some sort of outing when it's been a few hours since my last meal, is a recipe for low blood sugar or a bout of the "hangries"—or both. Now I typically listen to my hunger signals, so getting angry or unpleasant due to hunger doesn't happen to me that often. Plus, I have learned to keep a few go-to snacks on hand for those gotta-eat-now situations (hello, trail mix)—and to keep them close by if I'm away from home or a place where I can get some food quickly.

You probably don't need a study to tell you that being a crab-apple when you're hungry is a real thing.

Believe it or not, there is research on "hangry"

A study was published recently that legitimizes the colloquial term. The study aimed to investigate associations between hunger and negative emotional outcomes. For 21 days, at 5 time points per day, the 64 study participants (mostly women) ranked their hunger level, anger, irritability, pleasure (basically, did they feel "pleasant") and arousal (I'm not going to discuss this one!).

As you might suspect, hunger was associated with greater anger and irritability, and less pleasure. These associations persisted even when controlling for gender, age, Body Mass Index, dietary behavior (food restriction, emotional eating, etc) and "trait anger" (meaning the person typically has a temper).

Now, you might not have needed a study to tell you that being a crab-apple when you're hungry is a real thing. Still, it's nice to know that you aren't the only one who snaps at a spouse/significant other, friend or child when mealtime passes without any food passing by your lips.

Name the problem

Letting your hunger level grow to a point that you are no longer in good control of your emotions isn't fair to those around you. One thing you can do if you feel "hanger" starting to come on is to acknowledge it. If your'e with others, a verbal statement so they know what's going on, such as "I'm sorry, I'm really getting annoyed at this because I'm actually very hungry" will suffice. Just let your companion know that you realize you're being a less than fun, and that it's not his or her fault (and a make a little apology while you're at it). It goes a long way toward defusing what could otherwise be a prickly situation. It's also helpful for you to note this because it helps you tune in, and you'll remember this scenario if it happens again.

Your cranky-pants behavior won't magically go away when you identify its cause as extreme hunger, but naming it, as in "I'm getting annoyed because I'm really hungry" can be helpful acknowledgement for both you and your companion

How to handle the hangry

Most likely, the people you are around most often are already familiar with your hangry alter-ego. If it happens pretty frequently, these folks probably already know their options for handling you: a) ignore your hangry-ness and offer themselves up as the pincushion for your angry barbs, b) travel with a small selection of snacks they can offer to you, just in case, or c) tactfully suggest the you get a meal together. Bless these people for their understanding and patience!

Here are my suggestions for staving off "hanger":

  • Eat regular, balanced meals whenever possible — Eating a regular intervals will naturally help you avoid long periods without food, which will, of course, help prevent hunger from bubbling over into "hanger" territory

  • Get familiar with your hunger signals — if you aren't in the habit of paying attention to your body's hunger signals, then you're more likely to not notice when your hunger level is rising. Practice noticing the nuances of your body's communication system, and respond when it's nudging you to eat.

  • Keep snacks handy if it's a recurring problem — my previously mentioned trail mix is a favorite stand-by for me, but there are other options for snacks. Peanut butter crackers, a protein bar or if you aren't looking for something shelf-stable, a piece of fruit or really anything handy from your fridge will work. The point is to think ahead and not let your hunger level rise too much. A little hungry is fine, a lot of hungry that is being ignored, not so great.


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