The Hanger Phenomenon… Explained

Confession time. When I get hungry, I am miserable, I am edgy, I can’t make decisions properly, I am grumpy and border line crazy.

By now I am sure you have heard of the term “Hanger”… aka hungry and angry! According to the very credible source “Urban Dictionary” the definition of hangry is: The state of being so hungry that it has become infuriating. A hybrid of hungry and angry.

Now all jokes aside, there is a bit of a science to the phenomenon. While no real “studies” have been done on Hanger.. there is an explanation for why you feel like a crazy person when you haven’t eaten in a while. Let me explain!

Has it ever happened to you where you snapped at someone angrily or over reacted about a situation because you were feeling hungry? VoilĂ , I give you: being hangry… feeling grumpy or short-tempered as a result over a long overdue feed.

The reason behind your irritability is just your body’s reaction to needing food. If your blood-glucose levels fall far enough, your brain perceives it as a life-threatening situation, and thus hanger results.

But why? It all lies in a process that occurs in our bodies when it needs glucose. Everything we eat can be broken down into carbohydrates, proteins and fats. These are all broken down by our digestive system and turned into simple sugars, amino acids and free fatty acids that travel through our blood stream, enter our cells and organs and provide them with nutrients. They are the building blocks for our bodies energy supply.

There is a decrease in circulating nutrients the longer you go without eating or the harder you are working out/running. If your blood-glucose levels drop enough, your brain will actually perceive it as a life-threatening situation. Other organs and tissues in your body are able to use other nutrients as an emergency fuel source, but your brain is critically dependent on glucose. This is why your brain is so susceptable to low glucose levels which triggers an emotional stress response.

When you are hungry, simple things become more difficult. You might find it harder to concentrate, may be more proned to making silly mistakes or may become irritable. It can also be more difficult to behave within socially acceptable norms, such as not snapping at people, even those you care the most about. Does all this sound familar?

When blood-glucose levels drop to a certain threshold, your brain sends instructions to several organs in your body to synthesize the release hormones that increase the amount of glucose in your bloodstream. Adrenaline(epinephrine), and cortisol, which are both from the adrenal glands and are glucose counter-regulatory stress hormones that are released into your bloodstream in all sorts of stressful situations, on top of physical stress from low blood-glucose levels.

You probably know adrenaline as the major hormone relseased in response to “fight or flight”. The same happenes when your brain senses low glucose levels.

Another reason for hanger is the whole Nature and nurture thing.

Hunger is linked to anger because they are both controlled by common genes. The product of one such gene is neuropeptide Y, a natural brain chemical released into the brain when you are hungry. It controls hunger levels and it stimulates unquenchable feeding behaviours when glucose levels are low by acting on a variety of receptors in the brain, including one called the Y1 receptor.

Neuropeptide Y and the Y1 receptor also regulate anger or aggression, thus, those with higher levels of neuropeptide Y tend to show higher levels of impulse aggression.

What does that all mean?

This is in essence our most basic survival adaptation as a species. If thousands of years ago hungry humans stood back and graciously let others eat before them, you would’nt be sitting here reading my blog because we would have died out. Bottom line is hanger is undoubtedly a survival mechanism that has served humans! We are all different which is why there are different reactions when people get hungry.

So how does one deal with hanger?

As athletes, we are sucessfully kicked up our metabolisms and increased our caloric demand, thus making us far more susceptable to the dreaded condition. On a long run, glucose levels can run dangerously low unless you’re constantly replacing your used glucose stores.

While on a long run, make sure you are fueling properly, and adequately so that your glucose levels never plumit. (Read:

The easiest way to handle hanger is to eat something before you get too hungry. Always carry something with you like nuts, fruit, or a protein bar when you’re out and about to avoid crashing. Nutrient rich, healthy, natural foods satisfy hunger for longer which thus avoids hanger disturbing your inner peace again. Deal with your hunger before hanger sets in to avoid embarrassing, hanger associated situations.

Pathophysiology: Critical Care Nursing

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