If you’ve ever felt so hungry that you’re consumed with a burning rage, then you know the meaning of “hanger.” The term may have been invented by the internet but the emotional state described as “hangry” is 100 percent real, says nutrition and dietetics lecturer Sophie Medlin.
Medlin, who is a dietitian at King’s College in London, discussed the matter on BBC Radio during a recent episode of Woman’s Hour. According to the New York Post, Medlin pointed out that the link between hunger and irritability has long been recognized by science.
The British dietitian confirmed that being “hangry” is a real emotional response, triggered by our body when it’s craving food.
It seems that hunger and anger trigger the same chemical response in the brain, which is why the two emotional states appear to morph in the case of many people when it’s been a while since their last meal.
Hunger causes blood sugar levels to drop, Medlin explained, which in turn makes the body pump more cortisol and adrenaline. This physiological reaction activates the “fight or flight” response and is very similar to the chemical reaction caused by hunger.
“The [chemicals in the brain] that trigger for hunger are the same ones that trigger for anger and rage and impulsive type behaviors,” Medlin said on the radio show.
“So that is why you get that sort of same response,” she added.
The best way to avoid the feeling is to snack between mealtimes https://t.co/q67lgtyarA— New York Post (@nypost) May 11, 2018
In an Instagram post that advertised the BBC Radio episode, Medlin revealed that “hanger” actually helped our ancestors survive. The dietitian argues that feeling “hangry” is so common among many of us because it is an excellent survival mechanism.
As she explains, experiencing irritability while being hungry is very relevant “from an evolutionary perspective” because “it would have helped us to prioritize our own food intake over that of those around us.”
HANGER is REAL! There are lots of reasons why humans experience irritability when we're hungry, it's actually a pretty great survival mechanism. Now we use it to make sure we get to the front of the queue in the supermarket after work (GET OUT OF MY WAY!) but from an evolutionary perspective it would have helped us to prioratise our own food intake over that of those around us. Arguably, this might be why so many of us experience hanger, because our ancestors survived thanks to hanger! Skip to minute 37 to hear a hangry dietitian (me) explaining the science of hanger for the BBC. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3csvt16
So, how do we deal with it? Well, Medlin recommends a carb snack between meals to regulate cortisol levels and keep “hanger” at bay.
The reason why it’s important to address this problem is that being “hangry” can have worrisome consequences over our health and can even lead to weight gain.
An excess of cortisol in the body can leave us feeling burned out and lacking in energy, Nicole Osinga, a dietitian with the College of Dietitians of Ontario in Canada, told Global News.
When this happens, we start craving unhealthy treats, mainly sweets and salty snacks, because the body is looking to replenish its energy stores. This energy is generally deposited under the form of adipose tissue and ends up as belly fat over time.
“Hanger comes about when we neglect to listen to our body,” said Osinga.
“It’s our body’s way of screaming for attention and care,” she concluded.