We have all experienced that moment in the day when toeing the line between acceptable social behaviour and an all-out emotional outburst comes dangerously close to disintegration.
There seems to be neither rhyme nor reason to it, but experts may have come up with a plausible explanation for the hybrid emotion known as ‘hanger’.
In a recent article for The Conversation, Prof Amanda Salis busted the ‘hangry’ myth, showing it seems hunger does predispose some people to grumpy outbursts – and there is a way you can stop it.
“When you start to get a little bit hungry, you might feel a bit irritable or find it hard to concentrate but can still plough through but, as you get hungrier, those responses can get stronger and you might get more snappy,” Prof Salis told The New Daily.
Running on empty
It all starts with a drop in fuel to the brain.
Although accounting for about two per cent of the body’s weight, the brain chows down on about 20 per cent of our daily glucose intake.
Glucose is the body’s main source of energy and can be found in dried fruit, fresh fruit and grains.
When we are hungry, the level of glucose in the blood has dropped, with the brain perceiving this as a “life-threatening situation”.
As the blood glucose levels continue to drop, it can become harder to concentrate, do simple tasks and coherently string words together in a sentence.
Hunger also affects the body’s hormone levels.
When the blood glucose levels drop to a certain level, the body begins to synthesise and release hormones that increase the amount of glucose in the bloodstream.
Adrenaline, which is often associated with the ‘fight or flight’ reflex, is one of these hormones, promoting a similar response, for instance shouting in anger, at times of intense hunger.
It is different to genuine anger, according to University of Sydney Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise & Eating Disorders senior research fellow Amanda Salis.
“Hangriness is an aggression that comes on when you are hungry and goes away reliably when you eat, so it is a transient feeling of irritability or aggression or anger,” she said.
Don’t let the cravings win
When the hanger pains hit, it is easy to let the cravings dictate the response.
Prof Salis said intense hunger increases the desire for a quick fix, like junk food, which will be consumed much faster than usual.
But there are some options to kill hunger fast, without killing your health.
A break of about five hours between meals increases feelings of hunger, although different meal routines will promote different responses.
Nutrition Australia senior nutritionist Aloysa Hourigan said there were plenty of nutritious options to beat the cravings.
“Even if when you feel like that your immediate thought is I need to have the most convenient thing I can find, try to have things, for instance stored at work, that can be immediately accessible, some raw nuts could be good,” she told The New Daily.
“Certainly when you look at food, foods that contain a low GI could be quite helpful and stabilise blood glucose levels.
“Something like a sandwich with a healthy filling could be a good option, rather than whatever is in the vending machine.
“Things like fruit and nuts can be some immediate quick things, but preventing it in the first place is probably better.”
Tolerance is best
If you find yourself on the receiving end of a bout of hangriness – don’t take it personally.
Prof Salis said genes play a role in the just how much hunger affects the mood, meaning the intensity and reaction of the hanger differs for everyone.
“If you know someone who does get hangry or you are someone who gets hangry themselves, then it is a good idea to keep a low profile before meal times or ignore what is said in hangriness,” Prof Salis said.
“You wouldn’t want to be close to a hungry bear.”