‘Hangry’: Experts decode the link between hunger and anger

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A combination of hungry and angry, the word ‘hangry’ is often used to describe the feeling of anger and irritability caused due to hunger. Despite being a part of the everyday vocabulary of many people, the emotion has not really been explored by science.

However, new research — published in the journal PLOS ONE — recently found that feeling hungry can really make one feel “hangry”. Led by academics from Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) in the UK and the Karl Landsteiner University of Health Sciences in Austria, it found that hunger is not only associated with increased levels of anger and irritability but also lower levels of pleasure.

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For the study, researchers recruited 64 adult participants, who, over 21-days, recorded their levels of hunger and many other measures of emotional wellbeing on an app five times a day.

According to the study finding, hunger was associated with “37% of the variance in irritability, 34% of the variance in anger, and 38% of the variance in pleasure recorded by the participants. The research also found that the negative emotions — irritability, anger, and unpleasantness — are caused by both day-to-day fluctuations in hunger, as well as residual levels of hunger measured by averages over the three-week period,” reported Science Daily.

The outlet further quoted the study lead author, Viren Swami, Professor of Social Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), who said, “Many of us are aware that being hungry can influence our emotions, but surprisingly little scientific research has focused on being ‘hangry’. Although our study doesn’t present ways to mitigate negative hunger-induced emotions, research suggests that being able to label an emotion can help people to regulate it.”

What do experts say?

According to Dr Nisha Khanna, senior consultant- counseling psychologist, Max hospital, when there is a long gap between meals, the body’s blood sugar level drops. This, further, leads to the release of a number of hormones, like stress hormone (cortisol) and the fight or flight hormone (adrenaline) in the body. “These hormones, when released into our bloodstream, can increase anger, irritability, and aggression in the face of frustrating experiences. In some people, cortisol hormone can lead to aggression as well,” she told indianexpress.com.

hunger When there is a long gap between meals, the body’s blood sugar level drops. (Photo: Freepik)

Hunger is known to affect our emotions, judgments, and behavior, too. “When we are hungry, we have less energy for mental activity, and self-control gets typically impaired, which could be considered as a state of ego depletion,” the expert added.

Ego depletion is a mechanism that contributes to the understanding of the processes of human self-control, and even hinders the ability of a person to engage in self-reflection. “Thus, if a person gets angry, aggressive, irritable or there is a lack of self-control and self-regulation, then the person may find it difficult to experience guilt,” Dr Nisha explained.

Can hunger-induced negative emotions be reduced?

Neha Pathania, chief dietitian, Paras Hospitals, suggested taking the following actions to manage or avoid being ‘hangry’, if you are prone to it:

*Make sure breakfast, lunch, and dinner are satiating and nutritious, or eat multiple small meals throughout the day.

*Avoid junk food since it can lead to a sugar crash after causing a sugar spike. The finest foods are nutrient-dense, high in fiber, and prolong your sensation of fullness.

*Have wholesome snacks on hand. If you’re concerned that you may feel hangry while you’re away from home, a few quick snacks stashed in your desk, car, or purse will provide peace of mind.

*Exercise regularly.

*Get lots of rest.

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