What really is "food rage"? "Hangriness" explained
Is there anything more infuriating than a delayed food delivery? Well yes, plenty probably, but there’s nothing quite like facing the wrath of somebody whose lunch hasn’t arrived on time. This specific kind of distress, feeling both hungry and angry at once, has become known as feeling “hangry”.
A lot to digest
The two states of hunger and anger feeding into each other can make for a particularly unpleasant emotional state. Sometimes we know exactly why we feel so irritable, but we’re stuck in a meeting or in a long queue at the grocery store, counting down the seconds until we can rip into a snack. And sometimes it creeps up on us unawares. We can find ourselves lashing out or having a full-blown meltdown before realizing – “Wow, I need to eat.” But why is it that only some people experience this phenomenon? For those of us who do, why does it take us down so often, even when we know to look for the signs? And for that reason, how can we manage it?
Hungry for information
Research has found that despite the term “hangry”’ being a recent addition to the dictionary (this blending of two words is known as a portmanteau, combining the words “hungry” and “angry”), the experience of hanger is very real. This is because hunger has been found to exacerbate negative emotional states, so if we experience something mildly irritating while we are hungry, we’ll feel that irritation more acutely. Hunger signals are sent to the brain when there’s a drop in blood sugar (glucose). This message is sent along the vagus nerve, which works best when the autonomic nervous system is relaxed. But if the nervous system is already activated and stressed, this communication shuts down and the brain won’t be aware of any stomach rumble or hunger pang to alert it to eat. Lower glucose levels also trigger the release of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, and can even impair parts of the brain responsible for self-control, all of which can, in turn, contribute to an outburst of anger.
So it’s not that hunger directly causes anger, but rather, that it will contribute to a more heightened level of this emotional response. Some people might get dizzy, fatigued, low energy, or unfocused, or they may experience some other physical symptom when they’re hungry. But if you’re susceptible to the odd hanger-induced tantrum, here are some tips for staying in control.
- Snack smart: Keep a stash of easy and quick snacks in your bag or your desk drawer that you can reach for easily when hanger starts creeping in. Nuts and dates are particularly good for getting a healthy and quick shot of glucose to the bloodstream.
- Look after yourself: Keeping your stress levels down and your vagus nerve happy will keep messages moving more easily between your body and your brain. You’ll be better able to determine your own hunger signals and address them before the hanger strikes, so don’t scrimp on the self-care.
- Tune in: Get to know your emotional landscape. If you are experiencing irritability in general, try to understand why by building your emotional intelligence. The more tuned in you are, the more you can work towards overcoming emotional reactivity and better manage anger, anxiety, and other fight-or-flight responses.
All of the content on our website is thoroughly researched to ensure that the information shared is evidence-based. For more information, please visit the academic journals that influenced this article: Feeling Hangry? When Hunger Is Conceptualized As An Emotion; Hangry In The Field: An Experience Sampling Study On The Impact Of Hunger On Anger, Irritability, And Affect.
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