Why “Hangry” Happens, And Four Easy Ways To Prevent It

Hangry is a neologism -- a made-up word that combines “hungry” and “angry.”  It describes the phenomenon of becoming so hungry, you feel irrationally irritable or angry.  If you haven’t experienced it, you probably have been on the receiving end of a family member or friend’s “hangriness.”  

While the word has become more commonly used in the past few years -- it was even added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2018! -- psychoanalysts coined the word in a 1950’s journal article.

So why does hangry happen?

While the rest of your body can metabolize carbohydrates, protein or fat to use as energy sources, your brain can only use carbohydrates that have been broken down into glucose.  In fact, even though your brain only accounts for 2% of your body weight, it uses 70% of the glucose you ingest!

Certain parts of the brain are more sensitive to a drop in glucose than others.  One of the most sensitive areas is the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for personality, decision making and impulse control.  This explains why, when you begin to become hypoglycemic, you think less clearly, you make unhealthy food choices, and your mood changes.

In addition, when your brain senses a drop in glucose, it triggers a stress response, releasing adrenaline and cortisol into your bloodstream.  These hormones increase irritability and agitation, adding to the anger that “hangry” people feel.

Now that you know why hangry happens, here are four easy ways to prevent this physiologic and emotional response that’s that’s uncomfortable for you -- and unpleasant for the people around you.

     1) Eat small, frequent meals.

           If you eat big meals with 6-8 hours in between, your blood sugar will drop to “hangry” levels before it’s time for the next meal.  On the other hand, eating small, frequent meals helps regulate your blood sugar -- which gives your brain access to the constant glucose supply it needs.

     2)  Eat balanced meals.

          Yes, your brain needs glucose. But if you only eat simple carbohydrates, like white bread, candy or soda, your blood sugar will spike -- and then drop at a precipitous rate, which will cause you to become sluggish and foggy.  Instead, eat meals that have a balance of protein, fat, fiber and carbohydrates. That will help your body digest these nutrients slowly, keeping your glucose level steady over a longer period of time.

     3)  Eat before you start to feel hangry.

           If you wait until you feel hangry to eat, you’ve waited too long!  Eating before the hanger sets in gives your body the opportunity to metabolize the food so your brain can fill up its glucose tank before it runs on empty.

     4)  Be prepared.

           If you’re working a long shift, or if you’re traveling or shopping, bring healthy snacks with you!  That way, if your blood sugar starts to drop, you’ll be able to intervene instantly, instead of spending valuable time looking for food options.  When you leave your house prepared, you’ll be able to give your body the energy it needs long before your glucose drops low enough to trigger an episode of hangriness.  

We promise that you -- and your co-workers, clients, family and friends -- will be much happier when you follow these hangry prevention steps!


We’re here seven days a week to care for you, hangry or not!  Make an appointment online, or simply walk in to get the care you need.

Sarah Thebarge MMSc, PA-C Sarah Thebarge earned her physician assistant degree at Yale School of Medicine, and then studied journalism at Columbia School of Journalism. She has been a physician assistant and a freelance journalist since 2004. In addition to caring for patients at Golden Gate Urgent Care, Sarah frequently volunteers her medical skills in the developing world. Her writing has appeared in Huffington Post, USA Today and National Geographic, and her blog was featured on MSNBC.com. She is the author of the memoir The Invisible Girls and the upcoming book WELL: Healing our Beautiful, Broken World from a Hospital in West Africa. She currently lives in the Mission District of San Francisco.

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