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Why You Get "Hangry" and How to Prevent it

You know that feeling when you missed a meal and you get a little feisty?  You are "hangry." This hungry-angry connection is because our brain relies on food, specifically sugar, for energy. The body has ways it can adapt, like using fats for energy, but that is another story.

What is Actually Going On?

The symptoms of being hangry tend to mimic those of a low blood sugar. When the brain is running low on energy - you can’t think straight, have blurry vision, get jittery or even a headache.

When the body runs low on sugar, it looks for stored energy, called glycogen. This is our body’s reserve of sugar for emergency situations when sugar drops too low. The body goes into the "fight or flight response" and stress hormones increase. Think running into the grocery store, looking for the quickest thing to eat, knocking down anything that gets in your way. The delay in sugar to the brain creates the urgent and hungry feelings.

How Do We Fight Being Hangry?

Don’t let it happen in the first place. Since being "hangry" comes from delayed eating, try to stick to a schedule. Consistent eating keeps your blood sugar stable, which means your brain (and body) have a steady source of energy. Find an eating plan that works for you and stay prepared. See the chart below and learn how to avoid the hangry side of life.

How Can We Prevent it?

The Hangry Cause The Preventive Solution
You have a meeting over your lunch break. Keep a protein shake or trail mix stashed in your desk or work bag. Try to have it before or during the meeting to keep your blood sugar on track.
The kids have a game, you know dinner will be late. Eat something small before the game like ½ a peanut butter sandwich or apple with string cheese. The protein and carbohydrates provide good energy while you cheer on your athlete.
You had brunch at 10 a.m. and have been running errands ever since; it’s now 3:30 p.m. Always keep something stashed in your bag or coat - protein bar, nut packs or fig bars.  These backup options travel well.
Happy hour starts in an hour and you ate ½ a leftover sandwich for lunch. Two choices: dip into your stash for a quick snack then appetizer at the restaurant think hummus bowl with vegetables or grilled chicken fingers. Option 2 is to have an early dinner: try lean protein with fiber-rich vegetables.

 

Instead of fixing the hangry with a convenience store candy bar, stay on top of your eating and fight hangry the healthful way. Find an eating plan that works best for you!

Originally Published: September 2018. Revised: July 2022.

Ellen Thomsen, MS, RD, LMNT, CDE, IFNCP™
Ellen Thomsen, MS, RD, LMNT, CDE, IFNCP™

Ellen Thomsen, MS, RD, LMNT, CDE is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist and Integrative and Functional Nutrition Certified Practitioner. She is the diabetes education program coordinator at CHI Health and sees patients at the Millard Clinic. She works with patients to identify root causes to health conditions and make changes to improve overall health. Ellen’s passion is to help others develop lifestyle habits that allow them to feel their best.

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