Why you get hangry: Studies show an empty stomach can affect emotions

Scientists have begun to unravel why some people go from simply hungry to ‘hangry’ so quickly.  

Blood sugar levels drop when we get hungry, making us all feel a little weak and uncomfortable. 

But for some, the need to eat goes beyond discomfort and triggers a full on emotional response, making them grumpy, irritable and volatile.  

Now, scientists at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill have discovered how the world seems to conspire against us when we are craving food – and how we can back away from ‘hangry’ responses and tantrums. 

A minority of people get ‘hangry’ or feel emotionally stressed and upset when they need to eat – due mostly to their ‘context’ and ‘self-awareness’ University of North Carolina research says

Experiencing hunger is a reminder that our bodies are highly-evolved with warning signals that tell us when it is time or past time to do things crucial to our survival, like eating, drinking sleeping or seeking shade. 

When we don’t have enough calories to fuel our bodies, our blood sugar levels drop as the metabolic system attempts to conserve.  

As a result, we may start to feel weak, light-headed or even nauseous. 

These are all sensible physiological responses. When the body is short on energy, it is probably not the best time to undertake heavy physical labor. 

For some, it hunger ‘pains’ are mental as well as physical, however. 

‘The purpose of our research is to better understand the psychological mechanisms of hunger-induced emotional states – in this case, how someone becomes hangry,’ said lead study author Jennifer MacCormack, a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina (UNC). 

She and her team surveyed more than 400 people online. The participants rated their hunger as well as whether a series of ambigious pictorgraphs were positive or negative. 

Not everyone’s emotions seemed to be skewed by their hunger; in fact, most remained neutral judges of the images. 

A minority of the survey respondents, however, saw abstract things through filters of sadness or anger when they were hungry. 

‘You don’t just become hungry and start lashing out at the universe,’ said assistant Dr Kristen Lindquist, the study’s co-author. 

‘We’ve all felt hungry, recognized the unpleasantness as hunger, had a sandwich and felt better.

‘We find that feeling hangry happens when you feel unpleasantness due to hunger but interpret those feelings as strong emotions about other people or the situation you’re in.’ 

In light of their study, the researchers beleive that the key distinction between hungry people and hangry ones lies in the context each finds themselves in, and how self-aware they are. 

‘A well-known commercial once said, “You’re not you when you’re hungry,” but our data hint that by simply taking a step back from the present situation and recognizing how you’re feeling, you can still be you even when hungry,’ MacCormack said. 

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