Food that you eat is processed into simple sugars, free fatty acids and amino acids. The nutrients are moved into the bloodstream where they are assimilated by organs, tissues, and other parts of the body to be used for the production of hormones, chemicals and fuel for your body’s systems.
After eating, the nutrient level in your blood gradually starts to drop. In some cases, your nutrient level can drop low enough for your brain to think that your life may be in danger.
Your brain’s initial response to a lack of glucose is to make it difficult for you to focus on other things aside from your hunger. Other side effects of low brain glucose are slurred speech, making mistakes, or difficulty completing basic tasks.
All of this brain confusion temporarily changes how your brain operates. Rather than complying with social norms, all rules and regulations fly out the window until your brain feels fueled again.
This can result in a reduction in social filters that would ordinarily prevent someone from acting irritated. Hunger can cause you to feel grumpy and irritated by everything and everyone around you.
If your blood-glucose levels fall too far, your brain tells your body to send glucose reserves to the bloodstream to keep glucose levels regulated. Two of the hormones that are produced during this response are cortisol and adrenaline, which are also triggered during times of stress.
Too much of these hormones floating around in the body can trigger the fight-or-flight response. When this happens, it is much easier to lash out against others as they are subconsciously perceived as a source of danger.
Being hangry is a good thing
Hunger and our response to it has been finely tuned over millions of years. One chemical released in the brain during periods of hunger is known as neuropeptide Y, which works to control hunger and regulate anger and aggression.
A study from 2012 published in Biological Psychiatry found that individuals who have high levels of neuropeptide Y were more likely to be aggressive and impulsive.
The researchers theorized that the link between anger and hunger evolved as a biological response that made hungry people more likely to act aggressively during the search for food.
This not only would guard against others trying to steal your food, but also would make you more likely to go out and hunt for food, even if danger was involved.
How to prevent hangry mood swings
As science tells us, being hangry used to be a good thing, but in today’s world, there are far more consequences for snapping at your co-workers when you are hungry. Use these strategies to prevent hanger-related mood swings.
What is the easiest way to prevent hanger? Don’t ever get too hungry. Eat something when you first feel the initial pains of hunger. Stock healthy snacks so you aren’t tempted to indulge on junk food when hunger strikes.
Set an eating pattern
A 2014 study published in Cell Metabolism found that when rats restricted their diets to a nine or 12 hour eating window, even if they did not restrict calories during this time, they maintained a healthier weight. This study indicates that if your body knows when it will get food, it will self-regulate and prevent some of the hormonal spikes seen during starvation periods. Scheduling your eating times will train your body to expect food at certain times and may help prevent some feelings of hanger.
Avoid sugar crashes
Junk food is high in sugar, but because of that, it also causes dangerous glucose crashes. This can put your body in an endless cycle of highs and lows, which only fuels hanger. Rather than eat sugary junk foods, eat healthy foods throughout the day, including vegetables, fruit, and protein.
Understanding hanger is the first step toward preventing hunger-related mood swings. Use these tips to keep your hanger at bay wherever you are.