When it comes to hanger (the anger you feel when hungry), the struggle is real. However, recent studies would suggest that the struggle is actually a lot more real than we once thought.
You know the scene:
You arrive at a restaurant, anticipating a feast of delicious wonders. As you wait to be seated, you notice a little grumble in your tummy. “Hunger is the best sauce!” you chirp to yourself, affirming that the little pre-meal rumble will improve to the overall experience.
Once seated, you let the fact that the waiter took an inordinately long time to give you your menus sail right on by. When he imposes another ludicrously long wait before taking your order, however, you can’t help but notice the prickling of frustration. Your rumble is now becoming increasingly raucous.
45 minutes later, the waiter finally arrives with the food. When he presents you with a mushroom risotto – a far, far cry from the giant, juicy steak you were expecting – it's more than you can handle. Mount Vesuvius erupts from within and before anyone can stop you, you are upstanding, demanding to speak with the manager, shouting profanities and shrilly informing him of the scathing TripAdvisor reviews that will be coming his way from your MANY Gmail accounts...
Because science says so
This sudden rage and tendency to lash-out at unsuspecting strangers (or indeed, at loved-ones) has been termed as "hanger". As unreasonable a reaction as the above may have been, science now validates the reality of the experience using physiology, psychology and evolutionary explanations.
Sophie Medlin is a lecturer in nutrition and dietetics from Kings College in London and she recently spoke on the BBC about the condition, explaining how it all comes down to blood sugars. She states that “when our blood sugars drop, cortisol and adrenaline rise up in our bodies”, which are stress hormones that come alongside a chemical called neuropeptide Y, which has been shown to make people react aggressively.
The decrease of glucose is also critical because glucose fuels our brain, which means that when we’re starved of this much-needed nutrition, our brain function (and subsequently, our mood) is impacted. A brain lacking in glucose finds it harder to control signs of anger than a brain that is adequately nourished. This explains why, when you're hungry, you’re more likely to struggle with socially acceptable norms. Norms such as not screaming at your colleague’s swivel chair for being squeaky, or not snatching the first slice of cake just as the birthday girl was reaching over to claim it… Simple norms, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Some researchers have gone on to document the “hanger” trends in relationships, with one 21-day study from Ohio State University finding that participants with lower blood sugar levels were more likely to feel greater levels of anger and aggression towards their spouse than those with sufficient glucose levels. The participants displayed their feelings (somewhat frighteningly) through the use of voodoo dolls; the angrier and more aggressive they felt (as a result of their decreased glucose levels), the more stab wounds the “spouse” voodoo doll suffered.
In defence of hanger, you can’t deny that it must serve as a survival mechanism which has benefited humans and animals well throughout time. Think about how our hungry ancestors would have fared if they were always polite and socially correct; letting others eat before them or offering their meal to some greedy so-and-so whose appetite remained unsatisfied. The odds of them living for long would be pretty slim.
The moral of the story? Hanger has real, evolutionary, physiological and psychological grounding. When the tummy grumbles, the brain fumbles, and it’s simply due to a lack of glucose in our brain that we find ourselves getting gritty after a missed (or a delayed) meal. Luckily, the remedy lies not in a pharmacy or a GP’s office, but in your nearest fridge/ cupboard/ secret treats stash under your office desk.
So go forth and forage, remembering that hanger is not a good look on anyone, it just makes people mean and irrational and jab needles into miniature, cotton versions of their better halves with disconcerting enthusiasm....