Don’t deny it: When you go more than four or five hours between meals, you start acting irritable and irrational. At this critical point—the one where you convince yourself that you will die if you don’t eat something in the next five minutes—you’re bound to either snap at your best friend or verbally attack your significant other. You may even become physically abusive if you let your hunger subsist for too long.
This, my friend, is called getting “hangry.” The Huffington Post asked appetite behavior expert Paul Currie, a professor of psychology at Reed College, to divulge the science behind getting hangry. Currie points out that hunger can prompt us to become emotional, and that can manifest as feeling stressed or anxious.
“You might think we eat because it’s pleasurable, but let’s think about it, when you’re truly hungry and watching everyone else eat, you’re going to get a little bit emotional and anxious,” Currie says. “Irritable, angry certainly, and the longer you deprive, there will be an increase in emotional response.”
Also, our stomach and our minds are more correlated than we may think. The appetite hormone ghrelin is produced by the stomach but its receptors are present in the brain’s hypothalamus. “In addition to stimulating feelings of hunger, ghrelin can also produce an anxiety response that goes away when you eat,” points out the Huff Po article.
Don’t blame yourself for your hangriness—it makes sense that we’re more aware of our emotions when we’re hungry, because that’s the body making sure that it will drive itself to seek and obtain food. Serotonin can also play a major role in our hangriness. “The behavior-regulating hormone seems to fluctuate more during stress and during hunger—and these fluctuations affect the parts of the brain involved in regulating anger,” reports Huff Po.
So don’t get angry over the fact that you sometimes get hangry. It’s just your body telling you it needs food. But remember: hangriness is no reason to throw a tantrum in the middle of the work day or smack your best friend in the face for no reason.