Yes, “hanger” is a very real thing—and too much may signal something’s wrong
If needing a cookie turns you into a literal monster, you may suffer from a condition called “hanger.”
For the uninitiated, hanger (that’s the amalgamation of “hunger” and “anger”) is when an empty stomach sours your disposition, often resulting in irritability, mood swings, and unintentionally shouting something regrettable at your spouse.
You can largely blame a dip in blood glucose for this foul state of mind, says Indiana-based Registered Dietician Whitney Bevins. “It’s a stress response,” she says. Glucose is your brain’s preferred fuel. When your brain senses that glucose supplies are running low, you start freaking out.
This is why having a snack instantly cures hanger (though your marriage may be harder to fix). Eating food begins the glucose restoration process in your body.
Suffering from the occasion bout of hanger is normal, but getting hangry on daily basis is not, says Catherine Shanahan, M.D., director of the Los Angeles Lakers PRO Nutrition Program, and author of Deep Nutrition.
“Daily hanger could mean you have a metabolic problem,” she says. “It shouldn’t be that difficult for your body to provide your brain with energy.”
If you suffer from frequently recurring hanger, your brain may actually be suffering from a sugar addiction, Shanahan says. The more simple carbohydrates (sugar, processed grain products) you eat, the more your body craves them as fuel.
But your body should run on a variety of fuels for the greatest efficiency, says Shanahan. The “you rest, you rust” adage applies to almost every aspect of your body—metabolism included, she says.
Shanahan advocates for restricting carbs every now and as a way to spur “fat adaptation,” or the metabolising of fat. “The more you require fat for fuel, the more your body begins to make the enzymes required to break fat down,” she says. Over time, the process of utilising fat becomes easier.
A great place to start: breakfast. Eating a bowl of corn flakes or tearing into a cinnamon roll is like mainlining pure glucose. Worse, it sets you up for a day of carb-dependence. Swap the sugary cereal for eggs scrambled with veggies and you’ll start your day burning fat and protein first—and drastically lower your risk of hanger.
And keep sugary snacks to a minimum throughout the day. Instead, try peanut butter and a banana, or cheese and crackers—options that have some carbohydrates but also contain fat and protein, which slow digestion and help keep blood sugar stable.
Finally, Bevins says that one of the keys to addressing “hanger” is learning to realise when you’re legitimately mad and when your brain is tricking you into feeling pissed. If your stormy mood could be the latter, resist the urge to bite your spouse’s head off. Instead, reserve that bite for some beef jerky.
Your stomach, brain, and loved ones will thank you.