What Is ‘Hangry’? Feeling Angry After Not Eating Is a Real Thing

We asked an expert to explain why you get so cranky before a late lunch.

Ever notice how you're more likely to lash out at unsuspecting loved ones or even innocent bystanders when your tummy is rumbling? That sudden, irrational rage is often referred to as "hangry" (a combination of "hunger" and "anger"), which experts said is a very real thing.

Here's what you need to know about hanger—including why and how it happens and how to avoid feeling irritable next time you are hungry.

What Happens When You Get Hangry?

"When we do not eat, [our] blood sugar goes low," Deena Adimoolam, MD, an assistant professor in the division of endocrinology, diabetes, and bone disease at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, told Health. And one of the main symptoms of low blood sugar is irritability.

When your blood sugar falls, your body releases the hormone adrenaline to raise your glucose levels back to normal. That response is also known as fight-or-flight, in which your body prepares you to deal with danger. But when there isn't any danger present, you can become irritable from all that extra energy you can't use.

What Does the Research Say?

In one study published in 2022 in PLoS One, researchers recruited 64 participants who recorded their emotions five times each day for 21 days. The participants took note if they experienced any of the following emotions:

  • Hunger
  • Anger
  • Irritability
  • Pleasure
  • Arousal

According to the results, the participants often associated hunger with feelings of anger and irritability. The researchers concluded that levels of hunger associated with those negative emotions led to "hanger."

The researchers have also documented the hangry phenomenon in relationships. In another study published in 2014 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers found that, among married couples, the lower the participants' blood sugar levels, the angrier and more aggressive they felt toward their partners.

When Does Hanger Happen?

So when, exactly, does hanger kick in between meals? 

"It varies by every individual," said Dr. Adimoolam. "But the lower your blood sugar goes, the hangrier you are. It's our body's defense mechanism to get food ASAP."

The tricky part is hangry people tend to crave cookies, pastries, chocolate, or candy, explained Dr. Adimoolam. Those sugary snacks will raise your blood sugar quickly for immediate relief. But that spike inevitably leads to another crash. And you'll be cranky all over again.

How Can You Manage Hanger?

So, now that you know hanger can happen when your blood sugar is low, here are some tips to reduce the risk of becoming hangry and how to lessen the effects.

Eat a Well-Balanced Diet

"Carry healthy snacks with you—like vegetables, fruit, and yogurt—so that when you are hungry [they] will hold you over until the next meal," said Dr. Adimoolam. 

Eating three full meals a day will also help curb intense hunger and the irritability that comes with it.

Avoid Difficult Tasks

And if hanger sneaks up on you still, try to avoid any mentally or emotionally taxing tasks until you've had a chance to refuel, said Dr. Adimoolam. 

"Get in a meal, and your mind will be in a much better place," added Dr. Adimoolam. 

Use the 15-15 Rule

The 15-15 rule may be helpful for people who use a glucose monitor to maintain their blood sugar levels. If your blood sugar is low, eat 15 grams of carbohydrates. Simple sugars like fruit snacks, jelly beans, or sugar-sweetened soda or juice work best. Mixed foods with fat, protein, and whole grains aren't good choices as they will take longer to increase your blood sugar. 

Then, check your blood sugar levels after 15 minutes to see if the levels return to normal, above 70 milligrams per deciliter. If you have not reached that level, have another 15 grams of carbohydrates and check in 15 minutes. Repeat that process until you reach at least 70 milligrams per deciliter. 

Once you have reached at least that level, be sure to have a meal or snack. If you don't have a meal or snack, you may experience another blood sugar drop. 

Checking your blood sugar can keep you aware of it to prevent it from becoming too high. And if you notice that your blood sugar levels are often low, let a healthcare provider know.

A Quick Review

If you haven't eaten in a while, it's normal to experience some irritability, also known as hanger. And a simple, healthy snack should have you feeling better in no time.

To avoid getting hangry, keep a healthy snack on you, like fruit or vegetables. You can also try eating 15 grams of carbohydrates while monitoring your blood sugar levels.

Was this page helpful?
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Low blood glucose (hypoglycemia).

  2. Endocrine Society. Adrenal hormones.

  3. Swami V, Hochstöger S, Kargl E, Stieger S. Hangry in the field: An experience sampling study on the impact of hunger on anger, irritability, and affect. Schubert MM, ed. PLoS ONE. 2022;17(7):e0269629. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0269629

  4. Bushman BJ, DeWall CN, Pond RS, Hanus MD. Low glucose relates to greater aggression in married couples. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2014;111(17):6254-6257. doi:10.1073/pnas.1400619111

  5. American Diabetes Association. Hypoglycemia (low blood glucose).

Related Articles