Dr. Friedman’s Health Blog

Hanger Management (why you get angry when you're hungry)

By: Dr. David Friedman

Most of us have experienced it.  That aggressive and often angry feeling when we are hungry. It’s known as being “hangry,” the combination of hungry and angry.   What exactly turns a person from Jekyll into Hyde just because they are hungry?

It’s mostly due to blood-glucose levels. When we eat, carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars, one of which is glucose. Right after a meal, the levels of glucose in the bloodstream are high. When we go too long between meals, our blood-glucose levels drop and if they diminish too much, the brain will perceive this as life-threatening. Unlike other organs, which have an energy back-up, your brain relies solely on glucose as a fuel source. Even though the brain accounts for only 2% of the body's mass, it uses  23% of your body's energy intake throughout the day.  

When we get too hungry, we may experience a growling stomach, headache, nausea, and lightheadedness. Once blood glucose levels drop low enough, the brain gets a "feed me now or die!" signal.  This creates stress.  When the body senses stress, it then releases hormones such as glucagon, epinephrine, cortisol, adrenaline, and Neuropeptide Y. These hormones regulate anger and aggression. To add more wind to this perfect hormonal storm, the brain also triggers the release of ghrelin, the hormone that tells the body to eat!  I call it “ghrelin the felon” because it makes you want to eat like a prisoner that just got out on furlough.   Once you consume enough food, the gastrointestinal tract communicates with the brain to release another hormone called leptin, which has a calming effect and tells the body to stop eating.  These two hormones constantly go back and forth regulating your appetite.  When the body has more ghrelin being produced than leptin, this can lead to hunger pangs, which can turn to anger.   

If you are one of those that have “hanger” issues, cut down on or eliminate sugars and simple carbohydrates. Foods that are low in fiber and high in sugar can cause your glucose levels to spike quickly and then crash suddenly.  This includes things like sugary drinks, refined grains, white bread, and pasta.  Consuming a lot of fiber-rich foods helps make you feel fuller longer and keep blood sugar levels balanced.

Here are a few food items that will help keep you from getting hangry:

  • Walnuts: Walnuts are known to be the best source of nourishment for the brain, helping improve concentration and making us more even-keeled. They’re high in omega-3 fatty acids, which makes the brain very happy.

  • Whole Grains: These offer mood-enhancing properties. A  great combination is whole grains and a complex carbohydrate, like brown rice, which helps boost serotonin, the brain’s happy hormone.


  • Avocados: They offer healthy fat, fiber, and protein that gives it the staying power you need to stay full.  Avocados contain a large amount of monounsaturated fats, which helps people feel fuller after eating them.


  • Beans: Rich in resistant starch, a type of fiber that slows the release of sugar in the bloodstream, beans help to keep blood sugar levels steady. While this will help to keep you from getting hangry and losing friends, beans do have another effect that may counteract that amorous bond.

  • Eggs: The protein in an egg keeps you feeling full longer, and it's also chock full of iron, B vitamins, minerals, and carotenoids.

  • Bananas: They contain pectin and resistant starch, which both have appetite-reducing effects and increase the feeling of fullness.  

  • Water:   Sometimes you’re not hungry, you’re actually thirsty.  The confusion happens in the hypothalamus,  a part of the brain that regulates both thirst and appetite. When you’re dehydrated, the hypothalamus can’t tell the difference from hunger.  This can make you reach for a taco instead of a bottle of water.  A great way to control hunger is to stay hydrated. The rule of thumb is to drink half your body weight in ounces. If you weight 120 pounds, you need 60 ounces of water per day.  If you want to eat less during a meal, try drinking some water 15 minutes before eating.  You’ll be amazed at how much portion control you have.
About the Author

Dr. David Friedman is the author of the award-winning, #1 national best-selling book Food Sanity, How to Eat in a World of Fads and Fiction. He's a  Doctor of Naturopathy, Chiropractic Neurologist, Clinical Nutritionist, Board Certified Alternative Medical Practitioner, and Board Certified in Integrative Medicine.  Dr. Friedman is a syndicated television health expert and host of To Your Good Health Radio, which has changed the face of talk radio by incorporating entertainment, shock value, and solutions to everyday health and wellness issues.

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