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Is 'Hangry' A Real Thing?

Hailey Sayegh |
October 4, 2014 | 8:09 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Vending machines offer quick (but often unhealthy) snacks to prevent hanger. (Photo by Hailey Sayegh)
Vending machines offer quick (but often unhealthy) snacks to prevent hanger. (Photo by Hailey Sayegh)

We’ve all felt it. The deepening pit in our stomachs. The rising irritation with people around us. All leading up to the inevitable blow-up, an embarrassing overreaction to something our fed and sated friends would call “no big deal.” Easy for them to say. Their blood glucose levels are normal. 

A new study has given scientific basis to the term “hangry” – a combination of the words hungry and angry. Researchers led by Brad Bushman, Ph.D., at Ohio State University recorded the nightly blood sugar levels of 107 married couples for three weeks. Participants were given voodoo dolls representing their spouses and were instructed to prick the doll with up to 51 pins, showing how angry they were with their significant others. 

The study revealed that participants whose blood glucose levels were consistently measured as below normal in the three-week period showed more aggression toward their partners by sticking more pins in the voodoo dolls. 

These findings make sense to junior business major Ariel Hayward, who experienced acute hanger on Valentine’s Day last year. She and her boyfriend had planned to get sushi for dinner at 6 p.m., but her boyfriend’s poor planning led to unanticipated delays. They did not eat dinner until 10 p.m., she remembers vividly. “I was screaming in my head. I was so mad,” she said. “We laugh about it now. But I no longer date him.”

Bushman’s research also included a lab-based computer game that spouses thought pitted them against each other – in reality, each spouse was playing alone in a room against a computer. The goal of the game was to be the first to press a button when a red square appeared on the computer screen. The prize: subjecting their opponent to a harsh sound such as fingernails on a chalkboard or loud dentist drills. Winners could also choose no noise. Again, those with low blood glucose levels proved more vindictive toward their spouses, opting to punish them with longer and louder sounds. 

“We’re not advising people to binge on sugar just to get along with their partners,” Bushman says. “But, if you have something important to discuss with a significant other, you should avoid doing it on an empty stomach.”

READ MORE: Stay Healthy And Happy In College: Nutrition Tips

Junior and electrical engineering major Alex Ladines knows this to be sage advice. Last semester he had class from morning until 9 p.m. with no lunch or dinner break. He found himself feeling irritable while working on a group project in which all members contributed ideas. “I just blurted out, ‘How could you be so stupid?’ to someone’s idea,” Ladines said. “Lesson learned: never do anything on an empty stomach.” 

Bushman’s research showed that managing emotions – especially intense feelings such as anger – requires energy. When blood sugar is low, the hypothalamus, the portion of the brain involved in hormone production, is triggered and several hormones are affected. This imbalance suppresses serotonin, often called the “feel good” neurotransmitter. Serotonin plays a part in controlling appetite and mood.

The takeaway? Snacks. High protein snacks that keep you satiated longer while maintaining your blood sugar are a great way to keep hunger (and hanger) at bay. Try a healthy and filling treat like chocolate milk or a Greek yogurt parfait. Other good options are mixed nuts (almonds and pistachios are highest in protein) and apple slices with peanut butter. If you’re really on the run, KIND bars are a great source of protein for their all-nut base.

READ MORE: Healthy Options For Late-Night Cravings

As college students with busy schedules, it’s important that we make time to fuel our brains and bodies. If back-to-back classes don’t allow for a leisurely meal, snacks become essential to keep our emotions in check. If not for yourself (but come on, who doesn’t love snacks?), do it for the people in your group projects. 

Contact Staff Reporter Hailey Sayegh here.



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