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Are you feeling hangry? The science of emotional eating

Katie Strick on the new phenomenon, an amalgamation of hungry and angry


Hair raising: being ‘hangry’ is recognised by scientists

Hair raising: being ‘hangry’ is recognised by scientists

Hair raising: being ‘hangry’ is recognised by scientists

A universal phenomenon has finally been confirmed by scientists. We all knew it existed and it can strike anyone at any time - in the office, at your important midday meeting, in a taxi on the way to dinner. Indeed, you might even be experiencing it right now.

The word hangry - an amalgam of hungry and angry - officially entered the Oxford English Dictionary in January and now psychologists at the University of North Carolina have confirmed that feeling hungry can lead to feelings of irritability and shorten your fuse. We knew this all along but were too hangry to make the case for it.

The struggle is real but the causes are complex. The study found that hanger is not simply down to a drop in blood sugar but is more likely a complicated emotional response due to biology, personality and environmental cues.

The problem is we're not good at separating the emotion from our rumbling stomachs - even if we're pop stars. Britney Spears recently admitted she's a sufferer: "When I'm hungry, it's like, 'Don't talk to me'. I am the devil. I am so moody. I'm a bitch." It can turn the most pleasant people into intolerable monsters.

Hunger-induced irritability affects us all but don't let it get you into trouble. Here's a guide to hanger management:

Label it

Scientists say labelling your emotion decreases its impact by 20%, so be self-aware: if you know you're someone who gets hangry a lot, admit it, says the study's lead author Jennifer MacCormack, a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina's department of psychology and neuroscience.

"By simply taking a step back from the present situation and recognising how you're feeling, you can still be you even when hungry," says MacCormack. If it helps, tell your colleagues you're feeling hangry right now, but ideally not while they are trying to brief you about an important professional task. It's more about acknowledging it to yourself. You don't have to broadcast it to anyone who will listen.

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Get tactical

Hanger is influenced by context, so it's heightened when you're already in an unpleasant situation, the study found: "There seems to be something special about unpleasant situations that makes people draw on their hunger feelings more than, say, in pleasant or neutral situations."

The Tube is stressful enough as it is so avoid getting on with an empty stomach and employ clever tactics: if you want to be fired up before a meeting, save your food until after - the hanger could give you competitive drive.

If you need to remain calm for a stressful conversation, book it in for after lunch. If the meeting is immovable and you're not the boss, there's one remaining solution: take a cake to share. It'll earn you brownie points at the same time. Brownies... now there's a good idea.

Dine out on it

Getting hangry is more likely to happen at the end of the day when you've exhausted your resources, so don't stop paying attention when you leave your desk. Some added rage can help you through an HIIT class but achieving Zen during yoga might not be so easy if you're filled with fury - and it certainly won't help you relax over a glass of wines. MacCormack says she just tries to eat something as soon as she can. "It has helped buffer some marital conflicts," she says.

Of course, it isn't always appropriate to shovel in some snacks. You could turn it social - offer crisps around - or just slope off mysteriously. Never complain, never explain - just go for a solo meal. No one will know where you have been, but they will notice that you seem more reasonable on your return, and that is all that matters.

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