Related Condition Centers

How to Be a Less Hangry Person

It’s not as simple as just snacking.
Little girl angry and hungry at dinner table
Bettmann via Getty Images

Picture this: It’s 2 p.m. on a workday and you feel your energy seriously flagging. You can’t seem to concentrate on the task at hand for the life of you. You notice that your heart starts to race and you feel a little shaky—panicky even.

Worse than this, perhaps, is the ceaseless clacking of your coworker’s keyboard in the workspace next to yours. It is so loud, and so constant, that you feel like you’re a trapped animal. Has anything made you this irritated…in your life? You grit your teeth and try to take a deep breath, envisioning throwing your office mate’s laptop out the window like a Frisbee, and wonder if your skin is turning green.

If this feeling, or some version of it, sounds familiar—maybe replace a furiously typing colleague with a gum-smacking partner or your child who is inexplicably obsessed with blasting “Mambo No. 5” on repeat—don’t worry: You’re (probably) not turning into the Hulk. A more likely scenario is that you just need to eat something.

The above reactions are all signs of “hanger” (hunger-activated anger), which is actually pretty common—so much so that “hangry” was officially added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2018. And while there are plenty of memes and TikToks making light of the fact that an empty stomach can fill you with rage, experiencing it firsthand is often not so funny.

That’s why we spoke to two RDs about hanger—to find out why it happens and what to do so you don’t have to later apologize for what you said (or the laptops you threw) when you just needed a freaking snack.

What’s happening in your body when you’re hangry?

Hunger and digestion are complicated internal processes, and every person’s body is different. Hanger, though, can happen to anybody, and it basically comes down to the link between your brain and your blood sugar levels, Katherine Basbaum, RD, a dietitian at UVA Health who creates nutrition plans for people with complex health conditions, tells SELF.

When you feel hangry, it’s basically the low-fuel light going off in the engine of your brain, Basbaum explains. The brain relies on glucose to perform all of its functions, and if you’re hungry, those blood sugar levels start to plummet, which can cause brain fog and a loss of self-control, she says. The combination of these factors can create a situation where your patience wears very thin, very quickly, and mild annoyances turn into all-out rage triggers. Other symptoms of low blood sugar include headaches, sweating, and fatigue. If any of these signs start to crop up between meals, hanger might be on its way.

And you don’t necessarily have to be ravenous to feel hangry, either. A small study published in 2022 in the journal PLoS found that the higher that participants’ self-reported hunger scores ticked up, the more likely they were to feel angry and irritable. The authors of the study concluded that run-of-the-mill, everyday levels of hunger can be associated with negative emotions like anger and irritability.

How to stop hanger from turning into hang-rage

Recognize the early signs by naming your feelings.

Regularly checking in with your mind and body may help you catch hanger in its early stages, since hunger doesn’t always immediately show up as a growling or empty-feeling stomach. “A tool I encourage clients to explore is using language to accurately describe a presenting emotion,” Taylor Fazio, MS, RD, a dietitian and wellness advisor at primary care startup The Lanby in New York City, tells SELF. “That can make it easier to navigate those emotions, since you’ll have a deeper insight into what’s going on.”

If you notice that you’re starting to become moody, don’t simply label your feelings as “bad,” Fazio says. Instead, interrogate yourself a bit and get more specific. Understanding “bad” to be anxious, jittery, or fatigued can clue you in that you’re experiencing symptoms of low blood sugar, she says, so you can (hopefully) get something to eat before you lose it. Other emotional descriptors that might be a sign of budding hanger might include “foggy-headed,” “irritable,” or “impatient.”

If your foul mood doesn’t seem to be associated with symptoms of low blood sugar, maybe you’re not hangry—maybe you’re just plain mad. Anger is a valid and, when managed appropriately, healthy emotion. Constantly writing off any irritability or anxiety as hunger-related won’t serve you well in the long run—because you might also be feeling depressed, or maybe your coworker really is that annoying. It’s true that sometimes you need some trail mix and a glass of water, but other times the fix may come in the form of a walk outside or a venting session with a trusted friend.

Grab a snack that pairs carbs with protein.

The obvious solution to feeling hangry is to eat something ASAP, but putting some thought into what you eat might help you feel better in the long term. According to Basbaum, the knee-jerk reaction to feeling “hangry” is often to reach for a quick snack that’s high in carbs. Your body is looking for energy replenishment, and foods with simple carbohydrates (think candy, pastries, and granola bars) fit the bill. They also tend to be what we have at hand at work or on the go.

If those foods sound good to you, or they’re all you have access to, there’s nothing wrong with eating them (despite the way diet culture elevates certain foods over others). That said, they might not help you out of a hangry jam; Bausbaum explains that if you don’t pair your carbs with a protein source, you’ll likely have another crash in an hour or so. The goal, she says, is not to spike your blood sugar, but to stabilize it, and protein can help with that.

Fazio recommends pairing carbs like fruit, toast, or crackers with high-protein foods such as Greek yogurt, nuts, or nut butter. A high-protein smoothie or shake is another option, if you have access to a blender. If you’re on the road and hit a rest stop without a wide selection, Bausbaum says that pre-packaged peanut butter crackers or chocolate milk are decent options.

Again, there are no wrong food choices here. If Doritos are calling your name, there’s zero shame in the nacho-cheese game. But if you’re set on staving off hunger, consider pairing your chips with some protein-packed beef jerky (or get chicken nuggets with your fries, or add some nuts to your ice cream) to help steady your blood sugar.

Prevent hanger by regularly fueling your body.

Plan A, Basbaum says, should be to prevent hanger from happening in the first place, and both she and Fazio agree that eating nutrient-dense meals on a predictable schedule each day is one of the best things you can do to keep your blood sugar and energy steady. If you’re regularly getting hangry, Fazio recommends taking an “audit” of each major meal (breakfast, lunch, dinner) to ensure that protein, fat, and carbohydrates (including fiber) are present to help meet your overall nutrient needs and keep your blood sugar (and mood) in a stable range.

Of course, you don’t need to follow these guidelines to a T—no one meal or snack makes or breaks a “healthy” diet, and obsessing over food rules can lead to disordered eating (which can also worsen your mood, by the way). But if you’re regularly getting hangry, it might be worth experimenting with small changes to your eating habits, since consistently getting a variety of foods (and enough food overall) can keep your blood sugar in a happy, versus hangry, place.