Ask An Adult: Why Do I Get Hangry?
The Debrief: After Jeremy Clarkson got into a 'fracas' because he couldn't get a steak, we look at why people get hungry-angry...
Illustration by Josh McKenna
Jeremy Clarkson has been indefinitely suspended from his job as presenter of Top Gear after getting into a ‘fracas’ while filming. He allegedly hit his producer, Oisin Tymon, because he arrived at a hotel to relax after a night of filming and there was no steak on the menu.
Though we’d prefer to not have our morals aligned to Mr Clarkson’s, there was a (teeny tiny) pang of recognition when we heard the story; we all know what it’s like to get hangry.
But why does hanger (hunger-anger) happen? We asked an adult, in the form of Dr Abigael San, a clinical psychologist who’s specialised in addiction and anxiety.
Why do we get angry when we’re hungry?
Anything that is physically uncomfortable is going to cause tension, and people will respond to tension in different ways. Some people will respond with anger.
Are there any other emotional impacts of hunger? Why does anger shine through?
People will have varying initial reactions, depending on their experiences. Some people will experience anxiety; if anger is their default emotion, then some people will skip anxiety, bypass it and go straight to anger. And some people [the lucky sorts, we guess!] won’t have an emotional reaction to it at all – they’ll just be hungry.
What time of day are we most likely to get hangry?
You’re less able to control yourself as the day goes on, so you’re most able to cope with discomforts and urges in the morning and the late morning. Let’s say you’re on a diet – if you’re hungry and you’re trying to not respond to your hunger urges, and say you’re trying to choose a salad instead of a cheeseburger, you’re more able to do that in the earlier part of the day.
By the time you get to the end of the day you’ve exhausted your resources, and so you’re more likely to feel hangry.
Do we get hungry first or angry first? Do we also get hungry when we’re angry?
Most people who respond to hunger with anger will probably get hungry first and then angry. I’m not sure that anger is going to make you hungry. Maybe later, when you’re dealing with the after-effects of having been angry, because you will have used lot of energy, but not immediately.
Difficult feelings can make people reach for food when they’re not necessarily hungry, but comfort eating is more often than not triggered by a sort of empty feeling, like sadness, feeling alone, and wanting to push those feelings away. I probably see it more often with sadness and anxiety than anger, though.
How do we stop ourselves from over-eating or eating crap when we’re hungry-angry?
If we’re talking about emotional eating, it’s important to stop and recognise what you’re feeling, so when you’re about to reach for something and it’s not a normal meal time, or it’s not a planned meal, think about why you’re doing it. Stop and actually scan your body and see what you can feel, and if you’re actually feeling hunger pangs or not.
If you’re not feeling hunger pangs, then try to identify the emotional reason for eating. Once you identify what it is you’re feeling and what triggered it, you can decide that you don’t have to respond to that urge. Instead of eating automatically, do something else and learn to tolerate the discomfort of feeling a bit emotionally uncomfortable.
What’s the best food to eat when you’re hungry-angry?
If it’s emotional hunger, not real hunger, you should drink water; don’t eat any food at all because if it it’s just you trying to cope with a feeling, then it’s an unhealthy coping strategy.
If you’re actually hungry and it’s real hunger making you angry, but it’s not a meal time, then probably just eat something light, like some fruit, or something that isn’t going to ruin your appetite or make you gain weight. All you need is a light snack that might stop the pangs.
What should you eat to not get hangry?
It}s probably more about the frequency. If you have a tendency to react like that then maybe you need to be eating little and often and light.
Are some people more likely to be hangry than others and why is that?
Some people will skip to anger instead of the real feeling that is at the root, and some people are just more comfortable with anger, which might be because anger makes them feel more powerful, or because they’ve seen a lot of anger in their family.
Hanger might also be more likely if you were overprotected from uncomfortable experiences in your childhood, so you haven’t had enough opportunity to learn how to deal with them in a healthy way. Your parents might have always stopped you from being anxious or angry, so you don’t have experience of difficult emotions, or of not having your needs met immediately.
Some people report never having ever felt hungry, because they were always so well looked after and over-indulged by their parents. If you’ve been too well-protected from uncomfortable experiences, then that can freak you out. You may also have a bit of a sense of entitlement, so you feel like your needs should never be left unmet.
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Illustration by Josh McKenna
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