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Why is it we can sometimes go all day without food and feel none the worse for it, yet on another occasion be drawn into an intense ‘hangry’ state ready to lash out at anyone who dares to come too close?

New research suggests that hanger is more than a response to a drop in blood sugar, it’s also impacted by our personality and social context.

Knowing that getting over hungry can make me cranky, I often carry emergency snacks in my handbag such as a packet of nuts or a piece of fruit. But sometimes I forget, like the time we were on a holiday in the UK.

We’d been on the road most of the day and were heading back to a friend’s house. It was 5pm and a long time since brunch, so when we stopped to refuel at a garage I headed inside to check out what I could buy to eat. However, my better half suggested rather than buying a snack, it was better to wait as we were going out to a restaurant for an early dinner.

Unfortunately things didn’t go quite to plan and by 8.30pm I was beside myself, finding it increasingly difficult to control my emotions because I was so hungry.

As the agonising wait for our food continued, I decided to take refuge in the ladies loo for 10-15 minutes to calm myself down and avoid having to make small talk at the table. I found myself even eyeing up the toilet roll and hand soap as possible food substitutes.

My hanger was the result of my frustration in allowing myself to end up in such a negative emotional state in front of our friends, blaming my husband for not allowing me my earlier snack and cross with myself for allowing him to change my mind.

Hanger is primed by a negative image or event. Though being aware of when hunger is manifesting as an emotion is supposed to help us manage the situation. Hmm, I might have to work more on that one.

Developing greater awareness of the mind-body connection and how hunger can lead us to negative emotions goes some way to explain how hanger works.

It also reminds us how our bodily state, whether hungry, stressed or tired can have a significant impact on shaping our response and reactions to those events happening around us in life or at work.

Reducing hanger begins with

  • Being aware of your emotional state. If you’re already in a funk, it may be time to have a snack now.
  • Not skipping meals. If you know you don’t function or think well when hungry, take your meal breaks when due.
  • Eating the best foods to appease hunger and elevate and sustain your blood sugar while avoiding a potential crash and burn from eating a fatty or sugary snack. These foods include a handful of nuts, crackers and cheese, hummus and vegetable sticks, a yoghurt or piece of fruit.
  • Keeping a supply of snacks in the office, handbag or briefcase. I also always pack emergency rations in my carry-on bag when travelling interstate.

Has hanger ever had a negative impact on your decision-making, social relationships or performance?

What strategies have you found effective to manage hunger and hanger at work?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, keynote speaker and best-selling author. You can now pre-order her new book ‘The Natural Advantage’ due for publication in October 2024.

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