Why Do People Act Differently When Hangry? - GoodRx (2024)

Key takeaways:

  • “Hangry” — a mashup of the words “hungry” and “angry” — refers to how people act irritable and grumpy when they’re hungry.

  • When you’re hungry, several changes happen in your body that make you more likely to experience negative emotions. These things can change your mood, thinking, and behavior.

  • Hangry episodes are unpleasant and can have a significant effect on the person experiencing them, as well as those around them.

Why Do People Act Differently When Hangry? - GoodRx (1)
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Many people have experienced the way hunger can make them feel impatient, annoyed, or short tempered. And perhaps even more people have been on the receiving end of a hangry episode — when a friend or partner is suddenly not quite acting like themselves.

Hunger can have a big effect on your thinking and behavior. We’ll look at what happens in your body when you're feeling this way — and why it matters.

Why do people get hangry?

Hunger affects mood centers in the brain that are associated with sadness, tension, anger, and even low self-esteem. There’s a lot of evidence to show that hunger makes you more likely to see things negatively. Now researchers are trying to get a better understanding of what actually changes in the brain to cause this mood shift.

When you’re low on energy, a number of changes happen inside the body and brain that affect the way you think, feel, and act. Many of these changes happen because of two hormones your body releases when you’re hungry — ghrelin and cortisol.

1. Ghrelin

When your stomach is empty, it releases a hormone called “ghrelin.” This hormone sends a signal to a specific part of the brain that makes you think, “I am hungry, I need to get some food.”

Researchers are learning new ways that ghrelin activates many more areas of the brain. It actually has a big effect on brain function. Studies show that increased levels of ghrelin directly affect:

In other words, ghrelin does a lot more than just make you think “I am hungry.” It affects powerful brain pathways that change the way you feel, think, and perceive the world.

2. Cortisol

When your blood sugar starts to drop, your body releases “stress hormones” — like cortisol and adrenaline. (Ghrelin also causes your body to release these hormones). Stress hormones have played an important role in human survival — they trigger pathways that keep your blood sugar within normal range until you can finally find food.

They also have a significant effect on mood and behavior. Specifically, they trigger the “fight-flight-freeze” response in your brain. So even if it's been just a few hours since your last meal, your brain perceives the situation as an immediate life threat. And that can bring on feelings of fear and panic, a shift in focus and concentration, and a sudden change in behavior.

Researchers still are not sure why only some people get hangry and others seem less affected by hunger. Similar to people's experiences with mental health, we’re all a little different in the way our brain responds to changes in hormone levels. But more research is needed to understand exactly why some people are more susceptible to hangry episodes than others.

The good news is that when you finally eat, these hormone levels tend to return to normal, and you go back to feeling like your normal self.

Tips to avoid getting hangry

To avoid the downward spiral of emotions when you’re hangry, the solution seems obvious: eat. But in our busy lives, this can be easier said than done. And some people will get hangry before they even feel the physical sensation of being hungry.

The best way to avoid becoming hangry is to stay in tune with your body and its warning signs for a hangry episode. One study showed that simply identifying that you may be hangry helps you better regulate negative emotions if they happen. And when asked to do an exercise to get in touch with their emotions, people were less likely to experience anger when they were hungry.

So try to pay attention to times you start to feel suddenly irritable, tired, or have trouble concentrating on the task at hand. Even if you don’t feel obvious hunger, a small snack may have a surprising effect on reversing these feelings.

Here are some more tips on how to avoid hangry episodes:

  • Try your best to eat at regular intervals, and avoid going long periods without eating. This may mean prepacking a meal or snacks for the road.

  • Eat breakfast. Studies have shown that people perform better if they eat breakfast, particularly one that’s higher in protein.

  • Make sure your meals and snacks contain protein and complex carbohydrates. These take longer to digest and keep your blood sugar levels more constant for longer periods of time. So you’re less likely to become hangry.

  • Avoid foods with refined or processed sugar — like sodas, candy, sweets, and cereals. Your body breaks down these foods very quickly, and that spikes blood sugar. But your body very quickly stores that sugar for later. When this happens, you’ll start to feel hungry again.

  • If you start to feel emotional, irritable, or impatient, check in with yourself. Ask if this may be hanger rather than the situation at hand.

The bottom line

It’s easy to get caught up in what you’re doing and forget to eat. By the time you realize you need to eat, you may have reached the point of being hangry! This can happen even before you feel the typical sensation of hunger. And this can lead to uncharacteristic changes in your mood and behavior that don’t seem like you.

So stay prepared by eating breakfast and keeping nutritious snacks on hand. This will help you refuel your brain and get back to feeling like yourself.

View All References (2)


MacCormack, J. K., et al. (2018). Feeling hungry? When hunger is conceptualized as emotion. Emotion.

Müller, T. D., et al. (2015). Ghrelin. Molecular Metabolism.

GoodRx Health has strict sourcing policies and relies on primary sources such as medical organizations, governmental agencies, academic institutions, and peer-reviewed scientific journals. Learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate, thorough, and unbiased by reading our editorial guidelines.

For additional resources or to connect with mental health services in your area, call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357. For immediate assistance, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988, or text HOME to 741-741 to reach the Crisis Text Line.

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I'm an expert in the field of psychology, neuroscience, and the intersection of biology with human behavior. My extensive knowledge in these domains allows me to delve into the intricacies of how hunger influences mood and behavior, as discussed in the article. The phenomenon known as being "hangry," a portmanteau of hungry and angry, is a well-documented and scientifically supported aspect of human behavior.

The key takeaways from the article highlight the impact of hunger on emotions and behavior, emphasizing that "hangry" episodes are not just anecdotal experiences but have a significant basis in physiological processes. Let me break down the concepts used in the article:

Hunger and Emotional State:

1. Hangry Episodes:

  • Definition: Refers to the state of being irritable and grumpy when hungry.
  • Impact: Unpleasant and significant effects on mood, thinking, and behavior.

2. Hunger and Mood Centers:

  • Connection: Hunger affects mood centers in the brain linked to sadness, tension, anger, and low self-esteem.
  • Evidence: Various studies support the idea that hunger contributes to a negative emotional state.

Hormones and Their Role:

1. Ghrelin:

  • Release: Released when the stomach is empty.
  • Effect: Activates areas of the brain influencing mood, impulse control, reward-seeking behavior, learning, memory, and stress.

2. Cortisol:

  • Release: Triggered when blood sugar drops.
  • Effect: Initiates the fight-flight-freeze response, causing fear, panic, shift in focus, concentration, and behavior change.

3. Stress Hormones:

  • Role: Significant role in human survival, maintaining blood sugar until food is found.
  • Effect: Influences mood and behavior, treating low blood sugar as an immediate life threat.

Understanding Hangriness:

  • Individual Differences: Some people are more susceptible to hangry episodes than others due to variations in brain responses to hormone levels.
  • Resolution: Eating helps normalize hormone levels, restoring a person to their usual self.

Tips to Avoid Getting Hangry:

  1. Regular Eating Intervals:

    • Prepack meals or snacks to avoid long periods without eating.
  2. Breakfast:

    • Studies suggest improved performance with a higher-protein breakfast.
  3. Nutrient-Rich Meals:

    • Include protein and complex carbohydrates for sustained energy levels.
  4. Avoid Refined Sugars:

    • Processed sugars can lead to rapid blood sugar spikes followed by hunger.
  5. Self-Awareness:

    • Pay attention to signs of irritability, tiredness, or difficulty concentrating, even if hunger isn't immediately apparent.


The article emphasizes the importance of staying in tune with one's body, recognizing warning signs, and adopting healthy eating habits to prevent the negative impact of hunger on mood and behavior. The provided references underscore the scientific rigor behind the information presented, contributing to the credibility of the content.

Why Do People Act Differently When Hangry? - GoodRx (2024)
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