Hangry? Is it a Feeling or a Symptom?

In diabetics, hanger can lead to poor food choice, eating at irregular hours, causing spikes & dips in blood sugar.

Diabetes Care|Dec.28, 2022

You may have seen popular ads that show how you are not yourself when hungry. A feeling of intense hunger can often turn into anger or irritability. You may feel cranky, low on energy, or find it difficult to focus on anything other than the need to munch.

But is hangry (being hungry and angry simultaneously) just an emotion or a symptom of something more profound? How does it affect people with existing chronic health conditions?

Why do people get hangry?

Feeling angry and edgy when hungry or being 'hangry' results from the body's reaction to low blood sugar levels. A cascade of hormones, comprising of stress hormone - cortisol and the fight-or-flight hormone - adrenaline, are released into the bloodstream when sugar levels fall below normal to rebalance it. 

A dip in blood sugar level interferes with the brain’s functions that regulate behavior and control impulses which then reflect as mood swings. It may also cause you to make poor food choices or eat disproportionate amounts at irregular hours, causing spikes and dips in blood sugar.

Hangry can be a normal feeling as a one-off for healthy people. But in the case of people with chronic conditions like diabetes, it is essential to control the occurrences of intense bouts of hunger. This is because a severe drop in blood glucose level leads to hypoglycemia and can starve the brain of glucose.

Further, in people with diabetes, blood glucose is not broken down as it should. So, the glucose will not get converted into energy and not be passed on to the cells where it is needed, possibly leaving them fatigued and continuously starved. Think of it as being in the middle of the ocean – but still being very thirsty as the water can’t be consumed.

Managing hangry episodes

Blood sugar regulation is one of the most critical aspects of diabetes care which can help avoid feeling hangry. Low blood sugar levels or hypoglycemia could lead to serious health complications in people with diabetes. To minimize that, consult a medical professional to create a regulated diet schedule. It is advisable to include protein and fibre-rich foods with balanced portions of carbohydrates and fats to feel full for longer. Instead of big, carb-rich feasts, eating small meals or snacks every two to three hours can prevent sudden spikes in blood sugar and subsequent drops.

Avoiding highly processed trigger foods and overeating is equally essential. When on diabetes medication or insulin, having moderated amounts of carbs is necessary to prevent symptoms of hypoglycemia from worsening.

Continuous glucose monitoring is crucial

Checking blood sugar levels before giving in to cravings can help people with diabetes tell their cravings and hunger pangs apart. If blood sugar levels are normal or high, drink some water or take a walk. This can help distract from the cravings. If blood sugar is at or below 70 mg/dL, inform your treating physician immediately to improve hypoglycemic episodes.

Today med-tech innovations like miniaturized continuous glucose monitoring devices that don’t require test strips or painful finger pricks are available to help monitor glucose easily. With a quick swipe over the small discreet sensor attached to the body, it is possible to get real-time blood sugar data as often as desired.

In the end, following a healthy lifestyle that includes a balanced diet, exercising regularly (even if that is a scheduled daily walk), getting enough sleep, and being adequately hydrated will go a long way in improving health. While doing all the above, it is crucial to continuously monitor glucose levels and go for medical check-ups regularly. Regulating sugar levels through better eating habits can help curb the hangry feeling.

Disclaimer: This publication/article/editorial is meant for awareness/educational purposes and does not constitute or imply an endorsement, sponsorship or recommendation of any products. Please consult your doctor/healthcare practitioner before starting any diet, medication or exercise.