Blood-sugar makes you ‘hangry’

Being ‘hangry’ necessitates carrying snacks at all times.

It is a story that has grown in grandeur every time it’s been retold, but it’s a good story nonetheless. The time “your crazy mum” Ruth tried to throw herself out of the car, opening the door while it was still moving, because Dad wouldn’t stop and get her something to eat.

I don’t remember going that mad, but it is a definite possibility. I’m not good when I get overly hungry — that’s a nice way of saying it. We were doing the Sydney-Melbourne drive, waiting for somewhere to stop and get something decent to eat. Nothing looked acceptable, so we kept going and going, but as the kilometres rolled by I knew I was getting past my tolerance level. I’d started to tremble and talk quickly and irrationally.

We passed a dodgy-looking Chinese restaurant in the middle of nowhere. “Pull over,” I yelled dramatically, no longer negotiable. “No, it looks terrible,” was the reply. Bad reply. My door flung open, or almost did. Whatever the truth, no one was going to stand between me and a stale bowl of rice.

It wasn’t the first time it had happened: the hunger-driven madness. I would often drop into a state of utter exhaustion, confusion or aggression when I’d passed my safety zone. Years later someone mentioned that they had a medical condition called hypoglycaemia, a state of low blood sugar (many women seem to suffer mild versions of it) where the body feels like it is at death’s door and a sufferer can start acting like a rabid dog to stabilise. Her symptoms made me aware that my occasional episodes were linked to blood-sugar crashes and I had to be careful. Warning: Don’t stand between a low-blood-sugar woman and her cheese biscuit any more than you would a salivating dog and it’s bone.

Thereafter, I’ve always carried bags of nuts, cheese, often hard-boiled eggs (wrapped in foil so they don’t pong), when travelling, things that will stabilise a state of near panic.

Recently, social observers have realised the condition affects so many healthy people that they have coined the term “hangry” — a combo state where anger and hunger collide and result in a series of unfortunate behaviours.

Like a friend who went berserk at a woman in a food store recently for taking too long to make someone else’s sandwich.

Or like a friend who always eats “a bit of dinner” before going out to dinner to make sure he doesn’t get hangry and start getting abusive at the slow service or when the people he is with prevaricate over their choices.

“It’s a sort of safety valve for ensuring my good behaviour,” he laughs.

And seriously, he has a point.

It turns out hangry also has a biological derivative, but not the serious medical versions such as “hypo” and “hyper” glycaemia (which are related to diabetes). Hanger is nonetheless about messed-up blood sugars.

Basically, the nutrients in our bloodstream plummet as time increases between meals. If your blood-glucose levels fall far enough, your brain will perceive it as a threat to your wellbeing. The brain is critically dependent on glucose to do its job and you may find yourself unable to add two plus two, or you may make silly mistakes.

For me, words get muddled and the shaking is a dead give away.

Then there is acting outside social norms, snapping at people, being grumpy.

Again there is a biological reason. Hunger promotes the release of cortisol and excitory hormones into the bloodstream, such as adrenalin for a “fight or flight” response — in order to chase prey or scare off other animals that would eat the carcass. Being polite in the jungle means starvation.

The good news for people like me is that hanger is now a recognisable condition and recently entered the new urban dictionaries. One day we might all be advised to hold up little red “hangry” signs when dangerous, so others can run over with nuts rather than take us on. The first step towards world peace?

Readers comments republished from THE AUSTRALIAN 

Please don’t tell us Hillary Clinton is a diabetic.



“…you wouldn’t between a salivating dog and it’s bone.”

What? Translation of the contraction means: “…between a salivating dog and it is or it has bone. What sort of nonsense English is that?



@davina  With respect to Ruth, you may find that the error lies with the Fairfax spelling and grammar checking program.  I sent an article to our local online paper about US spelling invading our shores only to find that, when published, the spelling of “programme” had been changed to “program”.  Kind of defeated the purpose of the article! The editor’s response?  Oh, it must have been the Fairfax spell check.  The editor is a former Fairfax reporter.


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