Is “hangry” (hungry + angry) really a thing? 


Ask any parent of a toddler – you’ll quickly know the answer! The truth is that many-a-furious meltdowns can be traced back to letting a child go from moderate to extreme hunger – which triggers the phenomenon known as “hanger.” Although being hangry isn’t limited to toddlers alone. Many of us here at Creative Counseling Center struggle with this phenomenon as adults. All the more reason to keep healthy snacks for everyone stashed nearby!

In this article, we will explore how nutrition affects your child’s emotions.


So why does hunger push us over the edge into hangry territory?


There’s a physiological reason explaining why some people become irrationally angry or irritable when excess hunger strikes.


Here’s how it works: Glucose is the body’s preferred fuel source. When the body breaks down food for energy, glucose is the result. The body relies on glucose for everything from cellular respiration to brain function to muscle use. So, maintaining stable glucose levels (i.e., not too high, not too low) allows the human body (and mind!) to perform at its best.


But your blood sugar levels decrease when you haven’t eaten in a while. Your body releases ghrelin (“the hunger hormone”) which triggers your drive to eat. Ideally, you would take this opportunity to forage for something nourishing.


But life is busy, and sometimes we’re too busy working or playing to promptly attend to our hunger cues. The result? Plummeting blood sugar and a cascade of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline flood the body. These hormones cause the body to initiate the “fight or flight” stress response, resulting in a shorter-than-normal fuse.


Keeping Your Child’s Moods Stable


Besides causing a hunger-fueled meltdown, low blood sugar can interfere with higher brain functions like impulse control and the regulation of primitive drives and behaviors. Kids who haven’t eaten enough can also suffer from brain fog, headaches, nausea, light-headedness, and difficulty concentrating.


In our counseling practice, we’ve noticed that kids who arrive for their sessions with a little food in their belly tend to have more productive sessions.


Kids don’t always have enough self-awareness to maintain stable blood sugar with regular snacks and meals. After all, the world is a fun place to explore!


To help avoid hangry meltdowns and help your child develop the healthiest possible body and mind, keep these tips in mind:


• Keep healthy, low sugar, non-perishable snacks stashed in your purse, car, and diaper bag. Think low sugar granola bars, trail mix, and beef jerky.

• Stick to predictable meal and snack times. Eating regularly will help keep your child’s blood sugar stable and reassure them that food is always available.

• Allow children the freedom to make small choices for snacks and meals. Do they want macaroni or rice? A granola bar or yogurt? Having a little freedom helps kids learn to enjoy healthy food choices.

• Avoid offering high sugar snacks. They may provide an initial rush of energy, but the following insulin spike and blood sugar crash can cause the meltdowns you were hoping to avoid.


Staying intentional about eating healthy snacks and meals at appropriate intervals can go a long way toward maintaining a stable mood. With a bit of forethought, dealing with a hangry child will be a thing of the past!


Also check out our Top 10 Parenting Tips.





If you have concerns about your child or teen, or parenting has become more challenging, contact us. At Creative Counseling Center, our team of highly trained, experienced therapists are ready to help. We offer a FREE Phone Consultation which you can request by completing the form below. We will contact you and, after a conversation about your circumstances, together we can determine whether our practice and which therapist is the best fit. If our practice is not right for your family, we’re happy to offer recommendations to other providers in the Denver metro area. We look forward to hearing from you!