There exists today a faction of the human race that has developed an extraordinary superpower. This subspecies has the ability to let their blood sugar level drop so low, they let themselves turn into the most terrible, aggressive, and angriest version of their beautiful selves. All because they forgot to eat. When it happens, watch out. In their hypoglycemic state, however, these mutants can produce some of the best work of their lives. While the Apple Watch supposedly birthed out of this notion—tireless brainstorming sessions spanned across many nights resulting in supreme creativity—the question remains: Were the Apple Watch creators hangry when the light bulb went off?
Known as hangry—hungry + angry combined into one word—edging on hunger is an art. It is also a form of self-mutilation and ecstasy all in the name of creativity, productivity, and efficiency. The workplace is the battlefield for these people (and as for their dating or married life, they should eat before they leave work). In the job setting, however, this community has avoided calories all morning, slammed two cafés while their empty stomachs trigger their brains to release the hunger hormone ghrelin, putting them on the brink of detonation. Then it happens: Somebody has a work-related question—human interaction. Kaboom.
Physiologically speaking, the brain, organs, and cells of a hangry person scream for any form of a fast-acting sugar fix when their stomach runs on empty—a cronut, a ripe banana, or even a sugar packet will do—so the body can access the trouble-free version of energy it needs: glucose. If all else fails, the body will use fat—known as ketosis—as coal for the furnace, but if no fat reserves are available, the body will use protein to keep alive, which means hangry people can lose the Popeye muscles they worked so hard building in CrossFit.
Hangry is a privileged hunger. You can afford to put food on your table each day, yet chose to starve yourself. Why you purposefully avoid eating anything for hours seems ironic in this modern-day setting where access to quick calories is abundant. Let me explain.
For millennia, humans have been susceptible to what Italian food historian Massimo Montanari (the Michael Pollan of Italy) calls the vicissitudes of nature—a blight destroying your fields of grain or multiple failed hunting attempts over many months. Famine was a very real threat even after the Great Depression here in America—a lot of which concerned our transportation and storage (refrigeration) of food. It wasn’t until this past century that civilization harnessed the ability to overcome the ups and downs of nature and produce a constant supply of food—vulnerable to nothing except politics or if Monsanto’s GMO apples start biting back at us. While technology, supply chains, and infrastructure have made unstoppable our ability to procure and distribute food, our physiology to all this food as humans has not caught up.
It’s as if hangry is the subconscious counter-behavior to the 24/7 abundance of food we find ourselves having access to in 2015. Hangry is almost a primitive reaction to our obesogenic environment. By choosing to not eat, we are making a statement that our society is obsessed with food—and probably the sugary, bad-for-you kind.
But here’s the deal with hangry: When it comes to productivity, creativity, and output, hangry is a miracle drug. I equate that state of hangriness to all or nothing. No shades of grey. It’s like driving 100 miles per hour down the highway, on tunnel vision. We know we perform our best when hangry. We acquiesce to nothing when our blood sugar level is low; we report only to our mission. Hyper-focused and with our adrenal glands squirting out cortisol by the minute, we seize the day because when pushed to the state of famine, ideas like the Apple Watch break the surface.
Numerous scientific studies suggest that the behavior of animals and humans does indeed change when hungry—author Nicola Twilley addresses the idea here in The New Yorker. Our sense of smell enhances, we put up with discomfort longer (fruit fly study), and we are more willing to take risks (hunt more dangerous prey when hungry). I would call this survival, but in the modern-day office, my advice is to use these states-of-behavior to your advantage. Get aggressive with your work. Just do it hunched down at your desk, avoid everyone at all costs, play some soothing music, or channel your inner Buster Keaton.
If you go past the point of no return, according to New York City-based-dietitian and host of the podcast Food Psych, Christy Harrison, “low blood sugar can cause weakness, headaches, blurred vision, difficulty concentrating, and even fainting—so take hanger seriously, and the underlying issue before you develop these other symptoms.” As Harrison further suggests, “I like to tell my clients that carbohydrates are the fast-acting forms of energy and protein, fat, and fiber are the slow-acting forms, and we need both forms. If you’re missing carbs you don’t get the quick-acting glucose boost, so your blood sugar stays low. And if you’re missing protein, fat, and/or fiber, you get a quick spike in blood sugar followed by a drop—and that can also contribute to hanger.”
The art of hangriness, that is, how to avoid it, deal with it, control it, and use it to your advantage, is truly a talent that for some, may take a lifetime to manage.
After all, in the Marvel comic book series X-men, it took Professor Charles Xavier years to learn how to put his mental faculties to use—for the sake of good. But when he harnessed his abilities, look what happened. The same holds true with your hanger. Use it wisely, and eat a snack before you go home.