I am hungry — Why I can’t make good decisions when I am hungry


Melissa Killeen

Hungry people are often difficult to deal with. Ask any waiter how pleasant a patron can be when they have been waiting over thirty minutes for a table. A good meal can affect more than our mood; it can also influence our willingness to take risks. Research proves that the willingness of many animals to take risks increases or declines depending on whether the animal is hungry or full. For example, a predator only hunts more dangerous prey when it is close to starvation.

Three studies have been released, recently, that look into the behavior of hungry people. Well, the first study deals with fruit flies, but eventually researchers will get to conduct this study using real people. A team of scientists led by Dr Grunwald-Kadow at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology, in Martinsried, Germany, studied the behavior of hungry fruit flies. It was found that fruit flies have an instinctive fear of carbon dioxide, which they normally associate with danger even at low levels, because it kills them (a very healthy fear, don’t you think?). We all know that the fruit flies’ favorite food is rotting fruit. However, rotting fruit releases large amounts of carbon dioxide gas. So why do the flies want to eat rotting fruit? This fact lead researchers to explore the conflict between the regions of the fruit flies‘ nervous system, which was instructing the flies to get away from the fruit and the region of the flies’ brain which was telling them to sit down and eat, essentially to ignore the dangers of the CO2! These fruit flies are obviously risking death in order to eat. Being hungry shifts decision-making to a different part of the brain, bypassing the natural fight-or-flight reflex, which suggests there is an inherited instinct in other areas of the brain that was controlling the flies’ decision-making.

“The hungry flies continued to eat despite the presence of carbon dioxide, confirming that the brain was happy to trade off risk instinctively with the advantage of getting a square meal,” Dr Grunwald-Kadow explained. Now how does this effect a 180-pound human? Well, hunger is not always just sitting down and having a triple cheeseburger, fries and a chocolate shake at Wendy’s. Although making a decision to have a triple cheese burger when it could affect your risk of high cholesterol or heart disease is similar to a fruit fly eating rotten fruit. The chances are the fly will die sooner than you will. So, let’s look at another hunger. The hunger of addiction.

Yale researchers were focusing their attention on the brain’s reward circuits located in the midbrain to develop treatments for metabolic disorders such as obesity and diabetes. Funny, they were in working on diabetes and obesity research, and they came up with an interesting angle of interest in ‘novelty’ or risky behavior and stimulating behavior, also known as drug use. Yale School of Medicine researcher Marcelo O. Dietrich has found that increased appetite for food can actually be associated with a decreased interest in drugs. On the other hand, less interest in food can predict increased interest in cocaine. How many times have I thought: “I am hungry, but I don’t want to eat, because I want to lose weight, so I’ll smoke a cigarette?” The same reward circuits are working here. Can you see this thought working for you: “Boy, I have to work late to get this report done; I don’t have time to go out to grab dinner, let me do a line to pick me up until I am finished?” An interesting look at risk versus reward. Risk is completely ignored when the reward is food or drugs.

Finally, let’s think about how angry we get when we are hungry. Ohio State Researcher, Brad Bushman, presented his research at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in 2013. His Hangry Study (or the hungry-people-are-cranky-people study) provided couples with blood glucose monitors and voodoo dolls, and then instructed each partner to take their blood sugar in the morning and evening. Each person was then told to take their voodoo doll every night and stick pins in it, representing how angry they were with their partner on a scale of 0 – 51. Zero pins meant no anger at all, while 51 pins was, well, a bit more than just angry!

The researchers found that even when controlling a number of variables like overall relationship satisfaction, the people with lower blood sugar stuck their voodoo dolls with more pins. So Dr. Bushman fed them. And like magic, their blood sugar was elevated and they mellowed out.

Bushman speculated that this study could prove blood sugar is a possible factor in domestic violence – although I think that is a stretch. But have you ever yelled at a waiter? Yes. Thrown a plate at them? No, unless alcohol is involved. So research proves that if you are having a discussion with your boss about a conflict situation, make sure it is not just before lunch or after 3:00pm, and that you are well fed.

These studies all overlap with one result: Don’t make any decisions when you’re hungry.

Isn’t it wonderful knowing that HALT (hungry, angry, lonely and tired) has some real scientific underpinnings?

This blog was based on the following research:

Dr. Grunwald-Kadow and Dr. Stefanie Merker, June 25, 2013, Hunger affects decision making and perception of risk,Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology Web site, Martinsried, Germany. To read more go to: http://www.mpg.de/7422218/hunger-behaviour.

Emma Innes, June, 26, 2013. Why skipping lunch could make you a liability: Hunger affects the fight-or-flight reflex and triggers ’risky behavior’. Published by Associated Newspapers Ltd, part of the Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday & Metro Media Group. To read more go to: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2348930/Why-skipping-lunch-make-liability-Hunger-affects-fight-flight-reflex-triggers-risky-behaviour.html#ixzz3H6AYqTYb.

Drug Addiction and Hunger May Be Linked, June 25, 2012. Sott.net is owned and distributed by Quantum Future Group, Inc., San Francisco, CA. Quantum Future Group, Inc. is a registered 501 (c) (3) nonprofit U.S. corporation, and Sott.net (Signs of the Times) is a research and news project of QFG. To read more go to: http://www.sott.net/article/247134-Drug-Addiction-and-Hunger-May-Be-Linked

Charlotte H Anderson,Do You Get “H-Angry”? Science Says Hungry-Angry is Legit [Plus: 11 More Funny Food-Emotions] April 15, 2014. The Great Fitness Experiment.com, the personal blog of Charlotte H Anderson. To read more go to:

Jeff Grabmeier, April 14, 14, Lashing Out at Your Spouse? Check Your Blood Sugar- Study finds that ‘hangry’ husbands and wives get more aggressive.The Ohio State University Research and Innovation Communications Web site, Office of Media and Public Relations, Columbus, OH. To read more go to: http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/hangryspouse.htm.

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