Working Hungry

Working Hungry

I like to work/think hungry.

This week a couple articles about “gambling while hungry” have been kicking around the web. The topic caught my eye, because occasionally I’m asked what the best breakfast is when sitting for the GMAT exam and I’ve always had a habit of “working hungry.”

First, some comments and questions:

  • Connecting this topic to gambling is a mistake. It’s not “wise” to gamble, in most modern settings, since the odds are known to be against you and you will always lose in the long run (unless you carve out an advantage that is not accounted for in the general odds). The articles are confusing the fact that the studies conducted about hunger used a gambling game merely as a way of measuring performance.
  • I was perplexed by this explanation: “It may be that hot states in general, and hunger and appetite in particular, do not necessarily make people more impulsive, but rather make them rely more on gut feeling, which benefits complex decisions with uncertain outcomes.”

I have found that a little hunger keeps me alert and focused. Not “emotionally hot”; I have no clue what that’s about. I have always preferred to take high-stakes exams in the morning and without breakfast. If I had to take the GMAT this week, I would take it in the morning and while hungry. I’d drink coffee before the exam – though I had this habit before I had the coffee-drinking habit – and eat an apple during the break. Certainly it can be distracting if you get ravenously hungry, but I’d rather have a growling stomach than be drowsy.


  • I actually do this during the workday. I eat less in the morning, when I aim to be most productive. Then I eat a reasonable lunch and a larger dinner, for increasing relaxation as the work day decreases.
  • Flip side: if I have to sit through something boring (a day full of meetings), I sometimes eat a little extra, to calm myself.

Caveat: I don’t think this technique will necessarily work for everyone merely because it works for me. I would encourage people to experiment during low-stakes settings. It’s worth figuring out, since it’s the kind of practice that can reap rewards over time. But other answers to this question usually seem to be simply made up based on preconceived ideas about nutrition, rather than derived from practice. What has been the state of your stomach during high and low cognitive performances? For example, although coffee works for me now, one of the worst exams I ever took in college was disrupted partly by caffeine jitters (and more by a complete lack of preparation), because I drank coffee rarely then.

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