‘I’m sorry for what I said when I was hungry.’

Main image by Tobe Fonseca.

I have this apologetic bear on a t-shirt. My husband used the same phrase last night when I was snappy, frustrated and trying to ignore my stomach growling. I was ‘hangry’, irritable or angry because of hunger.

‘Hunger and anger, I learned, are one and the same.’ Rebecca Camu, “A Splinter of Glass,” The London Magazine, December//January 1992

Everyone gets hangry from time to time, but it seems to happen more frequently to me than to my friends or family. As a child, when my siblings and I were delegated to clean the table and kitchen after dinner, I would always eat the remnants of the family sized salad. No matter how much I’d eaten, I could always empty the bowl.

While my stomach was full, I didn’t feel satisfied. The phrase ‘full stomach’ never seemed to mean the same to me as it did to others. Perhaps a stomach full of salad isn’t as satisfying as one full of protein? I’ll probably never know.

Spotting ‘Hangry’ in the wild

I can usually see when others are hangry, but it can be difficult to spot in myself. At least, difficult to spot before I say something I regret. I dealt with this lack of insight through diligent application of snacks. This became clear when my PKU dietician asked for a food diary. Every work day went something like this:

  • 7am Fruit smoothie & PKU supplement before cycle commute.
  • 9.am Bowl of PKU cereal. Yep, an actual second breakfast.
  • 11.am PKU crackers with jam or honey for elevenses.
  • 1.pm Lunch with PKU supplement.
  • 3.pm Prowl office for treats which might go well with a PKU supplement.
  • 7pm Dinner with PKU supplement.
  • 9pm Honey sandwich.

I’m impressed the dietician didn’t ask if I was part Hobbit. I was snacking at regular two hour intervals until 3 in the afternoon before a longer break until dinner. It was in the early evening, ironically while making dinner, that I was usually hangry. I’ve heard from a few PKU people at conferences and online discuss the need to eat regularly to maintain good levels of physical and mental energy. But this was a bit much.

Eat better, not more

The dietician suggested I eat foods which would help me to feel full for longer. She explained that if I could eat larger meals less often, i.e. cut down on snacks, I might find my blood sugar remained stable, and I could avoid becoming ‘hangry’.

We are supposed to have an exchange of normal protein along with our PKU supplement. Since I had 5 exchanges and took 4 supplements, the new plan was to eat only four times a day. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and an afternoon snack to avoid hunger in the evening.

The tricks which worked for me

  • Psyllium husks

The addition of psyllium husks to my baking had the most beneficial effect on my satiety, and my snacking. I have always made my bread and the bread maker recipe with psylliums husks meant I was now full after two slices of toast, rather than four.

  • Rolled oats

I added more fruit and an exchange of rolled oats the morning smoothie. 10g of rolled oats is 1 exchange/phe. Where I wasn’t running out the door, I would eat the fruit and oats on PKU cereal rather than blitz into a smoothie as this filled me up for longer.

  • Hydration

My dietician pointed out that I tended to eat when I may have been cold or thirsty rather than hungry. The bowl of cereal at work became a big cup of tea to warm me up after chilly morning rides and I had herbal tea rather than honey in the evening.

  • Timing

Instead of the elevenses, I moved lunch an hour earlier and ate more. My afternoon supplement stayed at the same time I ate yoghurt and fruit rather than rely on random kitchen treats.

What didn’t work

There were plenty of times when I wasn’t organised. I had a hangover or too many meetings to have a proper lunch. My most memorable working lunch was a coffee & chocolate brownie snatched from the closest café. Not great for a low protein diet.

Life gets the way, there were many reasons I didn’t always follow my planned meals. But, time and time again, what really didn’t work was beating myself up over my mistakes. Or hiding from them.

Be kind to yourself. Sometimes that involves a little honesty.

If I had too much protein, or missed too many meals, I would often become sad or angry. At those times I’d have to suck it up and admit ‘that was not a good meal choice & now you don’t feel well, so do better next time.’

Remember, be kind to the bear by feeding it well.

I’m always on the look out for meal ideas. If you have a warm, savoury low protein lunch idea for winter months, please do share it!