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Formula: No Excuses!

 Heidi Nuske
by    Heidi Nuske

As a PKU patient or carer, we all know one of the fundamental requirements of maintaining a healthy PKU diet and safe level range is ensuring all the formula is taken as prescribed by clinic. Formula is vital for our growth and brain health. It sounds like a simple goal to achieve, but sometimes, life and excuses just get in the way.

I was very fortunate growing up. My parents ensured I took my formula as prescribed by my dietitian, and if I didn’t want to drink it, they’d remind me of its importance as “brain food” and that I needed it to grow. I was a short person, so often the promise of growing taller was usually good motivation. I must hand it to them; even when I put up a fight or threw a tantrum it always ended with them getting me to drink my formula. Someone give them a gold medal, they deserve it!


I’d always been told formula was my brain-food, that it was important for my physical and brain growth. It was so essential to drink every drop, right down to the froth. Cognitively I understood this, however it wasn’t until I was in late high school that I fully appreciated the importance of taking it every single day and the positive affect it had on my mental clarity.

When studying for VCE, I took Maths Methods, which at the best of times could be incredibly confusing. At the beginning of one week, I’d run out of formula, the pharmacy was having trouble getting more in, and It was unlikely to arrive for another few days. Most of the week was uneventful until the afternoon double period of maths. At the best of times, it’s difficult to concentrate for that class but for some reason that day I felt a million times worse. We were learning a new topic and I couldn’t understand a word that was being said. I asked my friend to help, but she just looked at me like I was an idiot and told me what to do again, and again. I still couldn’t understand and was practically in tears. I felt dumb, stupid, and humiliated.

Fortunately, that night my formula arrived, and I was so grateful for it that I chugged it down as quickly as I could. The next day I went into class and sat down. I looked over what I was meant to have learned the previous day and was floored. It made sense.  It was simple and so easy to get my head around. It was at that point I fully realised the impact of drinking (or not drinking) my formula. This was a major turning point for me. Sure, I’d been told all my life how crucial it was for my brain and body. But experiencing it gave me a whole new perspective.


While I now fully appreciated the benefits of drinking my formula, life and excuses sometimes still intervened. I was fortunate when I moved out of home and went to university that I made friends with nursing and/or paramedic students rather than students in my own education course. I had moved out of home and was managing my PKU completely by myself for the first time. While I didn’t have my parents looking over my shoulder anymore, these friends, in a way, took their place. They knew what PKU was and the importance of drinking my formula. They were so supportive, reminding me to take it when I’d try to avoid it. I will be ever grateful for their support and those occasional figurative kicks up the backside when my laziness kicked in. Their support was one of the driving things that got me through to graduate from university.

Once I began working full time in a high pressure, fast paced job I realised being on my A Game every day was crucial. I loved my new job, but the learning curve was exponential. It required me be to be able to learn, retain vast amounts of information, whilst still working.  I knew my formula intake over the last few years had become less than stellar, and that needed to change. I knew my ability to successfully learn and perform complex tasks, to a high standard, was directly linked to how well I was taking formula. It was at this time that I began to try a bit harder to prioritise drinking formula. When I knew I had upcoming assessments or big days I would ensure I had formula with breakfast, lunch, and dinner without fail. When I did this, I noticed my mood, work output, and feeling of wellbeing increased immensely.

Unfortunately, at times, I’d get a little complacent. I was feeling good, so missing a formula here and there wouldn’t be so harmful, right? So, I’d make excuses to skip a few. It was easy to do. I was constantly travelling for my work, which required early mornings, and working in locations that didn’t have basic tearoom facilities. It was easy to justify not taking formula for the sake of convenience. What I didn’t realise at the time, was the more times I skipped formula, the harder I was making my days; I wasn’t consuming enough essential nutrition for my mind to be able to focus on the tasks at hand. So, I wasn’t performing at my best, and was getting stressed and overwhelmed with everything. It was at this point I knew I needed to make a change, I needed to prioritise the importance of drinking formula.


And so, I set myself the goal, “I’ll attempt every dose of formula, every day, for a full month. No skipping. No excuses.” I told my friends, my family, and my colleagues to remain accountable. I’m so happy to say, “I succeeded”.  I’m very lucky to have this supportive network. Being accountable was a big driver in sticking to my goal. I hate to fail (at anything!). Because I’d set this goal, and essentially told the whole world, I absolutely didn’t want to fail and have to admit it!

It's been about six months since setting my goal and so far, I haven’t succumbed to excuses to skip formula. I’m so proud.  Am sure that taking all my formula, consistently, makes me feel absolutely fabulous (this is no exaggeration!), my mood is more constant, my ability to react and deal with stressful situations is much better, and my mental clarity has increased tenfold. While I’m so grateful now for my formula, am also thankful for the experiences I’ve had in the lead up because they’ve given me a full appreciation for the benefits drinking formula provides.


Explorers Club

If you haven’t done so already, why not browse our Vitafriends Explorers Club – an education programme for families managing PKU in the early years.