Attitude · Diet Compliance · Formula · Inspiration/motivation · Kids · Living with PKU · Moms

The Formula Mindset

Is my formula medicine or food?

I recently got an email asking for help with motivation to drink the formula, when you don’t “feel the effects.” This caused me to stop and think — how should we be thinking about our formula? Is it like a medicine that makes you feel better like ibuprofin when you have a headache, or SRIs for depression?

I suggest that instead of thinking of formula as medicine, think of it more as a food. The National PKU Alliance says with regard to formula, “A synthetic, Phe free formula is used as a nutritional substitute for the eliminated foods.” While medicine may be fast-acting in response to pain or illness, formula is a daily need, just like eating food. However, for a person with PKU, this is a medically necessary food. And it’s not just something to drink when you feel like you need an extra boost, this should be an integrated part of your daily life.


Do you sometimes struggle to motivate yourself to drink your formula? Maybe a change in the way you think about it could help.

Here are 5 Ways to help you embrace the Formula Mindset:

1. Think Nutrition:

Let’s think about the big picture: we all need nutrients, including protein, to live. But in order for a person with PKU to be healthy, we must eliminate most protein from our diets. But our body and brain still need protein. This is why we have formula. It provides protein (with low levels of phenylalanine), calories, vitamins, and other minerals we need but are missing in our diet. Keep in mind, nutrition does affect mental health. So while formula is not a medicine, it does help with neurotransmitter function and other brain processes.

Think of formula as food that you need ever day to survive.

2. Satiety

Satiety is a fancy word for “feeling full.” A diet as restrictive as the PKU diet could easily leave a person feeling very hungry. One of the blessings of having the formula is that it fills you up. It gives you the calories you need. I’ve calculated that my formula dose gives me about 1000 calories a day. That is almost half of the daily recommended calories for an active adult. This not just a medicine, this is a huge part of my daily energy intake! This is why it makes sense to me to think of formula as more of a food.

Try to be mindful of how full you feel when you drink formula. This will help you appreciate it for what it is doing.

3. Crowding Effect

In nutrition people sometimes talk about crowding out unhealthy foods with healthy ones. In other words, to eliminate unhealthy foods from your diet, you eat more nutritious foods and thus aren’t as hungry for the unhealthy ones. I think the PKU formula does this in a big way. Seeing as it’s so filling, it helps you feel satisfied and less likely to eat too much protein for the sake of hunger.

Notice how drinking the formula consistently helps you manage your diet.

4. Gratitude

Do you ever stop to think how blessed you are to have a diagnosed, treatable disease, and to have such a life-saving formula available to you? Each morning as I prepare to mix my formula I often say a little prayer of gratitude in mind. “I am SO grateful to have this formula.” This sets the tone for my relationship with my formula.

Find a ritualistic way you can cultivate gratitude for this wonderful gift.

5. Routine

Something as important as this requires a high level of commitment. For me the best way to be consistent is to have a routine. That way it’s not something I have to think about, or deliberate with each day. It’s simply part of my life. I have written about the power of routine here.

Find the formula, container, storage method, and drinking schedule, that works for you and stick to it!

My formula-making equipment
My formula-making equipment

One thought on “The Formula Mindset

  1. I know so many people that use the words drink or juice instead of formula . I think for me I use formula to give it the honor and importance it needs to me. With that said I , too feel blessed every single day that I have formula to make me a better person. I am thankful for the variety and ease of the formula preparation of the 21st century and remember the days watching my mom packing all my gear for the trips we made as we headed around the country, for my PKU never stopped me then and I won’t let it stop me now. The formula is the mainstay of the PKU diet and the good starting point of the whole diet to build the rest of your diet on.

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