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Hangry Larry

Updated: Jun 29, 2023


Your favorite gut bacterium, Biffie, here and I have a frustrating story for you today. It all started when Larry ignored his alarm clock and only had 15 minutes to get ready for school. Because he was so rushed, he didn’t eat anything before getting on the bus. Once he was on the bus, he looked in his backpack to see if he could eat a part of his lunch. I was hoping he would eat the apple. I love apple fiber. But there won’t be any apple fiber for me, Larry forgot his lunch.


As he got settled into class, his teacher, Ms. Holly was asking the kids to raise their hand if they wanted hot lunch from the cafeteria. I kept screaming, “Larry, raise your hand!!”. He couldn’t hear me. His brain was not getting the energy it needed to work well and focus. I am pretty sure that he heard Ms. Holly say something, but his brain did not recognize which words she said. So he did not raise his hand, instead he put his hand on his growling stomach.


All of his focus was on his very noisy stomach. It sounded like a construction site. I live in the colon, which is the lower part of Larry’s gut (you know, all the tubes that connect your mouth to your butt). Way above me is the stomach part of the gut tube. When the stomach is empty it starts to make the hunger hormone ghrelin. Ghrelin tells Larry’s brain that his body wants food. But he wasn’t getting any food and so Larry’s stomach just kept making more and more ghrelin. When a lot of ghrelin is made, the stomach gets a signal to get ready for food, and the stomach starts to contract or squeeze. These stomach contractions or squeezes create the growling sound. Ghrelin makes your stomach growl.


So this morning, when ghrelin was piling up, all of us gut bacteria started to feel excited that it was feeding time, but we had to wait. While waiting, we noticed that Larry was not paying attention to anything the teacher was saying. I could hear Ms. Holly ask Larry the same question 3 or 4 times before he would respond with, “Wait what?”.


When lunch came around, Larry was so slow at packing up and getting out of the classroom that he was last in line for hot lunch. He was worried that the cafeteria may not have made enough food for him, because he didn’t raise his hand for wanting hot lunch this morning. Luckily, there was a full tray of food ready for him when he got to the hot food station. He grabbed his tray and looked around to see where to sit. His best friend, Andrea, was at a table that did not have any seats open, and so he walked around until he saw an opening near another kid that he knew named Jerald. As Larry sat down across from Jerald, he stared up at the clock and realized that he only had 8 minutes to eat. He was so hungry that his stomach hurt and his head felt heavy. When he looked down, he noticed that his cookies were missing. As he started to look around, he noticed Jerald eating cookies and had two empty cookie wrappers on his tray.

“Jerald, you took my cookies. Give them back!” Larry demanded.

“Wow! Larry, relax. These are my cookies. I don’t know who took yours” replied Jerald.

Larry starts to grab the cookies from Jerald’s hand. Jerald stands up and rips the cookies away. As Larry leans forward to grab the cookies, his tray tips up and all of his food lands on his shirt. As he stands up to go get more napkins, he notices that the bag of cookies must have fallen on the seat next to him. So, I guess Jerald was telling the truth. He grabs napkins and wipes off his shirt. By the time he sits back down to eat the few items that did not squish too badly onto his shirt like the cucumbers, apple chips, and cookies, the bell rang. The cafeteria workers yelled, “Clean up time!”


Larry gobbled down a few bites of apple chips and headed to recess. I finally got some apple fiber! Those few bites were glorious, but were not enough to satisfy us bacteria. We needed more. Once my bacteria friends and I are well fed, we make gas and these fatty acids that tell the body to stop making ghrelin. Since we didn’t get fed enough, Ghrelin was still piling up and causing Larry’s stomach to growl with hunger.


At recess, Andrea calls Larry over to play soccer like they usually do. Larry doesn’t really feel like playing, but he felt like he missed out on seeing Andrea at lunch and so he decided to play. He asked to play goalie, because he was feeling light-headed and didn’t want to run too much. Steve started to complain that he always plays goalie and Larry usually wouldn’t say anything, but he really did not want to run. He tried to calmly say, “Let’s just take turns, Steve. Can I go first?” Then Steve said recess is not long enough to really take turns and so he doesn’t think he would even get a turn. So Larry just decided to play defense instead of goalie. Because he was so tired he couldn’t beat the other players to the ball and so he would bump into them instead. He ended up bumping Andrea really hard and she fell to the ground. “Hey!” Yelled Andrea. Larry was so frustrated that he grumbled “Sorry” and just walked away. Luckily the recess bell rang and everyone lined up to go inside.

When Larry finally sat down at his desk, he took out his pencil to start his math worksheet. As soon as he started to write his pencil tip broke off. Normally having to take 30 seconds to sharpen a pencil would not bother Larry, but with his stomach rumbling and his head pounding he did not feel like he had any more ability to deal with accidents or even small problems. He looked up and Adam had a really nice pencil sharpener on his desk. He grabs it really fast. As he is sharpening, Adam turns around and says, “Hey, that’s mine”. Larry is so frustrated that he blurts out, “I am just using it for two seconds!”. Immediately his teacher, Ms. Holly, asks Larry to visit her in the front of the room. Larry is still really mad and he just feels out of control. His teacher asks, “What is wrong? Do you need something?”. Larry feels like he might cry, but mutters, “I am really hungry.” His teacher doesn’t even say a thing, but pulls out a basket of snacks. Larry is so overwhelmed, that he hugs his teacher. After eating dried apples, pumpkin seeds, and popcorn, from the snack basket, Larry is feeling like himself again.

He walks to Adam and tells him, “Sorry for taking your pencil sharpener without asking you”. Adam says, “It’s alright, I just assumed you were Hangry”.

“Hangry?” Asked Larry.

Adam responds, “Yeah, when I am angry from being hungry, everything feels like a big deal”. Larry smiles at Adam, and says “Thanks, yes, I was hangry.”

So now all of us gut bacteria are well fed and we are all feeling less hangry.


Want to learn more about how Larry and I first met, check out our book.


Grown-ups Note:


Give the ownership and trust to your child. If your child is hungry 10 minutes after dinner or eats way too much in a sitting and gets a tummy ache, it can be frustrating. Now is the time they get to practice and learn what different stages of hunger and satiety feel like in their body. We can help teach them what is going on inside their body and encourage them to describe how they feel. Being able to put a number to how we feel may be helpful. Download the free hunger chart. If your child comes to dinner and says they are a 4 on the hunger chart, then you won’t be surprised when they only eat a few bites. Let’s stay curious and try to help them stay curious too. Why are they feeling less hungry or more hungry? What does being a 5 on the hunger scale feel to you? Do they feel hungry when stressed? Do they eat too fast and don’t know what their body is feeling?


If your kid doesn’t like a lot of questions, then give a short phrase about your hunger number and how your body feels. Then leave it alone. They may process the idea of connecting with hunger and the way their body feels at a later time and you just planted the seed for them to explore that connection.


Putting a number to a physical feeling may help with other bodily clues. One of my favorite scales is the How Well I Can Deal with Problems Scale. If my kids are overstimulated or maybe starting to feel sick, sometimes they blow up when even the smallest thing happens. If they weren’t so overwhelmed, then they would respond much more calmly. I am the same way. So, we check-in after school or after a big event with “What is your ability to deal with a problem number?” In our family, 1 is that you can deal with many problems (not that you want them) and a 10, is that you are filled up and you have no room to deal with even the smallest issue. Once they recognize their number, then we work on what they need to do in order to get their number down. Sometimes their number is high, because they are hungry and they didn’t realize they were so hungry. Use our scale or make up your own.


References:

  • Gut peptides and the microbiome: focus on ghrelin

  • Ghrelin Is an Essential Factor for Motilin-Induced Gastric Contraction in Suncus murinus




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