Why am I feeling crabby on my lovely vacation?

I’m away with my family and my in-laws on vacation. We do this every spring, and each time we do it, despite the fact that this place is lovely, I seem to end up feeling a bit crabby.

One year I blamed it on this, one year I blamed it on that. Whatever the reason, it’s a drag to have a nice vacation shadowed by a bad mood. I should be thrilled and thankful to have the chance to have such a nice holiday — and I AM thrilled and thankful — but also a bit crabby.

Well, this year, I think I figured it out. I think it’s the food situation.

Usually, at home. I eat something about every three hours. Whenever possible, I eat “breakfast” at 7:30, “lunch” at 11:30, a “snack” at 2:30, “dinner” at 6:00, and a “snack” around 8:00.

My idea of what lunch etc. consists of is probably slight unconventional – but this schedule and intake works for me.

The problem? This isn’t how the world works. Some days I can stick to this schedule, but often, of course, I have to eat at different times, and it always throws me off. One thing that puzzles me is that most adults don’t seem to get hungry the way I do. They never seem to care about what time food is served.

Being on this vacation means I’m often starving before we eat. I can’t eat as often as I’d like. The food is richer than the food I usually eat, but somehow it doesn’t seem as filling. I have to gobble down my food, because at lunch the Little Girl is spiraling down toward her nap, and at dinner, toward her bedtime, so I have to be prepared to spirit her back to bed as soon as she’s eaten.

So my current prescription for my crabbiness is to start paying more attention to eating. I’m going to try to eat more protein at meals, to try to be fuller, longer. I’m going to make sure I have some filling snacks on hand (what, I’m not sure). I’m going to make sure I eat something every three hours or so, even if it’s not quite convenient.

When we get home, maybe I’ll even go to a nutritionist to see if there’s a better way for me to approach my eating, so that I’m not as susceptible to hunger and crankiness.

But other than that, we’re having a great time.

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  • I like to eat every 3 hours as well. Sometimes I keep peanut butter crackers on hand for the morning snack and an apple for the afternoon snack. Good luck with it!

  • amma

    You sound like what in ayruveda is called a classic “pita” type. Extreme hunger is typical. Don’t beat yourself up, you just have a different metabolism and skipping or delaying meals isn’t a good idea for you. I agree snacks here are key so your hunger doesn’t attack you. Some good choices are protein bars, almonds, even little cans of tuna are easy to carry/eat. Good luck. PS> I’m the same way, that’s how I understand the problem and have come up with some solutions.

  • AndreaC

    Me too! My work colleagues are always saying ‘you’re always eating!’ but little and often keeps me functioning. I never leave the house without some kind of snack with me – a banana, crispbreads, oatcakes (they do ginger ones here and they are so good) or a mix of nuts and pumpkin seeds. If I get too hungry I get tired, crabby and headachey, so you are most definately not alone.

  • the way you eat is healthier than the typical 3 large meals a day. don’t change a thing. learn to keep snacks with you all the time. most children do better if they are fed every 3 hrs.
    on vacation, i get tired of sitting in restaurants and eating big, heavy meals. we try to stay some place with at least a mini fridge so we can keep a few things for a lite breakfast or lunch.
    my 12 yr old has my super fast metabolism and low tolerance for being hungry. we *always* have snacks with us. i keep things in the car, in my purse, in his back pack, etc. on field trips, he will take a baggie of almonds or cashews so he can nibble when he gets hungry. our day is always planned with frequent snack breaks.
    trying get protein in every meal helps greatly. keeps the blood sugar on a more even keel.

  • i have the same problem when i go see my parents. my mom will make me breakfast in the morning, but it’s 1/2 a slice of toast with a thin layer of pb. then we don’t eat again till dinner! i don’t know how they do it, but i promised myself the next time i go see them i’m going to the store to buy more stuff for me to eat.

  • Being hungry can definitely put a damper on things. I have learned to never to do anything with my husband when he is hungry. We will both be miserable. We too always have some snacks with us – PB crackers, bananas, and healthy snack bars are my faves.
    Remember that fiber swells in your stomach and makes you feel fuller and is really good for you too. So a high fiber snack can go a long way!

  • Sassy

    Oh, we’ve discovered our whole family is susceptible to extreme crabbiness if we get hungry. We went through Europe waiting outside restaurants for them to open; my sister travels with (and taught us to travel with) ziplock baggies of nuts. My husband and I have discovered that if we get hungry enough we can’t even agree on a restaurant to take care of the hunger so we can discuss the issue rationally. BUT, once you recognize it, it’s easy enough to keep some food on hand — and it only takes one or two slip ups to get you back in the habit. Kudos for figuring out the problem, though (it’s hard to think when you are hungry and crabby!).

  • From Lin Yutang’s “The Importance of Living”:
    “When the stomach is right, everything is right.”
    “Let us admit it at once and immediately proceed to qualify it by saying that the spirit is a condition of the perfect functioning of the endocrine glands. Happiness for me is largely a matter of digestion.”
    “If one’s bowels move, one is happy, and if they don’t move, one is unhappy. That is all there is to it.”

  • Ann

    I too tend to get not just hungry, but cranky, when I go a long time without eating. Something worth trying when you’re somewhere it’s not practical to snack—get some quick exercise, say, a brisk 10-minute stroll. It usually snaps me out of the cranky feeling for at least an hour or two.

  • I have the exact same problem, since I get 15 minute breaks every 2 hours at my job (for snacks!) and when I work at home I can schedule nutrition.
    My solution isn’t great, I just get a couple boxes of yummy protein bars…try for variety packs to mix it up. They’re not ideal on a nutritional standpoint, but they’re easy to store and travel with.

  • Gillian

    You’ve had some good advice here. Another advantage to high fiber is that it helps to keep you full longer. That really means you should try to get about 15 grams at breakfast and that’s nearly half the daily recommendation. It helps me.

  • Lynn

    i have a similar problem. i am always hungry, and always eating. my food schedule is roughly 7:45, 10, 12:15, 3, 5, and 8. i ALWAYS have snacks with me, wherever i go – the most convenient are energy bars that have some protein, but aren’t too high in calories. my standbys are luna bars, clif mojo bars and zone perfect (the fruit ones). if you know you won’t be able to eat as often as usual on a given day, try to stay away from a lot of simple carbs, and eat more protein. the sugar will make you crash, and leave you even crankier. also, drink lots of water to stay hydrated – a lot of people mistake dehydration for hunger.
    enjoy your vacation! 🙂

  • I think it’s obvious from all the previous commenters that there’s no reason to feel guilty or worry about changing your eating habits. If you need to eat every three hours, then you should!

  • I am sure you have found your reason. I am not only cranky without protein in my body at all times, I am down right crazy! My IQ starts to take a nosedive and I can’t think.
    I have to eat some kind of protein, even if it is a small handful of nuts, milk or something every few hours.
    There are many of us out here. You are not alone!

  • Here’s your answer

    “Why am I feeling crabby on my lovely vacation?
    I’m away with my family and my in-laws on vacation.”
    …nothing else needs to be said.

  • Ann M.

    I agree with the previous commenters. I always used to be the first one asking my co-workers if they were ready to go lunch every day!

  • Laura

    I think it should be clear by this point, but you are SO not alone! I have such a hard time being on other people’s food schedule. It can reduce me to panic just thinking about it. Woe to those travelling with me if my bag does not contain snacks. Hope you enjoy the rest of your vacation.

  • Julia

    Sorry to add to all the advice, but I have to speak up for the Glycaemic Index – eating carbs lower in ‘GI’ will keep you fuller for longer – something else to bear in mind along with the protein and fibre advice!!

  • I’ve worked with two personal trainers, and they both recommended eating about every three hours. As others have mentioned, I make sure I can do this by always having Luna Bars with me.

  • Vita

    Take Omega three vitamin supplements or fish oil pills. My husband is a grump if he doesn’t eat and these help. The trick is as others mentioned above to keep the blood sugar level even.

  • Stacy

    I am EXACTLY the same way. Fortunately I have made everyone in my family aware that if I am cranky then they need to get me something to eat. Low blood sugar and me do not mix. I usually have BALANCE bars in my purse for this very reason — the balance of protein and carbs really does the trick. Without both, then I’m right back where I started in 30 minutes time. I should start it again because I’ve got to get in shape for summer, but the best I ever felt was when I was subscribed to the 40-30-30 diet, aka The Zone. I think that ratio somehow speaks to my dietary needs. Hope it helps!

  • Although it would be nice to eat at a schedule you want, you can’t always get your way. More importantly, you can’t always control the outside world. Just find peace within and if you don’t get your meals soon enough, just relax.

  • brooklynchick

    Take good care of yourself!
    Bringing your own snacks is a great idea (I carry Kashi bars, nuts, fruit, and cheese sticks). Could you even help prepare some meals that were less rich, and more suited to you?
    I’m never happy when food (when, what, how much) is totally out of my hands. It makes me tense!!! 🙂
    So glad you are doing what will make you HAPPIER!!!!

  • Great suggestions everyone! Sorry if someone already said what I’m about to say. We travel a lot-to all kinds of places. I also need to eat every 3 hours-& I’m picky about eating wholesome food. Here’s my solution. I bring my every day must haves that are packable, so I can be assured of having a good breakfast (oatmeal-flax) and snacks. If it’s possible I buy some things when I arrive. If we eat breakfast at a restaurant I bring a ziploc bag of flax meal & stir it in my oatmeal, cereal or yogurt. I always bring extras to share! Best tip came from my friend Marge, whose husband is a diabetic. If you’re going to a hotel, call ahead to get a room with a mini-fridge. Ask them to clear it out or let them know you’ll be putting in your “special foods”. She’s so fanatical she packs an extra suitcase just with food. Planning ahead helps so much. Living on restaurant food is bound to make you feel crabby. I’m guessing you’re someplace with a kitchen (hopefully) if you’re traveling with the kids-so that really helps. When our whole extended family stays together in NC the fridge is packed with everyone’s must-haves! Here’s my a list of my everyday must-haves:

  • Dawn R

    My favorite snack food: a mix of dried cranberries, almonds, Spanish peanuts, and a small dose of chocolate chips. Includes protein, salt, and sweet. If you’re going to be someplace warm, leave out the chocolate chips or you’ll end up with a gooey (but yummy) mess.

  • Cecily T

    I sympathize. I also eat lightly, but often. The hardest time for me was actually when I was teaching. You can’t exactly break out a protein bar in the middle of teaching a bunch of sixth graders and not get some looks. At home, I make my own trail mix and nosh on that…just a nibble when I pass through the kitchen keeps me balanced. I know that sounds like a recipe for gaining weight but on days when I commit to eating an actual lunch I end up hungry any way, plus I’ve eaten a huge lunch. I’m a big breakfast fan though. Setting myself up right is important too.

  • Dave

    This sounds like hypoglycemia to me. Your doctor can diagnose this with a 6 hour fasting glucose tolerance test. But if hypoglycemia is the problem, you are handling it with small, frequent meals already.

  • Kathy Stringer

    I think any time someone is outside of their normal routine they have a tough time. I used to always be miserable on Saturdays and Sundays. I figured out it was because I didn’t have any place to be at any particular time. Now I try to have a plan. Sleep schedules also can change a mood, babies who are late for their naps get cranky. Not to mention we get used to our own beds, our own pillows, our own space we move around in. Time zone changes, daylight savings, they all mess with our internal clocks. Many people complain they are more tired after a vaction than they were before they left. I think all of the daily routine changes are part of that. If we go on vacation, we always arrive home two days early just to get back in sync.

  • MJ

    This kind of misery can be health related too – in my teens I had a few totally miserable family trips (though the family part was certainly one cause for misery) – I was physically sick all the time, starved or nauseous, lighteaded in the heat, achy all over, just plain wanted to die. Turns out I had an undiagnosed thyroid problem, so that the hunger and heat sickness felt 100 times worse than it should have. I can’t tell you what a huge improvement having treatment made for the future. It also gave me a “I told you so” retort for some months (to the many times I was either wilting or dry heaving in the August heat and was told “what’s the matter with you? it’s all in your head, stop making things up”).

  • Adrian

    The family situation surely has some relevance? Relationship gripes are like posh wine – you wait until a special occasion (like a holiday) to open them up.

  • ya know, i had the same problem on family vacations. i could NEVER figure out why i was so much more seceptable to cranky spells, and picking fights… and part of it is because while *i’m* being thrown off, so are my mom and my dad! they’re less aware of their eating habbits, so that makes it even more frustrating…
    but one weekend, i tried an experiment. i made sure i stocked the house (we were up in vermont, on vacation) with easy snacks. and every few hours, i would just sort of… throw a clementine at my dad. or put a handfull of walnuts infront of my mom. it just might have been the best weekend we ever had up there… !!
    also, for every-day ease, and more travel oriented vacations, i carry at least 2 or 3 fruit leathers in my purse at all times. easy, individually packaged, can stand up to much more abuse than an apple or a banana can… and it’s one quick serving of fruit! i love them 🙂

  • Since there’s a group of you, maybe you should look into renting a house or finding a place with a kitchen so you could shop and prepare more of the food and not have to eat out 3 meals a day. Even a hotel room with a mini fridge helps a lot. Then you can get breakfast cereal, milk, make sandwiches, etc. My boyfriend and I do this for all our trips now, because honestly, who wants to eat out again and again and again?

  • I have to eat every 3 hours or so because I’m hypoglycemic and just skipping one meal would result in me getting the shakes and having an anxiety attack. When I don’t have food like I’m suppose to, I get extremely irritated even at things that normally wouldn’t bother me.

  • OH my gosh I was laughing at this blog just from the title!!! Sometimes I feel crabby on vacation and realize it is because I think from being a workaholic that I will be happy if I go on a nice vacation, and then that doesn’t fix it, which just makes me that much crankier because I am not very good at doing NOTHING. Then I am so mad that I am not having enough fun on my vacation that it perpetuates the problem!
    So my sister and I both suffer from this same problem with food that you have described, and I have learned that if we avoid simple sugars, eat only complex carbs that are paired with protein and fiber with every meal that we do splendidly. Basically a meal that is about 400 calories eaten every couple hours is ideal. “The satiety index” (how satisfied you feel after a meal) will go up if you eat foods that are higher in protein, fiber, and water…you can just google that and find a list of foods that might be helpful snacks. When I am on vacation with my fam this notoriously is a huge problem for me so I carry raw nuts and seeds and a little bit of dried fruit in my purse at all times, in case of emergency I eat that. Eggs, white cheeses, chicken, turkey, and vegetables are your best friends.
    I also carry chewable fiber tablets in my purse so if I am forced to eat some horribly unhealthy gluttoness family meal then I can at least pull down the “glycemic load” of the meal by adding the fiber in. This means that your blood sugar won’t sky rocket, which then will cause your pancreas to dump a ton of insulin out that will eventually leave you with low blood sugar and feeling tired, crabby and irritable.
    If you want to read more about the “Low Glycemic Index Diet” and fiber below are some quick references to further explain in to detail what I’m talking about. I’m not telling you that you have diabetes…don’t worry. It is just a common result of the Standard American Diet (SAD). I know after a week of eating french toast and sausage for breakfast I am at my wit’s end on a family vacation…it’s just so hard to say no though sometimes!

  • Amy

    Having routines disrupted is hard especially on vacation because they are supposed to be a chance to relax and unwind. All the food and scheduling suggestions are excellent. Why, though, are you the only one responsible for the Little Girl’s nap and bedtime. Give the Big Man and your in-laws some quality bonding time and take the chance for a more leisurely lunch!

  • I’m so HAPPY to find out that I’m not the only one so sensitive to changes in my eating schedule! I felt like I was being unreasonable, but clearly, this is something many people experience.
    I’ve given up “fake food,” which was tough, so worry that starting to eat a health bar would just get me started back down the road that ends in single-serving boxes of sugared cereal.
    But dried fruit and a ziploc bag of almonds is a good idea…to be eaten in case of emergency.
    I eat a huge amount of fiber, and maybe I’m crazy, but I just don’t think it’s all that filling, at least for very long.
    I wonder if this propensity is a function of food choices, of metabolism or — most likely — both.
    But the key thing, from a happiness perspective is to BE PREPARED. I’m going to follow the advice of everyone who suggested staying armed with appropriate snacks.
    I’ve written down people’s suggestions, to take on the next trip!

  • I completely identify with you, Gretchen, and this sentence: “One thing that puzzles me is that most adults don’t seem to get hungry the way I do. They never seem to care about what time food is served.”
    AMEN, sistah! I am always opening the fridge, researching restaurants, wondering aloud when the next meal is. How can other adults be completely oblivious to food and mealtimes? How can they work through lunch or plan a museum visit over lunch with no food before and after? Apparently not everyone else is just one meal away from starvation like I am. The commenter who said, “I start to panic” really hit it.
    I’d echo everything already said, so I won’t say it. Carry food, especially nuts, so you don’t go nuts, and good luck.

  • Nancie

    I really have to make a conscious effort when I travel. Otherwise I end up eating lots of things that I shouldn’t eat, and feeling on edge all the time. I like staying in a room with a fridge, and I make sure I have yogurt and fruit on hand. That usually helps for me. Enjoy you holiday.

  • Liz

    I used to be one of those people that didn’t care about when meals happened. I could go all day without eating and was puzzled by those who couldn’t. Now that I’m diabetic, I HAVE to eat at certain times. When my blood sugar is low it feels like I’m crawling out of my skin. I wouldn’t even consider leaving the house without at least two snacks in my purse. I second the person who suggested bringing a box of power bars on vacation. Maybe they’re not ideal, but they’ll do the trick. And you don’t need to eat the whole thing. Half will most likely tide you over.

  • “Here’s your answer” made me laugh.
    As long as we’re shouting out for favorite snack bars, I’m a big fan of Clif Bar’s Nectar bars – 100% organic fruits and nuts, surprisingly filling and delicious. But they’re pricey, like $2 a pop.
    I walk around with hard boiled eggs and a mini V-8 in my purse.
    But instead of being the weirdo with the special food needs, and as long as you’re on vacation, maybe you can tie your preferences into fun for everyone: everybody stop when you pass the fro-yo shop; stop by a coffee shop mid-morning to hang out and get a filling latte; declare a “cocktail hour” a couple of hours before dinner where you can eat olives and nuts and crudite; request a break between dinner and ‘dessert.’

  • STL Mom

    Lara bars — mmmm!
    Trader Joes has some great trail mixes. My favorite has almonds and cranberries. Also mmmm!
    I used to be crabby any morning I woke up in a hotel because I had to wait until everyone showered, dressed, got to a restaurant and had my food cooked before I could eat. I guess my metabolism has slowed down, because I rarely wake up starving anymore.

  • awcool

    What a bunch of whiners and classic example of generation ME-NOW.. None of you could either possibly fast as Muslims do nor handle going hungry as billions do everyday..
    Hunger is just a feeling like anger, grief, and even happiness.. The ability to control your response (ie. responsibility) is what makes us humans different from animals.. Learn to control yourselves and instill a little discipline in your lives!
    If you can’t deal with a problem as trivial as hunger, how are you ever going to tackle the problem of being happy?

  • Fiorbhlasta

    I hesitate to put this down…and you’ve probably heard it before, but my mom had this same problem — serious mood swings at low blood sugar — and found that eating more protein, and indeed doing the small meals/snacks, and cutting down refined carbs really helped. Cutting down sugar/starches meant that she didn’t have the sugar spike and crash. I know it’s all crazy-trendy, but I think for some people changing the CONTENT of the meals can change the way you respond to them. When I am able to do this, I notice that my moods also even out and I am calmer, etc. But I’m not completely sold on the whole paleo thing.

    • gretchenrubin

      In the last few months, I’ve changed my eating habits in JUST THIS WAY. It does help a lot.

  • Xavier Ortiz

    Hey, this is years ago, but if your still around, did this end up being the solution you were looking for? I too have dealt with this situation for awhile now and think I can pinpoint it to hunger. Did this solution end up being everything you were looking for?