Help me deal with an irrational loathing for a healthy thing
July 9, 2016 2:16 PM   Subscribe

A few years ago, I had One Of Those relationships, and ended up with an irrational distaste for health smoothies/shakes, among other baggage I am mostly successfully recovering from. Anyone have any approaches to convincing myself to like a thing that reminds me of a really dark place in my life, because it's good for me?

Several years ago I dated a woman who was a really awful fit for me in a bunch of ways, and I held on far longer than I should've, so the breakup was really terrible. I'm mostly over it (and living somewhere else with a different career and in a healthy relationship with a woman I care about) but I have some lingering food/health issues.

My former girlfriend was really into health and fitness in a way I was and am not (and I suspect had some somewhat unhealthy, or at least unhealthy-for-me, attitudes towards a bunch of things), but dating her and spending time in her world (we lived together for ~6 months), I ended up eating a LOT healthier than I had in the past. I lost probably 20-30 pounds over the course of a year. When we split, I ended up going back to my old ways and gaining back the weight, and more.

I'd like to get back into meal replacement smoothies/shakes, but every time I even think about buying something at a Whole Foods, never mind getting a blender and making them myself, I end up with flashbacks to the way she talked about herself/me re: health/body image, and end up eating something less healthy instead as some unhealthy weirdo type of rebellion against the misery I felt (for many reasons) in that relationship. I'd like to find a way to re-conceptualize eating healthy without the baggage of this unhealthy relationship and my unhealthy coping strategies.

Can anyone recommend ways to think about this that might help me get over this ridiculousness? Intellectually I know it's "[Former girlfriend] had maybe-unhealthy attitudes about herself and me that I ended up reacting very poorly to, but eating in a healthier way is actually not part of that, and will help me stay healthy and keep doing the things I care about that being not-in-that-relationship-anymore allows me to do!" but I'm not really sure how to convince myself of this emotionally in the moment.
posted by Alterscape to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
can you work up to the smoothies? it seems like there's a lot of distance between ordering a pizza or whatever and replacing 1-2 meals a day with smoothies. maybe to start with, make your evening meal white meat/steamed veg 3 times a week and once that's a habit, turn lunch twice a week into measured portions of almonds and cheese with raw veg on the side. start bringing in the more healthy eating and replacing the less healthy eating slowly so it's not this big thing. and if after a few weeks of that you want faster or more structured results, see if smoothies are easier to emotionally deal with. i think part of the problem is that those things she said about her/your body during that time? those are things you believe about yourself right now. if you start with being proud of your gains and then do the habits you know work, you might find the self-sabatoging talk to be less.
posted by nadawi at 2:22 PM on July 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

There's really no reason to think that shakes are any healthier for you than other things you might eat - they're often loaded with sugar and even if they only have fruit in them, you're probably better off eating the actual fruit so that you're not unknowingly consuming tons of fruit sugar with none of the fiber that would be in the whole fruit. I'm actually not sure where this idea that shakes and smoothies are so healthy comes from - yes you can get vitamins from them - but you can from green vegetables or chicken as well.
posted by peacheater at 2:28 PM on July 9, 2016 [27 favorites]

Best answer: Smoothies perhaps aren't all that healthy. Certainly not psychically. Cold soup drinks could be though. Just make drinks with a fork and milk and drink it like soup-with a spoon. The fibre is more filling, the chew factor is more food like and less like infant food and won't remind you of the utter toxic smoothie wanker.

But I tend to question smoothies as "health" food anyway. As a lifestyle choice instead of a sometimes food in a cafe, the people I know who drink them very regularly can be faddish or often have complicated relationships with food, control, and their bodies.
posted by taff at 2:30 PM on July 9, 2016 [13 favorites]

Best answer: I am a person who is extremely into health and fitness and I very rarely, if ever, use "meal replacement smoothies/shakes." Not bagging on them necessarily, but there are so many ways to eat healthily (and lose weight if you so desire) that do not include meal replacement shakes or blenders or anything even reminiscent thereof. In fact, a pretty large contingent of health and fitness minded people would say that if you are trying to lose weight you should never consume liquid calories because they are far less satiating than solid food.

I guess what I'm saying is that I wonder if you're actually clinging to your ex's old idea of "healthy" -- either because it's the only one you're intimately familiar with and have seen results with in the past, or maybe also because you have really strong emotions attached to it that keep pulling you back in (even if those emotions are negative). It could even be the case that this is attractive to you because it comes with a ready made excuse; gosh I'd love to eat healthier but I have so much emotional baggage associated with it that there are all these roadblocks in the way and I have a justification for giving up before I've barely started.

To me, the best way to conceptualize healthy eating is to get a nice whole chicken (or cut up pieces) and roast it simply in the oven with some fresh vegetables. This is the recipe that taught me how to roast a chicken when I had no kitchen experience, and it's still a go to meal for me when I need to remember how satisfied and good I can feel from eating simple food that is healthy for me.
posted by telegraph at 2:33 PM on July 9, 2016 [29 favorites]

Best answer: I do not know if this is still a popular opinion in the dietary/nutrition fields, but an older dietician of my acquaintance believed that not chewing interfered with the brain's normal mechanisms of satiety, and as such shakes/smoothies/Ensure etc were only appropriate when appetite was so poor that any port in a storm was good enough, or when oral/esophageal/gastric/intestinal concerns called for a soft or low-bulk diet (and even then, she had feelings about all that dairy and fructose).

Certainly, unless you are facing a grueling dental ordeal, there is no specific need for smoothies in the pursuit of "health" and you are free to reject them and the baggage of that ex-girlfriend with them. Declare your own ways of eating healthy, like chewing vegetables with your teeth.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:44 PM on July 9, 2016 [15 favorites]

I'd like to get back into meal replacement smoothies/shakes

Is there a way you can do it and just have fun?

Go buy some Ensure and pretend you're over 65.
Ask for the AARP discount and tell them you forgot your card.

Rock out and learn how to make your own Ensure.
Make a smoothie and talk like Dan Ackroyd doing an advertisement for the Bass O Matic.

Pick some ingredients and then ask yourself "Will It Blend?"

The more ridiculous you can be the better.
Having fun, being a dork, and just kind of laughing about what you're doing changes your state.
Rather than having a negative 'charge' because of your previous association, it's more fun and goofy.

Play favorite music, run around the house while it blends.
The possibilities for weirdness are unlimited here.

Probably the more times you can think to yourself "You have got to be kidding me" and smile about it, the better.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 2:49 PM on July 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Nthing everyone who recommends avoiding smoothies, or fruit juice for that matter. If you're juicing pure vegetables or using an emersion blender on kale and cucumbers and you add in some bananas and strawberries because you need the sweetness, that would at least be healthier than a pure fruit smoothie.

Luckily what you learned from your ex (this meal substitution crap) is not what healthy eating is about, so you can and should forget about it. Create your own context for learning about health food. Do you have a Netflix account? If not go get your free month. There are about a dozen eye-opening documentaries on the food revolution: Food Inc, Food Matters, Forks over Knives, Cowspiracy, Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, Hungry for Change, That Sugar Film, Sugar-coated. Many of them are paradigm shifting. Immerse yourself in what they can teach you. Learn about real healthy eating for yourself and you'll create a completely new context and associations that you have ownership over.
posted by kewpiesockpuppetdoll at 3:12 PM on July 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the feedback everyone. To be clear, we're talking "a bunch of kale/spinach with a little bit of fruit" not "just fruit." That said, I think telegraph is on to something, which I will take to heart.
posted by Alterscape at 3:36 PM on July 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Sense memory is a hell of a strong thing -- think of all the 'can I eat this?' AskMe threads with answers from people about how getting food poisoning from shrimp or oysters made them permanently revolted by them. I had to be on a liquid diet for 6 weeks due to jaw surgery, and it was at least a couple of years before I could tolerate the taste/smell of bananas again, since they were a base in so many of the smoothies I'd had to make.

So, I wouldn't beat yourself up about the smoothies. Like everyone says, they're not really an essential part of a healthy diet. Fuck that and Whole Foods, if those memories pull you down the shame spiral rabbit hole. Are there farmers' markets anywhere by you? Where you can just wander through and see what's in season? Or those cooking classes that seem to be a trope of rom-coms? Or doing Blue Apron or something for a trial month? Just some new place/experience completely separate from your ex.
posted by oh yeah! at 3:40 PM on July 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

Use fresh pressed juices for this rather than "meal replacement shakes", which are in fact kinda gross and not actually that great for you.

I have a pint or so of fresh (mostly vegetable) juice a few times a week as a meal replacement. I mostly do it because I often don't have time for breakfast and/or lunch, so it's quick and filling enough and seems better than a kind bar or the like. It's not something you'd readily confuse with a smoothie.
posted by Sara C. at 5:25 PM on July 9, 2016

You might get something out of changing your goal to getting stronger instead of eating healthier or losing weight. There's a lot of associated protein shake silliness within that niche, but it's pretty easily avoided. If you're trying to gain muscle and overall balanced strength you'll probably lose some weight as a side effect, but even if you don't you will be healthier anyway, even if all you do is take up a team sport or weight train once a week. Making this about the actions you choose to do, instead of the food you choose not to eat, might be a good way for you to reframe a lot of your trepidation.
posted by Mizu at 6:53 PM on July 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

every time I even think about buying something at a Whole Foods, never mind getting a blender and making them myself, I end up with flashbacks to the way she talked about herself/me re: health/body image, and end up eating something less healthy instead as some unhealthy weirdo type of rebellion against the misery I felt (for many reasons) in that relationship

It sounds like you're trying to get revenge with your dietary choices, this donut will show her! Point being, it's not about the smoothies. You can think that the idea of smoothies got ruined temporarily by her attitude (or existence), and that smoothies will still be waiting for you. Smoothies are tasty, even if lame people like them too, and there's a lot more lame people out there than cool ones, so don't give her power over your food.

I can see an aspect here that you might think you only got healthier because of her, but that desire was inside of you, too. Sure it's good to have an activity pal, but there are a lot of them out there. Hang out on the fitness subreddits or something, you'll find your cohort who will support you in doing things for yourself.
posted by rhizome at 7:07 PM on July 9, 2016

N-thing comments that meal replacement is not what being healthy is about.

I think replacing habits takes awhile and you should definitely phase it in. I have battled an eating disorder so I have to be really careful about exercise and eating. If I have changed my diet in any way I try to do one thing at a time, not a complete overhaul, because it's easier to follow and doesn't make me all calorie count-y.

So if I was going to make a healthier choice I'd pick ONE or TWO things that day and stick with it for a couple weeks. Like replace a breakfast bagel with oatmeal. Or, no more cream in coffee. I would recommend seeing a nutritionist because they can show you how to change your eating habits in a way that you can maintain and that will meet your dietary needs. There's no point in drinking smoothies and shakes and losing weight if it's not sustainable and something you can't do for the rest of your life, if you want to keep the weight off. In reality, you're a person and people generally like to enjoy food and not have to worry about it all the time. As someone who has spent most of their life worrying about food, it's never really worth it.

(I don't think smoothies and juices are all they're cracked up to be, get the fiber too and poop like a dream).

If you really just want to enjoy a smoothie again without thinking about her, maybe just eat more fruits and vegetables at every meal, and work your way up to a smoothie.

One thing that is helpful is to reduce the amount of choices you have to make overall. This helped me a lot. It's easy to say "oh don't surround yourself with bad food" but then your pantry is empty and you're low on time and suddenly you're eating something you wish you hadn't (Although if it happens, it happens, move on and don't beat yourself up). It helped me to spend time up front and make a bunch of index cards with recipes and food ideas that were balanced and based on time (Quick? 30 minutes? Elaborate?) and to give me a rotating set of ideas about what to eat if I was at a loss. This might not be your problem but it definitely drove me crazy when I had to plan what I was going to eat during treatment. If I was at a loss, I would pull out a card. I will often grab a few and take them to the grocery store to plan for the week.
posted by mmmleaf at 7:31 PM on July 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Instead of blending the veg, leave it in chunks and just make soup! Homemade soup can be low-fat, full of veg, savoury... Very good for you. Not a smoothie; but hydrating, plus some chewing too to make it satisfying. Easy to make a big batch on the weekend and take for lunches. There are some decent pre-made soups too...check Whole Foods or the like and watch the sodium content.

Speaking of Whole Foods... They sell tons of sugar and treats and stuff! Have you not been to the bakery counter?! (Fantastic cookies and brownies....) Maybe the ultimate rebellion is to go into Whole Foods and get a freaking brownie, and disassociate it entirely from "healthy". Or shop at Trader Joe's, or Safeway, or the farmers market, or whatever because Whole Paycheck is expensive anyway!

Then go back in and get stuff to make soup or stew or roast chicken or whatever you decide works for you.
posted by jrobin276 at 7:34 PM on July 9, 2016

I'll go to bat for smoothies here. I'm semi-permanantly on a low carb diet and I do something like this 2-3 times a week:

4-6 ounces of spinach (whatever I can cram into my fancy blender)
1 medium or large avocado
half a cup of berries
protein powder

That's all good stuff, minus the protein powder, whose quality is variable and debateable. But - good fats, some protein, a lot of fiber, low sugar, great nutrition.

I don't think of them as meal replacements, either. They're around 400-500 calories and while I eat light for dinner in general I usually do a small cooked meal to go with it (sometimes just a few ounces of grilled chicken and carrots for example), and it's obviously not every night. And sometimes it is enough for dinner. Texture is a big part of food for me and unlike other commenters here who seem to think smoothies lack soul or whatever, I find them to be a desirable style of food that I like to have in my diet. I do agree with kewpiesockpuppetdoll in that you need to find your own paradigm for healthy eating; that may or may not include smoothies.
posted by MillMan at 9:22 PM on July 9, 2016

It might be of interest that, in a discussion of popular use of the phrase "trigger warning", several people mentioned that in a more technical context such as when applied to clinically-diagnosed PTSD a "trigger" can be a wide variety of experiences other than reading or viewing a depiction of violence. A specific example brought up was the smell of a particular brand of grape soda which I believe was supplied to overseas U.S. military forces in the mid-to-late 20th century.

(So I don't know how specifically you were using the term "flashbacks" but if you haven't already it might be worth it to mention to a therapist, or to investigate how reactions to memories like this are dealt with through therapy.)
posted by XMLicious at 9:28 PM on July 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

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