Looking for a shortcut to eating right
October 27, 2019 1:44 PM   Subscribe

I am an extremely picky and emotional eater, and I am exhausted by my usually unsuccessful efforts to change the way I eat so that I am eating healthy and nutritious foods.

It doesn’t help that I am now, and have been for quite some time, in a stressful mode in which I work very long hours and have easy access to All The Burgers. You can imagine the consequences of sitting for fourteen plus hours a day while shoving carbs into my face like Lucy at the chocolate factory. I'm not feeling healthy or gorgeous.

Actually changing my diet feels like an insurmountable challenge. At least, I have failed to surmount it many times, and I am out of energy to try again when everything else is so hard. Is there just a smoothie that I can drink every day for lunch and dinner, or just one of those, that will give me the nutrition I need and solve the problem of having to make a healthy choice? Or is that a dumb shortcut that will lead to a long delay and ultimately more failure?

Looking for a meal replacement shake or an explanation of why that is a bad idea. Thanks in advance for anyone who takes the time to answer!
posted by prefpara to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Well, there aren't any meal replacements that are as healthy as a consistent, healthy diet, but I have been curious about Vite Ramen.

Granted you might also be interested in what I do, which is more on the Keto route: I eat a salad that is mostly protein: So salmon, eggs, chick peas, chicken, etc. It's shockingly delicious and filling.
posted by Young Kullervo at 2:04 PM on October 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

So not exactly a shake, but when I’m feeling like this I just have a set menu that I eat every single day. So there are no decisions to make, no take out to buy. As long as it’s reasonably healthy you’ll be fine and won’t get scurvy. Here’s an example of mine:

Breakfast is two wasa crackers spread with pb&j, small cappuccino

Lunch is turkey sandwich on wheat with a slice of cheese and mayo, an apple

Snack is a yogurt (or whatever similar substitutes like applesauce...)

Dinner is grain bowl with avocado, salsa and an egg, dark chocolate

I wouldn’t try to address pickiness, emotional eating, weight control, etc etc all at once when you’re feeling underwater at work. For me, just taking away the thinking and decision making and need for willpower around eating really helps take the pressure off. Also makes grocery shopping much easier, and probably easier to stick to than nutrition shakes!
posted by ohio at 2:08 PM on October 27, 2019 [15 favorites]

Well, there's Soylent, which Amanda Little suggests as a partial solution in her new book "The Fate of Food." Available at Walmart.
posted by mmiddle at 2:25 PM on October 27, 2019

I call this a "astronaut-food diet." I start with a 20g protein bar (~3 eggs) and an Odwalla protein drink (if you have them available).

My theory is to focus on the nutrition first. You're aware of all the carbs you're eating, so you can fence a lot of what you've been having as treats or gravy or whatever if you still want to have them, but protein and fat is what's going to stabilize your hunger and nutrition through the day. So, protein bars, beef jerky, maybe Ensure or other meal replacement drinks, peanut butter, cold cuts (salami & cheese on crackers is good). Nuts, I like to have a couple pounds of cashews around for snacking, but follow your taste there. There's a lot of stuff in this category that were previously luxuries, cashews were only for holidays, beef jerky if I'm feeling impulsive,

Having all of this around to reach for can mean your varying motivations for eating are at least funnelled into food that isn't going to burn holes in your aorta. I had no problem switching from chips and cookies in between meals to "things that feel like candy bars but are better" and "things that feel like soda cans, but aren't," just so you don't have to change your muscle memory right away. You can move on to preparing a nice hummus plate in the office kitchen later on. I also keep a 32oz Nalgene of water, which has become my reach-for impulse when I'm beavering away at my desk.
posted by rhizome at 2:59 PM on October 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

One of my friends does a DIY soylent type shake for the equivalent of 2 meals a day and I think it does overall reduce the amount of time/effort/energy they spend on meal prep and decision making. A non shake meal replacement option might be Mealsquares?

Note that even though these meal substitutes can be helpful with reducing the logistics of eating, you may still have to deal with cravings and the emotions/thoughts you have about food and also potentially try not to binge during regular meals, I think having some kind of structure like MoonOrb's is helpful for dealing with those issues.
posted by tangaroo at 3:23 PM on October 27, 2019

Consider getting your iron and zinc levels checked; they are both associated with picky eating.
posted by aniola at 4:14 PM on October 27, 2019

As a fellow emotional eater, I have to wonder whether trying to replace food with smoothies is a good idea for you. I’ve gradually improved, really completely changed, the way I eat over several years. I eat green smoothies for breakfast now (6 cups greens, a banana, 1 cup frozen fruit, 2 tbsp. ground flax seeds, 2 cups water), but I don’t think I could have started there.

Some people can change to a healthful diet overnight, and more power to them, but that’s certainly not me and sounds like it may not be you. How about starting with breakfast? My breakfast used to be a bacon sandwich on white bread and a Coke. I changed that to a can of sardines with green onions and triscuits plus tea with sugar. Next was steel cut oatmeal with almond milk and blueberries and tea with sugar. Now it’s my vegetable-heavy green smoothie with green tea, no sugar. These changes took me years to make. I provide specifics not so you can copy me, but to show you that I kept improving gradually according to my dietary goals (vegan, more raw foods). Each new breakfast was better than the last, and it was close to painless.

I think it might help if you had some feeling that you’re headed in the right direction. I know eating a good breakfast is practically a cliche, but if you feel like you’ve eaten something good for you before you go out the door, maybe you’ll feel better about yourself even when you do eat burgers. And if you eat something nutritious in the morning (or for another meal if that’s better for you), you may find yourself craving the junk less.

Good luck. Changing the way you eat is hard, so please don’t blame yourself if you’re struggling. You can do it, but maybe not on the schedule you think you should. Give yourself time if you need it.
posted by FencingGal at 6:40 PM on October 27, 2019 [4 favorites]

I’m like you, and I’m still working on it. I focus on “easy” foods. Bagged salad mixes. Yogurt cups. Those plastic containers of soup from the grocery store. Things that are real food, but don’t require preparation beyond open (maybe heat) and eat. When I have $$$ to throw at the problem, I really like Daily Harvest smoothies. I know I could just buy all that stuff and make them myself, but the thing is, I don’t. But I will open up a pre-made cup, add some milk, and throw it all in the blender.
posted by Weeping_angel at 7:07 PM on October 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

If money isn't an issue, why not subscribe to a meal delivery service and have it waiting for you when you get home?
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 8:11 PM on October 27, 2019

I recommend Carnation Breakfast Essentials (when I was kid we called it "Instant Breakfast"). I like the packets of powder because they don't have any artificial sweeteners, I can mix them with whatever milk-type product I want, and they are available at almost any grocery store and online. They include protein and vitamins/minerals and I usually drink mine with a multivitamin so that all the fat-soluble vitamins have something to absorb into. If you try those and think you need something more filling, old-fashioned SlimFast does great. It has protein, fiber, and a ton of vitamins/minerals. Do be careful, though as the powder form nowadays contains aspartame (gives me migraines) but the premixed kind have sucralose, which most people don't seem to have an issue with. I can't tell you if this is a bad idea or not because I'm not your doctor or nutritionist, but I am someone who has your opposite problem in that I won't eat at all when I am stressed. Sometimes the easy choice that also packs a nutritional punch can be the best solution until you are ready to tackle the rest of the eating routine thing.
posted by Lady Sugar Maple at 8:17 PM on October 27, 2019

I've come to something of a conclusion that it's better to be picky than a voracious eat anything (usually too much) so consider that a positive.

Learn to predict your hunger points, perhaps keep a careful log for a few weeks to help identify patterns and find points to pre-eat so that you're somewhat satiated before the bad temptations. (I'm working on night nibbling)

That large glass of water before a meal can help fool the system.

posted by sammyo at 11:23 PM on October 27, 2019

Asking many strangers for dietary advice is an absolute minefield. I don't want to pull you in another direction, but it sounds to me like routine is a big part of this, and that is more important for you to set in place.

The "one shake a day and everything will be fixed" mindset is fraught with ways to deceive yourself. You will be eating that shake and then convincing yourself that the burger at night is justified. Don't let yourself do that kind of eating.

Have you looked into services that deliver food to your door? There are many that will deliver a range of fruit, vegetables and meat/fish every week, even some with set recipes that you can just follow. Then you take the leftovers from dinner to work the next day and the cycle of life is complete. I don't know where you live, but these services will totally take the pressure off you, and give you healthy and happy surprises every day. Here's a list of UK 'recipe box' services, and one for the USA.

Good luck! Habits are the hardest thing to break.
posted by 0bvious at 4:37 AM on October 28, 2019

I've used Huel (a different brand of Soylent, basically) when in situations where I don't have the energy to think about food. It reduced my emotional eating in two ways: first, because I do well with "all-or-nothing" types of rules (i.e. if I'm eating any sugar, I will eat ALL the sugar, but don't find it very difficult to eliminate all sugar outside of PMS-time); second, because it kept me very full but was bland/ innocuous enough that I didn't want to drink more of it. I wouldn't personally do it long-term because I don't have a lot of things in my life that I take pleasure in and yummy food is one of them, so I don't want to cut it out, but it's super helpful for short periods. You might be able to combine the best of both worlds by using it for two meals a day and eat something you find delicious for one meal; possibly pre-planning it so you don't have to think about it (as per ohio's excellent suggestion).

I also use Instashape meal replacement shakes to reduce how much I have to think about meals, and they are legitimately delicious. I felt they were the best combination of nutrition/ fillingness/ cost. I mix with milk and add a scoop of protein powder to each, but your preferences may vary. In my opinion, these are too low-calorie to use to replace a large part of your diet, but they can become your standard breakfast or lunch that you don't have to think about. They mix well in a shaker bottle (Huel really requires a blender to mix well).

If you do decide to go this route, remember to pay attention to your emotions; if not eating real food at every meal makes you depressed, it's not worth it.
posted by metasarah at 6:59 AM on October 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have the same breakfast and lunch everyday.

Breakfast is a Cookies and Cream Premier Protein shake.
Lunch is a Breakstone Cottage Cheese Double (raspberry) and a Nature Valley protein bar (chocolate/peanut).
For dinner I cook 2-3 times a week trying to focus on protein and good fats and then eat leftovers.

I think the same breakfast/lunch is key. I don't have to think about it.

For snacks, I make healthier muffins using things like oats and whole wheat flour. I sub applesauce for the oil. I use lots of spices to kick up the flavor. I also use fruit in them. The batch I made today was a banana oat muffin. I added cinnamon, ginger and cardamon. When blueberries and cherries were in season, I bought a ton of them and froze them.
posted by kathrynm at 7:24 AM on October 28, 2019

I eat pretty consistently similar things most days. Usually I don't feel like eating anything besides that menu - which could be improved upon but isn't terrible. Just because it's fun to share, generally I do:

- Coffee and muffin or scone or bagel for breakfast, depending on my mood and what I want when I get up
- Lunch options include a hummus plate with veggies from the local greek place, or sometimes I get Thai veggie delight hold the rice (so basically just a big plate of vegetables and meat); if I'm feeling like comfort food I'll sometimes get a bagel and coffee again for lunch because I like breakfast food
- Dinner - Kale salad + bread + hummus, or a few pieces of pizza + hummus + salad, or hummus and veggies and bread (there is a theme here). I've made soup a few times recently.

Of course I'm not perfect and often I eat other things in between which is what prevents me from losing the 15-20 lbs I'd love to lose and keep off. But I agree with others that structure and repetition is good if you don't want to think too much.

I also did HealthyWage last year (where you bet a certain amount of money that you can lose a certain amount of weight) and what I really liked about that was that it kind of took away the choice of whether or not to diet from me, which honestly I think is half the battle. Of course I gained 90% of the weight back but hey that's 5-6 lbs less than I was two years ago :) Also created its own version of stress.

The most successful diets I've done in my life (including losing about 150 lbs at one point and keeping it off for over 10 years) have been in instances where I had some sort of motivation driving me that caused me to just buckle down and focus and not spend time considering going off track.

I also did a lot of reflection at various points on emotional eating that helped me at least identify some patterns there though basically the main thing I learned is to be prepared to mess up and forgive myself and then move on, repeatedly. Over a long period of time, I think I have seen improvement in that area, though nowadays I tend to let myself do a certain amount of more controlled emotional eating, which I think is sometimes in limited quantities a valid way to deal with life. And I exercise more or less consistently which is a good stress reliever, though it can be hard when you are stressed out and tired to start with.
posted by knownfossils at 1:16 PM on October 28, 2019

I am here to second everything metasarah says about Huel. I currently use it for breakfast and lunch and it's tremendously satisfying to know that the food situation is covered and I don't have to do anything beyond the bare minimum to keep myself nourished. I rely on dinners for variety.
posted by zeusianfog at 3:17 PM on October 28, 2019

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