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Everything About Shakeology Is an Insult and Wrong

Photograph by Twenty20

Has a friend encouraged you to try Shakeology yet? Mine have. The offers come hidden in friendly, seemingly supportive texts, conversations and Facebook posts. It all goes something like this:

"Just had a shake (I know!), and you won't believe how great I feel!"

“You’re a busy mom. Looking for an easy breakfast that will help you avoid sweets?”

“For all those moms who want to eat healthy and get fit, message me!”

It’s a subtle ploy to play on my interest in being fit and healthy, and to lose the rest of the baby weight, all while trying to juggle the life of a working mom of three. Trust me, it’s tempting.

If you've never been asked to try Shakeology, don't worry. At some point you will be. I’m surrounded by moms who use it, talk about it, post photos about it on Facebook and sell it. Friends used to try to sell it to me, but not any more. The last time a friend tried, I declined and told her it was better to eat real food.

“It’s made from real food,” my friend, caught a little off guard, insisted. “And it’s tasty enough to hide the fruits and veggies I add to it.”

“I eat real fruits and veggies,” I said. “And drinking a shake doesn’t satisfy the satiation parts of your brain.”

“Chocolate satisfies my brain even more,” my friend replied.

And that’s when I stopped. She had just proved my point that Shakeology doesn’t support healthy eating or a healthy lifestyle. It’s just another way for a company to target three of women’s supposed weak spots: appearance, the promise of easy money and anything related to chocolate.

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So what is Shakeology? It's the latest fad in meal replacement and promises to save the world—or at least solve everyone's food-related problems in a quick, chocolately (and expensive) solution. Shakeology is supposed to help you lose weight, fight food cravings and provide complete nutrition, all while saving busy moms' time.

There’s no training, certification or standardization of the information these coaches have on health or nutrition. They're just there to sell.

Don't get me wrong, I want to be healthy, look good and have an easy life as much as the next mom. And I’ve been trying to lose the same five pounds for a year. But I want to lose the weight so I can run, bike and swim faster—not just so that I can be thinner. While I've thought about trying it, I realized I never would because it represents so many things that bother me about the world.

I mean, first of all, it’s crazy expensive. At $4.65 a serving, Shakeology is one expensive half-meal. Sure, I can easily spend more than $4.50 on breakfast when I eat out. But I don’t spend that much on a meal, every day, when I’m trying to lose weight. And I definitely get more than 140 calories when I spend more than $4.50. For everyday meals, I've found several recipes online for less than $2 a serving, all using real food. It’s easy to spend around $1 per serving for ingredients for healthy smoothies that taste good and include enough calories to actually fuel your body.

Secondly, the whole Shakeology premise is basically a pyramid scheme or multi-level marketing or network-marketing. However you slice it, these kinds of programs really leave a bad taste in my mouth. Shakeology can only be purchased from the website or a “coach.” The coach can give customer discounts, but it’s better financially for the coach to build a team and get more people selling more Shakeology. So coaches aren’t just pushing shakes, they are pushing more people to sell shakes and become coaches. There’s no training, certification or standardization of the information these coaches have on health or nutrition. They're just there to sell.

Photograph by Twenty20

And then, let's circle back once more to the cost. Do you know what else is $4.50? The total amount families who need food assistance receive for their entire day of meals. Not that such a low amount is defensible, but it is perspective. That's not enough money for a family's meals in a day. But it's way too much for a vanity shake.

How about this? Instead of spending $4.50 on one shake, you could enjoy a delicious, satisfying smoothie with real food, vitamins and minerals for around $1 (as I explained above). Then, you could donate the money you saved to your local food bank, which will provide five meals for every $1 they receive. That’s more than 10 meals for people who live in food deserts—neighborhoods and towns where access to fresh, unprocessed food (i.e., grocery stores) is severely limited. For those whose nearest options for food are convenience stores selling chips, candy and soda, they don't get to choose between spending $4.50 on a shake or fresh foods. They are stuck with junk.

It just doesn’t make sense that people are choosing overpriced, bad-tasting shakes to lose weight instead of eating the right amounts of fresh, healthy foods at a time when when too many Americans are overweight exactly because they can’t access fresh, healthy foods.

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So what if people use Shakeology, you ask? I mean, is it really any of my business? My husband doesn’t think so.

“Talking about people’s diet choices is almost as controversial as politics and religion,” he warned me. “I think shakes and cleanses are stupid, but I also believe in the placebo effect. If someone I loved needed to lose a lot of weight to get healthy, and they started doing a shake a day and losing weight, then I wouldn’t breathe a word against it.”

She believes the nutrition in Shakeology surpasses anything available in our local grocery stores and wants to bring shakes to people in food deserts.

Fair enough. If it helped someone I loved lose a lot of weight or feel healthier, I could find a way to keep my mouth shut. But it hasn’t helped anyone I know in that way. Even if it did, I don’t think it’s a real, long-term solution. Studies show that we overeat because our senses are diverted from eating, so the food isn’t as satisfying. Paying more attention to the real food is a long-term solution.

“It’s just another product that tries to make us think we can’t do it on our own,” my friend Laura said to me, when I was complaining about the Shakeology oppression. “The system makes bad choices easier than good ones. We’re so easily manipulated.”

We need to put down the phone or stop reading email or watching TV or eating on the go. We need to sit down and look, smell and listen to our food as we eat it.

My friend Kathleen is a coach who uses and sells Shakeology. She believes the nutrition in Shakeology surpasses anything available in our local grocery stores and wants to bring shakes to people in food deserts.

“If you were facing hunger and were given a $4 sub from Subway and a $4 shake with incredible nutrition, which would you choose?” she asked. I said hungry people would choose the sub. They don’t have money to waste on a shake that only tastes good when you have to buy even more food like peanut butter or fresh fruit (that may not be available).

In fact, research from hunger-relief organization Feeding America shows that food-insecure people choose unhealthy meals because they are cheaper and they make their families feel satisfied.

When I explained what I was eating and why to my children at dinner, and that people in our community eat like this every day, they cried.

And giving them shakes doesn’t solve their long-term food-access problem. Nor does it help them choose healthier foods.

That brings me to my last argument against Shakeology. Using a shake in place of a meal doesn't teach anyone how to make healthy choices. It’s a really expensive shortcut to weight loss instead of an investment in healthy habits.

A few years ago, I participated in the SNAP Challenge as a way to learn more about food insecurity in my community. I only allowed myself to buy and eat food that I could afford based on the $4.50 daily amount people receive from SNAP for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

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My food was oatmeal with peanut butter for breakfast, eggs and spinach for lunch, and pasta and beans at dinner. I found a package of frozen spinach for 89 cents. That was the only "fresh" produce I could afford. And I can tell you, after eating like that for only four days, if someone offered me the choice between a Subway sandwich and a shake, I would have ripped that sub out of their hands and gobbled it down.

When I explained what I was eating and why to my children at dinner, and that people in our community eat like this every day, they cried. What we eat and how we eat has a huge impact on our children and their health. They still talk about this challenge more than two years later. It motivated them to care about hungry people and to be grateful that we can choose healthy, real foods.

So, no, I won’t ever use Shakeology. Instead, I’ll support community gardens and our local food bank. I’ll eat real food with my family. I’ll teach my kids how to build healthy habits—we're lucky enough that we can afford them. And I’ll be grateful for every meal we share.

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