A Month of Soylent
I’ve been one month now on an (almost) exclusively Soylent diet.
Soylent is a drink engineered to be everything the human body needs for food. They don’t explicitly recommend that a person eats nothing besides Soylent, but they certainly don’t say it can’t be done, and there are plenty of folks that do it.
Soylent is billed as a “healthy, convenient, and affordable food”. In my experience, it’s quite easily all three. I’m pretty excited about this stuff.
Let me start by saying that I’m not a diet guy. I’ve made various attempts in the past to count my caloric intake, but I can’t remember the last time I imposed any kind of constraints on what I ate. In my opinion, counting calories sucks. It’s quite a chore stopping to think about what I’m eating, try to find its rough equivalent in a table somewhere, recording it, and trying to time the intake so that you end the day at the right number.
@kennyspade first introduced me to Soylent a full year ago. He brought the topic up in response to my mention of Mark Zuckerberg wearing the same attire each day to alleviate decision fatigue. Soylent is similar in its ability to eliminate the decisions we make about what we eat.
Kenny handed me a bottle of Soylent’s premixed product that they dub version 2.0 to try. I don’t remember being particular taken by the flavor or the texture, but I wasn’t turned off either.
Finally, the beginning of this September, I decided to try Soylent longer term, and I set my sites pretty high. I decided to reduce my diet to almost exclusively Soylent and water.
Soylent is available as a powder or a drink with the former being cheaper and the latter being more convenient. I opted for convenience for now.
I expected to be in for a bit of a personal battle. You see, I’m not that disciplined when it comes to eating. I’m basically just not accustomed to thinking about what I eat. I like sugar, so when candy is offered or available, I take it. If a bowl or a bag is offered, I take a few. I work hard and stay up late, so I drink coffee - perhaps 3 cups a day. And I like rich food in large portions. I was never overly excessive, but I haven’t been thrilled with my fitness either.
Well, it’s October now, so let me fill you in on my September…
I started out not minding the taste, texture, and overall experience of Soylent 2.0 at all, but I ended up, somehow, absolutely loving it. Soylent tastes a bit like the milk left in your bowl after you’ve eaten Frosted Flakes, but a bit less sweet. I have a bottle every 4 hours, and after about 2 I’m really looking forward to the next one… not because I’m starving - I’m not - but because I enjoy the drink. The mouth feel is excellent too. It’s a little bit grainy in a good way, and I much prefer that to the overly thin texture I find in the other (usually milk-based) protein or meal replacement drinks I’ve tasted.
I decided to eat four 400 kcal Soylent drinks each day at 7am, 11am, 3pm, and 7pm. That’s 4 hours between meals and 1600 calories a day. The product is engineered to be 20% of the food a person needs for a day - 20% of the calories and 20% of the vitamins and nutrients - but I wanted to reduce my intake a bit and trim some fat.
After 4 hours of fasting, my stomach is ready for some substance, and whether I take my time drinking a bottle or throw it back in a hurry (in the TSA security line!) it does satisfy. I don’t feel full per say as I pitch the bottle into the recycle bin, but I don’t feel hungry either. I feel perfectly content for at least 2 hours and then start slowly getting hungry as I approach the 4 hour mark.
If I decided on a standard 2000 kcal diet, that would be 5 Soylents a day and a meal every 3 hours. That would be even easier.
The entire effort was much easier than I thought. I could hardly call it a battle, actually, as I initially thought it would be. The reason for this I attribute to the simplicity of my rule set…
- I will eat only Soylent and drink only water
- As a single exception to rule 1, if I get too hungry at any point, I’ll allow myself to eat broccoli. You can hardly go wrong with steamed, plain broccoli. It’s very healthy and doesn’t exactly pose a temptation.
- If I have culinary social opportunities (team dinners, family outings, etc.) I’ll go and I’ll engage, but I just won’t eat. Believe it or not, you can still enjoy a conversation across the table from someone without eating. It grinds against habit perhaps, but it works. Admitted, it does take a little bit away from a romantic dinner, but actually, that’s a bit strange isn’t it? For some reason, it’s not as fun eating with someone when you’re doing all the eating. My wife was kind and accommodating though.
In previous attempts to eat well, I had to spend extra time considering each morsel that passed in front of me.
“Should I eat that cracker?”
“Should I eat a cookie?”
“Should I eat another cookie?”
“Just one more pretzel?”
“My own carton of fries or share with my wife?”
But this time it was different. The answer was always the same - “no”.
No soda. No coffee. No cereal. No cookie. No nothing.
No chicken, no carrots, no milk. No to seconds. No to firsts! No nothing. The answer is always no.
That greatly simplifies things and leaves my mind free to really concentrate on the project at hand or on what my 4 year old is trying to say to me.
There’s a whole lot of ceremony around food that I wasn’t aware of until I got on the outside of it all.
Several time per day we think about food - we consider our hunger, we decide to eat, we decide what, we decide when, we decide where, we transport, we stand in line or wait on a server, we acquire, we consume, we ask to be excused while we chew and try to talk to others, and finally we clean up the mess on our table and on our hands. And after hardly any time at all, we start thinking about our next meal!
I also neglected to notice just how often we come up with the idea to find coffee. Is there a machine nearby? Is there a Starbucks nearby? And then again with the relatively long process of acquisition and consumption.
Food acquisition is still a cinch compared to ancient times when our food was running around with teeth. But the reality is that times are different and there may just be room for some efficiency improvements.
I wonder if you’re thinking, “Yeah, but I like eating, and I don’t have any desire to give it up.”
I like eating too. September was a bit exceptional, but as a normal course I think it’s a good idea to use Soylent for all of the boring meals - the ones where you just need to put food in the belly - and then truly enjoy all the other meals - the recreational meals. It’s interesting too that my enjoyment of them is inversely proportional to their frequency. A weekly turkey sandwich tastes way better than a daily one.
There are a number of scenarios that I ran across during my experiment that accentuated the convenience of my new found food.
- Sometimes you don’t have time for breakfast. A Soylent is about as convenient as a bar.
- Same thing when you’re heads-down at work and acquiring lunch feels like a real chore.
- Reducing your diet to a very narrow menu of Soylent and water allows you to experiment with possible food allergies.
- Lunch meetings at work afford ample opportunity to show off bad habits or spill food on your lap. Starting your own lunch at 11:00 and finishing at 11:01 frees you up to focus on colleagues, partners, or the topics at hand.
- When you’re running around town running errands or having fun, stopping at a restaurant doesn’t have to be another thing on your list. Unless, that is, the rest of your family is on something other than a Soylent diet :)
Overall, it’s just nice to be in control of your own daily diet.
Shelling out the money for a month’s worth of Soylents ($323 for 1600 kcal/day) feels like a lot. Consider, however, that this includes the convenience of the premixed option (a month of powder @1500 kcal/day is ~$180/mo), and may or may not be kinder on your budget than whatever else you were going to eat that month.
Although weight loss was not my primary goal in this endeavor, I have lost 5 pounds over 4 weeks. That’s a healthy weight loss rate, and I always have the option to maintain my 1600 calorie diet or bump it up to 2000. Soylent is not a weight loss product - it’s just food, but it makes calorie counting much easier.
Air travel is not easy if you’re doing the liquid version of Soylent, because you can’t take liquid through security. I’m forced to check a bag and make sure that there’s not too much time between when I go through security and when I visit baggage claim on the other end, which is often more than 4 hours. If you like to get to the airport 2 hours early like me, then you are constrained to flights that are roughly 2 hours or less. This is a good reason to get some of the powder version (1.6), which is exactly what I intend to do.
The bottles are recyclable. I recommend giving them a quick rinse before finding your nearest recycling bin.
When I get my hands on some powder I intend to mix up a day at a time and then use some of my 2.0 bottles for mixing
I chilled my Soylent bottles in the fridge when I started, because I read that it’s better cold. It is good when it’s cold, but I later discovered that I like it at least as much when it’s room temperature. I think comes back to the texture. For some reason, when it’s cold it feels smoother in the mouth, but I like my Soylent to feel like food in my mouth. It’s more convenient leaving them at room temperature too, because you can just throw the day’s worth of food in your backpack and take off.
Soylent also offers bars that are 250 kcal and I’m told are quite delicious. I like having the option of finer control of caloric intake by adding in this smaller increment.
I’m not 100% certain about how I want to proceed now. Like I mentioned, I expected this to be a chore, and expected to be rather excited about getting back to normal eating when September was over. On the contrary, I quite enjoy my new freedom from food ceremony, and I’m sure I’ll continue supplementing some portion of my days kcal intake at least. I like how easy it is to come up with a daily plan of something like…
- 2 Soylent 2.0 drinks (800 kcal) + 1 bar (250 kcal) + 1 light dinner
- 3 Soylent 2.0 drinks (800 kcal) + 1 big dinner
I’m pretty sure I’ll either do one of those or perhaps just keep on with a fully Soylent diet! We’ll have to see.