No Food for 30 Days. My Soylent Experiment

As a child, I didn’t go out to eat a lot so when I did, it was special.  Even going to a fast food place seemed like a big deal.  Now it is just something I do mindlessly during my lunch breaks or on the way to or from my kid’s baseball game.  That is the adult version of normal for me and it has always been normal for my children.  As a result, it now takes a more expensive outing to the Outback Steakhouse or the Olive Garden for us to get the same ‘special’ effect that McDonald’s used to provide.  Some call this phenomenon Lifestyle Creep or Lifestyle Inflation.  It is also called Hedonic Adaptation,  and doesn’t just apply to food.  It can be applied to housing, transportation, clothing, cell phones, appliances, and pretty much any consumer product.  Basically, it means that if we ‘keep the bar low’, it will take less to satisfy us, to give us the same temporary high that eventually fades no matter how much more we get.

As I think about it now, I realize that a rare Caramello and Coke from the ‘Gas ‘n Grub’ brought me more joy when I was a kid than dining in a fancy restaurant does now.  Is there a way I can reset my relationship with food?  A way to ‘lower the bar’ culinarily speaking so that I can get excited about eating basic things, possibly even healthier things.  What if I ate the same ‘boring’ thing, breakfast, lunch and dinner, for a month?  At the end of that month, would I be so happy about eating something different that a simple bowl of buttery grits or a serving of baked beans will provide the same satisfaction that I currently get when I go to my favorite restaurant?

I have tried eating the same daily menu before and didn’t quite stick with it, quitting after a week and a half.  Things will need to be different this time around if I am going to stand a chance.  Whatever I eat will have to be more convenient, quicker and easier than the oatmeal, chicken, broccoli, rice and beans of my last attempt.  And it will need to be nutritious enough to quell any concerns of nutritional deficiencies (not that I have really spent the last few months too concerned as I was increasing my intake of unhealthy foods and beverages).

A little online research starting with “efficient meal plans” led me to learning about Soylent for the first time.  You can learn about it on their website so I won’t go into too much detail here.  Basically, it is a food replacement beverage that has been out for a few years that sounded interesting and controversial.  It supposedly has everything your body needs and nothing it doesn’t.  The product seemed to make sense and its simplicity and apparent nutritional completeness lended itself perfectly to the experiment I was looking to perform.

I decided to order enough for 30 days and when the time was right, I would  ingest nothing but Soylent and water for either 30 days straight, or until I fell off the wagon, whichever came first.  It would surely test my willpower.  “Could I even do this?  Am I going to waste the $216 the 28 daily servings will cost?  I thought to myself, “If babies can go months on nothing but breast milk and/or formula, surely I could drink Soylent for a month.”  Another angle:  I could be a prisoner being fed mystery slop-in-a-cup every day while being trapped in a cell.  Except, in my case, I wouldn’t be a prisoner and I had a pretty good idea of what I was ingesting, so it wouldn’t be that bad at all.   Seemed downright pleasant actually, being free to roam around the world as I wish.  Just a matter of perspective.  I would draw strength from these same thoughts many times throughout the next 30 days.

There are many reasons I was looking forward to doing this.

  1. Test my willpower:  Do I have what it takes to stick with it?  On one hand, 30 days seems like a long time, but on the other hand, it is only 0.1 percent of a 79 year life-span (somebody check my math please).  Will I quit after a day and a half like Katie did?  Would I make it more than a week?  Would I be disciplined enough to make it over three weeks like Alex in Nashville, TN?   Or would I actually see it through all 30 days (or more) like Soylent creater Rob Rhinehart himself?  Who the hell knows?  I have my doubts.  A few friends I have talked to about it say all the right things, usually something to the effect of “You are the type of person who does whatever he sets his mind to.” Thanks guys, no pressure, no pressure at all.  Note:  If you are an athlete wondering how this approach might affect your workouts, you will surely find Nashvillian runner Josh’s article more relevant than some of these others. 
  2. Satisfy my curiosity:  I know, I know.  Curiosity killed the cat.  But satisfying it in this case would keep me from always wondering what it would be like if I did drink Soylent for 30 days.    I have no real expectations other than not dying.  I can read online about other people who have done it, but I don’t want years to go by and still wonder.  I can go ahead and get it over with and in 30 short days, I will know for sure.
  3. Reset my relationship with food:  In the last year (since April 2015),my weight has increased slowly from the low 170’s to the upper 180’s because of a combination not exercising and careless eating.  I have often heard that losing weight is 80 percent diet and 20 percent exercise so it makes sense I should focus on the diet part (reducing life’s moving parts, not adding to them).  If I can distance myself from all of the Mountain Dews, Zaxby’s, Arby’s, McDonald’s, Georgia Bob’s Barbecue, Cookout, Sonic, Dairy Queen ..(you get the point) for thirty days, maybe healthier foods will seem more satisfying and I can begin to feel better and look better than I have these last few months.
  4. Have something to write about:  This is my first of hopefully many blog posts.  Sharing an experience like this is a good way for you to see what type of things you can expect  to read when you visit The Southern Stache.  I am open to suggestions for other experiments as well.  Just the other day, a friend suggested I try polyphasic sleeping.  I had to look it up, and while it sounds neat, I don’t think I could make it fit into my current daily schedule.  Maybe one day though so thanks for the suggestion (you know who you are).
  5. Strengthen my FI/RE muscles:  Another large focus of this blog, besides sharing our random thoughtful challenges, will be to discuss how to achieve Financial Independence or “FI”.  A key to accelerating that journey is to constantly be mindful of Needs vs. Wants.  We are an educated lot so we all know what a need is and we all know what a want is.  However, we don’t always filter our decisions through this little test.  This 30 day experiment does that with food.  If separating needs vs. wants in other areas of our lives is a good thing, surely there are benefits to doing so with food as well.  Our body NEEDS fuel, but we WANT taste, socialization, energy spikes, etc.  If I can associate food with only being my body’s fuel, would I realize any unexpected benefits?  Would I experienced increased efficiencies?  Would applying this principle to something as constant as food help me apply it more consistently to other areas?

GETTING STARTED:

Day T – 7:  Ordered the 28 servings of Soylent 1.5 (the current powder version)for $216.00 .  They supply a metal scoop and 2 liter pitcher with the initial purchase.  It was your basic online ordering process.  No surprises.  Takes 5-7 business days to arrive.  I didn’t think to use any discounts, but there may be some online if you search for them.

The beginning of the end of food as I know it.
The beginning of the end of food as I know it.

Day T – 2:  Package arrival.  The expiration date on the packages was May 2016, which seemed pretty soon considering it was the beginning of April and they are supposed to have a long shelf life.  Are they just not selling enough causing a large supply of old batches? Did they stop making the 1.5 formula and begin stocking a new powdered formula?  I don’t have the answers.  I expected I would consume all of it before expiration, so no real concerns.

The big box included 4 boxes (7 bags in each), a 2 Liter pitcher and a metal scoop.
The big box included 4 boxes (7 bags in each), a 2 Liter pitcher and a metal scoop.

Day T – 1:  “Just Do It!” – says a coworker who I think is interested, but I think wants me to be the guinea pig first.  So I “Just did it!”  I made my first batch on April 7th, 2016, in the evening. so it could chill in the fridge overnight while also dissolving more completely.

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Very first pitcher of Soylent. I did remove that cake the next day. Oh so tempting red velvet.

Day 1:  The next morning, while brushing my teeth, I realized that this act will become almost exciting since it will likely be the most tasteful part of my day. Is it possible to brush teeth too much? I sure hope not. My teeth are going to be crazy clean by the end of the month.

Grabbed the jug from the fridge. It visibly settled a bit overnight, so I re-shook for about ten seconds. Poured myself a cup and said “this is it”.

Took me about 1.5 minutes to drink the glassful. It went down smooth, a little gritty, which was washed down easily with the glass of water that followed.

Decision time. Do I leave the pitcher in the fridge and drive home at lunch time to drink it? Not very efficient and wasn’t increasing efficiencies one of my reasons for doing this experiment? So, I poured me another drink with the idea that I would sip on it at my desk until about noon. This left just over half of a pitcher remaining. It was too big to fit my coworker’s mini-fridge, so I poured the rest into an old orange juice bottle (shorter in height so it would likely fit in the small refrigerator at work…it did fit). I unscrewed the top and the handle from the container, rinsed all three pieces and set them on the counter to dry.  Thinking about preparing tomorrows meal tonight. Just as I did last night. I will time how long it takes.

-And to work I went, with one cup and one Simply Orange jug full of Soylent. My sustenance for the rest of today. Simple enough.

-11:09 Day 1. It has been 3 hours since my first cup and I am still not hungry. Didn’t sip as I had expected. I will force myself to down the next (now lukewarm) cup by noon.

1120: A small, loose BM. Sort of diarrhea ish, but not a lot to it. Hoping this doesn’t continue.

-1145 Day 1. Drank my second glass full. Wasn’t really that hungry but did it anyway.

-1445 Day 1. Drank my third glassful. Wasn’t hungry.

– Went to son’s baseball game, turned down airhead candies and boiled peanuts, but didn’t really desire them anyway.

2100 (9 pm) Day one, once home after the game, I drank my fourth glass. Had a little bit remaining in the pitcher, which I saved for the next morning.

No other BM’s today.

Went to bed at 11pm.

 

Day 2:  Woke up at 6.30 a.m. after 7.5 hours of consistent sleep. Didn’t wake up once. Which was a major improvement over the last five or six nights. Not sure if I want to credit Soylent for the good rest. Maybe it is the lack of sodas. Either way, I was excited when I rolled over and saw that the clock said 6:30 a.m. instead of 3:15 a.m.

Wasn’t too hungry this morning so I didn’t drink any soylent until around 9. (the remaining half-ish glass from yesterday). Made a new serving, which I timed and it took me 4 minutes and 45 seconds to accomplish. Not bad for prepping an entire day’s food.

Drank a large cup on the way to another baseball game at noon (this was a Saturday). Took the kids to their school playground, looked at a property that was for sale, and made it back home. Drank another serving at 6. Making it 2.5 servings so far. Will drink one more before I go to bed.

it is 7:48 and still no BM today.

 

Day 13:  Admittedly, I have written much less up to this point than I initially expected. At the start, I figured I would have a page-long description of my day, every day, and share it here. Obviously that has not been the case. Probably for two reasons, the first of which is that I didn’t want this Soylent Experiment to garner a disproportionately large amount of my mental and time real-estate than it needed, because then if it seemed cumbersome, I might be more likely to find justifications for not sticking with it for the full thirty days. One of my main goals of this experiment is to try to disassociate food from as many things that I typically associate it with and get it down to where food is associated only with body fuel. Attaching a daily blog or any other tasks or obligations to the food only replaces one association with another, which is opposite of the goal. That first reason sounds good, but really, it might just be a cop-out excuse. My second, and more likely reason is that I just didn’t feel like doing it. The idea of 30 separate daily blogs, or paragraphs, saying basically the same thing day to day just didn’t seem like an efficient use of my time, or yours. So here are a few observations since Day 2’s post.

It has been eleven days since my last entry. How have things been for me? Did I give up? Have I cheated? Surely you are thinking I might’ve.  I admit the thought crossed my mind a few times. The smell of a coworker’s microwaved lunch, the lure of chocolate-glazed doughnuts sitting just outside my office door, the enticing aroma at three separate work functions where pizza and subs, low country boil, and barbecue were provided, respectively, were all formidable temptations, but not as formidable as I expected. I hung out and socialized with coworkers and friends without giving in. Up to this point, (Wednesday April 20, 2016), I have ingested nothing but Soylent and water* since Day 1. Before starting, I figured by this point I would be getting tired of the same thing every day and try to add some variety by blending in a banana, some peanut butter, or chocolate syrup (which might be a good way to get my kids to try it), but I really haven’t felt the desire. Hopefully that will continue.

Basically, life is the same as before with the exception of what I am eating. Visiting with friends, practicing the banjo, hanging with my kids, getting work done, binge watching Orphan Black on Amazon Prime; these things all still happen. Sure some discussions turn to my Soylent experiment and I make jokes about how all this weight I have lost is getting put back on the first week after returning to traditional food (in 17 days but who’s counting?), but overall, daily life and routines haven’t changed much. To ensure I don’t go too crazy eating after this, I will follow up and post my weight information for the month after the experiment.

There have been a few positives, aside from the time saved by not spending much time on food prep, cooking, and cleanup. For one, my skin has been noticeably clearer. Fortunately for me, since high school, acne hasn’t been much of a problem. Usually only a bump or two will be present on my forehead or jawline, but there hasn’t been any in days. However, dandruff, unlike acne, has plagued me for as long as I can remember. Looking into the mirror yesterday, I tried to find some flakes…and I couldn’t. So as of yesterday, I consider Soylent very healthy for my skin, and a cure for my dandruff. If you tend to spend a lot of money on medicated dandruff shampoos, you might consider subtracting whatever you typically spend on it from your Soylent costs, when making the financial case for or against incorporating Soylent into your diet.

As I stated before, when I began, I didn’t feel the need to drink an entire day’s serving, and I still don’t. As a result, I estimate I’ve been consuming around 1700 calories per day. Many fewer than my 6-2 body was used to getting. This could be the cause of some lightheadedness I have been experiencing (a few times each day, and usually when I stand up quickly). I don’t know. When I feel this way, a glass of Soylent and/or a glass of water seems to help. It isn’t so bad that it worries me, just something worth noting.

Another possibly unrelated thing worth sharing, is that during week one, I noticed I was a little bit more on edge than normal. A few unexpected events may have contributed. A rental property’s septic issues were brought to light and a few things were taken from my home during an intrusion. So dealing with those events may have been a catalyst for my moodiness last week. This week has seemed much more mellow, so maybe the Soylent had nothing to do with it. Again, just sharing with you the possibility that there could be an adjustment period during which your mood may be affected. It wasn’t enough to keep me from sticking with it.

Overall, the first thirteen days on Soylent and water have been less challenging than I originally expected, which is a good thing because it doesn’t test my willpower too much.

*I did take one of those daily allergy pills for a scratchy throat a few days ago.

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Atta Boy, Son!

Day 30:  Today, a completely spontaneous “Mother’s Day Eve” day-trip to Tybee Island ended with the family dining at The Crab Shack as the kids enjoyed eating mac-n-cheese, shrimp and crab legs with their mommy.  My resolve may have been tested had I not been allergic to shrimp, but it was completely tolerable and my ice water was very refreshing after a few hours in the sun.  My son, very surprisingly, without any hesitation at all, shelled, ate, and sucked the juice out of the crawfish for the first time.  And he LIKED it!  Amazing.  We were all a little tired after the drive back, so we opted not to go have a midnight meal to celebrate the end of the 30th day.  But tomorrow is going to be GLORIOUS!

Day 31:  My, how time does fly!  Before this began, the task of going 30 days without eating food seemed daunting.  Now that it is over, it didn’t seem that long.  A part of me wonders what would happen if I continued for another 30 days, but larger part of me is very excited about eating food again and seeing if everything is going to taste crazy salty or super strong relative to what my taste buds have grown accustomed to.  Would the weight quickly pile back on?  Would I get stopped up in the next few days?  Would there be a blowout incident?  The question of “What happens when I have a Soylent-and-water-only diet?” has been replaced with “What happens when I return to my normal diet?”

TSS_Soylent_Reunion with Food_Day 31_20160508_082652
My first meal after 30 days without food.  It was a joyous occasion at the ‘double H’

Woke the kids up early at 0730 and they were so excited.  I chose, for my first meal, a Huddle House flat ham, cheese, and mushroom omelet, grits and raisin toast with water.  I later drank a Mountain Dew between breakfast and lunch.  For a late lunch I had pork loin with rice and gravy, green beans, corn, and key lime pie for dessert…plus a Pepsi.  Yeah,  going all out today.  Then later in the day, after the kids spent the day eating and playing by the pool with their mother for Mother’s Day, although I don’t think any of us were truly hungry, I had to make good on a few-week-old promise to celebrate with the kids at the new Five Guys’ Burgers restaurant.  I hadn’t yet eaten there, and it was sort of a special occasion, so we went.  A cheeseburger, large bag of greasy fries, and a few free peanuts later, I was done with food for the day, maybe for a few days even.

The experiment is over and I am proud of what I accomplished from a discipline standpoint alone.  Additionally, I am glad that my curiosity — that could never truly be satisfied from reading others’ experiences or Reddit comments–has been replaced with knowledge acquired first-hand.  Now, when I notice my waistline expanding, or when I feel groggy or am not sleeping well, I won’t wonder if Soylent is a good option to improve those things.  I can now draw from my 30 days of Soylent experiment and know that it is a great option for me.

Weight:  I lost 13 pounds (from 186.6 down to 173.6).  I drank mostly when I felt hungry, rarely consuming the entire 2 Liters (2,000 calories) in any given day.  As a matter of fact, I purchased 28 bags, hoping I could stretch it across the 30 days.  Turns out I only consumed 22.25 bags, giving 5 of the unused bags away to friends and dumping the last 3/4th pitcher down the sink on day 31.  22.25 bags containing 2,000 calories per bag means I took in  44,500 calories.  That is a daily average of 1,483.33 calories.  Other than riding my bike five miles to and from my desk job for four days, I did no exercise.  I haven’t been this light since a year ago when I was training to complete my first marathon, after which I stopped running altogether.  It will be interesting to see if I do what it takes to keep it off.  I was noticing I was getting a little thicker in my midsection, and there really is a visible reduction, so I am happy about that.   My son actually had the idea that this was something I could do for one month out of each year.  I think that is a great idea.

I lost 13 pounds in 30 days on Soylent.
13.0 pounds lighter in 30 days.

Energy:  During the first week, it felt so good to close my eyes throughout the day.  I thought I could take a nap at any time.  It was actually kind of nice because I hadn’t been sleeping well up to that point and it made me excited that maybe I will be tired enough to sleep through the nights again.  I was.

The second week, I noticed I was a bit edgy.  My usually short temper with my kids seemed even shorter.  I became aware of this early on in the week and compensated for it, so I don’t think it got too out of hand, but it is worth noting.   I did feel less tired throughout the day during this week.

During the final two weeks, my energy levels bounced back and my edge subsided.  Things seemed pretty normal.  I am usually a pretty happy guy at work but a few folks commented that they are looking forward to me being off the Soylent because they think my positivity has been a bit muffled.  It was a busy month with a lot of variables.  I think what they saw was caused more by other things than the Soylent, but maybe there is some credibility to their observations.  Either way, it brought to light that my mood at work is noticed and is important.

The question you want to know, but probably won’t ask down in the comments.  If poop talk grosses you out, skip this paragraph:   A few critics on the interwebs believe that because of some of the ingredients used (which ingredients I don’t remember), Soylent will cause your butt to leak or result in major bouts of diarrhea or loose stools.  Soylent’s inventor has said that you will poop much less while drinking Soylent.  I always considered myself normal when it came to that particular body function.  Maybe four or five times a week on average.  On the first day, I did experience a very mild upset stomach for only a few minutes.  After that, a dry spell of a couple of days.  From then on, no upset stomachs.  No butt leakage or diarrhea.  Movements were a once a day, almost every day occurrence.  And without getting into too much detail, I will say that it was a much cleaner process than usual (less toilet paper required).

Bloodwork:  Bloodwork was performed a few weeks ago during my annual well-check (required to participate in my employer’s HSA option). It will be interesting to see what the blood test shows.  I will update here once I have the results.

Now What?  I plan on returning back to my normal diet for at least one week immediately following the Soylent.  No easing into it, just going full steam ahead.  If I see it, and I want it, then I am going to eat it.  Soda’s, donuts, chips, whatever.  After gaging how that makes me feel, I will later make adjustments to my eating and see if I want to continue to re-incorporate Soylent into my diet.

 

Interesting To Note:  Today, I was reading through some older Raptitude posts on my new Feedly account and came across one I had not yet read.  It was one late last year (2015) where he provided all in one post, the status on the self-experiments he undertook over the seven years since his blog’s inception.  Of his 21 experiments, I noticed that my Soylent experiment was effectively a combination of four experiments he had done.

  • Experiment 3:  Go thirty days without consuming caffeine or alcohol
  • Experiment 4: (partially-I followed Rules 3 and 4):  For 30 days, eat according to these four rules: 1) Eat whatever foods you like, but 2) stop when you are about 75% full, 3)eat only in response to the feeling of hunger (not social cues or anything else, and 4) drink nothing but water.
  • Experiment 10: (Soylent 1.5 is vegan):  Eat a vegan diet for 30 days.
  • Experiment 18: ( I got three-thirds of my calories from Soylent)  Get two-thirds of my calories from a liquid food concoction that supposedly provides all the micro-and macronutrients we are known to need.

Pretty efficient I must say.

Soylent_Reunion with food_Day31_20160508_083048

2 thoughts on “No Food for 30 Days. My Soylent Experiment”

  1. Hey Stephen, congratulations on this physical, and even more so mental challenge. After reading a dozen posts or so of those sharing their experiences, this is the by far the most informative. I do have one question. When you started drinking caffeine again, did you notice a bigger effect from the same dose (can of Mountain Dew) than you had before the Soylent challenge? If so, how long did it take for you to build up a caffeine tolerance again?

    1. Thanks for the Compliment David. To answer your caffeine question, my tolerance apparently dropped quite a bit. The first night’s sleep was hindered likely by the few Sodas I drank during the day. I have been working diligently to build up my caffeine tolerance since.

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