My Soylent Experiment

For the most part I try to write about things that people can relate to. Ways to help them view their finances so that they can manage their money better or save more. This is probably not one of those stories. Though, to be fair, this would potentially save most people time and money. :)

Look, I'm a weird guy. I like to do weird things. Sometimes I just do things because I think it will make a good story or to see if I can actually do it. I mean, if one of your friends started a story with "Back when I was in that cult in college..." I know that immediately I would be interested in what comes next. It probably doesn't even matter what the actual story was, I would have follow up questions about the cult. Anyways....

On December 28th, 2014. I gave up eating food... Or at least, I began to.


Soylent
(click for larger image)
Let me rewind all the way back to Easter Sunday of 2014 when the idea was hatched. I was talking with by brother about how now that I've gotten older, I can't just eat candy all day without feeling sick to my stomach. From here the conversation veered towards us asking if anyone had done a "cleanse" since those seem to be all the rage these days. And how you're supposed to feel so much better after one.

"There's no way I could do it." I said. "I could never make it a week or two with only drinking lemon water, rice and some other god awful shit. I wish I could just be put into a medically induced coma and be fed through a tube so that when they woke me up in a week my system was flushed out. It would feel like an instant cleanse!"

This idea was not met with much resistance. My cousin seemed to like the idea, though I'm sure if it came down to it, no one would have the balls to actually put themselves in a coma just to do a cleanse. Then my brother asked me if I had heard of Soylent, a food substitute. I had, but I had also never really looked into it.

Basically it's exactly what I said it was, a food substitute (not people). It's a powder that you mix with water and oil which contains proteins, carbohydrates, fats, fiber, vitamins and minerals, but without a lot of the undesirables such as sugars, saturated fats, or cholesterol that you might get with most other food. To get more details you should really check out their site, but the gist is that it's meant to replace food that people traditionally eat at a much lower price.

I was eating horribly before. My breakfast would consist of getting to the office and eating breakfast bars or something along those lines, and lunch was usually a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and whatever snacks they had around the office for almost all of last year. When I got home dinner was usually some frozen food that I would heat up, though in the past year I was getting much better at cooking my own food so dinner became a decent meal, though it was probably still not particularly balanced as I'm not so good at getting the proper amounts of fruits and vegetables.

Switching to Soylent made at least my breakfasts and lunch infinitely more balanced and healthy for me. Dinner was probably much more balanced of a meal as well, so I view this as an upgrade to my old diet. And when you buy in bulk, food prices come in at just over $9 per day or $255 per month for ALL of your food requirements. Compared to most people I know, this is usually cheap for an entire month of food, but for some people (many personal finance bloggers included) this may not be the cheapest option. For me, this actually increased my food budget since my breakfasts were usually stuff from work and PB&J sandwiches probably ended up only costing me $0.60 a day. But since I'm getting a more well rounded diet I am fine with the increase.

My Experience

Version 1.1 - My food comes with versions which I think is kind of weird, funny, and awesome, all at the same time. When you first mix up Soylent it comes out as this beige-ish color, there's a little grainy-ness to it but all in all I thought it almost tasted a little like watered down cake batter. I really didn't mind the taste so I drink it plain, though some people add chocolate syrup or peanut butter to give it a flavor that appeals to them more. Maybe if I get bored I'll try that sometime but for now I'm fine with it as is. It's also much better when it's cold. I usually mix up a pitcher after I've finished the previous one, this usually means it can chill in the fridge for at least 3 hours before I feel like drinking it. Also that 3 hours gives it some time to let any powder that I didn't thoroughly mix in get absorbed in so the next shake before a meal finishes the mixing.

Everywhere in Soylent's forums they mention starting off easy and not switching your full diet to Soylent all at once. Well, I'm not one for following advice so I just dove right in and started making all of my meals Soylent.

Day 1: I was headed to a birthday party that night so I decided I should drink a "meal" before I left to the bar. I had a late "lunch" meal that day so I drank about half a days worth of "food" within a 4 hour span. I quickly learned on the first day that you can get uncomfortably full drinking Soylent.

Day 2: Excessive gas. Maybe this is TMI but I had a very large volume of gas, but the worst part was that this gas smelled bad... Probably some of the worst smelling I've ever had.

Day 3: I wonder if this is what my dog feels like when I introduce new food in her diet? Soylent goes in, Soylent goes out. I had to take a break and eat regular food on day three. My bowels were paying the price for making such a dramatic shift in food. Luckily it only took a single meal to help my bowels feel better.

Week 2-3: After a while my body started to adjust to the new source of food. The gas lessened a little but that's still somewhat of an issue. I'm eating a regular meal about once every 4 days or so to keep my digestion more comfortable still.

Week 4-5: I've just switched from Soylent version 1.1 to version 1.3 (version 1.2 was released and discontinued pretty quickly) they have changed the formula slightly based on user feedback. They have added 1 more gram of fiber (per meal) to the mix so it's slightly thicker and fills you up more. It's also a little grainier which I'm also okay with. They also changed the source of where they get the omega-3 oil that goes into the mix. It no longer comes from fish oil and is processed from an algae that they harvest themselves.

Week 6-7: I think my body is finally adjusted to my new diet. Gas isn't really an issue anymore. I actually have not eaten solid food since the Superbowl (Feb. 1st).

Going Forward

At this point I want to finish at least this month without eating normal food. Mostly just so I can say that I went a month without eating food. But who knows how long I'll really last on an all Soylent diet.

In a way I sort of view myself as being in a position that's similar to a Tesla owner. WHAT!? How can that be? Okay let me explain. As soon as you tell people you stopped eating food you have to explain yourself, you have to make it seem like you did this out of some sort of logical reasoning. You become a spokesperson for Soylent, much like how Telsa owners become sort of spokespeople for Teslas. (Though one is probably an easier sell than the other)

Common Questions

Don't you miss food? - I used to view food as just sustenance, it was pretty much just something that kept me going. The idea of fancy dinners was mostly wasted on me, I did appreciate nice food, but for some reason paying exorbitant amounts for a meal just didn't appeal to me. I do miss the things that are horrible for me like bacon or just super fatty unhealthy foods but that's simply what I used to eat. But now that I've actually switched to something that is actually much more close to being just "sustenance", I do miss food. I actually appreciate food a lot more now that I've stopped eating it. The few meals that I have ate this year I have made sure they were "worth it".

How are you alive? How have you not wasted away? That can't be healthy? - How do people in coma's live off of feeding tubes? It's the same thing in essence, I'm just voluntarily doing it. Before I switched to this diet I had a pretty unbalanced diet. Like I said, I used to view food as just sustenance to keep me going so making dinner every night just seemed like a tedious hour everyday. Now I can get the same amount of calories with a single drink. I'm not starving, I'm never really hungry, I haven't lost weight, and my skin actually seems clearer than it used to be. Some people on the Soylent online forums talk about having so much more energy after switching to Soylent. I have my own energy level issues normally so I haven't noticed this difference. But when I do eat food I do notice a food coma-ish type of effect, when you are on Soylent that no longer happens anymore, so that's a plus.

Other Observations

I have more spare time after work. It's nice to get home and have an extra hour to spend on something that is not a grocery store run, making dinner, or washing dishes. Most people might call that lazy, but I just view it as making meals more efficient, it really only takes me 5 minutes to make a full days worth of food now.

I've accidentally become a vegan. I didn't intend to become a vegan, but it's just sort of an unintentional after effect of switching to Soylent. Honestly, I'm not sure what I think about that since I used to always say I was a firm believer of the food chain and that humans are near the top of it (just below zombies).

If you tell someone that you are drinking a protein shake - that's normal. No one cares. If you tell someone you are drinking a food substitute you are a social pariah.

Speaking of being a social pariah. I feel like even after my experiment I will still probably have Soylent in my diet to some degree, it's very convenient to make, and sometimes it's perfect for a quick meal before bed after a long night at the bar. This actually really helps prevent hangovers for me, also if I'm sick (either because of a long night of drinking or just actually being sick) it's an easy way to get food in you when you don't feel like eating. And getting nutrition in your body will help it get better quicker.

I don't think I will stay on 100% Soylent much longer because it makes you a social pariah. Most people go out to eat, it's just a default thing that most friends or acquaintances do. Telling people you don't eat instantly makes you an outcast. Even friends have a hard time reacting to this one.

There are some extreme things that people do to reach financial independence as fast as they can. J$ over at Budgets are Sexy recently reminded me that:

Extreme actions yield extreme results

As far as how this can help your path to financial independence, there's the first point of that it might possibly be much cheaper than your current food budget. It's also an extremely efficient method to get food because you spend less time needing to buy food, prepare good, eat food, and clean up food. Because it's so efficient you can easily find yourself with an extra hour every day to work on something else.

I know that this isn't for everyone but to me this is a very interesting experiment. And hey, I've actually found a much greater appreciation for food now!

15 comments:

  1. There are quite a few different cleanse-like programs that I've gone through as well. Honestly, what I've found works the best is just juicing good old fashioned veggies in a vegetable juicer. It's still food, but only the nutrient-rich part of the food...and a hell of a lot cheaper.

    Understand about the going out to eat part, or at the very least just eating regular food with other people. What you could do is consider some kind of liquid-based diet for breakfast and lunch, but eat regular dinners every evening whether you're out with people or not.

    Good luck!

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    1. Steve,

      I plan on mixing it up, but for now I just want to say that I voluntarily gave up eating food for a month, I only have 1 more week to go so it should be pretty easy. But I will mix it up more once my initial experiment is over. I don't plan to go food-less permanently. But due to how easy it is to have a meal made, consumed and cleaned up after so quickly (while being a balanced meal) is something that I will probably have around as a backup for days when I just don't have the time.

      It really is helpful in optimizing food as I can't think of a more efficient thing. But I do miss food at this point and I know I will be a lot more appreciative of it once I'm done with my experiment.

      -Zee

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  2. I do enjoy fancy restaurant meals, but they're definitely not in the budget for us to make them a regular thing!

    I do think I'd be able to give up food for a stretch. I've lived on Ensure (butter pecan flavour is pretty awesome cold!) before and I kind of preferred it to eating...

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    1. CheapMom,

      I know some people that temporarily drank Ensure, but it wasn't a permanent thing. It was mostly a very hectic time in their lives and that was simply what they had time for.

      The one thing that was a big surprise to me was that how much more I think I appreciate food now that I've really switched so sustenance. It's a great thing to actually understand why foodies are foodies. Before I don't think I quite got it, but now I think that I do.

      -Zee

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  3. I can see some benefits to drinking your meals - it would definitely be a time saver. However, I don't like to mess with my digestion, especially as I've gotten older. I think I'd blow up on Soylent the way you described your first few weeks. Maybe if I wanted to replace a meal or two, but it'd be risky!

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    1. Yeah the digestion was a rough one to handle. I was considering stopping because of it but then my body started to adjust more so I stuck with it and now I'm back to normal.

      I think that if you only use it to replace a meal or two, or maybe just substitute out one meal with Soylent per day than you probably wouldn't have any of those issues. It's been interesting to try though!

      -Zee

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  4. Interesting stuff. I've never heard of this product before but am going to check it out. I'm not sure I would take it to the extreme that you do, but using it for a mean a day would be a big step in the right direction for me.

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    1. Jon,

      It's a weird thing to try which is probably why not a lot of people have heard about it. Also it really hasn't been around for very long. I think it's only been mass produced for maybe a year now and the levels at which they can make/ship it are still pretty small compared to the demand. Right now I think if you do a first time order you have to wait 8-10 weeks, and then all reorders take 2 weeks.

      I don't think I would ever really recommend people taking it to full extremes as I have, but I certainly think it's worth a try for people that perhaps skip breakfast or have unhealthy lunches. And it's just so efficient to make/clean up/drink.

      -Zee

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  5. Wow, well done to you for being so brave to try out this pretty extreme experiment on your body! Interesting to see that you were able to survive on it, but that it's obviously not something that you can maintain socially.

    However, if something disastrous were to happen to the world's food supply, perhaps this is something that the human race will be surviving on haha!?

    A couple of years ago, when it was all the rage to have low/no carb diets, I decided to try a high protein diet, which involved switching meals for protein mix drinks. I kept it up for two months but like you say, the social aspect of such diets is hard to maintain, plus it played havoc with my guts (although fortunately, not the bad gas that you had, I just felt rather bloated.)

    In small quantities, I think these replacements can be a part of a balanced diet, although these days, I've just cut down on my carbs as opposed to cut them out completely.

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    1. Haha, brave? Maybe dumb is the word that you were searching for there! :P

      I knew that at any point in time I could have stopped if I really wanted so I didn't think it would be too bad in the end. But there were some rough spots when I first started, I really should have listened to the people on the Soylent forums and eased myself into it.

      But yeah, it makes social outings weird. Telling people that you simply don't eat anymore is like telling them you were raised by a sasquatch. They simply give you a puzzled look and don't believe you at first. Then once they realize you're serious most people think you must be killing yourself and that you must feel horrible.

      It's funny that you mentioned a disaster that would ruin the worlds food supply. The founder of the company sees this as a cheap alternative to food that could be scaled to possibly help fight the worlds hunger in certain countries. It's not a crazy idea. It's relatively cheap (it could be cheaper if they had more funding to mass produce in much larger quantities) and can easily be shipped, all you have to do is add water and you're done.

      -Zee

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  6. "Ocean's dying, plankton's dying... it's people. *Soylent Green is made out of people.* They're making our food out of people. Next thing they'll be breeding us like cattle for food. You've gotta tell them. You've gotta tell them!"

    (I couldn't help making the reference. If you're not aware of it, it's from the 1973 Charlton Heston movie called Soylent Green. I'm not sure if the makers of this product are aware of the irony.)

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    1. Dave,

      Heh, yep, I'm aware of the reference as to where the name Soylent came from. I wonder what they would have called it if that movie didn't exist. Either way, I like the name and I know that they named the product that as a tongue in cheek kind of reference to it.

      -Zee

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  7. Welp, started Soylent this morning. My roommate had a months worth that he was never going to use so I finally decided to get it from him. Tastes like vanilla chalk. My connection to food is so much a part of who I am (cooking it, eat it, even presentation) that I am not sure if I could do this for breakfast/lunch/dinner for a month, but I am going to see how it does as a supplement. I've done cleanses (both liquid and mono-food) so I am sure I could do this for a bit. Curious to see how it's going to make my tummy feel though...

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    1. It can be rough on your digestion if you swap out too much too quickly. I think it's good as a supplement personally. Right now I'm just using it instead of breakfast and lunch on weekdays. On weekends and dinner I usually have more time to prepare a more proper meal so I stick to regular food then.

      But it's also convenient for a meal before bed if you just had a long night at the bar. That way I don't really wake up with a hangover (or at least as much of one) since I was able to get food in me before bed. Or if you are hung over and you don't feel like eating but you know that it will help to get food in you... It's great for that too.

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  8. One thing about being in a relationship is I think most of us stop doing the late night bar/ too much liquid courage/bad decision drinks / hangover thing since we are not looking to score. Meaning these are very rare occasions for me at this point but I will file that under " if ever you should.." So thanks for the tip! Makes since too since protein is great to consume before drinking. I did use it for breakfast and lunch for a few days with some discomfort, but not too bad. I will continue to use it as a supplement, but I need to not make the whole batch! ( On a side note, pickle juice is great for hangovers)

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