The First Few Days

Day 0

The day my Soylent arrived, I picked it up after work from the post office. Eager to try it, I opened the box and decided that would be dinner.

I followed the instructions and filled up the complimentary pitcher halfway with water, added what seems to me like a small amount of powder from the pouch for a full day’s nutrition, and shook vigorously for 30 seconds. Then I added the rest of the water, and was quite pleased with how quick and easy it was to prep meals for a full day.

I got out my measuring cup, and poured 500 ml, what’s supposed to be 500 calories. Added the ice like it recommends if you don’t give it a couple of hours to refrigerate first, and sipped on what was likely my first “nutritionally complete” meal in months.

And it tasted like pancake batter.

I stirred in the ice cubes a bit more, and it began to taste more neutral, and the texture got a little better. I downed the whole thing and ran off to play softball. I felt surprisingly satiated, and the feeling didn’t wear off, even 5 hours later after the match. No spike, no crash.

I left the rest of it in the fridge to see what it would be like in the morning.

Day 1

Soylent and coffee for breakfast. After spending the night in the fridge, the beverage developed an almost creamy texture, and has a very slight hint of sweetness, but is otherwise very neutral. It’s not offensive, it’s actually alright. I can see how by adding a few things to it could really taste like anything you wanted. But I don’t have a blender at the moment, so I won’t be doing that right away.

I was annoyed that I was hungry again around mid-morning, but then I realized it had been 4 hours since I’d eaten, so that’s probably normal.

I became drowsy towards mid afternoon, but then realized I’d only had the one coffee early in the morning, whereas I’d normally have had two or three by then. So I had some coffee and finished off my pitcher of Soylent as a sort of late lunch. By that point, I was already starting to crave “real food”. Rather than repeat the experience of warm soylent, I decided to grab some Chinese food for dinner and make a fresh pitcher for the next day.

Day 2

I slept for less than 5 hours, but strangely enough my fitbit shows I was only restless for 10 minutes of them, as opposed to my usual 30-90 minutes in a night.

I decided I felt like chewing something for breakfast, so I opted for a BLT bagel and coffee (with a shot of espresso to make up for the lack of sleep!) for breakfast. It might have been completely in my head (or the McD’s staff had fresher ingredients than usual), but the flavours seemed richer and fuller than normal. Still a bit hungry after the bagel, I added some Soylent to the mix.

I was wired and more energetic than normal, which was good since my job kept me away from my desk all morning. By lunch, I was actually craving the creamy texture of Soylent. That was not something I expected. A big cup of that and a surprisingly unsatisfying doughnut later (dang people bringing unhealthy appeasements to the office!) I was off to finish some paperwork that I hadn’t had a chance to get at in the morning.

Everybody at work was curious about the stuff, so I let them all try a bit while I finished off the rest as dinner and explained it to them.

After being home for a while, I grabbed a few mixed nuts as a snack. Normally when I eat food, there’s a sense of urgency because I feel famished. But it was different today. I only felt a bit peckish. I can honestly say I appreciated each one’s unique flavour; something that I can’t remember ever doing before. The almond, with a lighter body and a bit of a woody taste, the pistachio with sweet and almost tanginess, the smooth textured sweetness of the cashew, and the complete disintegration and bitterness of the pecan.

Observation So Far

Already, after just 2 days, I’ve experienced something I didn’t expect. I appreciate the flavours and textures of “real food” more. I don’t feel the need to scarf it down to satisfy hunger. I like the idea of one meal a day being regular food, I might try that for lunch tomorrow.

Establishing a Baseline

For useful comparison, it’s necessary to establish what my norm was before Soylent.

Basic Stats
Starting out, I’m a 6 foot tall male in my late 20s, weighing in at roughly 215lbs, with a medium frame. I have a significant amount of muscle on my legs from my days cross-country running and rowing (even though I haven’t done that in years), so my body fat percentage is between 18% and 20% depending on the calculator (my scale which calculates bf% by capacitance tells me 20% pretty consistently), which falls slightly above the percentages usually quoted for “fit” males of my age, or in the “acceptable” category. In other words not great, but not terrible. Those stats have remained pretty stable since I started tracking them electronically via the Fitbit ecosystem 6 months ago.

Activity
I play softball once a week, and my Fitbit tells me I usually walk between 6,000 and 10,000 steps per day. I exercise only occasionally at this point, usually due to time constraints imposed by my job (which is about 70% desk job), and not really having the energy left over at the end of what are sometimes very long days/weeks.

Sleep
My average sleep time works out to between 6 and 7 hours a night, but that averages much shorter sleep times during the week with longer sleep times on the weekend. This is an unfortunate reality when workdays during the week can end up pushing 16 hours. My Fitbit sleep tracker tells me that between 30 minutes and an hour and a half each night I’m “restless” or “awake”, which I assume means I’m moving around an awful lot.

Food
I’ve never been good at tracking what I eat with any detail, so that is an obvious weakness in the comparison.  I generally start the workdays with an Egg McMuffin with Sausage or BLT Bagel and a coffee from McDonalds which I eat on the way to work, so I can squeeze the extra time out of the 5-6 hours of sleep I get. Some days I’ll have a cup and a half of yoghurt as a mid-morning snack with some seasonal fruit. Usually some sort of meat sandwich and some bagged salad blend for lunch, and some form of pre-prepared food for dinner. The Safeway near home has a lot of options for pre-made dinners (soups, Chinese, noodle/veggie bowls, salads, etc.) some of which are reasonably priced, and there’s also a lot of options for take-out of varying healthfulness, like booster juice, coffee shops, sub shops, a donair place, rice bowls, sushi, vietnamese, wok box, pizza places, Timmies, McDonalds, etc… That’s just within a block! Occasionally I’ll have a home-cooked dinner. Usually I purposefully avoid desserts, but very occasionally when I’m at a restaurant I will have some ice cream, a piece of cake, or some novelty on the menu.

All told, my daily caloric intake likely falls between 2500 and 3200. I rarely consume alcohol anymore (once per month or less), so I don’t really factor that in. The actual nutritional content of my diet is anybody’s guess, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I were getting too much of some nutrients (likely sodium), and not enough of others.

According to various formulas, my basal metabolic rate should require roughly 2200 calories. Depending on the interpretation of activity level, that would put me somewhere between 2640 and 3025 calories to maintain my weight. That sounds about right given my constant weight and estimates of caloric intake.

Expectations
What do I expect to accomplish with Soylent? Well, it’s somewhat cheaper than my current diet, and no doubt it’s more balanced nutritionally than 90% of the meals I eat. I hope to replace many of the take-out meals with it. I definitely don’t plan on going 100% Soylent, although I might try it for a few days or even a week just for novelty’s sake. Like everybody else, I enjoy good food. I enjoy cooking too, and am not too bad at it. There are simply other things that I feel my time is better spent doing most of the time. Also, I hope that it will provide an easier way to keep track of and control what I consume, to the point where I can establish a calorie deficit without sacrificing nutrients.

That said, I’m under no illusions that it’s the healthiest thing in the world. The creator admits as much! His point is that it strikes a good balance between cost, healthfulness, and simplicity. Nothing else on the market even attempts that. I’ve seen the types of meal plans you can get from nutritionists. They’re far less convenient, far more perishable, not particularly satiating, and they end up running between 3x and 10x the price. And honestly, even their healthfulness is debatable.

All that, of course, is assuming I can stomach the stuff and live at least as happily, mentally alert, and energetic as I do without it. The gold standard would be to be more alert, to have more energy, and be motivated by that energy to be more active in my off time.  I’ve got “7” days’ worth of it (14,000 calories), so we’ll see how it goes!

What’s This Soylent Thing, Anyways?

Soylent is an idea I’ve been following since Rob Reinhart’s post in early 2013 on his blog Mostly Harmless. The quick summary is that he was annoyed that so much of his time and energy had to be devoted to planning, preparing, and eating, followed by cleaning up. Easy foods were expensive, unhealthy or both, and healthy foods were time consuming, pricey, or both. That really resonated with me.

The computer scientist decided to make himself a food that could replace all the forgettable meals we eat just to survive and be nutritionally complete, easy, fast, sustainable, and cheap. Like everybody else in the world he does actually *like* the experience of eating, with all the variety of flavours and textures and the social components that go along with it. But the majority of meals have nothing to do with that, especially for a busy, career-oriented person. Enter Soylent.

Over the past couple of years, Mr Reinhart developed the food and tested it on himself. He made a couple of mistakes along the way and adjusted it. His blog got many people interested in the idea, and he eventually kickstarted it into a product and business.

A short while ago, they began shipping Soylent (now version 1.5) to Canada. I decided I had to try it. A one time purchase of a week’s worth of Soylent ran US$85 including shipping, with the crappy exchange rate working out to just under CA$110. There’s discounts for buying more, or getting a monthly subscription, but I wanted to test it before committing. Still, $15 a day for food is much less than my current consumption.

This blog is where I intend to catalog my experience.