I drank only Soylent, a meal replacement drink for three straight days (and all I got was this crummy article)
I first heard about Soylent a couple of years ago, when I read an article in the New Yorker about the stuff. Conceived by three men working on a tech startup, Soylent—a powder that contains all the calories, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients you need to live—was supposed to be the answer to the "problem" of certain meals. Instead of finding time to buy, cook, eat, and clean, you can simply mix a scoop of Soylent with a cup of water and get on with your life.
A couple months ago, I met with the co-founder and CMO of Soylent, David Rentein. He introduced me to Soylent 2.0, the newest version of Soylent, a premixed drink that took even more of the work out of fueling up. During our meeting, I took my first sip of Soylent 2.0. I was pleasantly surprised. It tasted, to me, like a thicker, oat-ier almond milk. The company shipped me 12 bottles, which I stuck under my desk and forgot about. Until a few weeks ago, that is, when I volunteered to live off the drinks for a few days and write about my experience.
I agreed to spend three days—from Thursday to Saturday—living off Soylent 2.0. I also drank 8 ounces of coffee a day, and throughout the three days I had a Diet Coke (I know, I know—sneaking diet soda can mess with your diet) and a couple mints.
To be clear, three days isn't exactly groundbreaking. In fact, people have lived for much, much longer on Soylent alone. (This guy did it for 30 days!) I knew it was more than possible. I was more interested in what the no-solid-food diet would teach me about my eating habits. I was also secretly hoping it would break me of my sugar addiction. (Spoiler alert: It did not.)
"Living off Soylent is not something we encourage," cautioned Nicole Myers, the director of communications at Soylent, when I called to ask what I should know before my diet. While it's possible, the company really pictures most people using Soylent to replace what they call those "throwaway" meals—the bland salad you mindlessly munch on in front of the computer, or the jaw-numbing protein bar you bolt down because you need to eat right now and don't have time to get anything else. Instead, drink a bottle of nutritionally balanced, filling Soylent.
This also isn't a diet. Yes, you can lose weight on Soylent, but only because it makes it extremely easy to monitor your calorie intake. There's nothing inherently slimming about it. That said, I lost a few pounds—probably because I was taking in fewer calories that I do on a normal day since I wasn't mindlessly munching on snacks. (I've already gained them back.)
On the morning of my first day, I was apprehensive but excited. I figured I'd be able to finish the three days without much of a problem, and I did. I drank at least four 400-calorie bottles Soylent a day, usually sipping each over a couple hours, since chugging it made me a little queasy. While I occasionally felt an "I wish I could eat that" pang, I truly never felt hungry; the drink is surprisingly filling. I ran every day (four miles, three miles, one mile), and ran 9 miles on Sunday, the day I broke the "fast," and felt fine each time. TMI, but I fully did not poop for two out of the three days I drank Soylent. I attribute that to my not drinking enough water though that's speculation on my part. (We have the Top 30 Hydrating Foods.)
Nitty-gritty details aside, what I found most interesting about my Soylent diet was what abstaining from "real" food revealed about my relationship with my diet. Starting with the fact that...
I like thinking about eating.
During my first Soylent-only day, I spent a few hours on reddit.com/r/soylent, reddit's community of Soylent enthusiasts. I came across quite a few users who really seemed to view food and eating as a nuisance or time suck. (Side note: Some users call non-Soylent food "muggle food," which is hilarious.) I do not relate to these people. I heart muggle food.
Weirdly, though, what I missed most wasn't the act of eating or any particular food (barring my pre-bedtime snack of frozen Sour Patch Kids, #realtalk). It was thinking about food. My first instinct when I sat down at my desk was to wonder what I could steal take from Shape's snack table—until I remembered, Oh wait, I'm not doing that today. On Friday, I went out to dinner to celebrate a friend's birthday, and I missed being able to check the menu beforehand and think about what I'd order.
When I was at dinner, though, the only times I really felt like I was missing out were (1) when the (oven-warm) bread was first brought to the table and (2) when my friends' entrees were set down. Both times the smell made me want food—for about five seconds. Then, I got wrapped back up in conversation with my friends and forgot that they were digging into (amazing-looking and smelling) entrees while I sipped a bland liquid.
I knew that I used eating as a way to relieve stress or give myself a mental break from the workday. On Soylent, I learned that just thinking about food serves the same purpose for me. When that was taken away from me, I became more productive—but I also missed the excuse to take a breather and dream about dinner.
I learned how to be more mindful.
Working at Shape, I hear a lot about mindful eating. I understood it as, basically, stop eating when you're not hungry. Easy peasy.
Turns out, I never really—really—tried it. To me, Soylent 2.0 doesn't taste bad at all. But it's not good, or something I crave. There was no reason to drink it mindlessly; I only picked up the bottle when I felt hungry. I was surprised to catch myself wondering, Is this hunger?, like some sort of alien. I didn't know it was so complicated!
After the three days were up, I felt much more in touch with my body's hunger cues. I'm glad that now I can sate those pangs with real food, but I credit the bland diet with teaching me what they are in the first place. (Psst... A Little Hunger Can Be Healthy.)
I missed feeling full.
I did not feel hungry, but I did not feel super-full ever either. I like feeling full. On Reddit.com/r/soylent, users suggest chugging water to get that "full feeling," which is the same advice you always get when you're on a diet. And it worked.
I missed colorful food.
You know that feeling you get after chugging a green juice or smoothie? I feel kind of glowy and energized, like I can feel the antioxidants and nutrients running through my veins. I think that's a placebo effect—but I don't care, I love it. Soylent is off-white. Drinking it did not make me feel glowy. (Are White Foods Nutritionless?)
Eating is emotional.
I know, duh. But I was unprepared for the responses I got when I explained my project to some people. My friends were like, "Whatever weirdo," then apologized a million times for forgetting and offering me the breadbasket. (Love them.) But from my perspective, people I didn't know were not so receptive. I was told several times that the diet wasn't healthy. That there must be too much soy. That the human body is designed to eat "real food." The subtext I heard was, "I would never do that!"
And you know what? I get it. I hate hearing someone talk about how getting off dairy cleared up their skin, because I love ice cream so much that the thought of giving it up makes me want to cry. The idea that I could one day develop a serious gluten allergy strikes literal fear into my heart. We all have hang-ups about food, and that can make it easy to see what other people are eating as an assault on what we're eating. But the feeling I got when someone was lecturing me about the necessity of solid foods was a reminder to zip it when it comes to what's on other people's plates.
Final Notes: Soylent Works
I thought by the end of three days, I'd feel burned out on Soylent and desperate for real food. But I feel just as neutral to it now as I did when I started. My first meal after the Soylent (one piece of peanut butter toast and one piece of avocado toast) was good, but not transcendent.
I have several bottles left, and while I'd definitely consider using them instead of buying lunch on days I forget to brown-bag it, I probably won't be replacing my usual meals with them anytime soon. I get what Soylent means about "throwaway" meals, and without a doubt, if your usual "in a rush" meal is something from a fast food place, Soylent would make an amazing alternative. But I try to stick to a pretty clean diet anyway (save for the Sour Patch Kids and occasional Diet Coke). And when I hold up my usual lunchtime salad of greens, tomatoes, chickpeas, chicken or salmon, and egg to a bottle of Soylent... It's no contest.
Plus, sans the smoothie bowls, green juices, and salads, my Instagram feed was starting to get seriously boring. Back to that #eeeeeats life, please. (Check out these 20 Foodie Instagram Accounts You Should Be Following.)