Soylent, Meal Replacement, and Finding Time

About two years ago, I tried the Soylent diet as a joke. My coworkers had their doubts about it, and to play devils advocate, I decided to give it a try. What started out as an experiment turned out to be a revelation, and I will say that at the time, it changed my life and my approach to food.

I grew up with food allergies and dietary restrictions. When I was younger, grocery stores and restaurants weren’t too keen on catering towards strange diets, so I was limited to strange foods, many of which are ironically pretty hip today. My relationship with food turned mostly into a sustenance-based approach. When I was young, I ate all of the alternative foods to my favorite foods, many of which tasted nothing like the real thing. But as I matured, I learned to eat what was readily available and nutritious.

For those of you who don’t know about Soylent, it’s supposed to be a meal replacement shake that’s actually good for you. It’s like a SlimFast, but it’s not meant to be a diet program. Soylent is a shake that contains 100% of your FDA Daily Recommended Intake for micro- and macro-nutrients. It tastes like what you’d expect from vanilla cake batter. And it leaves you completely energized, full, and satisfied; no hunger pains, no cravings.

These days, you can buy it in liquid bottle form, but when I first tried it, it was a powder that you mixed with water and oil the evening before you planned to consume it, and incubated it in the fridge overnight. In the morning, you would pour it into blender bottles and slowly sip it throughout the day.

Since I have a gluten intolerance (a real one), I couldn’t buy the official Soylent powder. Luckily, they had a DIY version of the site with a worksheet that lets you balance your own ingredients to come up with the perfect shake. Other people share their recipes too, and I picked one called Schmoylent Clean. It was relatively easy to make, and I believe the cost of food came down to below $8 a day.

I had never really experienced what it was like to get 100% of my nutrients before. When you eat normal food without tools like MyFitnessPal, you pretty much eat what seems healthy (or not) and hope for the best. But there’s still some mystery about what you’re absorbing and what your body needs.

The initial effects were staggering; I had more energy than ever, I was getting great sleep, and my brain felt nourished. I felt healthier, and soon I began to crave the drink every day.

But what was the most surprising takeaway from the experiment was how much extra time I had. Since I was ordering ingredients in bulk from Amazon, I never had to go grocery shopping. Since I was mixing shakes before bed, I never had to cook. And since I was sipping on the shakes slowly throughout the day, I never had to take meal breaks. Those factors alone added extra hours to my day.

I believe in a good work-life balance, and having a couple of extra hours in a day is amazing. While my coworkers stood in line at Chipotle and chowed down on their burritos at lunch, I walked around the city. Taking an hour walk break felt way better than taking an hour lunch break. I came back feeling refreshed and ready to take on my afternoon workload. No food coma, no indigestion, no regrets that I didn’t get the guac.

The one thing that was hard was losing the social connection that you get from sharing meals with other people. Eventually, that’s what overcame me, and I went back to eating normal food again. But I do miss that feeling of being healthy every day, and having the comparison of what it feels like to get 100% of your DRI is a good benchmark for how well you’re currently eating.

I’ve had some recent weeks where I put together my own custom recipe that fits in with my workout regiment. It feels amazing getting that free time back, the freedom from having to worry about food. And for someone with severe food allergies, like myself, it is wholly liberating to not have to stress about my diet for once.