Food for Thought – A week and a half with Joylent

There was a time when it seemed like there was a war for cupboard space. Growing up there seemed to be an endless supply of cereal adverts all vying for their spot on your table. If the adverts were to believed there was no underestimating the importance of breakfast, especially for a child. The ideal of “a balanced and nutritious diet” was evangelised (although never really defined), and this was the life I led. I had cereal for breakfast every day of the week throughout much of my childhood, and I’ve almost never had a bowl since. My autonomy of eating habits wasn’t really explored until I went to uni. And along with mornings, I mostly gave up on breakfast. When your sleeping habits don’t reflect a day the only relevant definition of breakfast was the literal one. To this day eating as soon as I get up seems alien to me. Short of the occasional full-english at the weekend I often went straight to lunch.

[youtube http://youtu.be/MPZlZz6BEQE]

Today I’m reminded of the espoused philosophy that breakfast is “the most important meal of the day”. This is a statement that I never gave too much thought. And surely if my breakfast is lunch I’ve got the bases covered. However, my experiment with Joylent has brought these habits under closer scrutiny. Does consuming something that is “balanced and nutritious” by design make as much of a difference as nineties cereal adverts would have you believe?

To my surprise starting the day with a sizeable number of liquid calories made a very noticeable difference. Actually, I felt fantastic. I had a smile on my face and spring in my step when before I was bleary eyed. I found myself coherent and more alert, despite my best attempts at sleep deprivation.

My eating habits during the experiment went as I expected. I consumed Joylent in the morning. I found having a large amount easier than I expected, but I still preferred to space a meal’s worth out over an hour or two. I had a normal lunch and half the days I had a normal dinner. The only time I felt really hungry was when I stopped consuming Joylent so I had an appetite for solid food. At first I craved solid food as my brain disassociated the liquid in front of me with its nutritional content, but this went away after a couple days.

I took the weekends off and switching between solid and liquid food was simple and easy, until it wasn’t. Just after a week in I felt like it was rejecting what I put in my body. I had a few swigs as usual and I immediately felt like I wanted throw up. This quickly passed and I was fine for the next couple days, but when it happened a second time I decided to cut the experiment early.

I have two theories as to what could have been the cause. Firstly, the consistency and flavour changes quite a bit depending on how concentrated you make the mix. I preferred it thicker, but I also found this dehydrating and needed to drink more water. So it could have been my preparation. The other theory is that it’s a reaction to something in it, probably the whey. As someone who doesn’t have much dairy, consuming large amounts of whey could have flooded my system with more lactose than I know what to do with.

This is a very disappointing end to the trial, but I consider the experiment a success. I now know that there is a lot to be gained by having a better breakfast earlier in the day, whatever form it takes. During the experiment I didn’t have any energy crashes, I felt like I needed less caffeine and I was more productive. I’m compelled to look into my diet more. Mixing soylent with well prepared meals really increased my appreciation of the latter.

I mostly enjoyed having liquid rather than solids. It required little time or attention and it almost completely eradicated distracting levels of hunger. I would like to give it another go with a different recipe. As I said in the first post, I’d give it more attention to detail. Carbs have been getting a bad rep recently with more and more people are coming around to the idea that it’s carbs and sugars that make you fat, not consuming fat itself. Yet, there are upsides too. I think this diet was more carb heavy than what I was eating before and my energy levels were better for it.

As I was making notes for this post I jotted down the phrase “food for thought” as a pun. I have come out of this experiment without many answers but with a better idea of my preferences and a list of things I want to play with. However, food for thought is what I want. Take those words literally. I like my body weight and this has been one of the main things informing my diet. However, I like being awake, alert and in a good mood. How my diet affects this isn’t something I’ve considered directly in the past (outside of alcohol). But with this much room to improve I’m going to have to explore more.

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A Life Without Food? Just Add Water

A life without food? It either sounds great or it sounds terrible. Understandably Soylent has got some mixed press. Yet, somehow I missed the hype. It was only through talking with wildfirebird that I came across it. It was there, a curiosity, something that had pros and cons, and was little more than a diversion while travelling. But when I saw couple of blog posts cross my path again I started paying it more attention.

Like much of the adult population I would describe myself as a busy person. Far from unique, but there are many things I’d like to do and only so many hours in the day. Dylan Moran has a bit that describes the extreme of this stating the optimism we may feel over our diet. “If you’re getting very adventurous, tonight we will eat something that has two colours in it “, but the reality is “eating bread from the bag, dipping it in anything runnier than bread”. This month has had me squeezing gig preparation between full time work and a wedding. Bread from the bag is one solution, but instead I’ve had far more fast food than I would normally.

[youtube http://youtu.be/ncZOFI-MUEw]

Soylent is a potential solution to this problem. It isn’t a panacea, some skepticism is warranted, but what I’ve been doing hasn’t been ideal either. Bread from the bag is easy. Take away is easy. Ready meals are easy. Solyent is quick and it is easy, that’s the point, but it’s also intended to be better for you than the other choices. Instant food, whenever I want, just add water. Colour me interested.

Soylent with a capital “S” is a powdered food substitute, but it’s massively backed up. There’s been a strong DIY following (soylent with a small “s”). I’ve spent a few hours looking through their stuff, considering things about my nutrition I never had before. I was thinking of jumping in here and coming up with my own recipe, but then I came across Joylent. Sure, it’s a Soylent clone with a hilarious take on knowing nothing about nutrition, but Occam’s razor suggests that it probably won’t kill me. Although the cost per day is higher, the start up costs are lower so I plan to experiment and see whether a (partially) liquid diet is something I’d like to explore further.

I’m not saying that I intend to give up food, but just knowing that soylent exists has made me far more aware of how annoying and disruptive not being able to have a decent meal whenever I want is. I’m not saying it’s ideal either, the jury’s out on that one, but neither is what I was doing before. I actually really enjoy cooking and I’ve been complimented for the two dishes I make over and over and over. If anything I want to cook more, ideally spending an afternoon experimenting with new and delicious things. Doing less simple rote preparation is fine with me.

So I did it. I picked up a five day supply of vanilla Joylent. I don’t intend to do the full meal replacement thing quite yet. This is just to see whether something really puts me off the idea of delving deeper into the world of DIY soylent. As much as it’s amusing to get a large quantity of miscellaneous off-white powder from a former drug dealer I’d like to have a bit more control over what I consume, if I do this long term. For now I plan on having about two meals’ worth a day, with some uncertainty of what to do over the weekends. I’m travelling and that is one of the times that I find my diet to be the worst, but it’s only a short trip this time and a sociable one, so I may skip it for those days.

Cat not included

It’s the evening of day one and I’m feeling fine. In fact, I’m feeling better than I was this morning. Lethargy had overcome me and a very consistent intake of calories may have helped stabilise me, even if this wasn’t the most productive day of my life. The  container I’m using is too small to divide a day’s worth into three. This suits me fine. Having a small amount over half an hour, say, and then spacing the next small meal out until I start to feel like I need it has suited me well. Trusting my body seems to be working fine.

I’m having pizza with a friend this evening, so I’ve stopped consuming mid-afternoon and for the first time all day I feel hungry. I don’t want to be too full when eating socially, but in hindsight maybe I should have had more earlier.

Either way, day one seems a success. The Joylent is palatable, only very slightly gritty and theoretically more nutritious than what my previous default would have been. I’ll let you know how I’m getting on.

Jolent open box