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I’m Alone Out Here: My Soylent Adventure, Part 3

October 8, 2014

Weight LossFat HealthFat ScienceExerciseEating DisordersMy Boring-Ass LifeWeight Loss SurgeryDiet Talk

Trigger warning: Discussion of dietary restrictions for reasons other than weight loss, as well as people who engage in similar restrictions for weight loss. Also, mention of eating disorders and weight loss surgery.

Check out the first and second installments of Jean’s exploration with soylent.

So, the first thing I do after reading the soylent article in the New Yorker is go to the commercial website and watch the advertisement, which gets me excited. “What if you never had to worry about food again?” A rainbow of vibrant multiracial young people go about their diverse pursuits while sipping intermittently from containers of blended soylent. They’re high-tech and vigorous, studying law, exercising, backpacking, DJing at a club (oh, and, of course, they’re all thin). Set free from the food-related chores of shopping, cooking, and kitchen cleanup, they can fully dedicate themselves to their true passions.

Oh, yeah, I want this.

Methodically, I click through every button on the site, saving Purchase for last. One week’s worth costs $85, with discounts for larger or repeat orders. My mouse hovers. For most people, maybe $85 is significantly less than what they usually spend to feed themselves, but for me with my peculiar habits — my rota of legumes, grains, and vegetables — it’s actually three times as much as I usually spend, or more.

So what? It’s an experiment, I tell myself. I remind myself that my time is also of value. Freed from food, I’ll save 10 hours a week. Minus what I would have spent in cash to eat anyway, I’ll only be paying around $6 for each of those hours. Heck, I’m worth way more than $6/hour. I debate with myself about the larger discount orders and decide against it. Later, maybe, after I make sure that one day of the stuff actually feeds me for 24 hours.

I click the button to order seven single-day bags and the thrill of making the commitment shoots through me. Once all of the shipping and credit-card stuff is done, I get the confirmation. My order will ship in “10-12 weeks.” Whoa. Some of the wind goes out of my sails. Okay, so two and a half months is the best-case scenario.

In fact, my order will still not have arrived five months later as you read these words, though on August 19 I received a second email thanking me for my patience and asking me to confirm my address for shipping “in the next few weeks.” But back in May, two and a half months seemed plenty long enough.I get the New Yorker article out again and point my browser at the do-it-yourself soylent website, where people are creating their own homemade nutrient blends.

I’m immediately impressed with the intelligence and good sense of whoever put this website together. If our basic desiderata for getting fed are maximizing nutrition and minimizing the expense in both money and time, soylent is not necessarily the best at any one of the three goals, the website admits, but it gives you the chance to find your optimal fit among the three.

Yes, I think, yes, that’s me. There are far more convenient ways to eat than what I do now, if I weren’t concerned about what goes into me. And I could even shave the expense a little, if I didn’t insist on including some things (whole grains) while avoiding others (processed flours, sugars, fats). And there are doubtless even healthier ways of eating, if I had all the time and money in the world and no more compelling hobbies.

I plunge into the website. There are sample DIY recipes and nutrient profiles posted by what appears to be thousands of users, most of them men. There’s software for putting together your own recipe from a database of ingredients, and checking it against your chosen nutrient profile to see whether it provides all your daily requirements. It’s possible to copy ingredients, recipes, and nutrient profiles from other people, or to customize your own which you can either keep private or make public. There are hundreds of ongoing conversations on the forum.

At first I’m overwhelmed. Where to start? I explore the tools and gradually figure them out. There’s a little slider thingie to set your preferred percentages of the macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates and fats. That’s cool, but what should my percentages be? There are well over a hundred nutrient profiles posted. Which should I pick? Most of them say “male.” All of the few which say “female” are for young women, not post-menopause like me. How much does that matter and what should the differences be?

I’m fantasizing an oatmeal-based recipe. “Jean’s Augmented Oatmeal,” it could be called, if I ever publish it on the soylent site. Or perhaps “Jean’s Nourishing Gruel” or “Jean’s Nutrient Sludge.” Oatmeal is one of my most important staples, ever since I discovered on an out-of-town trip once that you don’t have to cook oatmeal. You can just put in the water, wait a minute, and eat it, even if it’s not “instant.”

Now oatmeal is my go-to food. I keep some at the office, I take it to the beach, I pack it in my carry-on. It’s an unusual day that I don’t Quaker Oatseat any oatmeal. I make sure that I always have a spoon with me, and a screwtop Lexan camping container. Oatmeal is cheap, doesn’t need refrigeration and lasts a long time. I can keep going on nothing but oatmeal for about half a day, but then I’ll start to feel protein hunger and that’s what makes all the nuisance and requires so much advance planning. That’s the thing I want to be freed from!

Gradually a plan takes shape in my head. There’s a 20-pound sack of pinto beans in my closet, bought just before this New Yorker arrived. No matter what, I’m not going to waste that. It will take a while before I eat through all the food stores I have in the house. I don’t have to have a perfect nutrient profile and recipe right off the bat. I can transition gradually, working from both ends. On the one hand, I’ll start doing some nutritional research on the way to zeroing in on my optimal recipe; on the other hand, I’ll start beefing up my oatmeal.

With the addition of protein and fat, my oatmeal could carry me a lot longer than it does now. I buy some protein powder; that’s fairly easy, though there are many decisions to make and I spend a long time reading the labels in local stores and online. As for fat, oil would work at home but it’s not a good travel solution. On diy.soylent.me, many recipes use chia seeds or flaxseed, because they’re high in omega fats.

I already own some chia seeds! I bought them during an intense period of experimenting with sprouts and before I realized that sprouting chia requires special equipment. Ha! Oatmeal plus protein powder plus chia seeds or flax meal is my new travel food and it works great! My leash has just gotten a lot longer.

I take a trip with my girlfriend. She’s a normal woman, by which I mean she doesn’t subscribe to a Health at Every Size® (HAES) philosophy. For instance, she owns a bathroom scale and uses it. I used to try to explain my thinking, but she never did fully get how different my philosophy of food and eating is. She assumes weight control is a goal for me, as it is for most women, and she’s long suspected me of orthorexia or worse. She’s pleased to see me adding fat to my oatmeal, believing this means I’m backing off of what she has long regard as my dietary “extremism.” Little does she know — and I’m not going to explain — that actually I hope to retreat even further from the world of conventional eating.

Meanwhile, I’m spending time on the soylent forums, studying. As near as I can tell, every single guy on here (it’s mostly guys) buys into the weight-control worldview. Soylent recipes are formulated in terms of calories and people endlessly discuss their body-manipulation techniques, goals, and progress. Lots of them are body-builders. Just to make sure, I do a search on “HAES” and variants of it. Zilch. Just to make sure, I start my own thread, “Soylent from an HAES perspective?”

A few days later, I’ve gotten a few responses (all from men). They’re fairly supportive about my plan to do an intuitive-eating version of a DIY soylent, but they aren’t exactly enlightened from my perspective. Oh, yes, BMI is horseshit, they agree with me there, but that’s as far as it goes. They think keeping track of your body fat percentage totally makes sense, or else the ratio of your waist to some other bodily circumference, and they’re confident that these things are within anybody’s reasonable control.

So I’m definitely alone out here. I’m the sole representative of HAES in the soylent world and, probably, vice versa. But I’m kind of exhilarated. Maybe I have something unique to offer. The possibilities of soylent (the commercial brand or DIY) for calorie counters and aspiring body manipulators are pretty obvious. But I see soylent as a potentially useful tool for people who are trying to repair damaged relationships with food and eating. There are a lot of people for whom the business of nutrition requires walking a tricky psychological tightrope between control and shame: people recovering from anorexia, bulimia, and many other varieties of chronic food restriction and/or perceived “binging.”

A solid DIY soylent recipe can let you feel confident that you’re getting your daily nutritional needs met. If you have a psychological need to assert self-control, here’s a relatively wholesome way to do it. If you see yourself as a “binge eater” or as eating “compulsively” or for “emotional” reasons, you can create a no-nonsense nutritional formula which is uninteresting enough to convince you eventually that in fact physiological cues can reliably prompt your eating.

And for people who have (alas!) had weight-loss surgery, a sippable soylent formula could be a great nutrient-delivery system that avoids some of the terrible side effects; the ingredients can be manipulated easily to increase micronutrients or take out anything that causes dumping or other bad reactions.

Up until now, I’ve kept all my own DIY soylent tinkering private, but when this goes up on FFF, I’ll go ahead and make my current working nutrient profile and recipe public in case y’ll want to take a look. I’ll label everything with “Jean’s” and “HAES.” Watch out, though, there will be weight-loss talk triggers everywhere!

Jean Braithwaite

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Twistie permalink
    October 8, 2014 12:01 pm

    I must admit, I hadn’t thought about the soylent experiment from the POV of people recovering from EDs and coping with the fallout of WLS. But you’re right, there are definitely people who could benefit from this from a non-body manipulation standpoint, above and beyond people who – like you – simply prefer not to have to think about food.

    OTOH, that company that has kept you waiting five months for something they promised in three months (which was still kind of an outrageous waiting period, IMNSHO) sounds to me like they seriously need a fire lit under them. Frankly, at this point I would be demanding either the product or a full refund, pronto. The situation is ridiculous.

    • October 9, 2014 10:18 am

      Yeah, the demand vastly exceeded their ability to gear up quickly, evidently. I thought about asking for a refund, but decided to let it ride. Once I’d put my own DIY formula together (which I’ll describe In a future post), there was no more urgency to get the official product. But I was still curious to examine the stuff, so I decided to let my $85 input stand as my contribution to the soylent movement, even though I have some ambivalence about the premises of a lot of the people involved in it.

  2. October 9, 2014 10:19 am

    ps. Just got an email saying my order has shipped!

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