Soylent Experiment: What Do I Have in Common with Astronauts, Soldiers and Prisoners?

Free food!
Photo: Traci Cappiello

It’s day 4 of Soylent week, so I’m over halfway through the experiment. Last time, I posted in a state of relative euphoria over my newfound productivity gains. Let me tell you, the closer you fly to the sun, the harder you crash into the ground.

On day 2, social obligations kicked in again. I went to an event with free food and drinks, and turned everything down. I met with old friends and tried not to stare at their sandwiches. I met with new friends who kept offering beer, and explained that yes, I do drink, just not today, and no, I don’t have a problem with alcoholism, I swear. I met someone for the first time and casually asked if they were familiar with Soylent, and they said that it sounded like a terrible, ridiculous idea.

The one super strong craving that I’ve been having is for a slice of pizza. Not fancy pizza, a greasy New York cheese slice, the kind you get while drunk at 2 am. My roommate just told me she has pepperoni pizza in the fridge RIGHT NOW. This has been an incredible test of willpower and self discipline.

See, food has become really, really boring. For the first time in my life, I’m eating for purely utilitarian reasons. There’s nothing fun or interesting about my meals, and I only eat enough to stop from feeling hungry. It’s akin to forcing myself to work out because I know it’s good for me. I look at the container and think, “Just drink 2 more ounces!” in the same way that you’d push yourself to run another 1/2 mile. This means I’ve been eating smaller meals, but more frequently throughout the day. Overall, I’m eating less than when I started, and I’m definitely not drinking the entire 2000 calorie batch each day. I really hate the taste of chocolate/cocoa powder right now. No chocolate, ever again, after this week.

It’s so bad that I look forward to brushing my teeth just to taste another flavor. Time to dig out that orange-flavored toothpaste.

This makes me ponder what’s it like to be an astronaut or soldier or prisoner eating very similar meals all the time. In some prisons, they provide a bland “nutraloaf” for unruly prisoners. In my opinion, this is cruel and unusual punishment. Or, can you get used to repetitive meals? If you were never exposed to a diverse diet, would you be more comfortable drinking Soylent for every meal?

What about animals, do dogs and cats get tired of eating the same thing for every meal? A friend with a dog assured me that no, dogs will be excited when you give them food, every time. But who knows, maybe they’d be happier if they had different types of food to look forward to. Are we so sure that humans are the only ones intelligent enough to crave a diverse diet?

Another unexpected effect: I’m incredibly thirsty and my mouth is dry, and no matter how much water I drink it doesn’t seem to help. This might be because the weather has gotten hotter this week and I’ve been sweating more. (I’m still biking my normal routine of 7-15 miles per day.) Other possible factors: fiber is hygroscopic (absorbs water) and I’ve probably doubled my fiber intake, solid food also contains water so I need to supplement with additional water, and chewing solid foods helps stimulate salivary glands, so when I don’t chew anything my salivary glands go dormant.

Ironically, after explaining all of this to my roommate (who is sick this week with a severe cough), I offered her some Soylent and SHE LOVED IT. “Wow, that was really nutritious, I feel so much better and more energized now,” she said. “This is like crack! Can I make more for myself in the morning for breakfast?”

Sure, no problem, I’ll just be over here staring at the pizza…

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