Soylent: What Happened When I Went 30 Days Without Food

In an attempt to become the most productive person on the planet, I gave up food and lived entirely off Soylent. Here’s how it went.

September 8, 2015

I spent the last 30 days eating nothing but Soylent, a new age powdered meal replacement.

Why would I do something so stupid? I’ll explain.

But first, if you aren’t familiar with Soylent, here’s the gist:

In 2013, 24-year-old Rob Rhinehart created a powdered drink mix that met all of the nutritional requirements for an average adult. Basically, a meal replacement. He called it Soylent.

After a 30-day Soylent-only diet, Rob launched a crowdfunding campaign so his friends could buy the product. Surprisingly, the campaign made $3 million in 30 days, one of the largest crowdfunding campaigns ever.

Since then, Rhinehart and his team have raised $20 million in funding and have a cult-like following (along with an army of haters).

But to answer your original question, here’s why I gave up traditional food for a month:

1. Curiosity

One of the reasons Rob Rhinehart created Soylent was to help maximize his efficiency. Meaning, eliminate the time he spent cooking and consuming food. I’m curious if living exclusively on Soylent for a month will make me more efficient.

My wife, Jessica, and I live in the outskirts of Nashville. We have one dog, Bro (who is a world-record holder in the dog mile), no kids, and we’re self employed. I run a lot, too. I coach cross country and track at a local school and travel for meets regularly. It’s a dream.

Jess and I run a photo/video business and travel quite a bit for it. That’s also a dream. When we’re not traveling we’re at the desk cranking out hours of editing. At times we’ve felt torn on how we can manage this schedule alongside our other interests: friendships, writing, crafting, running, date nights, etc.

Everyone wants more time. Was a Soylent-only diet able to save some of my precious time?

2. No other posts have addressed my questions

There are a few articles about people living off Soylent for 30 days. Some of them are great, but most don’t involve things that interest me.

For example, I’m a runner. I run 70 miles most weeks. I like doing 5K races on the weekends and recently ran a 4:12 mile. I have yet to read a post explaining the pros and cons of Soylent for athletes.

I’m also an entrepreneur. I haven’t read anything that meticulously detailed how Soylent affects someone’s productivity and lifestyle. So I decided to find out myself. Throughout the 30 days I documented my productivity levels, running performance, costs, and the emotional effects.

3. I support crazy

I’ve done a bit of research on the creator of Soylent. The guy is building a product he thinks will replace food.

He also wrote a post about having magnets in his hand. He’s teetering the line between crazy and genius. I like that.

Of course, living off Soylent for a month is extreme, but according to Rhinehart (and The Jetsons), the days of living solely off powders and vitamins isn’t as far away as we think.

This experiment, along with the rest of this website, is about exploring interesting and outlandish people. 30 days with no food? That’s pretty outlandish.

4. Soylent 2.0 was just released

Soylent just released a ready-to-drink version. While I’ll mostly be drinking the original powder version, their recent publicity gave me a good kick in the butt to do this.

And by the way – even though I wasn’t able to drink the new version for this experiment, I was able to get my hands on 24 bottles of Soylent’s new ready-to-drink version. I’m giving them away to one lucky winner. If you want it, click here and enter the contest (will open in a new window).

Note: The original goal was to go 30 days with only Soylent and water. Halfway through I had to add a teaspoon of peanut butter to the drink. I wasn’t getting enough protein since I was running 70 miles each week. I also got drunk on night 15. Can you blame me?

Starting off strong

Day 1 – My Farts Are Awful

Today was the first day I’ve ever tried Soylent. It arrived packaged in individual bags. Each bag had three servings that collectively add up to about 2,000 calories. It also came with a shaker to mix an entire bag of Soylent and water and sip on it throughout the day.

My initial reaction: not bad. Tastes like oatmeal pancake batter, but less flavorful, more gritty and kind of chalky. A couple hours later, I realized I was in denial. It wasn’t bad, but it was far from good. I was already loathing my next serving.

By the end of the day, my digestive system expressed its disapproval. My stomach was audibly gurgling and my farts were the definition of a crop dusting. Like one of those stink bombs I used to prank teachers with in middle school combined with some rotten eggs.

I think my wife and dog were going in and out of consciousness from the smell. It was bad – almost unbearable, but mostly hilarious.

I did feel full though, and content.


Day 5 – Worn Down

Contrary to Rhinehart’s (creator of Soylent) claims of increased energy levels, I’ve been a little run down these first few days. Maybe this is the window for adjustment. I pressed on.

I’m not surprised to feel worn out after running 70 miles a week while also changing my diet big time. I’m not sure if this has ever been done before, so I can’t Google it.

I’ve already lost a few pounds and am struggling to pound down the necessary amount of calories needed to keep up with the amount I’m burning. I weigh the lightest I’ve ever been since middle school.

I ran a 5K race today. The course was challenging and hilly, but I can’t help but think that Soylent affected my performance. I felt light headed and nauseous afterwards. I associated the nausea with Soylent, so I was definitely looking at my cup that was half full as half empty. It looked disgusting.


Day 6 – Stoicism

Today was a big day because I decided to change my mindset. I’m doing this challenge for a few reasons, the biggest being to challenge my limits.

To help get through this, I’ve been clinging on to a quote from Seneca. He was an ancient Roman philosopher and one of the fathers of Stoicism, a popular form of philosophy that (unlike most types of philosophy) is extremely helpful for day-to-day life.

Unlike most people, Stoics hate hope. Hope only lifts people up for an eventual fall. Stoics embrace the worst-case scenario. The tumor will be maligned. I will go to jail. No one will like this article. I’ll never eat food again. This is because the Stoics believe everything will be ok because we are stronger than we think.

The particular Seneca quote that I’m clinging to happened just as Nero’s guards were dragging and shoving him into a bathroom where he was suppose to take a sharp knife and kill himself for Nero’s entertainment.

His wife and two children weeped and panicked at his feet, but Seneca turned to them with a weary smile and said:

“What need is there to weep over parts of life? The whole of it calls for tears.”

Life is difficult, not only because I want real food right now, but because it’s just hard. To me, Seneca meant that we should recognize how painful life can be, accept that the worst might happen, but live a great life anyway.

Millions of people go hungry everyday. But I am a lucky man. I may not be eating cheeseburgers or pizza, but I am still very lucky. With this perspective in mind, I charged through the day.

But seriously – you have no idea what I’d do for a Big Mac right now.


Day 9 – Increased Productivity

After a focused, productive work day, I decided to compete in a local race. The race location was 9.5 miles away. I ran there for a warm up. I left the house at 4 p.m.Tennessee’s summer heat and humidity made it tough, but once there, I took the line for the 2.5-mile competition.

The pace was below average for me (5:30 for the first mile and 5:15 – 5:20 for the remainder), but it was good to see my body doing a good amount of physical activity without a total blackout or collapse. I was lucky to pull off the win.

This experiment has led me to question something I use to believe in: Do I really value efficiency over pleasure?

I’ve grappled with the idea that the added productivity hours aren’t worth it. I didn’t realize it until I broke my 20-something-year streak of eating solid food, but food is one of the best pleasures of life. A no-brainer, yes, but this challenge makes me appreciate the little things. We can find what we truly believe in only after testing our limits.

Maybe I will adapt to the idea that food doesn’t matter. Maybe it’ll be like my Instagram account: I thought it was necessary, but once I deleted it, I didn’t even miss it.

As for my body, my weight has fluctuated from 140 down to 133 at one point. My heart rate has stayed consistent other than one morning when it spiked a little. My positivity and happiness have gradually waned.

I do feel I am gradually getting more energy, alertness and productivity. My eyes don’t glaze over throughout the day or on long drives, which regularly happens to me, which I’m now convinced is from eating a poor diet and junky foods. Receiving so many nutrients has definitely helped my body execute better physiologically.

Psychologically, I need to hang in there. Let’s just get through another week.


Day 14 – Powder Fuel

I’m shocked that a powder can provide enough nutrients for me while I exercise. This week I ran 60 miles.

I rode my bike to the running trail today. It’s 12 very hilly miles each way. I made it there smoothly, then ran a six-mile tempo (a tempo is a race by yourself). In hindsight, riding there was a bad idea. The run didn’t go well.

The bike ride home was uphill and totally zapped me. I almost had to walk a few times.

Post-workout

After nearly three hours of exercise in the sun, I was spent. I pounded Soylent when I got back — to the point of almost having a stomach ache. I knew I needed to take in a lot to refuel from this one.

Overall, it was great day.


Day 15 – Regrets of Dying

My realization this week: routine and distraction creates demand for this product. For the busy bee, Soylent proves awfully useful. I had a limited window for work this week, and needed to maximize my time. Soylent helped me with this.

This experiment has revealed a great truth about food — it creates a beautiful slowdown to life.

I’m taken back to an article I read a few years ago written by a female nurse who worked in a hospice. It was called Regrets of Dying. In her patients’ final weeks of life, they revealed profound wisdom. This quote stuck with me most:

“All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”

When I read that quote it shifted my perspective for how we should live our short lives. Over the years I’ve forgotten about that quote, but this experiment has brought me back to it.

Soylent exists for efficiency. I can appreciate that. Like I said, it’s been useful. But for me, maybe for most, the implementation of Soylent most likely hints at a lifestyle of overwhelming work… whether we realize it or not. The process of eating solid food creates space, breathing, and slowness. It creates perspective.

We may have opportunities to be faster, better, and more productive. But why? Is the tunnel vision of working and missing the chance to chew your sandwich and appreciate the blowing leaves in the wind worth it?

I just moved into a serene cabin in the woods in the outskirts of Nashville, and the beauty is unparalleled to anywhere I have lived. I have a short lease here, and it is flying by.

In the midst of busy days of working from home, I don’t want to miss the endless beauty right outside my front door. I don’t want to miss my lovely wife and my family. I don’t want to be trapped in efficiency’s never-ending lure that might tempt me to miss all that is around me in this very moment.

If I had been tracking my pretentious philosophical attitude, I’d be at a 10 right now. I’m exhausted from deep thought. Think I’ll have just one beer. Is that cheating? Goodnight.


Day 21 – Seriously, My Farts Are Really Bad

Jess woke me up again last night at 3:00 a.m. The potency of my unconscious farts woke her. She wasn’t happy about the rude awakening. We had a good laugh about it today.

Today also marks my first solid run since on Soylent! I’ve griped a lot about how my legs have felt heavy and cement-like since I stopped eating solid food. However, I started adding peanut butter because I wasn’t getting enough protein, and I’m seeing the results. I felt incredible today.

I ran eight miles today. The run started at 6:30 pace, but the last few miles were under a 6-minute pace. I felt relaxed. Even when I’m not on Soylent I rarely feel this great.

Maybe a Soylent-only diet isn’t so bad after all.


Day 22 – Family Time

I expected to feel sluggish today because I went so fast yesterday. However, I felt a hop in my step during my run. I felt fresh and relaxed.

I ran a tough route today and charged up the hills with no setbacks.

Jess and I had a conversation tonight about how this experiment has affected our relationship. It wasn’t something I expected would take a toll, but truthfully, it has.

We realized that dinnertime is when we get genuine time together in our often hectic work days. Even though we are lucky enough to work together — we even edit footage on our computers side-by-side — we are mentally and emotionally in our own worlds. Dinnertime is when we get to come together over a cooked meal and share our hearts with one another.

So much of our culture pressures us to live a life of legend. I’ve felt it myself time and time again. I want to be remembered. But by whom? I think our underlying motivation for our ceaseless work effort is to be remembered for something great, but typically it’s centered on being great to people we aren’t that close to. In my opinion, what matters in the end is not if we are famous to the world but with our families.

I want to be a hero to my family and those closest to me. And I think meal time, in an unexpectedly philosophical way, takes me back to remembering this simple truth.

My conversation with Jess showed that meals are a sacred time to gather, reflect, share, listen and love. We have missed getting those quiet moments with one another. I find myself not only craving real food throughout the day but also craving quality time with my wife.

Of course, connecting with one another can happen outside of food dates, but we are both looking forward to flirting over shared meals in a couple weeks.


Day 23 – 14 Miles

I just finished a 14-miler. It rained last night, so it was a mud bath, but again I felt really good.

At the beginning of my Soylent diet, I was struggling to make it through six- or seven-mile runs, so this is a big improvement. I started slow and finished fast again, around a 6:15 pace.


Day 27 – Soylent Pancakes

Crushed a nine-miler today and felt great. I started at 6:45 per mile pace and increased the pace each mile. The last four miles averaged 5:45 pace, which felt easy. Even without Soylent, this would be a great day for me.

Afterwards I went to my parents house. My dad made pancakes. I tried making Soylent pancakes but as I moved it around the griddle and prepared for a flip, it slowly disintegrated.


Day 30 – Last Day

It feels like Christmas Eve. I haven’t been this excited since my parents bought me a Nintendo 64 for Christmas when I was 10-years-old.

I’ve decided on my first fine dining experience when this is all said and done: Waffle House.

My brother Jonathan, Jess, and I were all outside today when I let out one of the best crop dusts I’ve ever felt. I laughed and told them about it, but we were out in the open air so I didn’t think they’d smell it. It was a shame no one could experience the greatness of this one.

But then 30 seconds later, Jon and Jess simultaneously fell over and covered their noses. Apparently a downwind draft caught my bubbly concoction and delivered it right to their nasally doorstep.

I’m not sure I’ve been more proud of myself in the last 30 days.

My dad, knowing the journey I’ve been through, texted me at 10 p.m. to see if I wanted to go to Waffle House at midnight. My whole family decided to join in on the celebration.

And let me tell you – I’ve had many an All-Star Breakfast in my time, but there will never be one that compared to this one. Every single bite was jammed pack with flavor.

I could barely handle it. I almost cried as I soaked in the sensation that I had almost forgotten existed.


Life After

It’s been a week since the experiment ended. I still have some Soylent left, and plan on buying more.

Soylent was undeniably convenient and I plan to keep using it. I don’t mind the taste anymore. I’ll eat something more flavorful for breakfast, but plan on using it for many lunches.

Physically, I do feel slightly better now that I am eating again. My runs have improved.

This experiment was definitely worth it. I think most experiences are in life, but with this one in particular, I feel a gained insight that forever changed my appreciation for not just food but simple pleasures in life.

Body and Productivity

I received a blood test on the first and last days of the experiment. Both tests came back completely normal. However, the first blood test showed several categories that were outside the reference range or “normal.” Neutrophils, SGOT, and SGPT were all above the average while my lymphocytes and eosinophils were slightly below. Interestingly enough, the results of my final blood test showed that everything was back to normal!

I wasn’t expecting that, but the blood tests don’t lie – I became a healthier human being after 30 days of only Soylent.

I also tracked each day’s productivity and emotions. Things didn’t start well. My energy and happiness were low as I was constantly craving a cheeseburger or pancakes.

However, in the last couple weeks, I felt more productive than ever. My energy was up, and I had intense focus on my work and art without the need to plan meal breaks. I felt happy, more than usual. Feeling positive led to getting up earlier and being genuinely excited for a productive day. I knew I’d be able to maximize time with Soylent on my menu. This was uncharacteristic for me pre-Soylent. I enjoy a solid day of productivity, but since I’m self-employed, sometimes getting up when the alarm goes off isn’t so easy.

Soylent and I got a lot closer over the past month

Soylent gave me that extra little boost knowing I could jump right into the day without having to make a mess making breakfast or think about what I’d eat for lunch. I was definitely very happy by the end of it all.

Maybe productivity did indeed increase compared to previously, but again, it boils down to what I value. And seeing as how I’m writing this with fresh bacon by my side, I think I’ll choose pleasure over productivity.

Like my happiness, my weight also took a dip in the first week. I started at 140, and by day five I was at 133. I knew that wasn’t a good sign, so I started eating more Soylent and got back to normal the next week.


I’m not sure how to end this, so I’ll be brief. It was a wild 30 days and I’m happy I did it. If you still have questions, you can ask them below in the comments section. I check The Hustle regularly, so I’ll make sure to respond as soon as possible.

And as always, subscribe with your email below to get The Hustle’s weekly episodes (this post is a great example of an episode).


Extras:


See all of Josh’s metrics

Blood tests: before, after



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