Soylent and the Zenhabits "Month of Food Boringness"


I follow the Zenhabits blog, and was amused to hear of the author’s latest challenge for May, that is, to go without food reward.

No, he’s not going on a Soylent-only diet (darn!) but he’ll be eating only seitan, potatoes, and veggies, prepared plainly with no spices or seasonings (supplemented with olive oil and protein powder).

This is interesting not only because some other Soylent-backers may be inspired to do a similar challenge when their Soylent arrives (or with their homemade equivalents) but also because he linked to a really interesting series of blog posts on food reward.

According to the second blog post in the series, in the 1960’s, an experiment was done with humans (not just rats) using what sounds very much like Soylent, dispensed from a machine with a tube. “carbohydrate supplied 50 per cent of the calories, protein 20 per cent and fat 30 per cent. the formula contained vitamins and minerals in amount adequate for daily maintenance.”

From the blog post:

This machine-feeding regimen was nearly as close as one can get to a diet with no rewarding properties whatsoever. Although it contained carbohydrate and fat, it did not contain any flavor or texture to associate them with, and thus the reward value of the diet was minimized. As one would expect if food reward influences the body fat setpoint, lean volunteers maintained starting weight and a normal calorie intake, while their obese counterparts rapidly lost a massive amount of fat and reduced calorie intake dramatically without hunger. This suggests that obesity is not entirely due to a “broken” metabolism (although that may still contribute), but also at least in part to a heightened sensitivity to food reward in susceptible people. This also implies that obesity may not be a disorder, but rather a normal response to the prevailing dietary environment in affluent nations.

Now, I’m not looking to lose weight with Soylent, but I have been intrigued by the opportunity to get a better sense of the psychology of my own eating habits. I’ve already learned a lot from my own DIY experiments in the last month or two. Now, inspired by this “food reward” perspective, I’m really curious to try keeping my own DIY soylent as flavorless as possible, instead of adding cocoa powder and stevia as I’ve been doing for the past few weeks…

Has anyone else noticed any differences in their relationship to food since adopting a more “bland” diet thanks to DIY soylent?

Anyone looking forward to potentially losing weight thanks to the blandness of official Soylent when their shipment arrives?


Nice post! Yes, this perfectly describes my attraction to Soylent. My relationship to food has definitely changed as a result of consuming DIY soylent. My “food reward” sensitivity was off the chart, with seemingly no ability to rein in my appetite. Once i started eating something good there was no off switch.

Now, I am completely satisfied with a little over 2000 calories of DIY with no hunger, and I’ve lost about 16 lbs over the course of a month. I’m very eager to transition to Official Soylent, and I expect the results will be similar or better.

Thanks for the interesting link and post.


I find it so amusing that “boredom” is something so many people are terrified of when it comes to food. Personally it’s exactly what I actually want, since I’ve never enjoyed anything about eating (other than the obvious biochemical reactions that happen from sugar intake, etc.) and would rather just “fill up & be done” and get on with my life. Soylent is actually letting me do exactly that at long last… it’s freaking AWESOME!! =D


+1 on that. My food reward sensitivity has no points between ‘none’ and ‘ALL!!!’ I’m interested in seeing whether Soylent will correct that issue. Reset my sensitivity, so to speak, so that I can learn to enjoy food without having to eat it all.


Speaking obviously over a very short time horizon and purely anecdotally, this seems to be what has happened for me already. Despite having all my usual sweets & snacks around, I’m finding it very very easy to “just say no”. I have definitely had some mild cravings today, but where I’m certain I would normally have given in multiple times today, I’ve just shrugged and moved on.

Might not seem like much, but I can tell it’s a big shift for me. Today I did have the last half of a quesodilla leftover from a restaurant last night (it wouldn’t keep much longer and I didn’t want to just toss it) and I have to say it was really unusually tasty. And that’s reheated, which is rarely ever as good as when fresh! So something has absolutely changed with regards to my taste sensitivities. Pretty trippy stuff…


My soylent meals take less time, but I still include a little honey and cinnamon, or some mint-chocolate chip flavoring . I like intense flavors, and don’t plan on going with plain Soylent all the time. It’s not so much that I don’t want to be bored by food, but that if it can taste better - then why not? Just because it only takes 5 minutes to drink doesn’t mean that it can’t be pleasurable.


It’s been a few days since the start of my “bland soylent only” experiment, but I’m thinking I’m going to have to call it off.

No, the blandness is totally fine - in fact, it’s been great for letting me listen to my stomach rather than my taste buds in deciding when and how much to eat. And it’s forcing me to reevaluate my life and make an effort to actually do fun things again, instead of depending on food for an easy dopamine hit.

But over the past few weeks, I’ve been noticing more and more that I feel really weak and tired after each homemade soylent meal, in a way that is different than a sugar crash. I can’t think, my emotions are depleted, my muscles are weak - I feel like a toy that is low on batteries. This is a major problem. Now that I am not supplementing my diet at all except for some fermented pickles and sauerkraut (for probiotics) this pattern has become very obvious to me.

I don’t know what this is. Some searching online for “fatigue after eating” has brought up a few possibilities, including nutrient deficiencies or allergies. I do have a history of food allergies and sensitivities, so that’s a definite possibility. But I’m also wondering if I’m having trouble absorbing certain vitamins or minerals, or if my recipe is just too low in certain areas (despite hitting the RDI for everything that’s listed).

Going forward, I can think of a few options:

  • Supplement my Ax Chow 1.2 diet with a multivitamin pill (to see if a nutrient deficiency is the culprit)
  • Remove potential allergens from my recipe one at a time (like replacing masa harina with oat flour)
  • Go back to my healthy, delicious, but time-consuming Paleo-ish diet (what I ate before Ax Chow)

Any ideas or insights? I really don’t want to give up, but I cannot keep going like this. :frowning:


I don’t have any insights other than comparing what you describe, to my own experience with official Soylent. I experience the polar opposite, which is that I have consistent energy all day long and no longer experience the sort of thing you describe, which I noticed fairly often previous to Soylent. My first total wild guess would definitely align with looking at something missing from your recipe. Perhaps someone else with specific knowledge in that area can shed some light…?


The GNC Mega Men Sport has an energy formula that may cause a crash. I’m thinking about trying the Mega Men Maximum Nutrition formula instead. If the numbers work out the same, I’ll be trying that in a couple of days.


@axcho Does your recipe have oil in it, and if so how much?


I feel that when the body is malnourished, it begins to crave intensely whatever it can get, and that mainly ends up being what it knows, which is typically poor quality food. Malnourishment in the case of most Western nations isn’t a caloric deficit, but a vitamin and mineral deficiency. Most commercially available foods are vitamin and mineral poor, while being calorically rich. This is done intentionally, in my opinion, by the major food manufacturers to keep your body hungry, and thus craving more and more poor quality foods (that they supply in abundance). “Big Food” spends millions on making their wares look and taste attractive, with careful thought being given to the texture, and even shape of the “food”. Your body is starving for the vitamins and minerals it requires, but since it doesn’t receive them, it craves more and more poor quality food to attempt to glean the few wheat kernels of nutrition that it can glean out of the endless chaff of empty calories that comprise most processed foods today.

Soylent, in my opinion, is the food of the future in many ways. It offers a complete palate of all the required vitamins and minerals for proper health and vitality, while dispensing them in uniform amounts throughout the day, a feat even the most meticulously tailored and executed nutrition plan using regular food has difficulty matching. It’s very quick to prepare, requires no culinary abilites or skills, can be customized according to one’s tastes, and cleans up very quickly. It also begins to change the mindset of people from viewing food as a reward or an activity to pursue when bored, anxious or stressed toward a more ambivalent view of food as fuel.

I feel that many of the health issues typically experienced by Western citizens such as hypertension, diabetes and obesity have the potential to be eradicated (or at least markedly improved) by foods like Soylent. When our bodies are in harmony and receive the vitamins and minerals that they require in the correct amounts, many of these maladies will fall by the wayside, with substantial improvements in cognitive potential, mental acuity, mood, stamina and hormonal level balance being experienced in varying degrees by most people.

Given the potential benefits of the proper nutrition that foods like Soylent can provide, I’ll gladly risk a boring culinary experience…:smiley:


@vanclute I’m definitely really curious to try the official Soylent when my order finally arrives! I’ll be sure to post the results here.

@BriBy Hmm, that is really intriguing - please let me know what you discover with the alternative formula.

@NoFlames My recipe, Ax Chow 1.2, has 100 ml of olive oil.


I’ve thought of a few more things I could try:

  • Supplement my Ax Chow 1.2 diet with a different nutrient each day (like beets, for an iron deficiency)
  • Try a meal’s worth of each ingredient each day on an empty stomach (to see if any of them cause fatigue)

Oy. For science! :stuck_out_tongue:


To me what you’re reporting sounds like dietary changes. What is your normal diet like? Your Soylent recipe is pretty low carb, but high fiber. You may be experiencing a negative gut flora response to the combo of low carb/high fiber.

I would try adjusting the fiber and carb levels and see what happens.


Thanks @sheltron - I started with the high-carb People Chow 3.0.1 recipe, and adjusted down the carbs while increasing the fiber, in an attempt to imitate the high-fiber and low-carb food I was used to eating (mostly salads with vegetable oils and meat and some fruit and whole grains). I will experiment with the carbs and fiber!


Okay @sheltron, I’m using Ax Chow Alpha to experiment with a 30/20/50 carb/protein/fat mix, instead of the 20/30/50 mix of Ax Chow 1.2… I’ll let you know when I’ve had a chance to test it out!

In the meantime, I went to the store to buy some more foods and supplements to test out. First of all, I looked at the beets but it turns out that spinach has way more iron! So I had a big spinach salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and nutritional yeast when I got home, and that seemed to start reversing the fatigue I’d been experiencing. A good sign! :slight_smile: Then I had some corn chips and salsa and guacamole, and I’m feeling a lot better (though a bit too full, hehe).

I will test out extra vitamin D supplements tomorrow…


@axcho - There are so many thing to play with here. First I’d start a food and energy journal so you can see if you’re experiencing energy slumps throughout the day – are they timed around your food intake? Are you working out and possibly not getting enough calories?

You could be light on vitamin D or B. Definitely play with the protein/carb ratios. If you have food sensitivities specifically related to wheat or gluten then it could be the masa or the oats unless they’re both certified gluten-free. I’ve tweaked mine to use oat flour instead of masa, because I know I can get certified gluten-free oats.

I also know I do well with higher levels of Omega-3 (and lower levels of Omega 6) and using olive oil means you’re getting high in Omega 6. See if the upped vitamin D or B helps, and lowering the omega 6 might also be something to consider. I reduced my olive oil and am using flax oil and chia for my primary fats and fiber – however, the same enzymes that process flax seed oil are the ones that break down corn, so you’d have to cut back on masa anyway, otherwise you wouldn’t be getting the full benefits from the flax.

I’m guessing you’re male, so iron might not be it. Besides the salad, you could add a little natural molasses to your mix, it might help some of you’re actually experiencing issues with low blood sugar, as well as the fact it is surprisingly good for iron, Vitamin B6 and Potassium, and a very good source of Magnesium and Manganese. Other option might be adding some cinnamon if part of what you’re experiencing is actually a sugar spike from the corn.

Other things to check would be your water intake, are you drinking less water now that you have liquid food?

I don’t know if this just gave you more to play with, but they’re the first things that come to my mind.


Thanks @keiphyn, that’s a lot of good stuff to think about.

No need for a food or energy journal - all I’ve been eating is Ax Chow 1.2, and my energy slumps are timed like clockwork to start soon after I eat and last for several hours. :stuck_out_tongue:

I am taking some high-intensity martial arts classes that could result in not getting enough calories though. Hmmm…

I tried taking a vitamin D supplement with my morning Ax Chow, but experienced the same fatigue as always. So probably not that. :frowning:

I doubt it would be vitamin B, as my Ax Chow has a ton of it, but I will try supplementing with a spoonful or two of nutritional yeast tomorrow morning to test that out.

I have had food sensitivities relating to wheat and gluten. I’m using gluten-free oats; not sure about the masa. Replacing masa with oat flour would be an easy thing to try though.

I’m using chia to adjust the balance of Omega-3 and Omega-6. My usual diet was no different in this respect (lots of olive oil), so I would be surprised if this is a factor. May be worth experimenting though.

I am male, but I still want to investigate the possibility of an iron deficiency, especially as the spinach did help.

That’s an interesting idea about adding some actual sugar to the mix, since all my carbs are in the form of starch or fiber, currently. I’ll see if I can find some molasses this weekend. :slight_smile: Or maybe I’ll start with honey, since I already have that. However, I’d be surprised if it makes a big difference, as I’ve tried eating fruit with my Ax Chow, and that doesn’t seem to help.

I already add cinnamon to my Ax Chow to compensate for any potential sugar spikes. One thing I haven’t tried though is omitting the cinnamon - maybe I should test that out, haha. :wink:

I drink a ton of water, just like I always have. With liquid food, I drink even more. :stuck_out_tongue:

Thanks so much for your ideas! :slight_smile: I’ll keep you all posted in this thread…


Sounds like you’re definitely covering a lot of the areas already, @axcho! From the sound of the consistent slump starting soon after you eat, my deduction would be that it is responding to something you ARE eating, as opposed to something you’re not eating – the outlier being the obviously improved way you felt after a spinach salad.

If it is something like a wheat/gluten sensitivity, definitely try adjusting out the masa. I know that after I eat gluten I pretty much start to slump within 10-15 minutes and become a lethargic mess the rest of the day (I also get joint pain and other fun symptoms). If you know you are sensitive, I would definitely check your ingredients to see whether they’re gluten-free or processed on machines that also process wheat. You may not be absorbing the nutrients you need if your body is dealing with the reaction. Then feeling great after a spinach salad would also make sense – because you’re finally getting food.

If you decide you want something other than just oats, other flours to look into include (gluten-free masa, of course), chickpea, buckwheat (if it is certified gluten-free), pea, lentil, or rice. You could even look into something like hazelnut meal The benefit to something like lentil or chickpea, being the protein and other nutrients present. Hazelnut would obviously increase your fat, along with the protein.

If you’re working out, definitely consider your carb/protein/calorie intake. High intensity martial arts might mean you need more than 2000 calories, or you need more than 2000 calories on work-out days and can do 2000 on rest days.

The nutritional yeast would be a good thing to try, and maybe also a “green” powder could be something to play with. At some point I want to experiment with something like “Vega One”. Another thing I tend to have to do when I’m needing more iron is make an alfalfa tea.

And yeah, just to see if maybe you do need a little more sugar… honey or maple syrup. But if eating fruit didn’t help I doubt that is going to be the ticket.

Keep us posted and good luck! I look forward to hearing your experience.


Hmmm, yes, it may also be useful to do some isolated food challenges - like eating masa harina (with water) on an empty stomach, doing the same with the whey protein isolate, and so on.

I definitely have experienced the “gluten coma” effect as well, so that could very well be part of it. I wonder if the lactose in the GNC Mega Men Sport, or even the whey protein itself could be causing a reaction as well… I guess I’ll find out! :stuck_out_tongue:

I’m fine with just using oats as long as my body can handle it! My allergies to nuts and beans preclude some otherwise promising flours, but rice could be worth trying, and perhaps buckwheat.

Yeah, I probably should increase my calorie intake… Eh, oh well.

I’ll try the honey addition tonight, maybe. For lunchtime today, I supplemented with a calcium/magnesium/zinc tablet (or two), and I didn’t feel as fatigued as I did yesterday, but definitely not as good as I would on my usual diet. That improvement could easily be due to other factors, like sleep (I got more sleep last night than I did the night before).

Thanks for your interest! :slight_smile: