Leaving “Food” Behind

Living on just meal replacement shakes for a month, an experiment by Gergely Szabo.

Posted by Gergely Szabo on October 30, 2017

Before


Idea - What is a meal replacement?

I first heard about Soylent when they became crowdfunded back in 2014. The idea of replacing all your calorie intake with a cheap powder sounded fresh and exciting. Minimizing shopping, food preparation and dishwashing at the same time just seemed like a dream come true for someone like me. However they had a tremendous backlog of orders and shipping to Europe wasn’t even on the table at that point. That left me without trying it for almost three years.

Soon after I started my “one month a vegetarian” experiment I realized that I had to spend much more time planning meals than I would have liked. That is when I first entered “soylent for europe” into Google search and found myself wandering through the surprisingly diverse array of brands usually described as “meal replacement”, “whole food” “complete food”, “nutritionally complete food” or alike. My choice of company to get a sample from came to be Jake with the motto “eat what your need”.

Open and emptied packet of Jake Food Oaty Vanilla filled in Jake shaker bottle with 4 dl of water, unmixed. Open and emptied packet of Jake Food Oaty Vanilla filled in Jake shaker bottle with 4 dl of water, unmixed.

“Eating” like an astronaut

The sample certainly was not tasty, but It was good enough to convince me that my fear about the edibility was unfunded and to place a full size order of 20 meals, shared 50-50 with a friend, that is. I planned on replacing one meal every day as long as my supplies lasted and to observe my body’s reaction to Jake. After giving away two packs I was left with 8 days worth of dinners. Jakes for dinners became my nightly experiments and after just 3 days I was hooked! Prepping Jake is less than 90 seconds done right:

  • Pour 400mls of water into the shaker.
  • Open the bag.
  • Empty all the powder from the bag into the shaker.
  • Close the shaker.
  • Give it a few firm shakes.
  • Drink.

Drinking it can be as quick as a few seconds and washing the shaker with some hot water is also around 30 seconds. Three minutes if in hurry, five if comfy, fifteen a day max., not bad isn’t it? The idea of going all-in and eating Jake or similar exclusively suddenly became plausible. Spending around an hour searching the internet for similar products brought me to BlendRunner, an awesome site for anyone looking to compare meal replacement shakes. My picks were JimmyJoy for price, Queal for the variety of flavours available and Jake because I had a coupon and some credit for referring my friend with whom we shared the first order.


So simple, I felt a bit silly detailing the process :)


Starting

My fourth of September orders were the following:

From Queal:
Item Quantity
Awesome Apple Pie Standard 3 meals
Cool Chocolate Standard 3 meals
Funky Forest Fruit Standard 3 meals
Crazy Chocolate Peanut Standard 6 meals
Super Strawberry Standard 3 meals
Smooth Vanilla Standard 3 meals
Chocolate Hazelnut Happiness Standard 6 meals
Bangin Bacon Standard 3 meals
Shaker Bottle 1
My stack of queal packs Queal's clean, professional design and their not so good shaker

From JimmyJoy:
Item Quantity
Plenny Shake Chocolate Flavour 18 meals
Plenny Shake Strawberry Flavour 6 meals
Plenny Shake Vanilla Flavour 6 meals
Shaker Bottle 1


From Jake:
Item Quantity
Jake Original Oaty Vanilla Flavour 20 meals
Shaker Bottle 1
The three orders combined on the afternoon they arrived.

80 meals in total, enough for 26 days and two meals for the price of 206 euros.

To make this so called “experiment” somewhat scientific I consulted my practitioner, took a blood and urine test and decided to log my weight every night. For meaningful comparison of course I will go on and take the very same laboratory tests.

Thinking it through I realized that I will consume most meals at home, some at the university and the project will include a trip to Milan, Italy. I was determined to go all the way the full month except if I became sick.

I decided that I will start as soon as possible, with the first delivery, that is. All the orders finally arrived on the same day, on 11th of September, making it my first day on meal replacement. Well at least partially, I had some oat porridge for breakfast.

During


Week One

As soon as I got the boxes in the house I also notified and invited over my friend, who is though interested, less enthusiastic about meal replacement. We went over all the flavours, in small portions of course, just a teaspoon full of powder and a few drops of water mixed from each. We found most of them quite alright in taste, some even tasty and one horrendous. The Queal limited edition that turned out to have awful taste was of course “Banging Bacon”. My favorite taste at the time was “Chocolate Hazelnut Happiness”.

The first seven days of my little experiment went quite smoothly. I received many questions mostly about hunger and cravings, they turned out to be very legitimate. I always think about myself as someone with a strong will and self-control so successfully completing the first week did not come as a surprise. Compared to others I handle hunger well, but combined with the lack of real food, cravings became hard to resist. Such occasions were the time my brother made incredibly well done potato chips and another when on the weekend my mother made “lángos”, a salty hungarian bread like food cooked in oil. At both times most of the house smelled like food and there was no way to escape it.

Several acquaintances took interest in the shakes I was drinking so I gave some of them taste samples. None really liked the taste but it made me realize that texture mattered much more than I first though. While Jake is nice and smooth JimmyJoy does not mix that well and has bigger pieces in it, with Queal somewhere in the middle. I personally do not mind an occasional bigger piece that much, but I also prefer the smoothness of Jake over the others.


Week Two

On the second week I started to experiment with temperatures. I tried every one of them with both hot and freezing water. In general cooling makes them somewhat smoother and guess what? Cold. It is a good option if you are feeling hot, but does not change anything significant.

On the other hand hot water brings out the otherwise more subtle tastes like “Funky Forest Fruit” and some of the vanilla variants. Keep in mind that warm water does not mix with the powders that well and It’s very noticeable with Queal and Jake.

I had to get up at 5 AM twice this week and that meant around 20 hours awake so I decided not to torture myself and drink 4 shakes on those two days. I have lost some weight and have often been hungry on the first seven days so it was a welcome change. I felt great throughout both days and gained a new refreshing motivation to continue.

Nano

Browsing the already mentioned BlendRunner comparison site I stumbled upon Nano, the cheapest meal replacement shake when ordered in large quantities. After consulting with my friend and my father - who has also become a consumer since I started - I made my first order from Nano containing three flavours.

The order from Nano:
Item Quantity
Nano Regular (Vanilla flavoured) 8 meals
Nano Banana flavored 7 meals
Nano Coffee flavored 7 meals
Nano Bottle 1
Nano's medically clean packaging and their well-crafted premium bottle.

Week Three

On week three I have become bored of the pieces in JimmyJoy so I tried blending. Unfortunately our blender can’t seem to handle these fine powders that well. It does not cut the small pieces into even smaller pieces, but It sure does make it more smooth than a simple shaker. After a few days of blending I concluded that it’s not for me. It took additional time to prepare a meal and then just came the clean up...

After losing some weight and feeling a bit more hunger that what I would call comfortable I decided to be more free with the portions. It was around 4 hours after drinking a shake that I became hungry. Waking at 8 and drinking them every 4-5 hours made it comfortable, also increased my daily portions to 4 a day permanently and 5 when I had to wake up real early.

My Nano order from the week before arrived so I of course had to try all three tastes when I got my hands on them. I like eating bananas, however banana tasting things are not my thing. They taste artificial and frankly disgusting to me. It was no different with Nano, I could drink one, but that was it, I had no appetite for more. Coffee was very much the same, though somewhat better. Fortunately my friend likes banana and my father came to prefer the coffee taste, so I gave them away. Vanilla on the other hand was the best I have tried so far. Natural like a great Italian ice cream, without a doubt became my favorite of what Nano has to offer.

I was happy for about two days because I really liked the taste of Nano regular and knew that ordering it in bulk would bring down the price significantly. You can go as far as ordering 666 meals for €888 or around €1.3 a meal. I had to realize though, that Nano is not very comparable with the others as It only takes my hunger away for like two hours. In nutrition and calorie count it’s very similar to the others. In paper they might be, but in practice they are not. Nano meals are smaller and lighter with bigger pieces of oats and flax seeds visible. They do not make me feel full even directly after consuming, and in two hours I become hungry.

Thus my search for meal replacement shakes continued on Blendrunner. Being a viable candidate and getting another friend’s recommendation I decided to give Huel a try.

Order from Huel:
Item Quantity
14 meals of Unflavoured and Unsweetened Huel Powder 1 bag
14 meals of Vanilla Flavored Huel Powder 1 bag
Huel Natural Flavour Boost Sample Set 1
my hue They also included extra scoops, a shaker and a t-shirt with the order.

Week Four

The experiment went on for 33 days in total, but I will detail the remainder in this chapter. On these last few days cravings became irresistible. I started snacking tiny things like peanuts and pieces of pizza every time I went to the kitchen, but all in all 95% of my calorie intake was still from shakes. My only “real” cheat meal was a pizza during my trip to Milan, I just could not bare to sit in a restaurant and mix a shake when others were eating delicious Italian food right next to me.

Traveling with small bags of white powder I naturally expected some hurdles at the airport. In sealed, commercial packaging airport security was not one bit interested in them though. Milan does not have a scarcity of public fountains and benches so mixing and drinking Jakes in the city was easy as pie. The success of my Milan trip and meal replacement shakes inspired me to place a Quel order to my next Airbnb host’s address as I will spend a few days in Copenhagen where eating out is extremely expensive.

My Huel order from the previous week arrived. After the trip and giving away samples I was pretty much left with Huel only. I tried the unflavoured one first and It terrified me. Huel mixes with much more water and in the end you end up with 7 dl of thick mud. Bigger portions would not be an issue, but the taste of the unflavoured and unsweetened type proved absolutely inedible for me. Frankly, as I later found on their website as well, it tastes like earth. Rendering my every willingness of downing it null.

I did not want to waste the whole thing however, so I tried experimenting with two things. Cooking and mixing in something tasty to make it drinkable. Baking thick Huel and baking powder into pancakes proved to be a challenge. It was not comparable to a proper pancake, but still improved on the shake form. I tried making the shake taste better with the “Natural Flavour Boost” I ordered with it, but it was not able to take away the awfulness. It included flavours like: “Rhubarb and Custard”, “Toffee” and “Matcha Tea”, but none of them were strong enough to make it any good. I was forced to improvise trying different things, like blending a bunch of peanuts in it.

As I have already mentioned at this point all I had in stock was Huel. This state quickly had to end so I decided to try another popular brand: Myprotein.

The order from Myprotein:
Item Quantity
Whole Fuel - 1kg - Pouch - Natural Vanilla Raspberry 1 bag
Whole Fuel - 2.5kg - Pouch - Natural Chocolate 1 bag
Whole Fuel - 5kg - Pouch - Natural Vanilla 1 bag
Big bags with a simple design, nothing too fancy.

Myprotein’s Whole Fuel, or as they also call it a “Premium Vegan Blend” is pretty similar to Huel except it tastes better and mixes well with water. It’s definitely good enough to consider ordering it again and the price is great as well. This has been my experience “eating” meal replacement shakes for a month. For more details and some afterthoughts please continue reading.


Weight

One might try to notice a downtrend during the first two weeks and an uptrend afterwards, but I think these changes are within the normal fluctuation. Therefore I conclude that I did not lose significant weight during my experiment.


After

I ended the experiment on the 13th of October when I went to get my second series of lab tests. I originally planned to write up a whole analysis and comparison of the results, but the results were so similar that it would have been quite boring.


FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions


Poop

Interestingly, inquiries about my feces were one of the most common. As it turns out, many people think that when you get your food in a liquidish form than your feces would also be liquid or even entirely absent. In reality it was consistently solid, just the quantities were somewhat reduced.


Hunger

Another popular question was concerning hunger issues. I knew that people were overly concerned about feeling hungry so I was not all that surprised when It was asked about. And rightly so, it is a very valid question. In the first two weeks I was often very hungry, but as I later found out it was not a fundamental issue with the shakes, I just simply wasn’t eating enough.


Cravings

Hands down was the most popular interest. “How can you stand not eating anything salty / “real”?” Well, I have to tell you it was hard at the end and as I detailed above I could not fully resist it either. It’s one of the reasons I do not recommend going all in with it for everyone.

Costs

I made a table where I calculated the cost of replacing every meal for a month with each product I tried. The results are wide ranging from the low of €143 to the high of €251. I used the 2000 calorie recommended intake for the calculation, but as I have noted that is not enough for me personally.

Product Monthly
Jake Original €251
Queal Standard €189
JimmyJoy - Plenny Shake €150
Nano Original €180
Huel €240
Myprotein Whole Fuel €143
Calculated as around 2000 calories a day, every meal replaced, without discounts, no shipping included.
Why?

“Why would you torture yourself for a month like this?” My goal was to test If I could use meal replacement on the long run without running into health issues. It worked wonderfully opening up new opportunities for me.


Conclusion


Pros


It's a time saver!

In terms of preparation and consumption it beats everything! Also no grocery shopping or dish washing!

It’s healthy!

It has exactly what your body needs so it’s as healthy as possible!

It’s environmentally friendly!

Almost every one of them is vegan! The meat and dairy industry are one of the largest contributors to global emissions! With meal replacement shakes you skip both of them!

Cheap!

For healthy eating you have to spend much more in most developed countries!

Cons


Boring

It can get boring pretty fast, however you can always add something new to the mix, frozen fruits, nuts, etc. The possibilities are endless.

Antisocial

If you like to socialize during eatouts you might suffer a bit, but if you really think about it saving time actually allows you to spend it with your friends in other places!


If you still have any doubts about trying it I recommend 100 complete by Queal. You can get a sample from jake for €5 and use my coupon code: REFFOGTPIDHYO to get €20 off on your first full order from them!