Tag Archives: Food

Really? More Than a Year Since I Wrote Anything?

Here we are, at the beginning of another year. My birthday is right around the corner, and I’m celebrating another year of feeling like crap every single day. Another year of weighing and measuring nearly every bit of food that enters my body. Another year of watching my weight bounce up and down, even though I’ve been dieting for five years straight. (By the numbers, I should have lost so much weight that I ceased to exist. Instead, I’m almost back to the same weight I was at this time last year, despite being 25 pounds lighter at one point.) Another year of specialists, procedures, and therapies that haven’t helped.

It’s also just about time for another annual physical. So, here’s my dilemma:

Do I go see the same doctor again? Do I look for a new physician? My current doctor is a big fan of “eat less, exercise more, all your problems will go away.” But, he does have a few years of history with me, so maybe he’ll finally consider another explanation. A new doctor might be hesitant to do much of anything based on a lack of history. Neither is likely to believe a word I say, as the truth doesn’t make any sense. Most doctors I’ve seen treat me like I’m A) lying, B) exaggerating, C) confused, D) drug-seeking, and/or E) stupid.

I’ve scoured the internet in an effort to diagnose myself. All signs point to a thyroid issue (or a related pituitary issue, or an autoimmune disorder that presents like, and can lead to, a thyroid issue.) Unfortunately, everything I’ve read says that most doctors fail to order the tests that would actually help define any of these conditions. Instead, they rely on a single test (TSH). If that test comes back in the “normal” range (which mine did), it’s the end of the story. Never mind that there is very little agreement on what normal is. Never mind that there are a wide array of thyroid, pituitary, and autoimmune issues that don’t show up on that test. Never mind that I’ve identified more than thirty symptoms commonly associated with thyroid issues. Never mind that even if my thyroid IS fine, I am still experiencing all these symptoms, and maybe “eat less, exercise more” isn’t quite enough.

Yes, I’m aware that self-diagnosis is an imperfect approach. Yes, I’m aware that the internet is not always a reliable source of information. I’m also aware that I walked around for more than a decade with a hernia, and couldn’t get a doctor to diagnose it until after I had diagnosed myself. I’m also aware that when I got a second hernia and told the doctor I had a second hernia, I still had to see two more doctors before being diagnosed with a second hernia. I’m also aware that I spent years with crippling back pain before I could get a doctor to order an X-ray and an MRI to discover two bad disks. I’m also aware that basically, I have spent my entire adult life in pain, and not once has a doctor acted BEFORE I diagnosed myself.

So, what, am I writing this just to complain? Maybe. But it’s also to help me clarify my own thinking. It’s also because I want to get back to writing more. It’s also because maybe, if I throw this out there on the internet, someone will read it and relate to it and have some helpful advice. All I know for sure is that I can’t do this much longer.

Surly Destination Brewery

Well, lucky me, I had the chance to take part in Surly’s soft opening today for lunch. So, my two little munchkins and I braved the 50° weather and journeyed all the way over the river.

I should say right off the bat that I am fully aware that this was a soft opening, and that problems are to be expected. In fact, one of the main purposes of a soft opening is to help unearth these problems before opening to the public.

The building and location definitely fit the Surly image and style. It’s tucked back into a small industrial area, just like the original brewery. Although it’s a brand-new multi-jillion dollar facility, it’s not flashy, and it sits well with the surrounding warehouses and loading docks.

The parking lot was pretty decent, but I think it will be full most of the time. There is a HUGE line of bike racks out front, and it’s just a block or two from the light rail, so hopefully that’ll cut down on car traffic. The parking lot is not yet painted, so cars were a little jumbled. I’m guessing that may not change until spring.

There’s a nice, big patio out front with a huge fire pit. I don’t know if they’ll be able to serve beer out there, but it will be great if they can. (I could totally see a small cigar bar out there, too.)

Inside, the space is nice and understated. Everything is black, grey, and metal with wooden tables. Lighting levels are nice; not too bright, not too dim. One wall is all glass and faces the brewery.

The hostesses were very friendly. Clearly, they were still working out a system for seating and tracking open seats, but they made it their problem, not ours. Each kid got a nice lunch box full of games and crayons to take to the table.

The main dining room is set up beer hall style: lots of long tables and benches. There were a couple of round tables for larger groups, and plenty of spots to split (or join) the long tables as needed. Squeezing a high chair in was tricky, as the benches prevented putting one on the side of the table, and it was really tight to put it in between tables.

OK, the important part: beer. Surly is promising more than a dozen beers for the official opening on Friday, but today there were only 8 (if I recall correctly: Furious, Bender, Coffee Bender, Cacao Bender, Hell, Cynic, Overrated, and Doomtree.) Glassware was nice and clean, and the beer was good. I would hope they get a little more experimental with the offerings, and have at least one beer engine going most of the time. Again, this was a soft opening, so I wasn’t expecting them to pull out the big guns or anything.

The menu is ambitious. Charcuterie, apps, a couple salads, a few meals, a few sandwiches, some sausages, and some sides. Pretty much everything was rich and heavy. If you like your food smoked, stuffed with fat, and swimming in a sauce or three, you’ll probably dig the menu. If you are vegetarian or have any dietary restrictions, your options will be limited. If you are vegan, you can probably stay home. The menus were disposable, so I assume they will change periodically.

The kids menu was less than ideal. The basic concept was great: pick one drink, one main course, one side, and one dessert. The main courses were good: cheeseburger, pizza, mac & cheese, and I forget what else. Since my kids are vegetarians, it came down to cheese pizza or mac & cheese. The sides were not so great: roasted potatoes, roasted cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and a few others. Fries, applesauce, fruit cup, carrot sticks, something like that would be a welcome addition. [Side note, fries came with a couple of the sandwiches, but weren’t available on their own on the regular menu or the kids’ menu.]

So, I got the Surly burger and a side of Brussels sprouts, my daughter got mac & cheese with roasted potatoes, and my son got a cheese pizza with cauliflower. (Surly is apparently another word for cheese, because a Surly burger is a burger with cheese on it.)

While we waited for food, we checked out the restroom facilities. In addition to a men’s and women’s room, there were two family/wheelchair rooms, which is awesome. The one we went in was spacious with a changing table, which is awesome. I assume the other was the same. The sink was a little high for children, but not bad. I didn’t get the chance to check out the men’s room.

Our food was being delivered right as we left for the restroom, so we had our food waiting when we returned.

Our table filled up fast. We had two lunch boxes full of toys, three waters, a beer, two juices, and our sippy cups from home before the food came. The pizza came on a large tray with a basket for cauliflower. The mac & cheese was in a small casserole served on a big plate to hold the potatoes.  My burger and fries also came on a tray, and the Brussels sprouts were in a mini cast-iron skillet on a hot pad. And a big wheel o’ condiments. Even with the toys packed up for eating, there was NO extra space on the table. A few adults ordering a decent variety of foods would have trouble getting everything on the table.

Oh, here’s something awesome: cloth napkins. I know, there are plenty of restaurants that use cloth napkins; it’s not like Surly invented them. I’m just saying I REALLY like that at a restaurant.

The food was pretty good. My kids both ate more than they have in a long time. My daughter wasn’t thrilled with the roasted potatoes, so I traded her for my fries. (I pretty much knew that was coming.) The potatoes were way underdone; hard and starchy. The cauliflower was good, but not terribly kid-friendly, being topped, sauced, and drizzled, but they each ate a little. The mac & cheese was gone, and a good chunk of the pizza went, too. My burger was fairly basic, but good, with a nice meat-to-bun ratio. The Brussels sprouts were really good: sweet, salty, and nicely browned.

The condiment wheel was nothing to get excited about: ketchup, mustard, two BBQ sauces (one sugary midwestern, one sugary midwestern with smoke), and a hot sauce. I would have expected something a little more special: house-made relish, brown mustard, some super-flaming-death Surly hot sauce, etc.

Then dessert. The kids each got a little ice cream sundae with their meals: Izzy’s vanilla ice cream with some fruity sauce and a dollop of whipped cream on top. I got an 8-layer cake that was pretty amazing.

The service was awful. I’m chalking this up to it being a soft opening, but they’re going to need to do a lot better with the volume I’m assuming they’ll have to handle. If there hadn’t been a platoon of bussers on hand to help our server, I don’t know that we would have even gotten our food. We were there for two hours, and I barely saw him. I would have liked a Coffee Bender with my cake, but I didn’t get the chance to order one. I don’t think he was even aware they had a kids’ menu before we ordered.

About halfway through our lunch, the background music came on. Of the $30 million spent on the brewery, I don’t think much was put into the acoustics. This is a personal pet peeve of mine, and it seems especially bad in all the taprooms and breweries going for an industrial look. A big open room with lots of hard surfaces is going to be noisy. Add a bunch of people drinking, and it’s going to get loud. Background music just makes everything louder. No one can hear the music, no one is enjoying the music, all it does is make everyone talk louder. There are professionals who can help you treat your space for acoustics. Anyone opening a new restaurant or bar should include that in their budget. Fortunately, these professionals can still help after the fact.

Prices were OK, but it can add up on you. A burger, a side, a dessert, two kids’ meals, and 1 1/2 beers came to $60. Dinner and drinks for adults could easily top $50/head, which is outside my comfort zone for casual dining. The kids’ meals were definitely the best deal on the menu. I would totally order one for myself next time if they let me.

So, overall, it was about what I expected. Personally, I’d like to see a couple of lighter options on the menu. I’m not talking Weight Watchers, but maybe a little less duck fat and pork. I had assumed the menu would be meat-heavy and painfully hip, and it was. (It’s not sauce, it’s jus. Or coulis. Or emulsion. Never sauce.) Prices were a touch higher than I’d hoped  for food, but not bad for beer ($5 pints/ $3 half-pints). The service was disappointing, considering  they probably had no shortage of applicants to choose from, but that’s fixable. Also, I’ll be curious to see how they’re staffed under normal circumstances. (They were staffed out the wazoo today, and I assume they will be for the first couple of weeks while they figure out how to handle volume.) This whole write-up may sound pretty critical, but none of the problems I saw today were outside the realm of “normal” for a soft opening, and all are fixable.

I’m glad we went today, because quite frankly, the place will probably be way too busy for me to bother with for a while.

Day Fourteen, Part II

OK, I split day fourteen into two posts. I received a few questions that I’d like to answer, but I want to be very clear that perhaps this post is not for everyone. So, here’s your warning:

This post deals with the digestive effects of ABC, specifically, elimination. There will be no other topics discussed here, so if you don’t want to read about it, don’t read any further.

Really.

I’m going to write about poop now, so you’ve had your warning.

One thing no one tells you about becoming a parent is how much time you spend talking about poop. Did she? Didn’t she? Quantity? Texture? Any gas? Well, the same holds true when starting a drastically different diet. Will I? Won’t I? Quantity? Texture? Any gas?

The first couple of days, I didn’t notice much difference. My urine turned fluorescent yellow from all the extra B vitamins, but that’s no surprise. Around day three or four, quantity started to taper off, and things got harder. I changed the recipe a little, adding a bit more fiber.

Unfortunately, that didn’t seem to help. That’s when I started thinking about the benefits of roughage over powdered fiber. I also kept a close eye on the iron content of my recipe, as I was getting about 300% of the RDA at that point. I made some changes and got that under 200%, which should be a fairly safe level.

One big advantage I can see to a manufactured Soylent would be the elimination of so many extra micronutrients. Yes, I could probably make a much more complex recipe and take care of some of that, but frankly, my recipe is already more complex than I want it to be. I’m pushing the limits of convenience as it is.

The only thing that really helped was adding a little food. When I had my first “meal” on day seven, things were much improved on day eight. The same was true a couple days later when I didn’t get my ABC and got Chinese carry out instead.

I don’t think the constipation was too severe, as a single meal was enough to set things right pretty quickly. Quite frankly, I really wouldn’t want it to get much worse than it did. To stick with Futurama, I felt like Nibbler generating dark matter: dark, hard, and just big enough to be uncomfortable.

So, long story short, my ABC recipe led to moderate constipation. I would guess that the longer I stayed on this recipe exclusively, the worse it would get. I would not recommend more than a week on this recipe without some leafy green vegetables.

Many users have reported gas problems, too. It seems the oats are the main culprit, but I personally did not have that problem. If anything, I was less gassy than usual while on ABC.

So, there you have it.

Day Fourteen

An internal monologue that will never happen in my world:

“I’m hungry. I think I’ll have a cup of soup, and maybe a slice of bread.” [Eat soup and bread.] “Wow, that was so fulfilling. I doubt I’ll have any desire to eat again for 4–6 hours.”

I guess that’s how some people function most of the time, and how they maintain a healthy weight. That’s probably how I should function, but I cannot envision an existence in which that is true.

I’m starting to rethink my entire attitude toward weight loss. It’s not easy. I’ve always thought of weight loss as a destination, and upon arrival, I’d just have to be cautious not to gain back too much weight. As long as I remained vigilant, I could catch the weight gain early, when I had five extra pounds instead of 80.

Then I read this article, and it tied in perfectly with what I’ve been contemplating the last few days: What No One Tells You.

As I made my way through this two-week experiment with ABC, I kept bumping the calories down a little further and a little further. I became more aware of the ‘extra’ calories I was getting from a cup of coffee here and a cracker there. I kept an eye on the scale, assuming that my weight must be dropping, because I was eating next to nothing. Gradually, I started to realize that this isn’t about making healthier food choices or cutting a few calories, this is about a complete lifestyle change.

There is no diet plan that will allow me to feel full while achieving a healthy weight. It will never happen. I will either be hungry or overweight pretty much the rest of my life. Sure, there will be brief moments in which I eat something and feel completely fulfilled afterwards, but they will be few and far between.

Maybe this is short-sighted of me. How can I predict the rest of my life with such certainty? Well, I can’t. But I can tell you that after 25 years of chronic pain, I feel pretty confident that I will continue to be in pain for the rest of my life. If, by some chance, that pain were to stop, I honestly don’t know that I’d even recognize the sensation. After fighting a never-ending battle with my weight, I feel pretty confident that will continue, too.

Maybe I’m being shallow. How can I complain about my weight when others are starving? Well, I can. I can complain, because my weight has been literally crushing me for years. I can complain, because every time I try to talk to a doctor about it, I’m branded fat, lazy, and too stupid to even be believed. I can complain, because I’ve spent countless hours and dollars on this problem, and I have yet to find a solution.

Maybe I am being lazy. Why don’t I just get off my ass and get some exercise once in a while? Well, I’ve tried. I joined a gym and went swimming every day. I went running, I went biking, I went walking. I’ve done yoga, I’ve done sit-ups, I’ve done aerobics. Now, I chase two small kids around the house all day. In my spare time, I’ve ripped out pavement and built retaining walls and installed windows. I’ve done these things on three hours of sleep; I’ve done these things when it’s below freezing outside. Oh, and not to toot my own horn too much, but I’ve done all of these things while in pain. Some days it’s mild pain, some days I want to cry just from getting out of bed, but it’s all day, every day. I’m not lazy, but I am still fat.

The question remains, what am I to do about it? Well, keep trying, I guess. The alternative is to learn to be happy with things the way they are, and I’m not. My clothes don’t fit, I’m tired all the time, and I generally feel lousy. I’m also not thrilled about the way I look. Maybe that’s vanity, but there it is.

I also don’t feel safe. I’m not getting any younger, and it’s not unreasonable to think I could have some health problems. In my experience, no doctor will even consider the possibility of any illness, condition, or injury in an obese patient. Everything that could ever go wrong is linked solely to my weight. If I ever want to be taken seriously by a medical professional, I have to be thin.

So, I guess I need to be hungry. I need to keep scaling back the calories until my weight starts to drop, and stay there. I need to wrap my head around the idea that if I ever reach a healthy weight, I will still have to battle every day to stay there. I will never be done.

On the positive side, I do think that ABC can help. It’s relatively easily to monitor my exact caloric intake on ABC, so hopefully I can find a number that works for me. I’m still optimistic that ABC can help me learn what an appropriate portion size is, even if it leaves me hungry. It can also help me get balanced nutrition, which was often lacking on other diet plans.

I don’t think I’ll be on ABC all day every day, but I can see me continuing this a few days a week to help maintain balance. I guess I didn’t get the answers I expected from this experiment, but maybe I got one or two that I needed.

Days Six, Seven, and Eight

I had a killer weekend, so I didn’t get to write individual posts for each day. I’d love to tell you that today’s post will be extra-awesome to compensate, but I don’t think I’ll raise your expectations like that.

I was able to more or less stick to my intentions for the weekend, which is good. In addition to the ABC, I had a bowl of vegetable soup on Saturday night. On Sunday, I had a half-batch of ABC and a big pile of takeout from Quang. I don’t have exact numbers, but I feel pretty confident that I still burned more calories than I ate.

Unfortunately, both kids opted against sleep last night. Well, OK, they don’t really ever sleep through the night, but last night was especially bad. My wife got about 90 minutes of sleep, I got probably double that. So, today is not pretty. I’m exhausted and both kids are cranky. I spent the whole weekend on house repairs and projects, so now I’m buried in dishes and laundry.

Seems like a perfect time to sit and write, eh?

So, that’s a week. Now that I’ve done this for a week with very little additional food, I have a few thoughts.

First, I can’t see myself doing this every day for any extended period of time. It does seem to be a good way to re-train my body to recognize how much food I actually need, so I’m hoping for easier portion control after this. I already noticed that last night’s meal filled me up a lot more than it would have a week ago, and I didn’t even get any coconut bread.

Second, this approach to nutrition is not very flexible. Most of us have different caloric needs every day. Sure, we all probably maintain a pretty consistent average need, but there’s still a lot of fluctuation. Longer-term, I could see changing the recipe to meet my caloric needs on my laziest day, then add a snack here and there based on the day’s activities.

Third, I like the idea of getting complete nutrition every day. Yes, there’s the obvious side of that, but it also means that when I’m not on ABC, I don’t have to worry a whole lot about nutrition. It’s not license to go crazy and live on milkshakes and nachos, but I don’t have to give much thought to individual nutrients. If I eat even a vaguely balanced diet, I should be fine.

Fourth, this is time-consuming, at least for right now. Right now, I’m paying a LOT of attention to every detail of the experience: monitoring my caloric needs, keeping an eye on my weight, paying careful attention to my body’s signals for any concerns, trying to keep some less common ingredients on hand, and mixing up a batch every morning. Then I write about it. In the short term, this is not more efficient.

In the future, there are some things that could smooth out the whole process for me. A commercially-available product would help, even if it is a little more expensive. It would be simpler, and if done correctly, it would provide an even better balance of nutrition. There should be a lot less waste nutrition, too: the irrelevant overabundance of certain vitamins. Even if I continue to make my own, I could at least settle on a recipe. I could also probably put together a pre-mix of the dry ingredients, so there’d be less measuring each morning. It won’t always be a as much of a hassle as it is now.

But, overall, I’m happy with my first week on this plan. I think I’m off to a good start.

Day Five

Day Five also happens to be the first day of five crazy days around here. More if you count Halloween, which is actually still pretty tame with our eldest only three years old. But, the kids did not want to go to sleep after trick-or-treat, so it wasn’t the best way to start this particular stretch of mayhem.

Anyway, today my wife went in for a half day, then as soon as she came home, I went to training to be an election judge, then we met at Powderhorn for Empty Bowls where we volunteer as a family. Tomorrow, I’ll get up early and start draining the radiators so I can do some more plumbing work, go to my yoga class while that drains, then come back and work until it’s done, no matter how long that takes. Sunday, I’m planning to mix and pour 1500 pounds of concrete, again, working until it’s done. Sunday night we change the clocks, so I have every reason to believe the kids will be up about 4:00 AM with no comprehension of why that’s a problem. Monday will  be a normal day, except that we’ll be driving to Lakeland after my wife gets off work to pick up a new used car, and hopefully get back in time to not screw up the kids’ bedtime (the first one after the time change). Tuesday is election day, and again my wife will go in for a half day at work, I’ll take the kids to school in the morning, then I’ll go play election judge for 8 hours.

Those of you who know me (and I’m assuming that both the people who read this do actually know me) know that I handle stress and lack of sleep with food. Except that right now I’m not really eating. It should be interesting.

I did mix things up a little in the last 24 hours. Last night, I ate two pieces of Halloween candy. I had an ultra-micro-fun-size Snickers, because that was the closest thing to real food in the bowl, and a York Peppermint Patty, because it was a PEPPERMINT F-IN’ PATTY. Tonight, I had some soup and a couple tiny pieces of bread at Empty Bowls. I don’t feel too bad about it, as I biked downtown for training and spent several hours on my feet tonight. The soup was pretty light, too.

Still, it was food, and it tasted gooooooood. I’m having a really hard time separating the joy I took in eating something delicious from the fact that I had every right to be pretty darn hungry at that point. But, I’m not beating myself up over it. My overall calorie intake is still plenty low for the day. In fact, there’s a pretty good chance that when things settle out a bit, I’ll change the recipe to add a few more calories.

I’ve also decided that I’ll add a ‘meal’ to Sunday evening. That will mark the end of my first week (well, 6 2/3 days), and also the end of a pretty active weekend. My current plan is to simply make a half-batch of ABC in the morning, then get a bag of Vietnamese deliciousness from Quang in the evening. I’m very curious to see what real food will do to my system after being on ABC almost exclusively for a week.

Overall, I still feel pretty good. I didn’t get much sleep last night, which never helps. My bike ride was fun, but a definite reminder that I don’t get enough exercise these days. I’m hungry, but I think a big part of that is that it’s Friday night, both kids are asleep, my wife is out, and as soon as I’m done writing this, I’m going to park my butt in front of the TV for a while. Hunger isn’t a factor so much as it just seems like a great time for a snack. The last couple hours before bed time is definitely the hardest time for me during this little experiment.

Day Four

I said I wasn’t going to mess with the recipe anymore. I lied. But, I had a good reason.

It occurred to me that I was adding quite a bit of cinnamon for flavor, and perhaps I should look at any nutritional concerns associated with that. Turns out that cinnamon is actually pretty high in fiber, but was also adding noticeably to carbs and calories. So I adjusted the other ingredients just a little bit to compensate.

NOW I’m not going to mess with the recipe for a while. Really. I mean it. Besides, this batch is pretty tasty, so why mess with that?

So far, this experiment is going pretty well. By the end of the day yesterday, I was definitely feeling a little hungry. I do think it was actual hunger, not just a desire to eat something. (Although, that was certainly still in there.) I did move 1500 pounds of concrete last night, which may have been a factor.

Sleep has been better the last few nights, too. I can’t say whether or not this has anything to do with ABC, as my sleep has been disrupted by a number of factors lately. Regardless, I’ll take it. Sleep is good.

I’ll be giving the ABC some extra testing this weekend, as I have a couple of large house projects on the schedule. That’ll mean more activity, more calorie burn, and a stronger feeling that I’ve earned a treat of some sort. Usually that treat would take the form of grilled meat on a bun and a beer, but I may have to come up with an alternative.

I’m also debating what to do on Sunday. See, my original plan was for a one-week trial, ending with an actual meal on Sunday night. Then I thought that two weeks would be better. Then I thought maybe I should have a meal Sunday night anyway, to see what effect food has in the middle of the experiment. I’ll probably end up eating a little something. We’ll see how hungry I get installing radiators and pouring concrete.

Day Three

I tweaked the recipe a little bit again, adding some milk and cutting back on the sugar. It’s not quite as sweet as yesterday’s batch, but still much better than Monday’s. I intend to leave the recipe alone for a few days now so that I can start comparing apples to apples.

Some good news: I stepped on the scale this morning, and it reported 238. Now, I was pretty sure I hadn’t lost 5 pounds over night, so I thought I had better recalibrate the scale. After recalibrating, it still showed 238, so I’m going to call that my starting point. It’s not great, but it’s a little better. I’m still hoping that at least the first ten pounds will go quickly.

Overall, I still feel OK. I think maybe possibly I’ve fought this cold back, and that’s mostly a non-issue at this point. I feel a little hungry most of the time, but not too bad. Certainly no worse than what I experienced on Weight Watchers, and about what I’d expect while trying to lose weight. Yes, I could tear through a large pizza and a pan of brownies without blinking, but that’s usually true anyway.

This Friday, November 1, is the Sixth Annual Powderhorn Empty Bowls, and it will be the third year that my family and I have volunteered. In short, it’s a big community meal to raise money for some local food shelves. It’s not lost on me that while I’ve always been an overeater, and I was probably on some sort of diet the last two years while I was there, this year I’m actively trying to condense my eating to a new minimum while raising money to help people who need to eat everything they can get. Maybe a little perspective will help my efforts.

That also brings me to an interesting aspect of Bachelor Chow that I hadn’t considered prior to my most recent research: its impact on world hunger. Imagine shipping crates of this stuff to a refugee camp. It might not be that tasty, but it’s an extremely dense form of complete nutrition, and it’s slow to spoil. The expense of shipping enough ‘food’ to feed 10,000 people a day would drop significantly. At startup, Soylent is expecting retail price to be around $9/day for complete nutrition, with prices dropping a little if sales go up. If we assume 100% markup, then cost is $4.50/day. If that were manufactured in mass quantities for relief efforts, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that cost could be cut in half to $2.25/day. That’s probably higher cost than rice and beans, but it would be much cheaper to ship and much more complete. Those costs are only likely to drop, too. Imagine starving people not just surviving, but actually getting complete nutrition, growing stronger, getting healthier, and becoming able to contribute to their community again.

Day One

I have a love/hate relationship with food. Basically, I love food so I eat until I hate myself. As a result, I’ve struggled with my weight my entire life. I also have plenty of other health issues: back injuries, foot injuries, insomnia, depression, allergies, headaches, hernias, etc. Many of these are likely related to my weight, and together, they’ve provided me with chronic pain for decades. I honestly have no idea what it feels like to not be in pain.

Over the years, I’ve had varying degrees of success with different approaches to weight loss. Most recently, I spent 18 months on Weight Watchers. WW was pretty effective, and I lost quite a bit of weight. It was very expensive and time-consuming, but it was working. After about a year, though, things started to plateau. Instead of losing weight, I was just getting more and more lethargic. I couldn’t maintain my energy levels anymore, which made exercise nearly impossible. For the last six months I was on WW, I gained about ten pounds and felt terrible, so I quit.

Now with two small children in the house, I’m finding it harder and harder to incorporate exercise into my daily life. I take a yoga class once a week, most weeks. I was walking pretty regularly, taking the kids out to the park, that sort of thing, but rarely did I get my heart rate up for any extended period. At best, I was getting just enough exercise to maintain.

I got myself a Nordic Track with the absolute best intentions of getting up early in the mornings and putting in some time on it. Seriously. Then, the day after I got it set up in the basement, we had to empty the attic for roof repairs following the big storm in June. Now, my Nordic Track is completely surrounded by boxes of crap that haven’t been opened since we moved into this house.

All of this is a long-winded way to say I’m at my wits’ end. To date, I have not found a combination of diet and exercise that works for me. I’m still gaining weight, and I still feel terrible all the time. It’s time to try something totally new.

I had an idea many years ago for People Food. Basically, something like pet food with complete nutrition for humans, and one could simply adjust the quantity for their own personal caloric needs. I wasn’t the first to come up with the idea, but now food science is getting pretty good at it. Enter Soylent.

See, a whole bunch of people had the same idea, and started discussing it on the internet. They started their own recipes, sharing tips, and comparing notes. Some started calling it soylent, after Soylent Green. Others went with Bachelor Chow after Futurama. Whatever you call it, it comes down to the same thing: all your basic nutritional needs with as little extra as possible.

A couple other guys had the same idea, but they went to college, got fancy degrees, and started making it for real. They had an insanely successful crowd-sourcing campaign, and are about to start manufacturing this product. They’ve also teamed up with the homebrewers to share refined recipes to make at home. Now there’s a website to help you create your own recipe. So I did.

ABC (Andy’s Bachelor Chow)

My target is 1900 calories a day. My recipe is tweaked to be slightly higher in protein and slightly lower in fat than the US Government recommendations. 1900 calories is probably a little light for a guy my size, and I may need to bump that up as I go. Or, I may just decide to eat a banana every morning or something.

Now, I’m committing to this for two weeks. I’m separating my biological need for fuel from the pleasure I get from eating. Essentially, I’m giving up food.

I don’t expect to never eat again; this isn’t like quitting smoking. But, I’m hoping to get a grip on my body’s needs and get portion sizes under control. Instead of asking myself how much of something is OK to eat, I can now simply have none. If I do this for a couple weeks, I hope to have a better idea of how much is enough. If it works well, I can continue it several days a week.

I have some concerns with this approach, and I’m hoping to remain flexible enough to adjust as needed while staying firm enough to stick to it. For one thing, I’ve been drinking a lot of coffee lately, and I anticipate some serious caffeine withdrawal over the first few days. I may add a few calories the first few days for a cup of coffee to help ease that transition.

Anyway, today is day one. I just finished a big glass of ABC for breakfast. It was… different.

The flavor wasn’t too bad. Mostly, I could taste the corn. It was saltier than I expected. The texture was a bit rough, but I think a finer oat flour (or more blending) would help that. I think I’ll add cinnamon to the next batch, and a bit more water to make it a little thinner. I’d also considering changing the recipe a little to add some milk, which might improve the taste and texture quite a bit. I’ll probably wait on that, though.

If I end up doing this longer term, I think I should seek out some organic, non-GMO masa, since that’s a major ingredient and corn is such a bastardized crop.

Overall, it was bearable. The goal isn’t flavor anyway, but it does need to be something I can handle three times a day.

We’ll see.

[EDIT] Here’s a screen shot of the recipe. Apparently, there’s an issue with Internet Explorer not displaying the grid on the web page. So, here you go:Screenshot from 2013-10-28 15:14:13

 

A Year of Hell, Part I

[Editor’s note: Please forgive the confusing verb tenses in this blog post, as it was written over the course of almost two months. What was the future is now the past, except for what is yet to come.]

The years of our lives don’t always follow the calendar. The crap pile of a year I’m calling 2013 actually began for me in September of 2012. That’s when I left a job that I loved and held loads of promise to get even better. It was an incredibly difficult process for me, trying to balance my dreams and desires against my ethics and standards, but in the end, I had to let it go. In hindsight, it was the right choice, but that hasn’t prevented it from haunting me.

This was also about the time we became a one-car family. The beater we bought to get us through became too expensive to maintain, so we had to let it go. I discovered later as I was going through the paperwork that it had actually been rolled and totalled before we got it.

I had big ambitions as 2012 drew to a close. There were a number of large projects around the house that I was finishing: new windows throughout, painting the exterior, lots of wiring, and I had even hoped to start on the plumbing. As winter settled on Minnesota, I had to concede that not all of it was getting done, but I still felt OK about what I had accomplished. I started to get a little more comfortable as a stay-at-home father of two, even if it was exhausting. My daughter started using the potty pretty regularly, and it seemed like maybe we’d be down to one kid in diapers soon.

Somewhere shortly after the new year, things began to fall apart. Even as my son started to sleep through the night a little better, my daughter stopped. I think it was a delayed reaction to bringing home a new baby, but she started to get very needy, demanding more and more attention. She stopped using the potty, almost with a vengeance. She took hours, literally, to go to bed each night. My wife and I would spend every night from around 6:00 until 11:00 or so trying to calm her enough for sleep.

She and I were getting a little stressed at this point. Our free time was from about 11:00 PM until 5:00 AM each day. That’s when we would eat dinner, wash the dishes, and try to get some sleep. She was still getting up with the little guy once or twice at night.

Fortunately, I was keeping reasonably busy with my DJ work through the winter. It’s usually pretty slow during the colder months, but I managed to do alright. It also gave me time to get the groceries each week, since Cub is open 24 hours.

I had gotten really aggressive with my diet, giving up caffeine, most dairy, most animal products in general. After two years of serious dieting and exercise, I was down to the last 15 pounds I needed to lose to hit my target. Then the lack of sleep started to take its toll.

First, I stopped getting much exercise. Colder weather and icy sidewalks made it hard to get out, two kids not sleeping made it hard to do anything inside. Plus, let’s face it: it’s hard to get motivated when one can barely stand.

Then I started having a little more caffeine. And a little more. And a little more. Then it was time to admit that I was drinking coffee daily. Then I’d have a little more when I was working late.

Then my diet started to fall apart. Healthy, natural food fell to the side in favor of food that was ready now.

Then the pounds started to come back. I fought and fought, but I just couldn’t keep the weight off anymore. My doctors kept telling me to get more exercise, and somehow they couldn’t understand that I didn’t have it in me to work out when I was sleeping three to five hours a night.

My wife was in the same boat. She had the added bonus of having given birth six months earlier, which as you may know, can cause a woman to gain a pound or two. She actually enjoys exercise, and had been itching to get out and run, but she was sleeping even less than I.

We were both getting cranky. We barely spoke, not out of anger, but as a practical matter. When two people are only awake in the same room for an hour a day, there’s only so much conversation to be had. We both felt bloated and sluggish, but couldn’t find any way out of the cycle. Every day was the same: crawl out of bed, feed the kids, wash the dishes, do the laundry, repeat, collapse. My meals generally consisted of whatever my daughter left on her plate and whatever I could microwave at 2:00 AM.

I started dragging myself to a yoga class each Saturday morning, and that helped a lot. The exercise was great, but it was also the one hour a week I had of serenity and adult interaction.

When spring came to Minnesota, it brought its usual renewed sense of hope. This time was going to be different. I was going to start making decent money as work got busier. We had a number of major projects lined up for the house, but they were solidly planned and prioritized. It would be a busy summer, but it was achievable.

Every Saturday I was either working a wedding, working on the house, or both. I was still exhausted, but I was DOING SOMETHING, and that felt good. I got most of the trim done on the windows. I built six new garden beds (plus a little one just for my daughter!) I hadn’t started on the plumbing yet, as we were still running the boiler almost every night, but that could wait. We had the whole summer ahead of us.

We had two big events planned, too. In July, there would be a family reunion in Wisconsin. In September, we were throwing a big party in South Carolina for my parents’ 50th anniversary. Over the last couple years, I’ve been gathering some information on the family to try to get a decent family tree together, and the reunion would be a great opportunity for that. The party in South Carolina would just be fun. Both would give me chance to meet some new people and get reacquainted with others.

Work was pretty solid. In fact, August was lined up to be very busy, and I was likely to make more money that month than I had since my daughter was born.

Yes, this summer was looking good. Until it wasn’t.

In April, my brother-in-law suffered a terrible accident while on vacation. The first report we got was three broken vertebrae in his neck and he’d likely need surgery. As the weeks went past and he saw more and more doctors, the news did get better, but it was still going to be months of treatment and therapy.

In June, there was a big storm and a tree fell on our house. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but the roof didn’t fare so well. The contractor (who was selected by State Farm because they were more or less preapproved for whatever repairs they felt were necessary) told us we’d be getting a whole new roof, no problem. The insurance adjuster, however, thought it would make more sense to try to get a variance from code to do a crappy little patch job. In the mean time, the roof continued to sag, causing more damage to ceilings and walls.

In July, I started to get a little sore. I still wasn’t sleeping or exercising, and I had put on some weight, so I wasn’t too surprised. It got worse. There was some swelling. Eventually, it dawned on me that I had been through this before: it was another hernia!

I ended up in urgent care to get a diagnosis. I had to cancel on a wedding that night; I ended up in the emergency room instead. The hernia was definitely expanding and getting more painful. The ER doc didn’t believe me or the UC doc. He found an infection, and decided that was impossible for me to have more than one medical problem at a time. So, after blood tests, urine tests, an extremely uncomfortable ultrasound, and a CT scan over the course of eight hours, he gave me a pill and sent me home.

So, I had to schedule another appointment to get the hernia rediagnosed. Much like the UC doc, this doctor found the hernia in seconds. We scheduled the surgery and discussed recovery times, follow-up procedures, etc.

All this was just in time for me to clear my schedule for August. Remember August? My busiest month, in which I would make really good money again for once? Yeah, cleared it.

Still, we had the family reunion in between the diagnosis and the surgery, so that would be fun. Sure, I’d rather be feeling 100% for that, but it was Wisconsin, so I knew there’d be beer.

Well, the kids were still having a pretty rough time. There hadn’t been a lot of sleeping, and now my son had stopped eating. Instead, he chose to subsist entirely on milk again, which led to some pretty serious constipation. Yeah, all day away from home with a plugged-up one-year-old. That’ll be relaxing.

My wife and I ended up spending most of the reunion taking one of the kids for a diaper change or outside so their crying wouldn’t disturb anyone. I hardly managed to speak to anyone there. Still, there were some good times mixed in there, and I was glad we went. We visited the old family farm, which my daughter loved. I got to meet a few new family members and learn a little about my ancestors.

By the time we got home, we were wiped out. I was actually looking forward to surgery, when I’d be forced to relax for a couple days.

Yeah, no luck. Within 24 hours of getting sliced, things were going badly enough with the kids that I had to get back to laundry and dishes.

A couple days later was National Night Out, and I was heading up our block party. I couldn’t really lift anything yet, but it still went well. We had a pretty good turnout, lots of food, and more folks were just starting to drift in when the rain started. So, we quickly tore everything down and scampered back home.

The next couple of weeks were a bit of a blur, as I tried to do as little as possible while still caring for the kids and maintaining a household. The anniversary party was looming, but we had a pretty solid plan for that. I was on the phone almost every day arguing with someone at State Farm about code violations and roofing repairs.

Then the party plans started to fall apart. In some ways, it was a good thing: we had gotten so many “yes” responses, that we had to change venues. No big deal, there was another room in the same building we could use. We were going from 65 people in a room that holds 75 to 120 in a room that holds 350, which would involve some creative space-filling. Our main contact at the venue was kind of a dingbat, and in the end, we just decided we’d have to show up and make the best of it.

Finally, the time came to load up the car and head to South Carolina. Right before we left, we got a phone call from State Farm that they would rewrite the estimate to cover ALL of the damage to the house: new roof, structural repairs up to code, ceilings, walls… everything. The party plans were as solid as they were going to get. We had ECFE class in the morning with the kids, so hopefully they would be tired when we started driving. My daughter hadn’t slept at all the night before, so she was due for some serious sleeping. I thought this was my turning point. After almost exactly one year of lousy timing and bad circumstances, things were looking good.

Nope. My wife didn’t get to start her packing until after midnight the night before we left. Instead of having everything ready to go and getting some sleep, we ran and ran and ran all night. And the next morning. Then that afternoon after class. Finally, two hours late and soaked in sweat, with everything but the kitchen sink crammed into the car, we left.

Then the screaming started. First one kid, then the other. Then both. Then they’d get quiet just long enough to make us think it was over. It wasn’t over. It wasn’t ever over. We stopped for diapers, we stopped for snacks. We stopped to try to soothe them. For every two hours on the road, we spent an hour stopped.

We had planned to do the 1300-mile journey in two and a half days. Things were going badly enough that I decided to just keep moving. Like tearing off a Band-Aid, it seemed best to do this quickly and be done with it. We made it 12 hours the first day, and it took 18 the next day to finish the trip. I’m pretty sure those were two of the worst days of my life; I could probably write a book about them, but I won’t. In short: our first stop was for coffee and sandwiches, our second stop was cleaning three gallons of vomit off the car seat, our third stop was for Febreze. The first 100 miles took over three hours. I drank some coffee, I fantasized about starting a new life as a troll under that next overpass, I drank some coffee, we listened to “Family Time” by Ziggy Marley 736 times (the song, not the whole album), I drank some coffee, we were chased by a psychotic truck driver, and I didn’t need any coffee to stay awake for a while after that. We missed getting creamed by a drunk driver by a matter of inches, we had a few not-so-proud parenting moments, and by the time we arrived, my daughter had slept maybe four or five hours over the course of three days. On the plus side, we now had a whole extra day at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.