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Issue #22 (August 2016)

From the Editor

Volume 1

Let’s talk about Soylent.

In case you didn’t know, Soylent is a meal replacement that’s intended to totally replace daily food intake, initially released in 2013 and gaining steam ever since. And no, it’s not named after Soylent Green, but after an earlier story that employed soy and lentils as a staple food. Soylent is mostly gaining steam in the “hack-my-(fill in the blank)” community that spends a lot of time on the Internet. Not to judge that community, since most of us humans now spend a bit too much time on the web.

People tend to have divergent views of Soylent. Those who use it, sometimes even to the exclusion of normal foods, tend to really like it. It’s cheap (somewhere around ten bucks for a day’s worth of calories and nutrients) and convenient. It also doesn’t taste that bad. So if you were stuck on a desert island, this would be the perfect stash of food to find, especially since it won’t spoil quickly like normal food.

The thing is, very few of us live on desert islands. The real-world motivation to use Soylent varies widely. Some people use it to lose weight in a controlled fashion while still obtaining nutrients. Others use it to simplify their lives. A few people out there don’t like eating food (yes, this is possible).

But while Soylent has some understandable reasons for its use, it also scares me.

If you’ve ever seen movies like “WALL-E”, you can envision a future where humans live a life of convenience 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. Machines do their exercise for them, and they most definitely don’t have to take the time to cook plants and animals to obtain nourishment.

The thing is, we’re probably almost halfway there. Fewer people cook each decade, and more and more of our diets are comprised of bars and shakes. Soylent is fairly well thought-out in terms of providing basic nutrients, but the health giving power of food isn’t likely to be captured in vitamin/mineral/macronutrient content. So while a Soylent drink largely composed of soy protein isolate, maltodextrin, and canola oil won’t kill you, I can’t imagine a scenario where it leads to better health than eating actual food.

But that’s not what really scares me. What really scares me is that Soylent and other Soylent-type life hacks continue the trend of separating humans from the process of obtaining and using food. When you’ve grown food, cooked meals for family and friends, possibly even hunted or fished, you’re approximating what humans have done for over 100,000 years. Copying earlier humans isn’t inherently valuable, but there must be some detriment to cutting off yet another one of our links to the natural world. Perhaps in the future you won’t have to go outside to see the sun, maybe it could be streamed directly into your eyes. That may sound silly and alarmist, but subsisting on powdered isolates when real food is available? That also sounds a bit silly.

Kamal Patel,
Editor-in-chief, Nutrition Examination Research Digest

Volume 2

How often do you weigh yourself? It’s not a trivial question, since daily weighing has often been shown to improve[1] weight control[2].

Given these positive results, you might think that advice to weigh yourself daily should be universal. Well, that’s probably not a good idea, for a couple reasons.

First, weight fluctuates quite a bit day-over-day, by up to five or more pounds in some cases. The variation can be due to a variety of factors, such as the changing weight of poop, pee[3], blood volume, and glycogen. So if you gain a couple pounds within 24 hours, that most definitely doesn’t mean you gained two pounds of fat.

Second, just because some studies suggest that daily weighing can be beneficial, doesn’t mean daily weighing is beneficial for everyone. Studies report on average values in populations, and that misses out on the wide differences in individual responses. So it may be a good idea for some people to weigh themselves daily, in certain situations, and it may be a bad idea for other people. Weighing yourself daily can be a habit that greatly increases awareness of bodyweight changes over time - not over the course of days, but over weeks and months. And it also lends some accountability to the weight loss process, since you can’t trick the scale (well, you technically can, as evidenced by wrestlers who weigh-in dehydrated, but that’s not the case here).

But daily weighing is a double-edged sword, and can sometimes spiral into obsessive habits. It’s already extremely easy to judge yourself based on a lack of progress in shedding extra fat. That can lead to cycles like this: you lose some weight, as evidenced by decreasing numbers on the scale, and everything is hunky-dory. Then you encounter a period of greater life stress, yearn for comfort food to calm your mind and body, but realize that the scale will know what you’re up to. So you stop the daily weighing for a week. Then you go back to daily weighing the next week, right back where you started due to a week of overeating, and hate yourself a bit more than you did before.

It’s abundantly clear that weight and self-image go hand in hand, and psychology plays a major role in weight loss. Because of that, the relationship of daily weighing to weight loss isn’t quite as clear as studies may portray it. Yes, if you were enrolled in a study and had to weigh yourself daily, it’s likely you’d lose extra weight. But in the real world, you can just stop weighing yourself once you plateau. And even when you’re weighing yourself on a daily basis, the obsessiveness that it sometimes elicits could be harmful to other areas of life. So weigh yourself daily if you feel it benefits your overall life, but don’t feel like you have to follow any particular weighing pattern because “studies say so”.

Kamal Patel,
Editor-in-chief, Nutrition Examination Research Digest

See other articles in Issue #22 (August 2016) of Study Deep Dives.