You must’ve heard of Huel, this new type of food taking over your professional workplace one body-image conscious person at a time. I went on a diet of eating nothing but Huel for six months, and here are the things I figured out along the way.
You see, I’ve got a personality that doesn’t agree with anything that has anything to do with taking or doing or eating or drinking things in moderation. It feels to me like the part that does moderation in my brain is completely broken, out of commission. Anyway, I realised I was a bit more overweight than I had thought. Time was quickly running out with the imminent arrival of my second child. I formulated a plan of eating a very limited amount of calories each day and looked for a way to give myself a fighting chance at sticking to the diet. Having previously heard of Huel, I gave it a try a couple months before the big plunge. It never really stuck with me, or rather, I never really stuck with it. In October, 2017, 6 months from the due date of the birth of my daughter I finally said enough was enough. 277lbs (126 kilos) was not a weight for a father to be, not one that was going to chase not only one but two children around. I set the calorie limit at 1200kcal a day, 300g of Huel a day and jumped in. Here are things I learned.
- You needing to set your calorie goals at a reasonable level is such bullcrap. Someone else might, you don’t specifically need to. Just because one way of operating works for the vast majority of the population, it doesn’t mean that you will be one of those people that this way of dieting will work for. I set my calorie deficit at a perky 50% off my maintenance level, and I did just fine. Not only fine, a couple months into the project I picked up long distance running. I can hear all the dietetians gasping in unison. The common knowledge is that you should not exercise in a deep calorific deficit because you’ll end up consuming your muscle mass and that is bad news for your cardiovascular system. Maybe. I wouldn’t know, I lost a single digit percentage of my muscle mass in six months.
Just because something is common knowledge and works for a majority doesn’t mean that it will or won’t work for you specifically. You can’t know until you try. And even then there’s room for interpretation.
- Humans are social animals. If you think you can get away with drinking what looks like brown sludge in an office environment without having questions asked and fingers pointed, you’re wrong. The hardest thing about going all Huel might actually be this; people will go on nights out, they will be invited to company dinners and they will definitely be asked questions about the weird thing they’re doing instead of eating proper human food like everyone else. I worked from home for the duration of this little experiment, which was my true unfair advantage. No-one in the office needed see me chug litres of the stuff. Even given this leg-up, I had a hard time turning down social events. My wife definitely looked at me funny with a dash of concern for the first month.
- If you can stomach it, Huel gives you superpowers. I use ‘stomach it’ here to describe more the boredom that is the inevitable consequence of literally only eating/drinking one thing over, and over, and over and over again day in, day out. For months. What about superpowers, you may ask? The ability to time travel. Imagine you’re given another hour in your day, with practically no drawbacks. That’s what it felt like to me. I combined my Huel only diet with intermittent fasting, meaning I chugged the day’s worth of food in about 20 minutes every morning before work, and that was all the time I spent on preparing and eating food all day. No packing lunches, no buttering bread, no waiting for water to boil for the eggs. 300 grams of Huel in 1200–1400ml of water in the blender. Blend for 10 seconds. Chug. Every. Morning. Once you start doing that, you realise just how much time really goes in a day with deciding on, sourcing, preparing and consuming food. My schedule only consisted of taking delivery of my monthly food allotment (a box about the size of a medium sized desktop computer), and whizzing some of it around in a blender for a few seconds every morning.
- Flatulence. Farts. No way around it, if you’re drastically changhing your diet from one day to the other, your digestive system will rebel against you and for good reasons. Humans aren’t build for these drastic changes. For a good week I was passing so much gas I would’ve thought there was something wrong with either me or Huel had excessive flatulence not been mentioned as one of the possible transient side effects. Conversely, after my return ‘to the world of the living’ as I liked to call my eating other kinds of foods again, it happened again. For a good two weeks the gas was just about bearable. It’s a good thing I work from home. Not just from home, it’s actually a shed/office outside of my house. While we’re at topic, my bowel movements became so regular I could’ve set a watch to it.
- Vitamins. Huel will tell you the powder has everything you need in it, and more. That is true if you’re a sane person and not someone like me, who goes on only Huel for months and eats roughly half of the daily recommended amount. I ran the numbers and figured that at 300g a day, living in London,UK where The Sun is a newspaper rather than a celestial body, Vitamin D was going to be one of the things I had to supplement. And I did. Also took Vitamin B6, B12 and Magnesium, along with some Vitamin C effervescent tablets. Running 4 to 6 times a week, 5 to 10 kms (3 to 6 miles) each time in just about any weather you can imagine the south of England having between the end of November, which was when I started running, and April, I have not fallen ill even once. No sniffles, no cold, nothing. I went running at 2 in the morning, 4 in the afternoon. Snow, rain pissing down I was out there pounding the kilometres one after the other, typically 14–16 hours after my last feed. Something not many people consider to be an important supplement is plain table salt. Once you’re deep below the recommended levels of any food, also Huel, you may be risking consuming too little salt. I was consuming 1.2 grams of salt a day, which is lower than what they recommend to people with heart conditions such as hypertension. Too little salt can interfere with water retention and cardiovascular healt, especially if you’re a nutter like me and go for a leisurely jog of an hour every night of the week. Salt is important, so are vitamines. Huel only guarantee the RDA numbers if you actually eat the stuff like you’re supposed to.
- Refeeding is tricky business. They say that following a long starvation, food needs to be introduced gradually. I had had no idea why they would say that, and being the smartass I am I thought I knew better. Following some cautious meals of cream of broccoli soup, cottage cheese and other diet food staples, I went for the big guns. Introducing: the four patty bacon cheeseburger from Five Guys as a celebration of the monumental achievement that is being somewhat of an unsound mind for half a year. The following night the stomach cramps and pain kept me up until well into the sunrise. Don’t do it folks. Really do take it easy with what you eat. I briefly considered calling an ambulance, the pain was so bad at one point. Threw up what little I had left in my stomach by that point and that didn’t help either. I have only myself to blame and I’m gladly blaming myself so that you don’t have to spend a night bent in two at home sitting on the toilet. Or in a hospital.
- Huel is cheaper than ‘real’ food. I’m using the quotation marks here liberally, because having eaten stones and kilos and pounds of the stuff, I still think Huel is real food that has a place in a balanced diet of other ‘real foods’. I spent some £60 a month on my Huel, and if you’ve ever lived in a big city such as London, UK, New York or the other international metros, you’ll know that that’s not much. Even if you’re buying raw materials in bulk and preparing food yourself, £60 or $85 will not get you very far. Usually ’til the 10th to 15th of the month and then you’d be starving. This number is of course fairly conservative, given the fact that I ate 1200Kcal a day (toying with the idea of 800 for a few weeks before returning to the above number). (edit: 5 bags and a little gets you 300g a day, and that costs £90. I later switched to 3 bags a month because through some dealings with my brother who also started with Huel I ended up with some surplus. The original point stands though. Before starting on Huel I routinely blew twice this just on eating out in a month. Like I said I either overdo something or not at all.)
- Huel is a very efficient and effective way to lose weight, if you put in the work yourself. It’s not a magic bullet. It’s not a weight-loss drink. It’s just food that has some properties that other, ‘real’ food doesn’t have. The reason it allowed me to lose weight, and lots of it was that it’s really easy to know how much of it you’re actually eating. 1 gram is about 4 kcal (give or take flavourings and different iterations), every time. I’ve got an either all in, or nothing at all personality, which also works well with Huel. Huel gave me the opportunity to never be tempted with cheat meals, because my brain understood the very simple deal at the most basic level. Brain is reaching for Huel, and once target weight is reached, brain may reach for other things.
I lost 39 kilos and a bit (85 lbs or 6 stones and some) in 5.5 months at which point my weight plateaued, at 6 months I put the shaker down*. You will not achieve these results. Well okay, that’s unfair. Most of you won’t, because I’m not going to recommend you follow suit and do this diet after me. It worked for me because I spat out even the grain of rice I tasted to see if the rice I was making for the family was cooked.
This sort of self-abuse works well with my personality, but is in fact way too stupid a plan for just about everyone else. What you absolutely can and should do is give Huel a whirl, see how your body reacts. How well you function on it. See if you can get away with Huel for certain meals of the day first. *I personally kept a running subscription of the thing for the simple fact that even after having consumed 50 kilos (100+ lbs) of the powder in half a year, I’m still not tired of it. I’d have it as a breakfast, an afternoon snack or just to hit hunger over the head after a long Skype call. Would I do it again? Absolutely freaking would. My general practitioner high-fived me over my annual routine preventive blood test results and told me to keep doing whatever I was doing. And that she’d ommit that I’d lost all that weight in half a year or someone might ask questions about illicit substances I’d been using. My neighbour literally walked past me last week and when she came over to pick up a parcel of hers the mailman delivered to us, she was stunned at how much weight I lost. I regularly cringe at the sight of the person in photos of me only half a year old. Yeah I would do it again.