10 days of halotop
Low in calories, low in carbs, and loaded with protein. But is it too good to be true? Our brave guinea pig puts the ice cream of the future to the test.
Like penicillin and other great scientific discoveries, this one was an accident.
My buddy Sameem is a fitness trainer in West Hollywood with muscles in all the places and fat in none of them. On a recent trip I took to L.A., he casually mentioned his latest guilty pleasure: eating a pint of ice cream every night.
But it’s healthy ice cream, he insisted.
Obviously, I figured, at 10% body fat and veins in weird spots, Sameem was either full of shit, or his ice cream tasted like it. I had him drive me to some crunchy organic grocery store to prove otherwise.
The ice cream was called Halo Top. It’s made by a little-known L.A. creamery with a staff of ten and distributed in health-food joints around the country. Cartons boast “240 calories per pint” in large letters on the front. For context, that’s ¼ of what’s in Ben & Jerry’s and ⅕ of Häagen-Dazs. Halo Top also claims ⅙ the fat and carbs and 25% more protein than typical ice cream.
And it tasted…like ice cream. Not simply like a frozen protein shake or like Arctic Zero brand “frozen dessert,” which is about as satisfying as eating snow. No, this stuff was real.
I ate a whole pint of chocolate in the parking lot.
For most health-conscious types, that would probably be the end of this story. But as a data geek with an incredible sweet tooth, I quickly did some math: By eating five pints of Halo Top a day, one would get a whopping 120 grams of protein, only 80 grams of carbohydrates, and a respectable 60 grams of fat—at only 1,200 calories. That’s pretty much a supermodel diet, but with enough protein to support my 3-times-a-week weight-training regimen.
Which is why I soon found myself staring at a styrofoam crate in my living room from IceCreamSource.com. Contents: 50 pints of Halo Top ice cream. Flavors: Chocolate, Vanilla, Mocha Chip, Mint, Strawberry, and Birthday Cake.
For ten days, I would do what surely a number of homo sapiens (primarily World of Warcraft addicts) had done before—but never in the name of research. (And certainly never with hopes of getting skinnier.) I’d be eating nothing but ice cream.
This would not be the first time I’d donated my body to personal scientific exploration. Three years ago, I lived off of a tasteless chemical sludge drink called Soylent in order to fact-check its founder’s health claims. Last year, I ate at 11 pizza places in one day to contrast the “best of the best pizza in New York.” When I became vegetarian eight years back, it was for experiment's sake first, ethics second. I’ve had my brain electrocuted and body frozen, and now I would embark on a ten-day brain freeze. A delicious, delicious brain freeze.
Would the Halo Top math truly add up in my favor? Or would the fact that it’s, you know, ice cream fatten me up despite the low calories? Would I get pimples from all that dairy? Would I shart during a work meeting?
It was 10:30 A.M. on my first day—Sunday—and already The Great Ice Cream Diet was going poorly. I was working on my second pint of chocolate when I broke my second plastic spoon.
Healthy ice cream apparently freezes hard. There’s a message on the side of every Halo Top carton about this that says something about how it's worth the wait for the natural ingredients to thaw, blah blah...I didn’t read it.
Anyway, I would need to steal a spoon from the office or something, because what 30-year-old guy owns real silverware? I ended up putting the pint in front of a space heater for a few minutes and making out all right. (I do not have a microwave or a legitimate heater.)
My morning measurements showed 153.5 pounds and 15 percent body fat, with a 41” chest and 31” waist. I’m in good shape for a sedentary desk worker; after hunching over a computer at 165 pounds for most of my late twenties, I’d now been pumping iron with a trainer for the past year and running on off days to compensate for my love of pizza and Kit Kats.
So far, the diet was working for me. Eating ice cream instead of salad for lunch is awesome. By dinner, I’d had as much Stevia-fueled sweetness as my sugar-addicted taste buds could ever want.
However, by the time I arrived at the restaurant where my friends were watching The Golden Globes that night, my stomach was rumbling. For the next three hours they drank frozen margaritas and ate truffle-lobster mac-and-cheese. I, having left pint number five at home, had club soda. By the time Leo made his acceptance speech, everyone was happily drunk and loud. My head hurt. I went home alone and ate ice cream.
I’d put two pints in the fridge overnight to proactively solve the spoon problem. My breakfast, Mocha Chip, tasted almost exactly like the Chocolate. I enjoyed the chips for the texture, and could already tell that variety was going to be key to my sanity.
The lingering headache from last night immediately felt better after I ate. I was doling out carbs and calories in low enough doses that missing meal- or snack time was probably going to mean pain. I wondered if I should be taking a multivitamin…
Logistically, eating only ice cream turns out to be rather annoying. I carried a freezer-pack cooler with three pints to work, where they sat and slowly melted all day. I ate each flavor—Mint Chip, Strawberry, and Vanilla—like a starving wolf, one every three hours. My last pint was basically a milkshake.
At 2:23 P.M. I found myself shivering at my desk. What’s wrong with the heat in this place? I thought, angrily. I looked down at the spoon and pint of ice cream I was eating...
At this point, I was operating with a chronic but mild headache. My business partners would probably be unhappy if they suspected this ice cream thing was affecting my work. I was trying really hard to not blame my low energy on ice cream.
I’d decided that Chocolate was the best flavor. I ate a pint of it that night while playing Tomb Raider instead of—shameless plug alert—writing my newsletter.
That night a lady friend came over to watch Netflix. Knowing I was not eating real food, she brought a variety of cruel snacks: mozzarella sticks, vegetable skewers, chips.
“It’s really sad you can’t enjoy this with me,” she said with faux pity.
I refused to look at the mozzarella stick as she slowly ate it.
Two days and ten pints of dairy into the diet, I drifted asleep, wondering why I hadn’t started farting like crazy. Or pooped myself, for that matter.
I pooped myself.
Just kidding. My stomach was inexplicably fine.
The temperature in my apartment, however, was not. It was 25 degrees outside as I stood in my drawers in my kitchen spooning Mocha Chip ice cream into my face. Why did I decide to do this in the dead of New York winter?
My trainer—a stand-up comedian slash bodybuilder named Andrew Ginsburg—had warned me that I’d be gassy as the Hindenburg. But when we analyzed the ingredients after my morning workout, we identified that the main sweetener, erythritol, is actually non-bloating.
I asked Andrew to monitor how my strength is affected throughout the diet. I kept up fine during the morning workout, but by the end of the day I was feeling pretty low-energy.
Before I left the office at 9 P.M., a colleague mentioned that I seemed down.
“I think I’m in a bit of a slump right now,” I admitted, then defensively added, “I don’t think it’s an ice cream–related slump!”
She looked at me skeptically.
“The slump started pre–ice cream,” I insisted.
I woke up at 5:30 A.M. to go to an early-morning dance party called Daybreaker. (I know.) The costume theme today is “onesies,” so I threw on a mechanic’s jumpsuit and headed to Irving Plaza, ice cream bag in tow.
While everyone at the party chugged OJ and did the pre-work twerk, I drank water and thought about how much I wanted to eat the cartoon cheeseburger on the Delivery.com ad I saw on the subway. My body seemed to be screaming “Saaaaaaaaalt.”
I don’t even eat meat.
At 9:30 P.M. I headed over to a lady friend’s house, reluctantly carrying the ice cream cooler pack with “breakfast.” I remembered a story a friend told me about a guy she went out with. He was training for a bodybuilding contest and busted out a can of tuna fish every two hours.
At least I wasn't the tuna-fish guy.
“You remind me of Leo DiCaprio in The Revenant,” said our design director. I was at my desk wearing a wool poncho and spooning ice cream while shivering.
I’d lost five pounds so far. My friend Jess basically yelled at me for this. “You don’t need to lose five pounds!”
There was also now a small canker sore on the inside of my bottom lip.
By this point, everyone in my life had heard about the ice cream. Their comments had gotten more annoying the more I'd been moping and craving salt.
My friend Tim offered me a Slim Jim. Again, I don’t eat meat. “Don’t worry. It’s not meat,” he said. “It’s not food, either.” He ate soup out of a giant bowl while talking about pizza and jalapeño poppers. I thought about murder.
When I was a freshman in college, I invented the perfect meal: Eggo waffles with mint-chip ice cream on them. I ate this breakfast for a whole semester. My mother was very upset.
After five days on Halo Top, I had come to a point in my life that my younger self never thought I’d reach: I no longer wanted ice cream for breakfast.
“This may be the weirdest diet I’ve ever seen,” my trainer, Andrew, told me at the gym that morning. I told him the canker sore had gotten worse, so he set me up with a dietician—well, a set of Upper West Side sisters named Lyssie and Tammy Lakatos, a.k.a. The Nutrition Twins—to talk about what was happening to me.
“You’re not getting any real vitamins or minerals or phytonutrients,” the Twins told me. (They do interviews together and speak as one, which is helpful since they look and sound identical.) “You’re under stress because you’re eating a low-calorie diet. You’re not getting vitamin C or any anti-inflammatories.”
While the stats on my protein/fat/carb intake were good, they said, the canker sore could be due to the lack of vitamins and minerals. I really should take vitamins while I do this. “I’m interested in whether you get a cold in the short term,” they said. “When anyone cuts calories, it does weaken your immune system a bit.”
The low energy I was experiencing by the end of each day is totally common for low-carb diets. I just needed to eat at good intervals—and perhaps go up to six pints—to keep ahead of the headaches.
They were glad I was pooping fine. Which is something I never thought I’d talk to attractive twins about.
I declined to go out with friends tonight. Being around drunk people at my current energy level sounded miserable. So I stayed home and made “Ice Cream Hot Chocolate” for dinner. Here’s the recipe:
Step 1. Put one pint of Halo Top in a saucepan.
Step 2. Turn the stove on high.
Step 3. Stir until the ice cream is hot chocolate.
Martin Luther King Jr. weekend was a blur. I remember eating lots of ice cream, watching eight episodes of Making a Murderer, and reeeally not wanting to go to Dave & Buster’s in Times Square—ironically!—with my friends. I went anyway and brought ice cream.
My stomach felt empty. My body was tired, but…inexplicably clean. Perhaps it’s the light at the end of the ice cream tunnel, but I felt like I’d turned a corner. I’d stopped being miserable eating one thing over and over again, and I felt light.
I was light, it turns out. I was the lowest weight I’ve been in years: 144 pounds.
“You look so damn lean,” Andrew told me when I arrived at the gym. “And you were fit before the ice cream diet. A fat person will lose more.”
I hit my best bench-press set ever that day.
DAY 11: THE END
When GQ’s Joel Stein finished his 90-day training to get a superhero body, he immediately ate $35 worth of ice cream. At the end of my diet, I did the opposite.
On the morning of the first day of the rest of my life, I weighed myself and then made myself a giant plate of spinach and eggs.
After 50 straight pints of ice cream, I clocked in at 143.5 pounds (down 9.9 pounds) and 12 percent body fat (down 3 percent). I’d lost some water weight, but no discernible muscle mass. I’d added half an inch of muscle to my chest and slimmed my waist 1.5” to 29.5”. My biceps were the same size as they began.
My canker sore was still massive. And I had a cold. Those twins are prophets.
An unanticipated side benefit of ice cream dieting, it turns out, is a visceral aversion to junk food. Today, I ate soup and broccoli and avocado and yerba mate tea.
Neither Andrew nor The Nutrition Twins said they’d recommend eating all ice cream all the time. “If someone does do this long term, the saturated fat is pretty high,” the Twins pointed out. “[And] you’re missing all those vitamins and minerals and everything you’re missing in whole grains, all those nutrients that you find in whole foods.”
Then again, most people get too much saturated fat with their hamburger at lunch, and vitamin and mineral deficiencies run rampant in American diets. So perhaps there are worse things than the ice cream diet. Had I eaten five pints of Häagen-Dazs a day—an outrageous 5,800 calories a day—I estimate I would have gained approximately 11.5 pounds. (There are 3,500 calories in a pound of fat.) Superhero diet it was not, but Super Size Me it was not either.
Will I go back to pure ice cream the next time I need to lose 10 pounds? Likely, no. But like my buddy Sameem, I like both dessert and not being fat. So I think my new “stay fit” routine will probably involve legumes and vegetables and whole grains during the day and some Halo Top once in a while before bed.
In fact, I already ordered a few more pints of Chocolate.