Meals Ready to Eat are designed for guys who are 7,000 miles from home, in the middle of Iraq, Afghanistan, or some other war torn area who are out on a mission and need to eat fast. But what happens when a civilian decides to eat them for 21 straight days?
That’s exactly what one intrepid Independent Journal Review writer decided to test out, despite advice against the challenge from medical professionals and his friends in the Army.
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“The thing about MREs is that they’re not even designed to be eaten long term in the most arduous physical conditions. Even the DOD (Department of Defense) says they shouldn’t be consumed solely for more than 4 days at a time.”
But ask any soldier that’s been stuck out on a FOB about how well that four day limit is adhered to and you’ll find it’s common enough to be stuck on MREs for much longer.
But back in January, the U.S. Army Institute of Environmental Medicine announced it was conducting a 21-day study on the impact of MREs (“the main operational food ration for the United States Armed Forces”) on gut health.
Sounds like fun, right? So that’s why the guys at IJ Review assigned Juan to try it out for the full 21 days, eating 2 MREs a day and nothing else.
A typical MRE consists of an entree, a side dish, a cracker or bread, a spread of some sort, dessert, a powdered drink mix, a flameless ration heater, and utensils.
Those utensils have been known to be useful for lots of reasons… even as an improvised weapon for one U.S. Army Ranger.
Juan’s first day didn’t start off too well, with him sayint the MRE is “kind of complicated. I mean, I feel like I have to assemble everything.”
But he stayed the course of the challenge and gave updates along the way, including this great tidbit from his girlfriend Gracie:
“Before this challenge he was very regular in the bathroom. Now? Not so much”
I was both confident I’d be able to complete the challenge and excited to get started. It felt like being back in elementary school again — while they certainly weren’t delicious, the pasta-based meals tasted a lot like Chef Boyardee, and the whole made-to-assemble feel of the MRE gave it a Lunchables vibe.
At this point, I honestly didn’t think the challenge would be that hard.
By the end of the first week, things started getting rough. Going into the second week I felt bloated all the time. My energy levels were way down. I would alternate between vicious cycles of spending hours in the bathroom and then not being able to go at all.
It was awful not just physically, but mentally as well. It felt like I had been eating the same artificial-tasting meals for an eternity. I dreaded getting hungry because I knew that meant I’d soon have to be eating another MRE.
What I wouldn’t have done for a fresh piece of lettuce…
At this point, I was turning the corner. The challenge was coming to an end, and I saw a light at the end of the MRE tunnel. The same fatigue and general feeling of being bloated beyond belief stayed with me, but it became bearable because I knew this godforsaken challenge would soon be over.
On day 21, when I bit into that sweet, sweet Chick-fil-A sandwich, it was pure ecstasy.
“When I started this challenge, I wanted to get an insight into a small part of what our troops have to endure. Ultimately, what I’m going through isn’t even like 1/1,000,000th of what a soldier will go through, but it really did have a real impact on my day to day life.
“It was a lot tougher than I thought it would be.”