Doing it for science or: how i learned to stop worrying and love potato
A retrospective on eating nothing but potatoes for like three weeks
About a month ago, I started tweeting some very vague “potato diary” notes. After a few days, everyone discovered I was doing the Potato Diet, and once the secret was out it took on a life of its own. Many people decided I was doing something unhealthy, others were certain I was doing this to discover the root cause of some ailment, and there was even fanart.
No one really immediately hit on the real reason I did this: mostly for science! And a little because I am getting fat and needed to lose some weight. My BMI was high, and that’s okay. I am comfortable with that.
I am not interested in giving you absolute numbers, and really won’t, because the internet is dark and full of trolls. The only real, hard number I am going to give you is the total amount of weight I lost over this timespan: 11.5 pounds.
Here is a chart of my weight from 6/14 to 7/6. Again, the absolute numbers are not relevant, but the x-axis is a range of 15 pounds.
Those results are pretty hard to argue with.
Before I get too ahead of myself, I should explain what potato diet is. Officially, potato diet is a study on reversing obesity, run by the wonderful folks over at Slime Mold Time Mold. You can read the post they made here.
The gist of the diet is pretty simple: eat potatoes, and try to eat nothing else. It is okay if you need some oil, seasonings, or hot sauces. The idea is that if 100% potato works, 90% potato should also work. Potatoes are basically nutritionally complete, in that you’re only lacking vitamins A and B12. If you add in sweet potatoes, you get the vitamin A. I took a multivitamin for the B12.
The rules were pretty simple, but they did note that if you didn’t see results, you should try easing up on the oil/condiments/etc, as it appeared to make a difference. The only real ‘hard’ rule was ‘stay away from dairy’. This is pretty easy for me, as I have a pretty serious cow’s milk allergy, and don’t eat a lot of dairy.
Unfortunately, being an official data point in their study didn’t work out for me, as I couldn’t find time to do this diet until after signups had closed. They may run another trial, in which case I will officially participate, and you should too!
I chose to follow along, and log my own data, in part for all the reasons above, and because I was super curious, and also in part because I am the kind of person who has nothing better to do than eat potatoes for a month straight.
I happen to love potatoes, so I figured this diet would be a breeze… and for the most part, it was. I have never heard of a diet that allows you to eat french fries for all three meals, and I did just that on a couple of days. It rocked, and I have no regrets about that. What diet can you eat three square meals of french fries for and lose weight?
The diet wasn’t all good, though. The second-worst part about this diet was realizing that the texture of potatoes is really inescapable. I tried a ton of different recipes - as somebody who deeply loves food, I really needed some variety - but the texture is a really, really hard thing to beat.
I have a pretty well stocked kitchen, with probably 40 different spices, an air fryer, an oven with a decent broiler, a big cast iron pan, a ton of weird flour alternatives, and every kitchen gadget you can think of, and I ran out of ideas for making potatoes tolerable. I even made latkes at one point, though I cheated and used an egg, and even that got old.
My advice is to use all the spices you can find (paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, mustard powder, herbs de provence, garam masala, cumin, and cinnamon were especially helpful), hot sauces, vinegars, salt, coconut aminos, and small amounts of olive oil. Chips in an air fryer are harder than they look.
I did some gross stuff, like put dijon mustard in “smashed” potatoes, which were just baked potatoes I smashed up. At one point I put mayo on a baked potato. I mixed coconut aminos, sri racha, garlic powder, and salt into a sweet potato, just to taste something sort of different. Most of it was fine. The people who do this diet with just naked baked potatoes are crazy, and I am scared of them.
The actual worst part of this diet is the social aspect. It was exhausting explaining to everyone I encountered that I was only eating potatoes, why I was only eating potatoes, and that no, this wasn’t some sort of disordered unhealthy eating thing, or a flash diet, or [insert well meaning but entirely uninformed and unwelcome opinion here]. My group chats vacillated between “really interested” and “absolutely dunking on me”, many jokes were made, and strangers felt the need to DM me with large amounts of concern, though no context or actual want to help.
(By the way: you know that the Irish Potato Famine happened because people didn’t have enough potatoes to eat, right? You wouldn’t dream of making another potato famine joke at me, right? Surely, by this point, you would have realized that it wasn’t an original thought at all, and certainly no longer a novel one to me… right?)
It was very tough to only eat potatoes at a work dinner, or when my mom was in town, so I often cheated. By “often cheated”, I mean I took a 3-day intermission over a weekend, and on more than one occasion I had alcohol. The rest of the time was just potatoes, water, and some tea in the morning. I lost 9.4 pounds while actively doing the diet, and continued to lose weight after I stopped.
I’ll be the first to admit, this was a weird diet. It should come as no surprise that it made me feel weird, in a number of ways. For example, hunger was completely eliminated by the second day.
The entire diet, I really wasn’t hungry, and often chose not to eat. Snacking becomes incredibly unappealing when your only option is more potato. I was incredibly thirsty, and drank more than 50 oz of water a day. I never had a hunger pang, I never really got “hangry” like I normally do, and I could really only tell I was hungry by the fact that I got a little shaky.
Often, I couldn’t distinguish hunger from thirst, but never in a painful way, or even really in an unpleasant way. I would notice that I felt weak, or slightly lightheaded, and that’s when I would go “oh, I haven’t eaten lately, I should eat”. I had to remind myself to eat, and when I did eat, I often wasn’t eating a lot.
There was only one meal the entire time where I actually ate until I physically thought I could not eat anymore without throwing up, and that was after some edibles, because I hadn’t been able to eat enough calories to sustain myself throughout the day.
The side effects only get weirder from there. I have no explanation for a lot of the things that happened, and I won’t even try and theorize. I will just give you a bullet point list of some facts:
The entire time I did this, I had a lot more energy, I was way more focused, and if you measured productivity by pure output, I was incredibly productive. More on this momentarily.
I didn’t entirely just lose “water weight”, which I think is a concept I don’t fully understand in the first place. I have not gained the weight back, my clothes fit differently, and when measuring my waist, I appear to have lost inches. I have also continued to lose weight after stopping the diet, though I did spike back upwards for a few days. I’m not qualified to tell you if this means I lost water weight or not, but I really do think there’s something to this.
Days 1-3, I enjoyed the diet. Days 5-6, I never wanted to see another potato again. Many times, I complained that I hated potatoes. By day 7, that feeling was gone, and replaced with a new one… one where I simply no longer cared about food at all. The concept of food no longer brought me joy. I couldn’t even think of other foods that sounded good.
Okay, so what about post-diet? Did anything change there? I’m glad you asked, me!
I actually find myself missing potatoes, and thinking about eating them still. I ate some mashed with a steak a few nights ago, and it was fine.
My stomach appears to have shrunk a lot, or at least I think my brain thinks it has. I can’t eat nearly the same volume of food I did pre-diet. I don’t know if this is because my stomach actually shrunk, or if something made my brain “reset”. I am sure you can find studies that say both, lol.
I no longer want heavy food. I am somebody who usually loves heavy fried foods and red meats, and neither have been particularly appealing lately. “Normal” food hits harder, makes me feel like shit, and for the first time in my life, I found myself wanting a salad more often than not.
All of that is great! I got healthy, I eat lighter now, and I have a doctor’s appointment in a couple of weeks, where I’ll be able to compare pre-diet numbers with post-diet numbers. That should be fun, and I’m looking forward to it.
So… why didn’t I make it a full month?
To anyone who wants to do this diet, or is considering it after the benefits I described above: I encourage you to do it, but please be extra cautious that your mental state might be altered and that you are not necessarily in your right mind. The feelings you experience during this diet may not be how you actually feel.
Like I said above, potato diet is fucking weird. I mention this and the above because towards the end of the third week, I found myself crying every day. I was having actual meltdowns… five days in a row.
I am not talking “oh I am so sad, let a single tear roll down my cheek while I stare out of a window on a rainy day” levels of gloom and general depression. I am talking “at one point I couldn’t fold some of my laundry in a way that was acceptable to me, and this made me think I should kill myself,so I started crying”.
Is this a really dark to drop in the middle of a sort of lighthearted post about potato diet? Yes. I am sorry if you are uncomfortable reading it. Personally, I think I have a responsibility to talk about it, because the mentally weird aspect of this diet cannot be stressed enough.
This locked account RT sums it up pretty well:
I don’t know how much of the bad vibes were attributable to other variables. I have a fairly stressful job, where I was focusing so hard I was getting bogged down in the weeds, I was engaging with some (unhealthy) groups of people in really unhealthy ways, I had some issues in my relationships that I needed to talk about and was choosing not to, and I had been off of antidepressants for about 24 months.
I could also just have had some uniquely weird reaction, and you might experience none of this.
Heck, it’s even possible that none of the mental distress was because of potato, but I suspect that a pretty big portion of it was. These bad feelings were compounded by the fact that I was getting a little unhealthily obsessed with my weight loss, and how I felt like I was in control of it. I was weighing myself probably more than necessary, blaming it on “research” and “data points”, and it took a lot of convincing from others for me to actually stop the diet.
After all, I wanted to make it 4 weeks! I wanted to be the skinny queen I dream about being! The idea of ending the diet early made me feel like a failure, and I fought that as hard as I could.
However, the day I chose to stop eating potatoes and end the diet early I felt like a new person. The suicidal thoughts went away, the anxiety lifted, and while I still don’t get the same amount of joy out of food that I got before… I mean, holy shit, everything tastes amazing now.
I put a lot of spices into the potatoes, so I wasn’t expecting to really get a taste bud reset, but I can taste things now on a level that I just couldn’t before. There are now flavors that I didn’t recognize previously, but can point out in a dish. Rediscovering taste was really, really neat… Not neat enough to make up for all of the above, but neat and cool nonetheless.
The benefits didn’t really stop there: potato diet helped my ADHD to the point that I think I now need to lower my medication dosage. I felt much more clear and able to work. I didn’t experience as many emotions as I normally do: they were replaced with this kind of just this flat hum of productivity.
It really wasn’t all bad! I got lots of content out of it, I helped prove that there is something to the potato diet, and I made this really silly chart, in which I compared my weight loss to the closing price of BTC over the same period:
Overall, I think I would actually do this again, with the explicit awareness that if things get bad for me, I need to stop.
Like I said above, if you measured my productivity by pure output, I had a kickass couple of weeks. I got a lot of work done, and set myself and others up for a lot of support and success in the future. I was focused, concentrated, better at sequencing events and planning, and able to push past my executive dysfunction in a way I normally am not capable of.
To sum up the mental weirdness: I felt more like a machine than a person, fueling my body out of necessity instead of snacking out of boredom. My relationship with food went through a full reset, and I do think on some level that this was very healthy for me. I tend to view food as comfort, as a source of joy, and as a reward. None of those are particularly useful perspectives when it comes to “being healthy”. The occasional hard shock to the system is good for me.
I would not do this more than once every six months, and I don’t think I will ever try to do a full month at a time. I may try to participate in the next trial run, I may not. If I do, I bet I’ll get a heck of a substack post out of that, too.
Here’s a subscribe button, so you can get right to that future potato post:
If you don’t read STMT’s post, and ask me a question that is in that post, or theorize about something that is answered in that post, I am going to direct you there. I am not google, and I am pretty sick of people theorizing without reading.
NOT YAMS. YAMS ARE DIFFERENT. SWEET POTATOES. AUGH.
When it comes to sweet potatoes, I have come to the conclusion that any form besides french fries can only achieve a rating of “mid” at best, and usually fall closer to “garbage”.
Stop with the concern slacktivism! It’s worse than simply saying nothing. If you’re not actually worried, or not willing to support and help the person you’re worried about, consider not saying anything, instead of making the person you are worried about reassure your anxiety.
If I hear one more joke about the Irish Potato Famine and how little everyone seems to know about it, I might go fully insane (if I wasn’t already)
I don’t believe the amount of weight I lost is attributable solely to CICO, though, because I did eat enough calories on most of the days.
This did actually happen, and I had a really hard time talking about it. I have not been even vaguely suicidal, or even really depressed in a very long time (probably 7-8 years), so the thoughts took me very much by surprise, and were hard to express to others.
I’m also not one to be shy about these things, because I think we need to talk about them more freely. There is a stigma there, regardless of how much we want to pretend there isn’t, and I’m doing my part to destigmatize it. If it makes a difference to even one person, and they get help because of it, then it was worth it to me.
I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder when I was 13. I have done periods without medication, and periods where I really needed medication. I have a complicated relationship with medication that I won’t get into here, it’s not really relevant, but 24 months is a pretty long time for me.
Because of my newfound obsession with weighing myself, I discovered that somehow I am the heaviest I will be all day when I wake up in the morning? Whoever can give me an actual answer to this, along with “why did I sometimes wake up weighing more than when I went to bed?” gets a dollar.
With obvious exceptions, though the Bad Feelings happened exclusively at night and not during the workday.
Did you exercise during that period? If yes, how was the energy level before and after exercise?
Thanks for this write-up, it was really interesting to read. I’m also doing potato diet outside the SMTM study bc it seemed anecdotally so counterintuitive but well worth studying. I also love the idea of crowdsourced science bc it has the potential to be so much more nimble than anything requiring all the layers of approvals and funding etc.
I have a question for you: did you notice being physically overheated? I’ve been sweating much more than usual even taking into account that it’s hot as hell outside.