Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Demystifying the Potato Diet: 1 Potato, 2 Potato, 3 Potato, NO MORE


A couple of months ago I listened to Penn Jillette read his own audio book, "Presto! How I Made Over 100 Pounds Disappear and Other Magical Tales," and was completely fascinated by his weight-loss journey, which began with a 2 week potato fast. It was partly because it was stunning, and partly because it was vegan.* He's ultimately vague with his details of the diet and the "upcoming" book by Ray Cronise he refers to still hasn't been published so, in lieu of that, this is the best summary I've seen about the specifics of what he ate and when (but I definitely still recommend reading the book for inspo). I went back and forth deciding whether or not I'd be able to even partially duplicate his efforts (or results), but after too many days of feeling uncomfortable, I decided I would just give it a go for as long as I felt like it. I managed to convince VM to do it with me and, as a bonus, she baked all the potatoes. Can't beat that! Other than VM, I told only one other person who's been trying to get me to eat healthier for years. I'd mentioned the idea to a few other people while I was listening to the book and they all said it was crazy; I didn't want to be talked out of it. Plus, Penn says the first rule of the "potato famine" is not to talk about the potato famine. VM was my comrade and my other buddy was supportive, helpful with information, and non-intrusive throughout. It was all the support system I needed really. I won't say I was hopeful, but after two months of "regular" dieting, I'd lost 8 pounds & gained back 5, so this was kind of a last ditch effort of sorts.

Day 1: weigh-in
I wasn't hungry when I woke up because I'd eaten a lot the previous day. Breakfast, dessert, dinner...
VM packed me 6 baked, perfectly sized potatoes to take to work and I ate the first one at about 10:30- somewhat later than I would have liked, but it was an unusually hectic morning. If I hadn't had the potatoes to eat, I probably would have stuffed the quickest thing I could find into my mouth much earlier- most likely cocomels. Instead, I ate two white potatoes. Even though I usually put butter or sour cream on white potatoes, they were actually really delicious plain. A few hours later I ate a sweet potato, which I also enjoyed sans butter & cinnamon sugar...then another one a short time after that. I could have squeezed in another before I left work, but I figured 'why bother' if I was just going eat more potatoes for dinner? VM had roasted yukon golds and red-skinned potatoes, so I had 2 tiny golds, 1 small red, and 1 medium white- which put me over the edge. Those are the plainest, starchiest, and most filling; I'm going to have to limit those. A couple of hours later I was still full and I felt a little nauseous. I'd been drinking water all day, but I had a La Croix to calm my stomach and went to bed early. I'd had a busy weekend, so the tiredness could also have been caused by that. Overall, really easy.
potato intake: 8

Day 2: down 2.9 pounds
I woke up with an inexplicable smokey taste in my mouth, but I wasn't hungry. The weight loss was appreciated; I'd lost only 1 pound more in the entire previous month of eating 90% veggie salads with vinegar and low-sodium soup. It was another unusually hectic work morning and, wherein I normally would have started the day with a soy vanilla latte- I didn't. I also didn't stuff random carbs in my mouth simply because toast smells delicious. I actually didn't eat until almost noon, when I had 1 white potato. I received two party invitations for the coming weeks and found myself just generally thinking about how I will avoid eating in future social situations, which is a departure from the way I usually think: wondering how I can optimize eating- particularly in non-vegan situations. I was thirsty, so I drank water, but I wasn't really hungry. Two hours later I still wasn't really hungry, but there was a catered event down the hall that smelled delicious, so I ate 80% of a sweet potato; 89 ate rest. Someone at work said "do not" as part of a sentence and I swore he said "donut." I thought about donuts for a while, but I didn't have any to eat if I wanted to and I truly wasn't hungry. About an hour before the end of the workday, things took a stressful turn and I ate another sweet potato. Over three hours later, for dinner, I ate a red-skinned potato and 2 yukon golds.
potato intake: 6

Day 3: down another 3.2 pounds
We had a snow day, so I slept in. I dreamt about eating slice upon slice of toast with butter. When I got up, I again had a smokey taste in my mouth, but I wasn't hungry until noon, when I had 2 white potatoes. VM and I texted about why this was seemingly so much easier than regular dieting. I ate 2 sweet potatoes at about 4pm, then couldn't stop thinking about black beans & avocado. Oh, also a devil's food donut Vegan Treat's posted on Instagram. If you're dieting or have the stomach flu, Instagram is the devil. At 7pm I ate 3.5 potatoes; the yukon took on a soapy taste and I couldn't finish it.
potato intake: 7.5

Day 4: down another .8 pounds
This was a painfully small number, but I knew I had to just trust in the process. Also, the total weight I'd lost in three days was equivalent to what I'd lost in the previous two months combined. Still, I was beginning to consider whether I would continue with the potatoes after one week (Penn did two, but he had much more weight to lose) because I was just. so. over. potatoes. Already! At 11:00am I ate 1 white potato. At this point, their heaviness was preferential to the soapy notes I was detecting in the yukons that had, just days ago, been my favorite. As you can tell, I was beginning to think way too much about potatoes. I was also thinking about greens: garlicky greens, Ethiopian greens. A friend posted spaghetti on Instagram and I drooled over that too, but, when left to my own devices, I was really craving whole foods- just not potatoes. I ate a sweet potato at about 3:30pm and then, for dinner, VM made us fingerlings: baked, smashed and dry-"fried." They were a welcome change of pace (although I did weirdly fantasize about slathering them with Kosciusko mustard) and I didn't keep track of how many I ate (a lot), so I decided to stop tracking the daily intake number, particularly because 10 fingerlings is way different than 10 sweet potatoes which can, in and of themselves, come in drastically different sizes. It didn't matter. I'd originally been curious how many potatoes I could eat in a day, so I think it's fair to say an average of 7 small to medium at most: less than I'd thought. I saw something on TV that made me think of celery and I obsessed about that for a while. It had only been a few days and already VM had been texting me, "what ifs" like, "what if we had a little salad; that would be so bad?" That evening I saw that Kevin Smith was also doing Penn's potato diet; he was on day 9 already and was down 17 pounds- likely with more precise guidance from Cray-Ray himself. I started looking at my calendar to see if I could really stretch this out the full two weeks because now there was a competition. As an aspiring filmmaker in the late 90s, I was in awe of Clerks and now I was in a (one-sided) weight loss contest with Silent Bob; the world is a strange place.

Day 5: down another 1.4 pounds
Gotta admit that those three pound days were way more exciting, but I could already feel a difference when I buttoned my coat. VM says 10 pounds = "a size;" I have no idea if that's true or not, but I still had a long way to go to hit what I considered to be my goal weight: i.e. the weight at which I could fit into all of the clothes I already own. I was already feeling better. Not as tired or sluggish and just generally more energized. Not sure if that was the weight loss or the fact that there wasn't crap food running through my veins. Even as a long-time vegan, I still fall victim to eating things like corn chips if I'm somewhere with no vegan options...and lots of them out of spite. I don't know much about nutrition (quelle surprise), but my doctor told me last year that trans fats can turn into cholesterol, which- in my opinion, is NOT FAIR when you consider that vegan food technically doesn't contain any cholesterol. I was now leaning towards doing the full two weeks and looking for more specific information on phase 2. I double checked to see if Ray Cronise had snuck in a book when I wasn't looking and saw him hawking The Idiot's Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition, which he wrote with Julieanna Hever. It didn't sound like the potato diet, but I figured I'd buy it and give it a go. To my surprise, it was already on my Kindle app. These are the things I purchase at night when I'm about to fall asleep?!?!?!?!?! I figured I'd read it over the weekend, as I still had 2 - 9 days of the potato famine to get through first. For anyone wondering, 89 is also on the potato diet. What I mean is that she's eating all of her regular Vdog & treats, but she's also eating potato every time I do because that's how she rolls. Haven't weighed her because I know it's important for her to have a positive self image and not fall prey to society's unrealistic and unfair ideals.  Woah, woah, woah. Just read that Kevin Smith lost 20 pounds in 13 days. Sounds like he's more ahead of me, timewise, than I realized and he slowed a bit at the end. I'm thinking it's on.

Day 6: down another .6 pounds
I realized that the 12th day is going to run into Passover, so that made the duration decision for me; I'm stopping at 11 days. Since I'm cutting myself off from a full 2 weeks (I'm not missing VM's matzoh ball soup), my plan is to compromise and do potatoes for 11 days: not 7, not 14. Fair enough. I was not hungry at all today. I ate 3/4 of a white potato, plus lots of water, tea, and la croix. Still weirdly craving celery.

Day 7: down another 1.8 pounds 
Not really hungry again, but VM sent me a Japanese sweet potato and a purple yam, which may or may not be allowed. YOLO. I spilled some peas on the counter when I was making 89's dinner and I wanted to gobble them up like an anteater, but I resisted. I think that was when this seemingly easy diet took a turn.

Day 8: down another .6 pounds
Realizing that eating is just tied to my routine- both personal and at work. Back at work after a quiet weekend at home, I'm "hungry" because I smell other people's food, but I'm not really hungry. Told the nurse at my doctor's appointment what I was doing and she was mystified by the "only potatoes" business and asked me what potatoes taste like without butter and salt. Um, potatoes without butter and salt! It may sound mystifying, but it's working. Then, at some point in the day- possibly between my white potato for "breakfast" and sweet potato for "lunch" I began to begrudge the potatoes. I was barely tasting them as I was eating them. I wasn't eating them because I wanted them, I was just eating them because I was actually feeling hungry, but becoming more hangry with every bite. By dinner time I was disgusted. The Japanese sweet potato that had been relatively luscious by comparison the previous night, now practically made me recoil. I watched the commercial for Taco Bell fries over and over. I don't even know if they're vegan; I didn't care. I should note, though, that I had tucked in my blouse and needed to wear a belt today, so that was something. It was definitely a turning point for my stamina, though. Whereas week 1 had been surprisingly easy, week 2 wasn't starting off that way.

Day 9: down another .6
Welp, I officially broke myself. I was driving into work today and suddenly found myself craving an apple. An actual apple. Slices, in fact. This is important because I HATE APPLES. I hate the taste of apples, the texture, the skin. My watch & shoes (yes, really; my shoes) were looser, however, and my necklace was hanging noticeably lower. I was wearing a sweater I haven't worn in at least two winters and needed a belt for a pair of pants I'd worn a week and a half ago without. After 9 days of avoiding socialization, I went to a happy hour work party. Whereas Penn says you can participate in such things and just drink a seltzer and everyone will get over it in 15 seconds, that wasn't my experience. At this point I felt like I was noticeably slimmer and, therefore, a testament to the experience, but no one seemed to notice or, if they did, they didn't mention it. It was so glaringly obvious that I wasn't eating or drinking alcohol that I had to spill the beans. There was a lot of laughing, a lot of dire warnings, and just general disbelief exhibited over the course of the two hours that followed. As for me, I spent most of the time watching a woman at the next table double dip subpar looking french fries and talk with food in her mouth. The tapas at our own table of 12 consisted mostly of non-vegan dishes I wouldn't have been able to eat under normal circumstances. Those dishes that I could eat- namely hummus and pita, were appealing in that they weren't potatoes, but I recognized that it was just basic hummus with a pool of oil atop, accompanied by what looked to be store-bought pita. It was a good wake-up call that, going forward, "cheat meals" should consist of things I actually wanted to eat, not just the default vegan option available at a social event. This was not to say it wouldn't be tricky, but it was good information to have. Note: this was also the day I hugged the mason jar containing the last of my Valentine's Day non-pareils and whispered, "see you soon(ish?)."

Day 10: no loss
To add to the general malaise I was feeling about week 2, there was this first day with no weight loss. Although we were both following the same plan, VM had already had a few, so I knew it was possible. I was hungry and wanted just about anything other than the wide variety of potatoes I'd been consuming for the previous 9 days. VM regaled me with a story about a man who ate only potatoes for one year. UGH. One day to go after today. As for the book Ray Cronise has been recommending on Twitter in response to people inquiring about the diet, The Idiot's Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition; it does not seem to include any kind of diet outline. I've pieced it together enough to continue, but finding it kind of disappointing that this information seems available only to celebrities. The sweet potato I ate for breakfast wasn't fully cooked. Later, someone in my office opened a bag of fritos, which I know taste delicious even though they smell like feet. I ate another potato. She walked away and left the bag open on her desk; I considered stealing one- more as an experiment than a snack, really. Research, if you will. I once joked that I'd rather be happy than thin. Maybe it wasn't a joke? By dinnertime my morale was up. VM had experienced the same moments of despair during the day (well, not the same; she wasn't considering stealing another woman's snacks) and wasn't feeling well to boot. She had a headache and her stomach was upset, so she decided to add broccoli to her potato at dinner. it was random and I disagreed with it, but that's what she did. I felt a renewed sense of purpose, particularly since there was only one full day to go.

Day 11: down another 1.4 pounds
LAST DAY! No more potatoes in my purse to go to work! No more potatoes period!
It was good to see more loss and I was excited to be embarking on the LAST DAY, but I did have a moment of panic when I got off the scale, wondering if the transition to phase 2 (albeit nebulous) would mean decreased weight loss or, even worse, gain. I guess I just had to remember to eat predominantly for hunger, not taste. If I could eat a single potato in one day (not all days), then clearly my body does not require the amount of food I can generally shovel in because it's yummy. I realized that I had way more potatoes in my fridge than I could possibly eat today (and that my fridge now smelled, disturbingly, like potatoes) and it allowed me an array from which to choose from for the day; I took a white, a purple yam, and a Japanese sweet potato to work. I left VM's smashed fingerlings home for dinner: more than I can possibly eat in a sitting. In the afternoon a coworker told me that a colleague who had been at the work party on day 9 told him I was on "a potato diet." Playing offense, I led with the amount of weight I had lost and he said he could tell. Hallelujah; it wasn't just in my mind. I was hungrier today than I'd been throughout this entire phase, but 1 potato (or 3 fingerlings) filled me for each meal. This was something to keep in mind, beginning tomorrow, when I'd be able to introduce more delicious veggies that I'd want to eat more of. Eat when you're hungry; stop when you're full. In the evening I noticed that Ray Cronise had answered my tweet inquiry, doubling down on his recommendation for his co-written book, Plant-Based Nutrition, in lieu of an outline of the actual diet that Penn, Kevin, and surely others were following. The book is impressive, but kind of on the scientific side for me. I'll give it another go, but mostly I'll rely on the general principles I understand from Penn's book, as well as Fuhrman, MacDougall, Campbell etc.

Day 12: down another .6 pounds
VM packed me my corn!! She also ate some herself, the night before, because she can't follow rules (she cheated with veggies 3-4 times during the potato phase and still lost 10 pounds). She also included celery and carrot sticks- both of which I'd been craving all of phase 1. The thought of the celery within reach in the car on the way to work was enough to fool me into thinking I was hungry, but I wasn't. I waited until 10:00am to have my corn. I really felt hungry, but the recesses of my mind knowing something other than potatoes was coming probably also had something to do with it. Decreasing my "fed window" was going to take some practice, but I didn't beat myself up over it because it wasn't like I was eating a chocolate chip cookie. Mmmm cookies. Anyway, the corn was good. It wasn't life-changing or "sweet like candy" (that description makes me shudder), it was just good, sweet corn; I enjoyed it. Most importantly, it wasn't a potato. I ate half of my portion, which was about a whole bag of frozen corn, and saved the rest until later. I was at work, so I could have mindlessly eaten the whole bit, but I wasn't hungry enough to need to. The raw carrot sticks tasted like carrots and the celery like celery, no better or worse than I remembered and certainly not overly salty like Penn experienced. Maybe I'm just not overly dramatic?

That's it; officially the end of phase 1. Onward to phase 2. I will never look at a potato the same again.

*Penn calls himself an unethical vegan. Aside from 2 cheat days a month and holidays, he essentially follows the Fuhrman diet. I'm an ethical vegan and, in a perfect world, everyone would be. I'll take a smattering of unethical vegans because it means more animals saved. Progress, not perfection.


  1. Wow! What an interesting experiment! I’m glad you’re on the other side of the potato diet! It’s funny how changing our routine and food intake results in shifts (like craving apples or other unusual foods!). I participated in a 28 day low acid diet to regulate my gut, and while cutting out sugar I had intense cravings for graham crackers. Ha! Weird!

    1. Oooh, graham crackers sound positively decadent right about now! You're right; changing up your routine is KEY!

  2. Impressive that you persevered! I've wondered if I could do that diet too. Hope you'll give an update on phase 2.

  3. I am so intrigued by this. I think when I can't cater to tastes/cravings, I am so much less interested in eating. I clearly don't eat for nourishment (the cravings are all usually not things I need nutritionally) but for feel or feelings. When I tell myself I can only eat apples as snacks during the day it's like WHY BOTHER EAT, IT'S JUST A BORING APPLE?

    1. I've been eating carrot and celery sticks since phase 2 began and you're right; I don't even think I'm tasting them. BUT I normally would have just as mindlessly eaten Trader Joe's corn chips, so it's a lesson learned. Although I still really want Trader Joe's corn chips.

  4. Well i’m sure you’re happy to be done with all potatoes all the time..! But wtf no salt?!? Potatoes need salt! That makes me nuts because it’s an essential mineral and perfectly fine for normal people to use as a seasoning on whole foods. (Obvs high sodium packaged foods are a different story)
    I hope that you continue to feel good and achieve/maintain the results you want

    1. No added salt for phase 1 (potatoes) and 2 (whole foods) in order to recalibrate your tastebuds so they're not reliant on salt (and sugar/fat) for taste. I'm hoping my bloodwork numbers will be much improved when I next have them run!

    2. Hey, this is very random- have you ever been to one of the vegan drinks events..? I just saw their next one is april 26th pm and i think i’m going to check it out... unless you tell me it’s a magnet for crazy zealots...! ;)

    3. No! It's definitely not. Oddly, a few of the organizers are XVX, but I've heard they're good events.

  5. wow. what a hilarious journey! I'm so impressed that you made it. I really doubt I could do that. And I definitely noticed a difference when I saw you Saturday. Good for you! :)

  6. oh, and now I know why you FREAKED when you saw the case of Fritos!

    1. It's funny the things I crave and the things I don't!

  7. Did I think the potato was crazy?? I’m pretty sure I’m on it unintentionally!! Haha

  8. Did reading RC's book "Plant-Based Nutrition" help with any recipes or different options for preparing your potatoes? I feel like if I don't plan out the meals, I'll get stuck...

    1. TBH I get most of my recipes from the internet, but when I'm in healthy mode I can get pretty basic with my veggies! I have a lot of Fuhrman books (and friends); those recipes are all useful and plentiful so you shouldn't get stuck! Best of luck.


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