He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Potato.
June 21, 2022 6:21 PM   Subscribe

The pseudonymous science writers Slime Mold Time Mold are perhaps best known for their series A Chemical Hunger, which hypothesizes that rising obesity around 1980 may have been due to endocrine disruption caused by PFAS and lithium, particularly in downstream areas along major river watersheds. In the course of their research, though, they found a story of a Washington State Potato Commission guy who ate only potatoes for 60 days, and lost 21 pounds. Digging deeper,* they found more anecdotal cases of all-potato diets. Their reaction: this seems like it can't possibly be true, right? Well, any volunteers to try it out and help us collect data? Their ongoing Twitter thread on the study features a lot of commentary based on their own experiences doing it, and also from volunteers who have tried it out themselves.

*Like what I did there? As a bonus, please enjoy this My Name Is Andong video about the remarkable nature of the humble potato. It's conceivable that a major part of why the all-potato diet works is because potatoes contain all necessary amino acids, which means that, outside of vitamin B₁₂ and some fatty acids, you can apparently live on them more or less indefinitely? (Which was very much how a lot of European peasants lived for quite a while, in fact.)
posted by DoctorFedora (64 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Is it today? Is it the Day of the Potato?
posted by JHarris at 6:29 PM on June 21 [14 favorites]

it's potato day babey
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:35 PM on June 21 [18 favorites]

Chris wasn’t trying to lose weight. In an interview conducted years later, he said, “I was kind of hoping to be alive at the end of the 60 days… I wasn’t trying to lose weight.”

Imagine being so committed to your job that you're willing to risk death to prove a point at work.
posted by pwnguin at 6:46 PM on June 21 [9 favorites]

posted by seanmpuckett at 6:49 PM on June 21 [10 favorites]

Tuber YouTubers
posted by othrechaz at 9:59 PM on June 21 [1 favorite]

Reading the running Twitter commentary from people who have tried it, it seems like something about the all-potato diet puts your body into the same kind of mode as intermittent fasting, but without the part where you don't eat. Lots of "hunger starts to feel much more abstract" stuff that is bizarre yet fascinating.
posted by DoctorFedora at 10:07 PM on June 21 [5 favorites]

MetaFilter clearly had too many potatoes today.
posted by bixfrankonis at 10:15 PM on June 21 [1 favorite]

I have no doubt that an all-potato or potato with a little oil diet is quite effective for weight loss, but have these people never heard of water weight? No one is actually losing one pound per day or anything like that!

When you start eating less calories than you need, your body uses up stores of glucose, which is a short term store of energy. As it happens, that glucose is stored bound to water. When you use the glucose, your body gets rid of the water, resulting in rapid weight loss, which is just a result of losing water (i.e. once you start rebuilding your glucose stores, the weight will come back). Salt intake can also affect how much water your body holds on to. This is why many diets seem very effective for the first week or so.

It's interesting how little protein we actually need though, if it can in fact all be supplied by potatoes.
posted by ssg at 10:20 PM on June 21 [5 favorites]

Medieval peasants mainly ate stews of meat and vegetables, along with dairy products such as cheese, according to a study of old cooking pots.

Because they didn't have potatoes yet! (Tongue in cheek, but also true. No tomatoes or corn either - or most beans either apparently.)

National Potato Day in the US is August 19th, according to Google. What's going on??
posted by trig at 10:30 PM on June 21 [9 favorites]

Speculation: a lot of people will be getting a great deal more fibre than they're used to, which should really help on the satiety/fullness front. And, with a fairly bland and monotonous diet, food reward mechanisms will be dialled right back. These two things probably account for a lot of the positive comments. Oh, and the expectations people have in advance.

(I am still tempted to have a go just for fun, I have to say).
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:31 PM on June 21 [2 favorites]

I'm actually really curious if they'll do any sort of follow-up in, like, six months or a year, given the fact that A Chemical Hunger noted how, long-term, virtually every weight loss diet (or weight gain diet!) involves an eventual regression to the person's starting body weight. I'd love to see them collect data to find out if it is in fact just a short-term effect or not! And given that the whole principle is "let's collect some data, why not," I have to imagine they'll probably keep up on that over time.
posted by DoctorFedora at 10:40 PM on June 21 [2 favorites]

posted by lazaruslong at 10:57 PM on June 21 [1 favorite]

Anecdata for the collection: stage magician Penn Gillette lost 105 pounds (of 330) by switching to a 'mono diet' eating only potatoes.
He wrote a book about it, IIRC.
posted by bartleby at 11:29 PM on June 21 [2 favorites]

Penn Jillette wrote "Presto!: How I Made Over 100 Pounds Disappear and Other Magical Tales," the story of him going on the potato diet.
posted by Marky at 11:31 PM on June 21 [1 favorite]

O dang if I'd known what day it was I woudla dressed up
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 11:31 PM on June 21 [37 favorites]

Sounds a bit like the Butterfield Diet!
posted by Meatbomb at 11:41 PM on June 21 [1 favorite]


potati sumus
posted by away for regrooving at 11:58 PM on June 21 [22 favorites]

the important thing about potato day is, that, with this diet, potato day is, every day

doing a potato day pageant to celebrate the true meaning of potato day
posted by DoctorFedora at 12:15 AM on June 22 [1 favorite]

The real potato is the friends we made along the way
posted by aubilenon at 1:02 AM on June 22 [9 favorites]

National Potato Day in the US is August 19th, according to Google. What's going on??

potato roll with it dude ffs next you'll be on about fryday
posted by lalochezia at 4:12 AM on June 22 [1 favorite]

I'm confused, does this mean Harry Houdini is also a potato
posted by taquito sunrise at 4:42 AM on June 22 [2 favorites]

Oh thank you, unknown Peruvian ancestors, for inventing this magical crop, and thereby saving us from awful turnips
posted by eustatic at 5:01 AM on June 22 [13 favorites]

The real friends are the potatoes we made along the way.
posted by Gorgik at 5:05 AM on June 22 [2 favorites]

Rather than post just one, here are all the potato gifs
posted by lalochezia at 5:34 AM on June 22

Is it ethical for scientists to just post a come-on for a trial like that? Without participant screening or independent monitoring?

Seems like these characters are trying to “disrupt” science. Having read through their past work, I remain suspicious of their motives and practices.
posted by Don.Kinsayder at 5:35 AM on June 22 [1 favorite]

The big question I have is, if an all-or-mostly-potato diet is beneficial, how about going partway?

I don't get many potatoes in my diet (except sweet potatoes, which aren't really potatoes) -- but I could see hash browns instead of waffles for breakfast, and potatoes instead of my usual random frozen dinners for lunch at work.
posted by Foosnark at 5:55 AM on June 22

O dang if I'd known what day it was I woudla dressed up

If this is gonna be that kind of party, I'm gonna... hey bring back those mashed potats
posted by FatherDagon at 5:59 AM on June 22 [5 favorites]

Potatoes provide a very high level of satiety (many studies shows they are in fact the highest). (one of many references)

There are lots of plant-based Youtubers who did a two-week potato diet, whether to kickstart weight loss or to reset their taste buds (or both). (as linked above)

Dr. John McDougall has been recommending a whole food starch-based diet for more than 40 years.

Finally, this guy ate only potatoes for an entire year and regained his health.
posted by Glinn at 6:55 AM on June 22 [1 favorite]

The real potatoes are the potatoes we ate along the way.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 7:05 AM on June 22 [5 favorites]

If I knew you were comin' I'd've baked a potato
Baked a potato, baked a potato
If I knew you were comin' I'd've baked a potato
How-ja do, how-ja do, how-ja do?
posted by Splunge at 7:27 AM on June 22 [2 favorites]

If one has to, almost anyone can eat one thing for 60 days. There might even be a handful of people who could eat it for 5 years - in the same way there are people who can dunk a basketball, but their skill is I guess an above average lack of food curiosity instead of above average jumping ability.

Can a regular person continue the potato diet for 20 years?
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:38 AM on June 22

If you're considering doing this, there are a variety of ways to prepare your potatoes.

Well, three.
posted by Naberius at 7:44 AM on June 22 [3 favorites]

One of my favorite MeFites, grumblebee, mentioned in 2017 that he had had significant success losing weight with a plant-based diet - the one that Penn Jillette enthuses about. Grumblebee wrote a multi-post series about the whole experience. His account of the two week potatoes-only intro period - and the reasoning behind it - is so engaging and vivid that I still think about it these many years later.

Hurrah for grumblebee and his excellent writings!
posted by kristi at 8:16 AM on June 22 [8 favorites]

So I've been wine and dieting all this time and didn't know it?
posted by winesong at 8:31 AM on June 22

MetaFilter: Can overthink a plate of potatoes.
posted by Bee'sWing at 8:36 AM on June 22

Didn't Kevin Smith go all potato after his heart attack?
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 8:44 AM on June 22

Not to be an evangelist but I lost 160 pounds on keto and that phrase— "hunger starts to feel much more abstract"—is a perfect summary of the experience.

As someone who struggles with binge eating disorder and whose poverty during my upbringing caused me to have “hungerphobia,” this was a revelation. You mean being hungry didn’t have to totally consume my thoughts and lead me into a fast food psychosis? Even if I never lost weight on the diet it was worth it just to have a normal relationship with hunger.

(I’m sure this sensation isn’t unique to keto, of course. Also, I’m not talking about hunger due to an extreme caloric deficit; I meal planned and tracked what I consumed, and always ate to a healthy amount of daily calories.)
posted by Ian A.T. at 8:48 AM on June 22 [1 favorite]

Tuber's Two-Step.
posted by SPrintF at 8:48 AM on June 22 [1 favorite]

I am tempted to try the two-week version when I go on holiday. I love potatoes. I have long-corona, including considerable lack of taste and sense of smell, so I won't be loosing much, and it's worth trying if it can help with the fatigue that comes with the corona. It's new-potato season, they will be delicious and there will be a lot of choice. My adult kids aren't coming with me on holiday, so I'll be alone a lot and the rest of my family will find it acceptable that I only eat potatoes during the season because they too love potatoes.
Also, I really need to lose weight before major surgery (which has been delayed because of COVID 19), and it is going too slowly, I've lost 9 kilos over three years. I really like that people don't seem to put the weight back on when they return to normal.
posted by mumimor at 8:54 AM on June 22 [2 favorites]

MetaFilter: Can overthink a plate of potatoes

Despite the crowd expertise of AskMeta, the one-month All-You-Can-Eat plate of beans diet was not successful, especially downwind.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 9:06 AM on June 22 [6 favorites]

So....if I don't want to just eat potatoes for two weeks, I wonder if I can start incorporating a medium to large baked potato into all my lunches and dinners going forward to reap benefits of lower calories per meal and more satiety after each meal. Just put a small amount of whatever the meal is on top of the potato. Potato topped with soup, potato topped with stir-fry, potato topped with lasagna!

I guess it helps that I really do like potatoes. Not a huge fan of orange fleshed sweet potatoes, or yams, but I do like the white fleshed Japanese ones.
posted by sharp pointy objects at 9:25 AM on June 22 [2 favorites]

The real friends are the potatoes we ate along the way.
posted by davidmsc at 9:33 AM on June 22 [1 favorite]

cw: eating disorders

As much as I adore potatoes, this diet sounds immensely disordered.

This sort of thing was popular on eating disorder boards in the early 00s. It was called the mono diet. The prevailing theory was that your body stops absorbing that item as it's "saturated" with the nutrients and you stop digesting it, even when you are consuming sufficient calories. (That does not scientifically hold water, to my knowledge.)

I don't think it's anything special about potatoes, having observed all that. On the ED boards, people tended to do a mono diet with peanut butter (as it has protein, carbs, and fat), for some amount of time, and reportedly lost weight despite already being underweight. You also stop eating as much because it's boring.

Weird to see a pro-ana favorite being approached as a scientific endeavor, is what I'm saying.
posted by quadrilaterals at 9:56 AM on June 22 [11 favorites]

Thanks for your comment quadrilaterals, I'll need to think about it.
posted by mumimor at 10:08 AM on June 22

I read grumblebee’s post on Quora linked above and the reason for two weeks of bland potatoes is to “reset your palate” so that the vegetables/salad/grains you eat after that won’t need the help of sugar/salt/oil to be flavorful. Post-potato and then maintenance are more complicated but that’s the gist of Phase 1.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 11:05 AM on June 22

Anytime you limit yourself to one food, you tend to get tired of it and eat fewer calories. But if you're going to choose one food, potatoes aren't bad.

Nutrition and food writer Tamar Haspel in the Washington Post: Potatoes get a bad rap. They don’t deserve it:

"Is the association between potatoes and bad health outcomes a result of how people eat potatoes (often, fried, or with salt and plenty of sour cream)? Or is it because potato eating is part of a dietary or lifestyle pattern that could include, say, cheeseburgers and “Survivor” reruns, and it’s the pattern, not the potatoes, that does the damage? Or is it just because the data are unreliable? We don’t really know.

...Part of the potato’s problem is simply its classification. When you call it a vegetable, you ask it to fight above its weight class. Compare potatoes with green vegetables, and you get more calories and less nutrition. But compare potatoes with whole grains, and you find surprising similarities, and even a case that potatoes are more nutritious."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:33 AM on June 22 [2 favorites]

it's potato day babey

All this time I thought it was a podcast about Parks on the Air, called PotA Today.
posted by straight at 12:06 PM on June 22

plant-based Youtubers

You tubers?
posted by Foosnark at 12:35 PM on June 22 [6 favorites]

Medieval peasants mainly ate stews of meat and vegetables, along with dairy products such as cheese, according to a study of old cooking pots.

Because they didn't have potatoes yet!

I was reading an endless biography of Johann Sebastian Bach and all of a sudden it noted that his diet didn't include potatoes because they hadn't been cultivated yet in Germany. It seemed so tragic.
posted by acrasis at 4:03 PM on June 22 [1 favorite]

So. French fry diet? Can I use ketchup too? If so, I'm in!
posted by Splunge at 4:29 PM on June 22 [1 favorite]

yeah it's wild to think about how in the year, oh, 1450, there would necessarily have been, like, more people from China in Europe than there would have been potatoes (or tomatoes, or peppers, or…), simply because China was accessible by land
posted by DoctorFedora at 8:16 PM on June 22

The real potatoes were the friends we ate along the way.
posted by fizban at 4:20 AM on June 23

You tubers?

Eye see what you did there
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 6:04 AM on June 23

" Seems like these characters are trying to “disrupt” science. Having read through their past work, I remain suspicious of their motives and practices."

I've been thinking about this.

As far as I can see, these are well-heeled tech industry types. Perhaps cashed out, perhaps not, but with the leisure to nose around and the aptitude to do some wide reading.

What I am strongly reminded of is 19th century gentlemen pursuing their independent research and studies, putting out the odd self-published monograph. Slime Mold is a kind of throwback. All the problems of lack of collegial structures/support/systems/guardrails, the wins of working independently, the blinkers of being gentlemen of leisure. I personally am not suspicious of their motives. I would probably do the same thing: I'm a curious person, I am too old to retrain, but I want some fun and there is the hope of finding something others have missed. Whether the practises can yield results that hold up very much remains to be seen.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:40 PM on June 23 [1 favorite]

Perhaps so, joe’s_spleen.

Still, I feel they are recklessly promoting a course of disordered eating under the cover of scientific experiment. I don’t know the ethics of it all from the perspective of the science community, but as a layman, I don’t like it.
posted by Don.Kinsayder at 2:48 AM on June 24 [2 favorites]

You know, people are allowed to eat what they want. If people want to try eating nothing but potatoes for a bit, that's not necessarily a problem. We don't need to psychologize everything and we don't need to apply a "disordered eating" label to everyone who eats a diet outside the norm.

I get that many people have a difficult relationship with food and eating, but we can't apply that lens to every single person's eating choices.
posted by ssg at 9:31 AM on June 24

I certainly don’t wish to psychologize every person on the planet.

I do, however, think that the writers of this blog are all too cavalierly promoting a diet that is, well, potentially triggering for someone with an eating disorder.

Dramatically restrict your food intake like so; it’s for science, so it’s fine.

I certainly don’t want my vulnerable loved one to read that message. Okay?
posted by Don.Kinsayder at 12:34 PM on June 24

Well, in what way do you think people should be able to talk about something like this? Are you asking for a trigger warning or something else? I get that this is a fraught area, but I'm honestly not sure what the solution is. With so much awfulness out there about diet, I struggle to see how this kind of thing is really the problem.
posted by ssg at 4:57 PM on June 24

yeah if you read the stuff they actually wrote about it all, they strongly discourage continuing the diet if you encounter pretty much literally any problem (including just wanting to stop)

I could set it potentially being an issue for people with preexisting eating disorders, but no more so than [gestures broadly to the entirety of social messaging and dieting culture]
posted by DoctorFedora at 5:36 PM on June 24

This thread would suggest that Slime Mold is a) way off base with their lithium/obesity theory but also b) not dealing with contrary evidence at all well. Eating potatoes is fun (and I'm still tempted) but the claims to be doing science are weak, unless we're content with "doing science badly.

(Basically, there is a series of factual errors and logical mistakes in their work, and the thread poster has repeatedly attempted to draw SMTM's attention to them, and they have not only not addressed them but refused to allow the comments on their posts).
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:36 PM on June 28 [2 favorites]

Very intriguing! Thanks for the link
posted by DoctorFedora at 8:07 PM on June 28

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