I’ve done several posts on how to use potatoes to get lean. Head over to my Potato Hack Diet page to see those posts in the proper order. This post will be me reaching for an explanation on why some people cannot imagine themselves going days or even a single meal eating just boiled potatoes.
In the post The Five Stages of (Potato Hack) Grief, I outlined the phases one could experience. Let’s focus in on Stage #4 Depression. The idea of eating just potatoes is not a pleasant idea for most. From that post:
Many will make it to this stage, imagine the Depression, and then never do a thing about it. It is too much. Depression feels bad. They can move through the Depression stage or head back to the kitchen for some ice cream and cookies to make the sadness disappear.
I’ve seen many smart and ambitious people make it to this stage and then go no further. Then they come up with rationalizations and discard not only the idea of doing a full Potato Hack but even the idea of adding more boiled potatoes into their weekly meals.
The Flavor -> Satiety Link
If it were just unambitious lazy people that didn’t pursue the Potato Hack, I could understand, but I was talking to people more successful than me. People with a history of struggle and success.
My hypothesis is that people subconsciously associate flavor with satiety. Their conscious mind understands it is calories that leads to satiety. But we don’t eat calories. We eat food. Food has flavor. Eating plain boiled potatoes has almost no flavor. Therefore not only would the experience be unpleasant, but it feels like it may not work. That is the disconnect that makes the Potato Hack work, but it is also the disconnect that keeps many people from trying the diet.
Adults get to eat whatever they want. So we choose foods that taste good to us. These positive flavor signals get repeated every time we eat. For years. For decades. These flavors move us from the unpleasant feeling of hunger to the pleasant feeling of satiety. We form memories and emotions around foods, meals, and restaurants that deliver us to satiety time and time again.
The flavors are reinforcing. But that is the problem. Because we live in a hyper-abundant society where food is always available, usually cheap, and tastes amazing, we overconsume. In other words, the flavors became engrained and got the upper-hand.
Potato Hack Training Wheels
Going 3 days eating cold boiled plain potatoes is not an option for some. They won’t even go a single meal and some wouldn’t even try my single potato idea (Marine Potato 20). The Flavor -> Satiety link is too strong. It needs to be weakened.
Eat a bowl of boiled potatoes warm with salt and a splash of red wine vinegar. It actually tastes pretty good. The red wine vinegar only adds a few calories. If that goes fine – and I believe it will – start swapping out meals here and there with this method. This will gradually build up calorie deficits throughout the week. It will also reduce the flavor signals you experience.
At some point, you may decide to try a stricter Potato Hack or not. That is up to you. Knocking out a meal here and there with potatoes is a powerful tool for both leaning out but also staying lean.
Jan 1, 2018 — 7:29 pm
Interesting post. I do several 72 hour fasts (black coffee and water) a year, with some but not too much effort. But I’ve never made it more than one day on a strict potato hack (I end up adding catsup or a bit of cheese on day two). The psychological aspect is powerful.
Jan 1, 2018 — 7:34 pm
Also, your discussion of weakening the flavor-calorie link reminded me of the Shangri-La Diet. (You did a post about it in 2011.)
Jan 2, 2018 — 7:13 am
@Jim – The Shangri-La Diet was ahead of the rest.
Jan 28, 2018 — 4:35 am
Do you think muscle loss would be an issue on a potatohack? What’s been your experience? It feels odd not eating any protein for a few days. Potatohack combined with whey protein shakes a possibility?
Jan 28, 2018 — 7:05 am
@Robert – I don’t think muscle loss on a Potato Hack is a concern for a few reasons.
1- There are many reports of diets longer than 3-5 days with low calories or low protein or even fasting where the muscle is preserved. One story:
2- Even if there was muscle loss, muscle memory would bring you back to where you were rather quick. https://criticalmas.org/2009/01/how-mickey-rourke-gained-27-pounds-of-muscle-for-the-wrestler/
I would not add whey protein because there are other health benefits one gets from the Potato Hack. Those are covered on other posts and in the Tim Steele book.
Jan 28, 2018 — 1:17 pm
@MAS – Thanks, that makes sense. Also, there’s plenty of carbs in a potatohack, so GNG won’t be an issue, as it is in fasting and in low carb diets.
I guess I just needed to hear it from someone building muscle. If a middle aged lady loves the hack, it doesn’t make the same impact on me.
Tim Steele has probably received hundreds of questions about trying to hack the potatohack, all kinds of suggestions for modifications. I guess it’s all part of the process, the “bargaining”.
Jan 28, 2018 — 7:20 pm
Haha – Nice try! Welcome to “acceptance.” 5lbs of spuds have about 45g of protein, so the potato hack is not totally devoid of protein. If you are actively trying to build muscle, you’ll want to eat considerably more than the recommended amounts (ie. .8g/kg), but for a couple of rest days, even a couple weeks, you can easily get by on 30-40g/day without losing hard-earned muscle. I think the benefits to insulin sensitivity, gut health, and fat loss far outweigh the possibility of losing muscle mass.
Jan 29, 2018 — 12:55 am
@Tim – Yes, just reached the acceptance phase. Decided with the wife to start Wednesday, and keep going to Friday or Saturday. Then repeat next week possibly. Her gut has been a bit out of shape after a food poisoning a few weeks ago, might need a “reset”.
You’re right, 30-40 g of protein a day is almost enough to keep nitrogen balance, especially if you take it easy. And less fat is more important than much muscle for looking good anyway.
Feb 16, 2018 — 4:05 pm
Came to your site looking for another article and ended up here.
Put me down as another you inspired to do the potato diet.
I did it last year (2017) for lent, I ate nothing but cold, unsalted, boiled potatoes for 6 out of 7 days a week (Sunday is a feast day after all).
Feb 17, 2018 — 10:37 am
@rbiser – Nice. 6 days beats my record.
Jul 18, 2021 — 10:18 am
The Shangri-La Diet was and still is ahead of its time.
The Potato Hack is nothing more than a convenient application of the Shangri-La more general principle.
Too bad Seth Roberts didn’t live to read “The Hungry Brain” by Stephan Guyenet. This book offers all the scientific validation that “The Shangri-la Diet” needed.
Jul 19, 2021 — 4:24 am
“The Potato Hack is nothing more than a convenient application of the Shangri-La more general principle.”
Expanding on that: Try doing the potato hack clipping your nose while you eat. I bet you will can do it for much more than a week without suffering.
You will notice that the main factor is the flavor (smell + taste), not the other factors that you assumed where causing the decreased appetite (SCFAS, GLP-1, PYY, etc).
You can have the appetite suppression and weight loss of the “Potato Hack” virtually with any food, as long you eat it nose clipped. (the only question is the health profile of the food you choose). For instance, you can do a “Boiled Egg Hack” eating it with the nose clipped and you will have the health advantages of eating eggs.
The potato is just a naturally bland food (close to it), just like the Extra Light Olive Oil originally proposed by Seth Rogers.
Jul 19, 2021 — 6:24 am
I guess I still wasn’t clear enough about why I am saying these things.
The Potato Hack works. But it is daunting and can be hard to start and even harder to maintain for a lot of people.
Potatoes are almost bland, but they still taste bad, especially for a person that has increased appetite and cravings caused by a high palatable diet.
My point is that promoting the Potato Hack might not be attractive for a lot of people that would benefit for it.
The effects on cravings and appetite that you experience on the Potato Hack can be achieved using the principles of the Shangri-la diet.
Using the nose-clipping approach ou can have a lot more options than potatoes.
Eating almost completely flavorless food (like you do when you eat any food nose-clipped) IS A LOT EASIER than eat food that tastes like shit (like potatoes do).
Also, you can have a more complete diet using the Shangri-La method and you can apply it to increase compliance to ANY OTHER DIET: (VLCD, PSMF, Low carb, Keto, The Cambridge Diet, Paleo, 5:2 diet, 4:3 diet, intermittent fasting, you name it.)
My point is that we should promote the Shangri-La Principle instead of the potato hack, because the potato hack can be too difficult to implement and doesn’t reach all the people that would benefit from its effects.
Also, to recognize that the Potato Hack is a sub-application of the more general Shangri-la Method.
Seth Roberts achieved the same appetite and weight loss effects of the Potato Hack with two diametrically opposed foods: oil and fructose.
Many health effects that people think that are caused by potatoes are in fact achieved by caloric restriction and weight loss per se.
Jul 19, 2021 — 7:07 am
@DasMusikalischeOpfer – I went into the archives and discovered it was exactly a decade ago this summer that I was reading Seth’s book.
Nose-clipping is another tool in the toolbox. I would *guess* that people would be less receptive to that than the potato diet, but I could be wrong.
Jul 19, 2021 — 7:37 am
@MAS thank you for the answer.
You know, the results reported by the people that did the Shangri-La diet when the book was released back in 2006 were very inspiring.
Nose-clipping eating might seen strange and unappealing, but when people try and experience the radical effects, it my change their minds.
Personally it was the most radical effect I have ever experienced, other than carb restriction when it used to work by itself.
Sadly, Seth Roberts died in 2014, so we have no one strongly promoting this idea anymore.
Jul 19, 2021 — 8:03 am
Since you have previous experience with the Potato Hack, and you are open-minded, next time you could do it nose-clipped and see the differences for yourself.
For one you won’t have to worry about adding anything to the potatoes, not even salt.
I think you will beat your personal record.
Jul 19, 2021 — 2:53 pm
@DasMusikalischeOpfer – Actually, I think the nose clip idea would be better served on the non-potato hack meals.
The potato hack meals will already put one into a serious caloric restriction. There is no need to go deeper. Just increase the number of potato meals.
I could see the nose clips working best on correcting one’s relationship with foods with high food reward. Turn down the taste volume.
I’m at a good weight now, so if someone else wants to try it, post your results.
Jul 20, 2021 — 7:24 am
My suggestion about eating the potatoes nose-clipped is because even though cool boiled potatoes are nearly bland, they are in fact unpleasant to eat.
That is the cause of reluctance.
as @Jim commented:
“But I’ve never made it more than one day on a strict potato hack (I end up adding catsup or a bit of cheese on day two)”
I am pretty sure that nose-clipping would completely remove that difficulty and would allow for many more days of eating without adding any other flavor, not even salt. And without feeling deprived.
I ate a lot of worse tasting things using this method and it works perfectly.
The subject of your post is to convince the reluctant… well, I think that nose-clipping is the ultimate solution for that problem.
If a person is already willing to eat only plain boiled potatoes, I don’t think nose-clipping would be too much of a trouble, especially because it makes a lot more easy to comply.
I wish that this method would receive more attention when this hack is proposed, however, usually it is not even mentioned (so everyone can decide for yourself).
People usually resort to adding flavors to the potato, when the most efficient – although not so obvious – solution is to remove the flavor altogether by nose-clipping.
Jul 20, 2021 — 10:54 am
@DasMusikalischeOpfer – I don’t consider eating potatoes to be “unpleasant”. Nor do I think the people that have used this diet successfully. I would guess that eating food with noseclips would be less pleasant. But that is just a guess, as I have not tried it. Maybe I will, but I really don’t need to.
There is nothing wrong with the potato hack. Even if someone added salt or vinegar, they will still drop weight. Part of the reason it works is because the flavor is so basic that eating is no longer a form of entertainment, which much of what we eat today has become.
Jul 20, 2021 — 12:47 pm
Not unpleasant. I find eating the potatoes to be pleasant but boring.
Jul 21, 2021 — 5:42 am
@MAS & @rbiser
In terms of difficulty, imagine the following scenario:
A person that is overweight and with a high appetite, currently eating a hyper-palatable diet and therefore a high body-fat set point.
To decrease the set point the reward of the diet must decrease, but it takes time. The person must eat enough times of the less palatable food until it decreases the set point and consequently the appetite and cravings.
So the person must eat plain potatoes a few times for it to have the desired effect.
In the proposed scenario, it will be hard to eat the potatoes enough times, since IT WILL taste bad. It is a question of food reward.
Now consider the alternative: you can achieve the same reduction in set point, appetite and cravings using the Shangri-La hack.
What is more plausible in this scenario:
Eat plain potatoes
Close your nose for a few seconds and drink a protein shake [for instance]?
That is the difference I am talking about.
Both ways will reach the desired effect. You can re-read The Shangri-La book or go to Seth Roberts website for the testimonies. They are remarkably similar to the testimonies of the Potato Hackers in regards of appetite, weight loss and caloric restriction.
I already did both and I experienced the same effects, so I know it is the same thing.
I even did a “Carrot Hack” and the effect was the same.
But I would never do a Potato Hack again knowing the alternatives.
I do the hack with fully fermented homemade yogurt and I can easily spend a whole week with only 300 calories/day (500 mL of yogurt) without having none of the problems of calorie restriction (hunger, cravings or boredom).
I know that I am probably starting to annoy everyone so I will stop now. Thanks for the attention, I just wanted to promoted this idea to someone that would listen, I am in peace now.
Jul 21, 2021 — 8:29 am
@DasMusikalischeOpfer – Although I disagree with your assessment of the Potato Hack, I must respect the fact you did both methods and prefer the nose clips. Maybe I will experiment at some point.