Designing a Modern Peasant Diet

During my blogging hiatus an online feud erupted between two bloggers that I have been reading for years. It was glorious to watch.

My readers probably already know Richard Nikoley from FreeTheAnimal. The other blogger was Karl Denninger, who mostly blogs about finance, but in recent years has also shown an interest in nutrition. Although I rarely read Karl today, he was my go to financial site leading into the financial crisis of 2008-2009.

Their battle started on Twitter over the Potato Diet. Richard is a fan. Karl isn’t. If you missed the battle in February, you can read Richard’s post Why Does Karl Denninger Lie Like That? I would also link to Karl’s post, but like so many of his other posts in the past, he no longer has it available publicly.

Although I think Karl is brilliant when it comes to his understanding of interest rates and other topics related to economics, I completely side with Richard on this topic. Richard like myself is pro-potato and pro-carbs. For a summary on how we went from preaching the low carb gospel to eating bags of potatoes, see the post How Low Carb Paleo Can Fool You. But I also understand why Karl feels the way he does. He has had great success (so far) following a low carb diet. I was there. So was Richard. I totally get it.

** If Karl happens to read this post, I want to say you lose tremendous credibility when you take down old posts. Especially posts of a financial nature. Jim Cramer never had this post taken down. I really wish you’d put up your critique of MMT you wrote several years ago. I recall that post being brilliant.

Before this post turns into yet another carb battle, I want to tell you why this battle still resonates with me almost a year later. I recall Karl using the phrase “peasant diet”. He meant it as a critique, but it made me smile. I love the term.

The Case For the Peasant Diet

When I think of a poor person today and imagine their diet, I see a lot of processed foods. They are likely to be overweight or even obese. The foods are highly flavorful, calorie dense and hyper-palatable. However, when I imagine a peasant I see a diet of boring staples. The foods are low in flavor and have a low calorie density.

If you believe the Food Reward theory of obesity has merit – and I absolutely do – then striving for a more peasant like diet is a brilliant idea. Filling your belly with nutritious, non-processed foods that are also dirt cheap is a great strategy for defending ourselves from an environment of highly flavorful foods designed to get us to overeat.

The Peasant Diet Menu

Unlike peasants, we can selectively chose the foods that are higher in nutrition. For example: plain potatoes are better than rice. Although rice keeps much longer and is cheaper, potatoes are more filling and nutritious. So a nutritional peasant would do better with potatoes. Rice is fine, but is not a staple for me. I’ll stick to potatoes.

  1. Potatoes
  2. Beans
  3. Oats
  4. Farro and Kamut
  5. Eggs
  6. Bananas
  7. Pork
  8. Chicken
  9. Sweet Potatoes / Yams
  10. Canned tuna
  11. Carrots
  12. Cabbage

Is there anything else that belongs on the list?

I wish I could eat more beans, even lentils or green peas. They are so cheap and nutritious. However, unless my portion is small, I get bloating and even gut pain sometimes. I’ve tried soaking – even with baking soda. Pressure cooking. Adding in ginger. Nothing seems to work. If you have an idea, please post a comment.

Farro is super yummy. I’m glad VeggiePharm posted that tip.


My Belly is Full and So Is My Wallet

If you try and eat like a poor person in North America today you will spend a lot of money on junk food and probably end up overweight. However, if you eat like a peasant, your belly will be full but your abs will be visible. And you’ll have more money in your pocket. A lot more money.

You don’t need to be a peasant at every meal. Dial in what works for you. I’m probably 60-70% peasant today. I eat the foods on the list and then add in more veggies and dairy. Then when I go out to eat I select foods with more flavor.

And to those that object to a Peasant Diet on the grounds that it is too boring, my response is why does every meal need to be highly flavorful and entertaining? If you find yourself overweight then your diet has likely been too flavorful and entertaining. Like a credit card balance, you consumed more than you needed and now it is time to tighten your belt.

The Potato Diet is a Calorie Savings Account

Many people have asked me in the last year if I’m still on The Potato Diet and how it is working for me. Before I bring readers up to date, I would like everyone interested in The Potato Diet to get a copy of : The Potato Hack Diet by Tim Steele. It will answer all your questions. I’m just one data point. The Potato Hack Diet is based on the results of many dieters. Now onto my story.


My One Year Update

A year ago I posted that I was going to do the Potato Diet to lose 15-20 pounds. That post was followed up with my Week 1 results. In the post I answer a few questions as best as I could at the time.

At the end of last December, I was getting some odd measurements when I weighed myself. Even though I was creating a calorie deficit, I wasn’t losing weight. At that time I was recovering from a knee injury. Part of my recovery was strength training to recover lost muscle and I also starting taking creatine monohydrate again. Both could result in weight gain. So once again I found myself with conflicting health goals. I couldn’t use pounds lost as a metric.

As someone that has completely rejected the Quantified Self movement, I decided that in 2016, I would measure nothing. I have not stepped on a scale or used a tape measure once this entire year. I am now using The Frankie Method, which I described in 2010.

The combination of potatoes, strength training and creatine monohydrate resulted in me getting visibly leaner. Good enough for Frankie. Good enough for me.

Am I Still Eating Potatoes?

I’ve been asked this numerous times this year. The answer is YES. On an average week I consume 10-12 pounds of potatoes. Typically, I buy a waxy potato, although occasionally I will get a Russet. I purchase the potatoes from a restaurant supply grocery store that is open to the public called Cash & Carry. A 15 pound bag of potatoes averages $3.

Recently I started adding some organic potatoes into the mix. Maybe 5 pounds a month. With the organic I eat the peel. With conventional I don’t. I boil the potatoes and then let them chill in the refrigerator. I typically consume them cold with some salt.

Most weeks I replace meals with potatoes randomly. I’m at a good weight, so I don’t need to just eat potatoes for 2-3 days straight.

Why Am I Still Eating So Many Potatoes?

In addition to nutrition, one of my main interests is economics. I like taking what I learn in economics and applying it to other domains. I cover this thought in more detail in the post Approaching Nutrition From an Investor’s Mindset.

Anyway, I see potatoes as the PERFECT intersection of nutrition and economics.

  • Potatoes are one of the cheapest sources of calories.
  • Potatoes have one of the highest satiety ratings.
  • Plain boiled potatoes are nutritious.
  • Boiled potatoes have almost no flavor (more on that later).
  • Quick and easy to prepare. Especially if you boil 3-5 pounds at a time.

What this means is I can load up on potatoes as a safe food. I don’t need to think about several meals a week. How many times do we eat up going out for a calorie rich meal because we were too tired or busy to prepare something?

For me I know I always have a container of boiled potatoes in the refrigerator.

If I were to stop eating potatoes now, I’d suddenly need to start planning several additional meals a week. This would not only have decision costs, but time and material costs. The foods that I would use to replace the potatoes would certainly have a greater flavor stimulus, so I’d either consume more or use limited willpower to stop eating sooner.

Why would I want to do that? Potatoes for the win.

“But I Could Never Eat Just Potatoes!”

Now I want to address the most common objection. People embrace the idea of eating less to lose weight, however many feel threatened at the thought of losing flavor. In modern society, not only do we rarely miss a meal, but each meal needs to taste great. In the history of mankind, how long has that been true? Only recently and we are seeing the result of having endless options of great tasting food at every meal.

I want to pause here for those that are unaware of the “Food Reward / Hyperpalatablity” theory of obesity. The article How ‘Hyperpalatable’ Foods Could Turn You Into A Food Addict is a good primer. From that article:

Our food environment has changed dramatically over the years, most notably through the introduction of so-called “hyperpalatable” foods. These foods are deliberately engineered in such a way that they surpass the reward properties of traditional foods, such as vegetables, fruits, and nuts. Food chemists achieve this by suffusing products with increased levels of fat, sugar, flavors, and food additives.

Every year the food in our environment becomes more flavorful. Some through engineering, some through more access to novel cuisines. A classic dieting strategy cited is to use moderation and willpower. How is that working for you? Or society? The food chemists get better every year and we’re still the same humans.

The Potato to the Rescue

If you have excess weight, you consumed more resources than you needed. You not only consumed too many calories, you consumed too many flavors.

Starting the Potato Diet is a conscious decision to reduce the excess flavor signals in our environment. That is a bizarre idea to embrace at first, but once I did, everything clicked. I posted this after my week 1 experience:

When I deprived my tongue of flavor for three days, I wanted foods with simple flavors. Eggs, fruit, baked chicken and other basic foods all tasted wonderful. Better than they did prior to depriving myself of spices for three days. Basic foods have an edge over modern foods in that we tend not to eat them to excess.

Penn Jillette lost over 100 pounds in 3 months. He began his diet by consuming nothing but potatoes for 15 days. After that period he completely lost his taste for all the junk food that made him heavy and was so readily available in his hometown of Las Vegas.

Last Words

Every meal I consume of cold boiled potatoes, I not only know that I’m creating a hunger free calorie deficit, but I’m also greatly reducing the power highly flavorful food has on me the rest of the week. I see these little deficits I create throughout the week as a savings account. Eating 10-12 pounds of potatoes a week gives me enough caloric headroom to eat whatever I want on the other meals and not gain weight. Zero willpower required.

Learn a Foreign Language SUPER FAST or Not

I wanted to give an update on my progress learning Spanish followed by my thoughts on the advice being peddled in the blogosphere on language learning.

The last language update I found on this blog was on September 26, 2015. In the post King of the Road, I mentioned I my Duolingo streak was at 132 days and I was at 6% fluency. I had just finished Pimsleur Spanish 1 and was starting Pimsleur Spanish 2.

Today I have a Duolingo streak of 346 days and a fluency score of 24%. I should have a streak of 550 days, but that is a long boring story. Now I am half way though Pimsleur Spanish 4. I listen to educational podcasts in Spanish and spend 30-45 minutes a day on vocabulary app called Memrise. Two hours a week I have Skype lessons with a teacher in Venezuela. Yet I am not close to being fluent. And that is OK.

In August 2015, I posted:

I have no specific goal other than to keep improving. If one day I am fluent, great. If I can only read a newspaper, that is fine as well.

Well today I can read a good chunk of the news stories on BBC Mundo. Not quickly and I do need to lookup words, but I’ve made a lot of progress.


Now I want to share my thoughts on a lot of the language advice I see online.

#1 Every Tool Has Successes and Failures

There are many tools to learn a foreign language. Not every tool will work for every person. I think that people are too quick to state their way is right the way because it worked for them. But almost every tool works for at least some people or it wouldn’t be around anymore.

This summer I spent 8 weeks taking Accelerated Spanish 1 at a local Community College. It was mostly wasted money. I was already beyond the level of the class. Most of the students didn’t take it serious and stopped attending. Even though I got little value from the class, I knew at least two of the students benefited a lot. For me the apps and YouTube videos were better. They likely signed up for Accelerated Spanish 2, where as I hired a teacher via Skype for one-on-one instruction. The Community College is probably a better choice for them, whereas the Skype way is working better for me.

There is far too much debate on which language program is best. Pick something and get started. If you don’t like it, grab a different tool and proceed. And if someone leaves a comment on which tool is best in the comments, then I’ll know this blog post failed.

#2 Enough With the Polyglots

Maybe I’m alone here, but I don’t find it encouraging to get advice from someone that speaks multiple languages and can learn additional languages super fast. I find it discouraging. Because even though my goal is to just make progress every day it does get frustrating to see some 25 year old that likely grew up in a bilingual household tackling his 5th or 10th language.

I’m reminded of the old muscle magazine ads where some steroid monster is selling a program on how to get HUGE. I might get huge or I may discover that our monster had an advantage that I didn’t have.

#3 The Keys to Learning a Language SUPER FAST

I’ve seen the videos and read the books on rapid language learning. There seems to be two keys for rapid learning. Key 1 is it really helps if you’ve already learned at least one language in addition to your birth language. Tackling your 3rd or greater language is going to be much easier than tackling your 2nd.

The second key as far as I can tell is have no other interests. I’ve read Fluent in 3 Months. Total immersion is the message of this book. Great. I believe it. But, I have other interests and those interests are unrelated to language. And those interests take time. So indirectly a key to learning quicker is to lose interest in other things.

Yo soy la tortuga (I am the turtle)

When I approach fitness I often think of Survivorship Bias. Not what is the strategy that will get me the optimal results, but what is the strategy that has the highest success rate. They are two different things. The strategies peddled by the polygots will absolutely work for some, but most will fail for a variety of reasons. Frustration, time commitment, whatever. They will burn out and quit.

I’ve added over 30 Friends on the various language apps in the past 18 months. Of those only about 5 are consistently putting in the effort daily. Instead of being the hare, I decided to be the tortoise. I spend an average of 60-90 minutes a day on Spanish. When I started it was closer to 15 minutes.

Even though the polygots can achieve fluency in 90 days or less, I haven’t. But my confidence grows a little each month that I will someday. The most important thing is I am having fun. I am enjoying the journey. Had I tried to be the hare with a target of becoming fluent in a few months I would have absolutely quit a long time ago.

If you are learning a foreign language and looking for a Skype teacher, I use italki. Here is my referral link.  We both get 100 ITC (credits= $10 USD) if you join after you take your first lesson. I use PayPal as I’ve had issues with their credit card processing. 

The Urban Hiking Interview

In December 2015, I was interviewed by a Seattle newspaper about my Urban Hiking adventures, which I document on my Urban Hiking page.

The story was published in February 2016. It was an OK story, but it missed most of my responses. Which is fine. The story wasn’t about me. It was about putting down the cellphone and exploring. The newspaper uses a pop-up overlay window, so I’m not linking to the story.

The number one thing I was hoping to share didn’t make it into the story. It was the first answer below. I really want to stress that it was the speed traps aimed at hikers that pulled me out of nature. In my opinion, if you live in the city of Seattle and not on the Eastside, nature hiking isn’t worth it. Especially now. Bridge tolls, traffic and Johnny Law looking to take your money. Two hours of stress for one hour of peace? Not for me. You’ll find me in the city.

#1 Talk about the reasons you started urban hiking in Seattle

When I first moved to the Seattle area I started in the Bellevue area. Initially I did the hikes along the 90 corridor. They were fine, but I got tired of the speed traps law enforcement was setting up to extract funds from hikers going a few miles per hour over the limit. I never got a ticket. Instead I moved to Queen Anne and traded in my nature hikes for urban hike.

#2 To what extent do you use technology to help you plot courses and navigate? What are the benefits of not using those tools? Did you ever encounter any dangers or get worryingly lost?

When I first started urban hiking in Seattle I was just learning the city, so I brought along a GPS. It had a weak battery, so I didn’t turn it on that much and instead relied on landmarks. After a handful of hikes throughout the city, I stopped using the GPS completely.

It is really hard to get too lost urban hiking in Seattle during the day. We have numbered streets, large bodies of water, bridges and large markers such as the Space Needle and views of Rainier. The benefit of not using technology is you are forced to pay attention to your surroundings. You discover things along the less optimal routes that you might night see if you used a map application.

When I visited Bangkok, Thailand in 2009, I took off exploring the city without a map or any technology. I explored all day. All I did was keep track of how many minutes I walked in each direction and then used those times to reverse course and get me back to my hotel before nighttime.

#3 What have you discovered about yourself, the city and its people by hiking in town?

Unlike other cities I’ve lived in, I tend to run into people I know frequently on my urban hikes. I’ve learned to become more aware of my surroundings. Earlier this year when I was urban hiking through the Haight neighborhood of San Francisco, I saw Carlos Santana exiting a store.


Breaking CriticalMAS – A Return To Blogging?

It has been almost a year since I stopped blogging. I outlined my reasons in the post Goodbye For Now. I’ve enjoyed the break and I’m not sure I want to resume blogging on a regular basis, but I did receive several emails this year that made me realize that I left several topics open.

If you’ve watched the TV series Breaking Bad or its equally good Colombian version Metástasis you know that near the end of the series the main character has to pack up and move. After a while he realizes he needs to return to town to complete unfinished business. I kind of feel the same way.

I don’t like walking away from unfinished projects.

I’d like to wrap up some of the topics I left open. At that point I may or may not continue blogging. Unlike Breaking Bad and Metástasis, I don’t know how this story will end.


Metástasis is a shot by shot remake of Breaking Bad filmed in Bogotá, Colombia. It is on Netflix.

Here is a list of topics and tasks I feel the need to conclude on this blog.

  1. Potato Diet
  2. What I Eat and Don’t Eat – Updated
  3. The Peasant Diet
  4. Gluten/Wheat – The Final Chapter
  5. Remove worthless posts (ongoing)
  6. Update design. I like this one, except the search is relegated to the bottom.
  7. Left knee update
  8. Learning Spanish update
  9. Chromebook update
  10. Why events in 2016 didn’t surprise me.
  11. Blog Housekeeping: AMP mobile, broken links, CDN
  12. Opinions
  13. Novelty and Fitness
  14. Seattle, Open Data and Corruption
  15. Why didn’t I blog a lot more about economics?

I may have missed a few. If there is something you would like to see added to the list, leave a comment below. Also don’t leave any Breaking Bad spoilers in the comments.