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.

potato-diet

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.

potato-hack-diet

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.

Potato Diet Week 2 – Brief Update

UPDATE: The Potato Hack Diet by Tim Steele is now for sale on Amazon. It will answer all your questions. I highly recommend this book if you are interested in learning more about the Potato Diet.

In week 1, I lost 3 pounds and 0.5 inch. In week 2, I lost 1.5 pounds and 0.25 inch.

Losing 4.5 pounds in two weeks without hunger is pretty cool. Before I head into week 3, I revisited The Potato Diet page to see if I could pick up a tip to guide me back to a weekly 3 pound loss.

7. Skipping breakfast encouraged, eat twice a day, minimal snacking

I’m haven’t being doing Intermittent Fasting (IF) the past two weeks. I covered in this post that I feel much better when I have carbs prior to coffee. And since I drink coffee in the morning, pure IF is not an option for me at this time.

¡Una papa en la mañana!

In week 3, I will cut back on my morning potatoes. I’ll have one prior to my first cup of coffee to combat stress hormones and prevent “the crash” I now feel when I have coffee on an empty stomach. One potato is the next best thing to zero potatoes.

I’ll keep you posted. And due to a social commitment, I moved the Week 3 Potato Diet up one day to SUNDAY, MONDAY, TUESDAY.

potato

Photo by JaBB

Potato Diet Week 1 – Results and Observations

UPDATE: The Potato Hack Diet by Tim Steele is now for sale on Amazon. It will answer all your questions. I highly recommend this book if you are interested in learning more about the Potato Diet.

I had no plans to post my Week 1 results, but I wanted to share how thing are going on the Potato Diet. For a background to this post see The Potato Diet – My Plan to Lose 15-20 Pounds.

Last week I ate nothing but cold boiled potatoes on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Unlike my initial experiment, I decided not to weigh my intake. A big appeal to the Potato Diet is that you shouldn’t need to measure anything. It works by filling your belly with heavy low calorie potatoes. If should be very hard to eat to a caloric surplus. It should even be hard to eat to maintenance calories.

WEEK 1: -3 pounds and -0.5 inch (widest point) 🙂

My measurements were taken Sunday to Sunday. Weighing myself immediately after three days of potatoes heading into Thanksgiving wouldn’t have been a useful number if I used the regular food days to overeat. I am pleased with those numbers, but I hesitate to get excited because almost all diets start off strong. The real test will be seeing how it progresses in the next two months.

Productive

The three days I ate potatoes were highly productive. I got a lot of work done. I don’t think potatoes are magical. They might be, but I reasoned that not having to think about food and food preparation for three days freed my mind up to focus on other tasks. And as a result, I performed those tasks more efficiently.

So Cheap It is Silly

I discovered that Grocery Store Outlet sells a 3 pound bag of small potatoes for 99 cents. The idea of being able to feed yourself with real food for $1 a day in America is amazing. That is cheaper than when I ate street food in Thailand and Cambodia.

Most days I eat out for lunch. Add a cheap breakfast and a home cooked dinner and I’m looking at maybe spending $15 a day on food. Often less. If I buy 15 pounds of potatoes (that is the high estimate) a week for $5, then I’m actually pocketing $40 each and every week I am on a 3 day Potato Diet.

Many diets require an increase in spending. Special foods and supplements can be costly. The Potato Diet is so economical, I decided that even if it turns out to be unsuccessful, I might do it periodically just to pocket some extra money.

potatoes

Photo by Renoir Gaither

Faster Satiety

One of the most interesting aspects to the Potato Diet is satiety is reached much quicker than when you eat normal food. When I eat a normal meal it takes so many minutes before I am full. It is a ritual that I have done thousands of times. Eating just potatoes disrupts that ritual.

Because potatoes are so filling, I started eating slower. I’ve always known eating slower was a good idea, but with the Potato Diet is more than a good idea. It you eat quickly or even normal fast, you might get a stomach ache. There were two times this happened to me. Now I am eating slower.

Exercise and Movement

My exercise did not change. I still did two weight training sessions at the gym. However, the amount of walking I normally do greatly declined. So my 3 pound weight loss was not impacted by changes to my activity. If anything, had I walked a normal amount last week, I might have lost more weight.

Eating Regular Food After 3 Days

I imagined myself eating a lot of food after 3 days of potatoes, but I didn’t. It was Thanksgiving Day and I never ate less food on that holiday. I also didn’t desire sweet foods. There is a big bowl of Halloween candy in our kitchen that I didn’t touch once. In the week after Halloween I was visiting the bowl a few times a day.

Another thing I noticed was I craved protein. More than normal. After 3 days of eating potatoes with just 5% protein, I wanted eggs, tuna and meat. This could be another pathway on why the diet works for many. It is well known that appetite is lower and calories drop when protein is increased. So my week was a cycle between two fat loss strategies. First consuming heavy low calorie potatoes to reach satiety easier and then following that up with higher protein to also increase satiety. And if you add in how the lack of taste lowered my desire to consume calorie dense foods, you have the 3 of the main dietary paths to successful fat loss as outlined in Ari Whitten’s excellent book Forever Fat Loss.

Forever Fat Loss: Escape the Low Calorie and Low Carb Diet Traps and Achieve Effortless and Permanent Fat Loss by Working with Your Biology Instead of Against It
Forever Fat Loss: Escape the Low Calorie and Low Carb Diet Traps and Achieve Effortless and Permanent Fat Loss by Working with Your Biology Instead of Against It by Ari Whitten

Questions

I am not an expert on the Potato Diet, but I will do my best to address some of the questions I’ve received in comments and elsewhere.

Q: Why are spices not allowed?

A: If one can’t eat potatoes to caloric excess it shouldn’t matter if salt or other spices are added. Adding salt is not suddenly going to make me eat an extra pound of potatoes. I suspect the benefit of not adding spices is not about restricting the amount of potatoes you consume, but your relationship with regular food. 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.

If you absolutely must have spices or you aren’t going to attempt the diet, then I say add the spices, but you won’t be getting all the benefits and **my guess** is you might be more likely to eat foods with richer flavors that are more calorie dense on the non-potato days.

Q: Why is this diet not recommended for those who eat every several hours?

On Vegetable Pharm, there is a detailed explanation. Search for the phrase “Not recommended for people who eat every 2-3 hours”. This is a warning for people that have known blood sugar issues or eating disorders to do their own research and get doctor clearance before doing the diet. For healthy people that eat every 2-3 hours (Zone Dieters), I think the Potato Diet might be a good tool to relearn what satiety feels like. Eating 5-6 small meals a day without getting full makes me more and more hungry. The potato is a good teacher. I snack less because I’m more full from the prior meal and I know I’m not getting a distracting novel flavor.

Q: Is there a difference between starchy and waxy potatoes?

A: I could not find an answer to this one. I suspect not. The calorie density per gram does not appear to vary much. If there is a difference, I suspect it is minor.

Last Words

I want to say that I still drink black coffee and espresso. Having carbs with my coffee makes me feel better. I’m far less likely to get jittery or crash. When I did Intermittent Fasting I often felt awful after drinking coffee. Not at first, but over time. This is a big reason I picked the Potato Diet over IF, even though I got results with IF years ago.

The Potato Diet – My Plan to Lose 15-20 Pounds

UPDATE: The Potato Hack Diet by Tim Steele is now for sale on Amazon. It will answer all your questions. I highly recommend this book if you are interested in learning more about the Potato Diet.

Earlier this month I posted No Hunger Games – A Day of Just Boiled Potatoes. It was a trial run of two days of eating just cold boiled potatoes. That post goes into why it is easy to go into a calorie deficit without feeling hungry if one just eats potatoes. The Potato Diet guide on Vegetable Pharm is the comprehensive guide. If you have any questions, they are likely answered there.

The two day test showed me a few things:

  1. That I could eat to satiety in a caloric deficit. No hunger.
  2. That I could sleep throughout the night and not wake up hungry.
  3. With my current coffee consumption, I found I felt much better throughout the day than I currently do when I intermittent fast. If I were not a coffee drinker, I might prefer IF, but ditching coffee as we head into a Seattle winter is not an option.

Shortly after the two day experiment, I planned to start The Potato Diet, but I caught a minor cold and then had to travel out of state for a week. Well, now I am back and feeling great. I’m ready to do my first major food experiment in a very long time. Here is my plan.

  • GOAL: Lose 15-20 pounds
  • POTATO DIET: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday every week.
  • EXERCISE: Sunday, Thursday

Continue with 3x a week until goal is met and then scale to a maintenance plan. Discontinue or scale back if I experience excessive lethargy or coldness. If after a month I fail to see at least a 5# lose, I will reassess.

potatoes

I will be boiling white potatoes and consuming them cold. No salt, spices or anything. If the diet is successful and I use the Potato Diet as a maintenance tool, I might add salt or spices at that time.

Today is Day 1. I don’t plan on doing weekly updates. Maybe 1-2 updates a month. Some of you will want to know why I have picked this diet over other strategies. The short answer is I do better on simple rule diets that require minimal planning. The long answer will be the topic of a future post.