…so, what happened?

Did we finish Whole30? Did we keep it going? How’d we do? What’s going on?!

First of all, let’s all calm down.

Okay. Yeah, we did Whole30. It was fine. We lost some weight, felt better. And we kind of kept it up for awhile, especially the reduced/eliminated sugar part. Then slowly, but surely, we fell back into old habits, and it was like we’d done nothing at all.

I’d say my biggest critique of Whole30 (and it’s ilk) is the math involved. Maybe not literal quadratic equations, but being sure to get this much of one thing, and appropriate servings of another thing. Even if you don’t need to track it for each individual meal, the entire enterprise is tiring and seems to suffer from diminishing returns.

Fear not – there is a happy ending here (not that kind, Smutty Thinkerton). We’ve found something that works; something sustainable that takes very little effort to maintain. And it all started with potatoes.

For two weeks, we ate nothing but whole, plain potatoes. Penn Jillette undertook the same ordeal on the advise of his acquaintance Ray Cronise in his quest to shed weight and save his life. So even though it makes us assholes (according to Mr. Jillette), we did it too. Technically, we fell two days short on account of a potato malfunction, but the gist was achieved.

What could that gist possibly be? Other than dropping at least 10 lbs each with no effort, quite a bit actually. It’s like a detox – the addiction kind, not the crunchy-granola kind. You gain something akin to a superpower: the ability to tell the difference between a craving and actual hunger. See, you can eat as many potatoes as you want so long as they’re whole (skins and all) and unseasoned (no salt, pepper or oil). Only after the first day or two, you’d rather eat nothing at all instead of a potato. You go longer and longer without eating until the idea of eating a potato becomes a non-issue; you’d rather eat than not, even if it is a fucking potato. And when you eat that potato, two things happen. The first is that you’re so glad to eat that gratitude overwhelms your senses and you could be eating anything at all – a potato, a piece of cake, a kitchen sponge. The second is that you don’t care about taste or texture or amount. You eat until you stop, and you stop when you’re full.

After about two weeks of that, cravings diminish. That is, they become small and removed from any emotional attachment. You may have a craving occur, but you notice that it’s only in your mind. You reach out and pick it up, examining it with absolute detachment. You might even be able to imagine – in detail – the experience of fulfilling that craving, and then not do it. You just kind of move on with your life, thinking maybe one day you’ll have chocolate cake again, but it doesn’t have to be right now. Or next week. Or ever.

It’s like sorcery.

Another benefit of starting with the potatoes is the built in calorie restriction (not that calories are the best measure of food energy). Not only can you not really eat enough whole, plain potatoes to equal or exceed an average daily caloric intake, you really won’t want to. Seriously. And as your blood sugar lowers, you burn stored fat, and you’re sated on much less food. How much less? Well, we both started the potato famine on 5-8 potatoes per day (about fist-sized). By the end, I was eating between 1 and 2 per day, and the Fella between 2 and 3. Keeping in mind that the Fella started this experiment at about 200 lbs and was going to and from work as usual, that’s not a lot of food. I’m not as big, and I don’t go anywhere (other than walking the dog), so I ate less.

Even now, we eat much less. In fact, as of tomorrow we’re moving to one meal per day. We ‘cheat’ much more than the sketchily prescribed diet gleaned from Mr. Jillette’s book – every weekend, so far – and we drink alcohol, yet our weights have stabilized. We’re even losing enthusiasm for ‘cheats’. Most foods we would count as treats are too sweet or salty, or make us feel really shitty. This weekend, we disappointed ourselves with lasagna so salty it burned our mouths. On the other hand, their ‘single serve’ portions did us two meals without deprivation.

Also, the only meat, eggs or dairy we eat comes from ‘treats’. We haven’t bought in anything apart from a small block of cheese, and that’s used for flavour. This is after spending seven or eight months eating eggs for breakfast every day. Now, we don’t even eat breakfast, and are on the verge of ditching lunch. So much less hassle, and the grocery budget’s been cut in half – can’t be bad!

My main tip for making this work is this: get a hobby. What I mean is, any temptation you experience will be made worse by boredom, and you’ll have a lot of free time you’re not spending making or eating food. I find I’m plagued by this ennui by noon or one o’clock, and it can be tough to break the habit of seeking food at that time. Part of what makes this easier is if there’s no spare food around; that is, I may have food in the fridge, but it’s allotted for supper, or needs heating, or is otherwise more hassle than I’m willing to go through, because I’m bored not hungry. So I’m doing more hobby stuff – sewing, writing, reading – and more chores. My house hasn’t been so clean in ages!

The point is you’ll be helped by staying busy when it’s not time to eat. If you work at a job, this should be pretty straightforward. Are there other downsides? Well, when you’re adjusting to your new regimen – especially the drop in resting blood sugar – you won’t feel well. Between days 4 and 7 of the famine, I had moments when I felt drunk, but that went away. The Fella used to have crashes where he felt weak and shaky, but now he goes from eight at night till two in the afternoon before eating and feels fine. With our new plan, we’ll go till 6PM – that’s 22 hours. Supper will be bigger than it has been since we still want to get enough calories to survive. This isn’t about starving or being malnourished. It’s about building in caloric restriction (there’s only so much you can eat in a sitting) while freeing ourselves from the constant interruption of mealtimes, or snack times, or cravings.

One last thing I’m going to add to this is an enormous caveat: this won’t work for everybody. That’s okay, though. Meta-analysis of diets tells us that it doesn’t really matter what diet you follow. The important thing is finding a way of eating that you can do indefinitely. A diet isn’t a thing you do for a bit, lose some weight, then stop and go back to eating poorly. A diet is just what you eat, all the time, for the rest of your life. So if you can’t live without cheese, don’t do this. That said, you may only be two weeks away from finding out that cheese is more optional than you think*.

*For the love of all that’s sane, please consult a medical professional before undertaking any radical dietary changes if you have a pre-existing condition. Don’t die.