The other day, I got embroiled in a bit of a debate about the potato famine and similar dietary overhauls. A friend of ours (and his ladywife) got to day four of fourteen before abandoning unseasoned spuds for delicious dal. He insisted that their ‘failure’ was because they did not possess adequate willpower to complete the famine. After thinking on it since, I’ve decided that the real culprit might be fear*.
Most adults aren’t interested in changing. Identity is highly prized in these parts, and seems to be set in stone sometime after one’s thirtieth birthday. So the merest possibility of change – of a permanent shift away from an established behaviour or habit – is pants-wettingly terrifying. Why? Because of the fear that central core of who you are has also changed.
It’s a bit like stepping off a cliff, or at least what we imagine doing so might feel like. There’s a dropping sensation in the pit of the stomach and a deep sense of peril from having no ground beneath your feet. Like a cartoon, you’ve at least an equal chance of being fine as of falling.
For our friends, they looked at the potential benefits of the famine and decided to go ahead, and that’s great. But perhaps they should have looked more closely at their motivations as well as their expectations, both of which seemed to let them down.
I think going into the famine with as few expectations as possible is the wisest course. As I’ve said before, the Fella and I have been to the dietary rodeo more than once. The other tries weren’t failures so much as learning experiences. At any rate, we started our spuds with no expectations beyond finishing.
Our motivations were similarly simple: fed up with being fat, we decided to try something crazy. No one in their right mind decides to eat nothing but plain potatoes for two weeks. That’s not to say we didn’t do our research, or prepare ourselves and our environment for success. That said, I think reaching a limit of patience with our paunches being the primary motivator was a greater help than any great force of will.
Then there were our results. Sure, we lost some weight, but we also radically changed how we eat, how much we eat, and what we eat. We have a whole new take on what food is for and the place it has in our lives. There was no way to predict this would happen, and if there had, we might not have gone through with the famine in the first place. And perhaps that’s the biggest obstacle our friends faced: looking at our results and seeing a standard outcome.
Doing the potato famine is a method for kickstarting weightloss, yes. Is it a guaranteed gateway to health and prosperity? No. I wouldn’t expect everyone’s experience to be the same. There’s no reason to, just as there’s no reason to complete the famine and turn into semi-vegans who eat once per day. You might finish and go right back to the way you were eating before. It’s not out of weakness, or because the famine ‘doesn’t work’, but because whatever combination of factors were involved couldn’t coexist. Your miracle cure might be Paleo, or Atkins, or Mediterranean, or fatback and red wine.
From an outside perspective, it would seem that in doing the famine, we became paragons of willpower. After all, the world is full of cake and burgers and so many tasty things – how could you forego them all? And the answer is you aren’t, at least not permanently, and not if you don’t want to. We just don’t want that stuff (well, I don’t – the Fella seems more on the fence than me). What you do after the famine is entirely your call.
Be not afraid – results may vary.
*And poor planning. Why would you have the makings of dal in your house if you know you’re subjecting yourself to two weeks of unseasoned food matter? Honestly.