This is Part I in a series on easy weightloss without any need for will power.
Losing weight is supposed to be really hard and require a lot of willpower according to conventional wisdom. It turns out that it was actually really easy for me to go from a BMI of above 29 (30 is officially obese) to below 25 (normal is 18 to 25) in 3½ months. And knowing what I know now, I think I could easily do it again in a 1½ month.
I'm not someone who ever tried dieting before. Dieting sounded like a lot of effort and willpower for very uncertain results. Not a good use of my very limited willpower. This belief changed after reading Slime Mold Time Mold's results of their potato diet experiment.
They asked the participants in their experiment to eat only potatoes for 4 weeks to see if they would lose weight. There was no way I was going to eat only potatoes for 4 weeks, so I didn't enrol in their experiment. After reading the blogpost about their results, two things surprised me which motivated me to go on this journey.
The first surprise was that is wasn't necessary to eat only potatoes. Slime Mold Time Mold had been very gentle with their guinea pigs, and they told them "it's ok if you cheat and don't eat potatoes, just tell us when you cheat". It turned out that even people who cheated almost every day, eating something other than potatoes, ended up losing a lot of weight and there wasn't even that clear of a trend between weightloss and number of cheat days (see Figure 1). So a strict eat-only-potatoes-diet which is something I would never do, didn't seem to be necessary.
Figure 1: Weightloss of participants as a function of the number of days (out of a total of 28) where they cheated (i.e. ate other things than potatoes). Source.
The second surprise was that people's weight seemed to go down linearly, not attaining a plateau, at least for the 4 weeks of the experiment. I was expecting diminishing returns as people started to lose weight, that further weightloss would slow down but their data didn't seem to indicate any slowdown. I was super curious to find out how long such a linear weightloss could go for. As we will see later, linear weightloss went on for me for a surprisingly long time.
Figure 2: Weightloss as a function of time on the potato diet. The blue line is those who completed the whole 28 days of the trial while the red line is those who dropped out before the end. Source.
Somehow, before starting my experiment, more wisdom from some dark and seemingly unreliable corner of the interwebz came to my attention, the following tweet by some Mickey Shaughnessy: https://twitter.com/MickeyShaughnes/status/1548044785516130304 . The tweet claims that the cause of obesity might be related to the potassium:sodium ratio in the diet. That earlier diets had a very high potassium to sodium diet in comparison to the modern euro-north-american diet. That maybe the potato diet works because potatoes are very high in potassium.
This is a super interesting hypothesis, that it's all about the potassium sodium ratio. This is also something that would be interesting and relatively easy to investigate. So we will try to investigate that a bit in this blogpost series.
So of course, at the time I didn't check the source of this tweeted statement, I just went with whatever was written by an unknown person on the internet. But now that I'm writing this blogpost, I thought it might be nice to check a bit.
It turns out that Mickey Shaughnessy had the idea of it being related to the K:Na (potassium to sodium) ratio because of the Slime Mold Time Mold blogpost about Li (Lithium) having an effect on obesity and both sodium and potassium being very similar chemically to Li (the same column in the periodic table) and playing an important role at the cellular level (K, Na, ion pumps/transport). Mickey Shaughnessy then prompted ChatGPT with this idea and got the tweeted outputs. So there is no actual research backing up the tweets.
I tried to find things in scientific literature on the subject of K:Na ratio and weightloss. It's messy and I plan to talk about it more in a following post where I try to analyse whether all the weightloss is entirely due to potassium.
Before starting, I needed 3 things: a scale to weight myself, a spreadsheet to keep my data, and lastly, to investigate the potassium hypothesis, I had the idea of getting potassium salt (KCl).
For the scale, I just popped into hardware store and got the first scale which I found, a Starfrit . It's a very bad scale with very bad accuracy. I do not recommend. But surprisingly, as I will mention in more detail in future blogposts, even that bad scale was able to get me good insight.
Figure 3: My BMI from the start of my lazy potato diet (i.e. replacing one meal a day with just potatoes) until the Christmas holidays (roughly 4.5 months). On two occasions, my weight plateaued for 2-3 weeks and I though it wouldn't go down anymore, but in the end it did. The linear regression model fits a 0.03 points of BMI loss per day.
Figure 3 is the plot of my BMI for the first 4 months or so. The rising trend at the end is the Christmas holiday season. As you can see, there are a few plateaus (circled) but generally speaking, my weight just kept decreasing almost linearly until I fell below a BMI of 25.
This was extremely surprising for me. I had always thought that losing weight was supposed to very difficult and require a lot of will power and effort. This was nothing of the sort, it was the easiest thing ever. It only required me eating exactly as I used to before but replacing one meal per day with a meal of "just" potatoes (on average, I only did it when it was convenient for me, some days I took two meals of potatoes if it was convenient, others none if it didn't fit my plans, I still ate three meals a day, the other two meals being exactly the same type of meals I used to eat before the start of this experiment) which I salted with, on average, 2 mL of KCl (I took on average 2mL of KCl per day, sometimes with potatoes, sometimes with something else, some days I took no potatoes but still had KCl some days I had potatoes but no KCl). I also allowed myself to put butter, and spices, and hot sauce, and anything else I wished to add flavour. The only thing I tried not to add to my potatoes is NaCl (normal table salt).
It has now been roughly 7 months since I first reached a BMI of below 25 and my BMI is currently 24.3 and has been oscillating between 24 and 25 ever since I quickly relost my Christmas weight gains.
After many months of the lazy potato diet, I went back through my spreadsheet to see which days had the biggest weight loss and if they had something in common. I did indeed find something: drugs. Psychedelics more specifically, like LSD or magic mushrooms. After I made a model to determine the effects of different things, my model predicts that taking a full dose of psychedelics makes me lose roughly an extra 200 to 500 grams that day. Unfortunately, getting high on psychedelics everyday is not really a viable option for weight loss. But thankfully so many other simple things also work.
Over the Christmas holidays, my daily diet went all holiday-season-y with huge meals and many snacks all the time and lots of alcohol, and I did not continue the lazy potato diet during that time. As you can see from the graph, the weight gain was rapid and dramatic. And interestingly, it was also pretty linear.
One day, on which I had eaten particularly large quantities of food and on which both my intuitive model and mathematical model predicted that I should have gained close to 1kg of weight, I actually slightly lost a bit weight. This was a true outlier point of low probability.
So I started thinking of what could have caused this anomaly. What did I do, or what did I consume that could have cancelled my huge meals of the day? The only thing I could I think of was a hot chocolate drink I had had that day. That might sound like an absurd proposition, but I'm not talking about a commercial hot chocolate packing 900 calories with barely and real cacao in it, it was a hot chocolate made from 100% pure baking cacao powder, milk, and just enough sugar for it to be slightly sweet.
Cacao helping with weightloss would still be rather surprising. So to verify this intuition I looked back at my notes to see if other days where I had had cacao recently I had gained less weight than I should have. I could do this because for most days I took a few imprecise notes on what I had consumed that day. I found 2-3 days in the last month or two where I had had cacao (and noted it down). And indeed, on those days, my weight ended up being less than my linear regression model would have otherwise predicted.
So I had some observational data suggesting cacao might help with weight loss, getting some experimental data would be the logical next step.
Figure 4: In blue the lazy potato diet. In red the Christmas holiday season diet. In yellow, post holiday season returning to the lazy potato diet but also adding a cup of hot cacao per day.
Having gained 1 BMI point over the roughly 2 weeks of the Christmas holidays, I was eager to lose that weight again. And now I had something new I could try: chocolate! So after the holidays, I went on a new diet: I continued taking roughly one meal of potatoes per day, but to that I added at least one hot cacao per day. To do this I bought dark baking chocolate (100% cacao) with a high concentration of potassium (just in case it was the potassium). I made my hot cacao by melting ~36g of dark chocolate (containing roughly 750 mg of K) in roughly one cup (250ml) of milk (containing roughly 350 mg of K) and sweetening it to taste.
Within a week, I lost 1.2 points of BMI, more than I had gained during the holidays! I lost weight 4 times as fast as what I had been losing prior to the holidays! Chocolate and potatoes, a truly magical and surprising weightloss formula.
At this point I had achieved my target BMI of ~24.7. But having discovered that non only potatoes could help with weight loss, I felt like experimenting some more to see if I could find other things which would work. So I went on an approximately 5 week long randomization experiment where for each day I would “flip a (simulated) coin” (with a certain probability) to determine whether I could consume a particular thing.
Obvious candidates to try were other foods with a high potassium to calorie ratio. Foods I included with a high K:Calorie ratio were tomato soup (tomatoes have a lot of potassium), fried vegetable mix with veggies with a higher K:calorie ratio than potatoes (that ended being a mix of eggplants, carrots, and mushrooms), bananas.
Another obvious thing to try were things I could find in my local drug store which were touted as helping with weight loss. I ended up choosing three things: conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) pills, hydroxycitric acid (HCA) pills, and apple vinegar (instead of buying the expensive pills at the drug store I directly bought liquid vinegar at the grocery store).
I also randomize things which I was already taking, i.e., potato meals and KCl salt.
On the days which randomly assigned one of those things, I would consume at least one portion of them. And at the end of the 5 weeks I checked to see if my model thought that they contributed to weight loss.
At the end of the 5 weeks, some of those things seemed to help, while with others it was not clear if they did anything, and with some they even seemed to make me gain weight.
One of the foods which seemed particularly promising were the red or black kidney beans.
During the period which I did the randomization, I gained weight slightly, so I decided to then do a 2 week period of 1 meal per day of kidney beans to see if they were truly as good as potatoes. And they were. Probably even better. At the end of those two weeks I reached my lowest weight of a BMI since the whole start of this experiment.
Some people have reported higher energy levels or being able to focus better (less ADHD, more mania-ish states) when going on the potato diet. So some people have asked me whether I noticed my energy level, or focus, or mood change in any way. I actually kept track of my energy levels in anticipation of this. For me, absolutely nothing changed in terms of my energy levels, mood, or focus. Absolutely no noticeable change.
Yes. One of the most common question I get from people online is did I keep the weight off. The answer is yes. And I'm not even following the lazy potato diet anymore. While doing this experimentation, I learned what things I could add to diet (like potatoes, red kidney beans and hot cacao) that made me lose weight. So I just kind of naturally added some of those to my diet (and also minimized my intake of NaCl) and my weight has been pretty stable for months now without me actively trying to do anything. I'm not even weighing myself every day anymore.
Here is a plot.
Figure 5: My BMI from start of lazy potato diet until now. After the rapid decrease with the hot cocao, I started doing some more experimentations until some time in February, that is why the points are a bit wild. Then I stopped paying conscious attention to my diet until a few weeks ago, and now I'm experimenting some more for data for later posts. The red line is my target weight.
Amongst the things I plan to cover in this series are
This is an experiment which they conducted after doing a whole series on the obesity epidemic which I has read with interest. If you read their series on the obesity epidemic, please read Natalia Mendonca's good criticism of it because they were not always intellectually honest in their claims.
With this logic, one might also expect H+ ions to play a role, i.e. acidity, this might be why they sell apple vinegar concentrate as slimming pills in the drug store. I'm not planning to look at acidity in this series apart from a very cursory glance at the effect of 50ml of apple vinegar per day (not concentrate pills, actual liquid vinegar). The research on whether apple vinegar really helps with weight loss is inconclusive: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32170375/ ).
A full dose of psychedelics clearly had a big weight loss effect on my, but microdosing didn't have any visible effect, I was curious about that and tested that too.
Weight loss per day is nearly all water weight loss, and not informative as to what is causing fat burning.
If you are on a diet where you lose 1 kg of fat a week - which is good - your daily fat loss is 140 g. Most body weight scales only do 0.1 kg units, so that barely shows up at all. More importantly, your body weight shifts from morning to evening by about two kilograms - more by factor 20. If you are observing weight loss from one day to the next, you are de facto measuring water retention.
There is also a very simple alternate hypothesis for the potato diet that does not require a potassium hypothesis, but makes sense within established research. Potatoes are relatively low calorie density and high satiety. Give a person the same calories in potato, rice, and pasta, and they will feel fuller longer on the potatoes; they are also more likely to finish the pasta plate in one go, but not the potato plate, as they will feel full before they are done. 100 g of potatoes have 69 kcal, and 2,3 g fibre; 100 g of pasta have 137 kcal, and only 1,2 fibre. So you get double the calories, half the fibre. Meaning people who ate more potatoes rather than other carbs would have sim... (read more)
I notice that I am confused. By the Na:K ratio hypothesis, in particular; I'm not disputing your individual results, which are interesting, so I've subscribed for updates.
The obesity epidemic is a relatively recent phenomenon, but I expect that diets before the era of refrigeration (which is before the epidemic) were even higher in salt (used as a preservative), so I don't think an increase in sodium consumption can explain it.
Anecdote, but when I was intermittent fasting to lose weight, I'd often drink cacao in milk (no sugar), which seemed to help control my appetite. I thought it was the theobromine, but maybe it was the electrolytes.
Thank you. I appreciate your confidence, but I don't study historic salt intake.
But there are people who do!
"About 1000 years ago, salt intake in the Western world had risen to about 5 g per day. It continued to rise until the 19th century when, in Europe, it was about 18 g per day. In the 16th century in Sweden, when there was a high consumption of salted fish, it has been calculated that the daily salt intake rose to 100 g per day. A worldwide reduction of salt intake to an average of 10 g per day during the 20th century was probably due to the introduction of refrigeration."
If you were right, that Swedish community eating 100 g per day (Jesus Christ) would have been obese, which would have been very remarkable at the time, and yet was not remarked upon.
Furthermore, if you were right, obesity would have been absent prehistorically (hunter gatherers), then rose (agriculture), then peaked in the 19th century (world-wide trading of salt makes is highly accessible), then faded away to low levels again (refrigeration makes high salt fo... (read more)
Because humans are genetically wired to slightly overeat, in anticipation of future periods where they will be under high calorie demand (e.g. the weekly persistence hunt in which you would run a marathon to catch a prey animal) or forced to undereat (the cold or dry season, when there is no food), so they will have stores, and perishable food does not go to waste. You'd gorge yourself on fruit and nuts and slaughtered animals in fall, when lots are available, because in winter, there would be slim pickings.
But nowadays, we don't run into periods where we have to undereat for lack of food, so those stores just keep on building. Around Christmas, you should, based on evolutionary history, be getting pretty damn hungry. Instead, we are drowning in chocolate and meat. Nor do most of us run a weekly marathon, or walk an average of 30.000 steps a day, or climb a couple trees and dig out a bunch of roots and carry baskets full of berries each day. We drive our cars and sit in front of our desks.
Also because we are also genetically wired to be hungry enough to go to the trouble of finding and prepping food - but both those things are trivial nowadays. - Yesterday, we made a traditio... (read more)
anecdata: I lost 8-9lbs over 90 days doing 25% potato and otherwise eating moderately healthy. The weight stayed off for 9 months afterwards eating ad libidinum (but with slightly more propensity towards potatoes). My recent weight gain seems related to lifting harder and regaining some lost muscle mass. I'll run another potato fueled cut soon and see how it is.
Note: 25% potatoes by calories feels like half of food eaten by weight.
The diet was indeed very easy as if I was hungry at the end of the day I would just microwave a bowl of mashed potatoes with so... (read more)
Two pieces of information that would really help me to unterpret this post1. How old are you? Weight loss seems to get exponentially harder with age (up to about 70 years old)2. Were you able to assess how much fat was lost as opposed to how much weight was lost? No-one cares about losing weight, the goal - which is what should be measured - is fat loss. Comments:Potato only diet sounds a lot like Shangri-La diet - nothing tasty. I did lose weight on the SL diet but it takes away much of the pleasure of consuming food. A lot of the other things you mentioned seeme to be stimulants (e.g. LSD, Cocoa). These do help weight loss but at a cost.
Any concerns on the amount of CL in the KCL you consume?
I'm going to try a version of this based on the post. If I remember I'll let you know how it goes (feel free to remind me!). Here's what I'm going to try:
I'm slightly tempted to try eating more bananas in place of other food. The Internet mildly recommends against... (read more)
Re Na:K : Potassium Chloride is used as a salt substitute (which tastes surprisingly like regular salt). This makes it really easy to tweak the Na:K ratio (if it turns out to be important). OTOH, it's some evidence that it's not important, otherwise I'd expect someone to notice that people lose weight when they substitute it for table salt.
Hi there. I'm confused about the units you are using through the post. You start using milliliters (mL) as a unit when referring to the KCl salt that you were putting on your food. Was it a liquid supplement? If not did you mean milligrams? How did you measure?
Do you have an estimate of the total milligrams or milliequivalents per day?
Thanks for the post!
Typo for losing?
Ok so now make a prediction. What kind of data do you expect to see in clinical studies?
For example do you expect RCT’s involving potassium chloride to cause weight loss? Do they actually cause weight loss?
Did you count calories? Did you try to keep the same amount of calories of the replaced meals, but with potatoes?
Dark chocolate has a significant amount of caffeine in it. If you used 100% Cacao powder, 36g can contain as much as 80mg of caffeine, which is about as much as a cup of coffee. Caffeine can suppress hunger and acts as a diuretic - two things which might affect your weight on the days you had chocolate.
The amount of caffeine could be less depending on the exact mix of coco powder vs coco butter in the chocolate you used.
I would be interested to see how far down the BMI ladder the potato / potassium diet experiment can take someone.
I have read the posts you refer to as being your starting point, by Slime Mold Time Mold, discussing their potato diet experiment. Their data set has little data for how the diet works at lower BMIs : Most people who participated in the experiment had BMIs in the overweight or obese range to start with, or in the upper range of normal BMIs. Those with the lower BMIs lost less weight.
No one had a BMI in the low reaches of healthy range, as ... (read more)
Forgive the unverified sources here, but total potato consumption seems to correlate quite strongly with obesity across Europe, so if there's any causal effect behind the potato, it would have to explain why countries that eat potatoes as staples seem to have slightly higher obesity rates than other countries.
I liked this post.
I think there are some very strong selection effects involved in the info that generated your priors about weight loss.