This is Part I in a series on easy weightloss without any need for will power. 

The Origin: listening to the dark corners of the internet

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[1]

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: . 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)[2].   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.

The Start: getting equipped

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. 

The Potato Phase: so linear for so long

 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.

The Drug Discovery

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[3]. Unfortunately, getting high on psychedelics everyday is not really a viable option for weight loss. But thankfully so many other simple things also work. 

The Christmas Rebound and Finding Chocolate

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.

Chocolate: the magical weigthloss potion

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. 

Mission Accomplished, Let's Randomize

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. 

Kidney Beans: the new potatoes         

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.

Change in Mood, Energy, or Focus?

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.     

Did I Keep the Weight Off?

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. 

What to Expect in the Rest of this Series            

Amongst the things I plan to cover in this series are

  • My amazement at how effective a simple linear model can be even with very noisy data.         
  • A detailed look at the effect size on weight loss of all the different things I tried and whether I think the effect is significant or not for all the things.
  • My thought and a model of how I think the lipostat works following this self-experimentation as well as how that could easily explain the “obesity epidemic”.         
  • An investigation as to whether it is actually just the potassium content of the different foods which explains their weight loss effect.
  • Do the things in drug stores which claim to help with weight loss actually work?
  • Maybe, if I get there, looking at the causal mechanism of action of the foods that work. Do they restrict hunger? Do they increase base metabolic rate? Do they make the digestive tube intake fewer calories?
  • Questions still left open.         
  1. ^

    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.

  2. ^

    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: ).

  3. ^

    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.

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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)

This also holds true vice versa. In order to gain 1 kg of fat in a single day, you would need to consume a caloric excess of 7000 kcal. Assuming your daily burn is 2000, that means eating 9000 kcal in a single day. This is practically impossible if your diet is remotely healthy. For the record, 9000 kcal in potatoes is 13 kg of potatoes. (Not 1,3 kg.13 kg. That is 8+ bags of potatoes.) But of course, you scale can go up by 1 kg within a day. Heck, it can go up by several kg in a day. This happens e.g. if you go from ketosis to reintroducing carbs (carbs bind to water and are stored in your muscles, massively upping your water weight), if you overconsume salt (ups water retention), if you are sleep deprived, stressed or getting stick (ups inflammation, which ups water rention) or eat pro inflammatory foods (again, ups water retention), if you have not passed stool due to constipation (meaning there is literally more material inside you when you step onto the scale), if you step onto the scale on the evening rather than morning (you lose water overnight through sweating and breathing, have fasted for 8 hours, and likely went to the toilet before weighing yourself) and at certain parts of your menstrual cycle. So naturally, people have a day where they are stressed, and eat a big serving of inflammatory carbs with salt, think oh dear, that was tons of calories, then step onto the scale the next day, and are horrified when the scale shoots up by several kilograms, and think, yep, I was right, carbs/salt/... makes me fat. And then go on a clean diet low in salt and with ketosis, the water weight drops... and they go, hey, look, the fat is just melting off me! Meanwhile, your body fat has barely shifted at all, you are just adding and dropping water. Similarly, when you have a plateau, if you are still reducing calories as before, your fat loss has not changed - but you are retaining enough water to cover it up; this can sometimes happen simply because the stress of the
5Matt Goldenberg3mo
  Potatoes aren't just satiating, they're weirdly satiating.   You can of course say that satiety explains the weight loss, but then you have to ask... what explains the satiety?
Absolutely :) I agree with all that you are saying in both your comments. Excellent remarks.  What I will get to in future posts: Potassium is not everything (hence why the SMTM experiment on K showed only light results), kCal/food_weight is the other very important factor. I'll show some control experiments I did for that. But even controlling for kCal/weight, K still plays a role. (I still have to finalize my experiments on that). Re body-weight scales precision, water etc.: absolutely totally correct, and what is super fantastic and incredible is that with enough data, you can get results sub measurement scale, I will get to that later. Also to deal with 1 error issue I do two things: look at models which predict weight change many days ahead. And for promising interventions, do the intervention for many days in a row (for example 2 weeks) to see the cumulative effect.   
Thank you. :) I believe your correlations, but would offer an alternate explanation. High volume low calorie foods trick a lot of people into stopping to eat earlier than the same calorie foods with less volume would have achieved. Doesn't work on everyone; some people feel like their stomach is cramped full, but they still feel hollow and hungry, and will get pushing in food, anyway, even past the pain limits, because they feel they are filled with empty garbage. But works on many people. That is the basic idea behind a high fibre high water diet, e.g. all those diets incorporating things like cabbage soups (magic cabbage soup) and giant salads and heaps of kale and platefuls of cucumber and celery. Part of what tricks your body is not just the sheer volume that works as a "I had lots of food" cue, but also the composition. There are foods that are harder to digest than others. E.g. if you had either 1 liter of kale, or 1 liter of water mixed with enough ice cream to get to the same calorie count, I would predict you would be hungrier again much earlier after the ice cream slurry, while the kale would still keep your body busy. Same volume, same calories, but one of these would keep you full longer. The kale is less compressible and movable and processable, essentially. Foods that keep you full longer than their volume alone would predict tend to be high in fibre. Foods high in fibre tend to be incidentally high in potassium. Foods highly processed, meanwhile, tend to be both low fibre, and high in salt. So you would see quite a robust correlation. But I would predict that if you ate high volume high fibre low calorie foods that are low in potassium and added salt, your fat loss would be the same. (Though you would gain water weight. But that could be dropped quickly after a week long intervention.) Examples of relatively low potassium foods that are still diet food classics and which I would expect to remain so even if paired with salt to get the ratio clearly
Ya. I agree, the low caloric density of potatoes (and even more so kidney beans) is an important componant to all this which I didn't bring up in the above article, but I'm convinced that it isn't the whole story. I will get to this in later posts, but here are some preliminary reasons why I think that: * The SMTM drinking K diet helped a bit with weightloss: * I'm trying a control (lentilles) which are low caloric density but don't have a lot of K, it works a bit (as much as K alone), but not nearly as much as potatoes or kidney beans. * All my life, I've never felt full after eating an ice-cream cone, now on the days I take a lot of K, I feel really full afer eating an ice-cream cone, even the days where my K comes entirely from just coconut water. 

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 some frozen peas and carrots. This was consistently delicious, which surprised me.

edit: I weighed myself in the morning a few times and I've only regained half the weight over a year later.

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.

My model of the past (for example talking with my grandparents) is different to yours. Before refrigeration I don't feel people ate more salted (that was salted meats on a boat), people ate roots and tubers in winter (as those can keep a long time in the cold, in winter you have natural refrigeration) and fresh veggies in the summer when there was no refrigeration.  As for meat, you would slaughter it "just in time" most of the time (except on a boat). And pickles (as in pickled vegetables, ketchups, chutneys, etc) are more vinegar than salt.   If you do find a source saying people of old ate more salt than now though, I would find super interesting.  Ya. I have the same feeling with cacao, one cup cuts my appetite for 2-3 hours usually. 
Pickles - as in the original food where pickling is a preservation method - are extremely high in salt. The vinegar comes from fermentation. The reason the fermentation becomes something that does not spoil is the high salt content. Source: I make my own, and if the salt is too low, they spoil, it is the one thing all recipes stress. Especially in the European Nordics, people ate huge amounts of salted fish, cured meats (which often involve copious salt), and vegetables prepped in brine, on a baseline of grains, which tended to be baked with a lot of salt. They often slaughtered most of their animals in fall, so they wouldn't have to feed them through the winter, and then preserved them so they could live on them through winter. They also tended to have massive catches if e.g. migrating fish, which then had to be collectively preserved, as they couldn't be eaten all at once.  A lot of historic preservation methods specifically indicate the mass catch thing, e.g. when the storage container used was a massive animal carcass. As well as massive vegetable harvests, hence huge barrels of sauerkraut. From other cuisines I have encountered, salt also plays a massive historic use in preservation; e.g. fish sauce is a fermented sauce that is super salty, and a staple in Asian cuisine.
Acid is a preservative, but my understanding was that traditional pickle fermentation mainly produced lactic acid, rather than acetic acid, which is instead fermented from alcohol. Vinegar can be used to jump-start the process by lowering the pH, which favors the non-toxic acidophiles, but many pickle recipes don't require it. Sauerkraut, for example, is traditionally made with just cabbage and salt.
Yes, preservation via fermentation is typically achieved by putting your thing-to-be-preserved into salt in an oxygen restricted environment, which leads to selective bacterial activity dropping the ph and hence further restricting undesired bacterial activity, while boosting beneficial bacteria, breaking down anti-nutrients, and having all sorts of beneficial health effects. Which is why I rejected the idea "pickles are more vinegar than salt", insofar as your sole necessary starting base is salt, with the acidity a later result, and vinegar generally only the end-stage product that is often not even reached, and hence often not characteristic - sauerkraut is indeed made out of cabbage, salt, and water only, and the only acid in there is one produced by bacteria, and the predominant acid we target is lactic acid. Hence high salt consumption. - The idea that pickles are just "vegetable plus vinegar" is basically a modern invention - because most pickles you get in stores aren't actually pickles, they weren't fermented, they aren't probiotics, their antinutrients are untouched, and they needed to be sterilised (vitamin loss) or had preservatives added (bad for microbiome) to remain stable - they are just supposed to taste a bit of actual pickles due to the vinegar, and are hence easier, faster and more reliable to make. Actual pickles are basically vegetable plus salt plus time. Which acids you get depends on a number of factors, like the temperature you keep it at, whether you are working with mixed bacteria, fungi, or combinations thereof (sourdough, kombucha...), and what your starting ingredients are, and how long you ferment without adding more raw material. E.g. my sourdough will alternate between being dominated by lactic acid, and dominated by acetic acid, depending on how cold I keep it (fridge or outside) and how much I feed it (daily or less often), which leads to dominance of different groups of bacteria or fungi, and also has them either metabolising ra
Thanks. That changed my mind about pickles and vinegar.  The original reason of talking about that was the person who brought it up thought old diets had a higher Na:K than modern diets, I'm highly unconvinced by this still, I think it is the opposite. You seem to know a lot, what is your take on the original point @Portia ? 

Thank you. I appreciate your confidence, but I don't study historic salt intake.

But there are people who do!,about%2018%20g%20per%20day. 

"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)

Thanks for looking up the historic NaCl intake of Europeans. That's super useful. For reference also, modern people in the USA (particularly overweight) daily salt intake is only ~3.4g.  > weight loss is almost completely determined by caloric intake I don't at all disagree with that. But emperically it seems really hard for people to eat fewer calories, so the question is what makes it so hard? And how can taking fewer calories be made easy and require no willpower? Populations who struggle to get enough calories available to them are not relevant in answering this question. > what working mechanism are you even assuming? For the moment, at least experimenting on myself, and from the two SMTM experiments, it seems like Potassium might have something to do with making it easier to consume fewer calories than are expended. I'm currently experiencing with lentilles as a control (low caloric density but very little K compared to potatoes or kidney beans) and the data is still very provisional but they really don't seem to work as well. I also did a period of going back to my pre-potato diet but adding Coconut water (lots of K but otherwise just sugar water) and it actually helped lose weight (or in this case stop gaining weight), it provisionally seems to work as well as one meal day of lentilles. So the key, it seems is both low caloric density + enough K.  The modern Western diet is K poor, my current working hypothesis is just that if people are lacking a nutrient, they continue to eat to get enough of it (eating not for calories but for getting the nutrient).  The info you turned up on historical NaCl intake is evidence that if that hypothesis is correct it might not be the ratio of K:Na that is relevant, but just the quantity of K. Which sounds plausible, given that any excess ions should be easy enough to eliminate in pee.  On the other hand this article says that exess sodium triggers the body's emergency system trying to get it to store more fat: https:/

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)

Ya, all that sounds about right to me :) Thanks for writing out so clearly :) 
The relevant part of the above article:  "“JOHNSON's surprising observation is that, in mouse models, high consumption of salt triggers the body's own fructose production. Salt and glucose are very different compounds? Why would they trigger fructose production? According to Johnson, because both act as distress signals. If there is a lot of glucose or salt (or both) in the blood, the concentration of the blood changes, and this happens when the body dries out. The body therefore thinks that the creature is suffering from a lack of water. The body prepares for the threat of dehydration by accumulating fat, because fat is not only an energy store but also a water store. When fat is burned, water is produced, which the body can use. For the same reason, camels accumulate a hump of fat on their back - to get water.”"
Calories-in, Calories-out is a distraction. A red herring. True but useless. Nobody here is disputing the laws of physics. Obviously, a caloric deficit is required to lose weight and a surplus is required to gain it. Does that explain the obesity epidemic? Hardly. Why the sudden change? Has humanity never had enough Calories before? Is it a cure? Hardly. It implies the "willpower" diet (Just stop eating so many Calories!), which doesn't work. Yes, the Caloric deficit makes you lose weight in the short term, then you get hungrier until you binge and gain the weight back with interest. Or just gradually give up because you're miserable and gain it back slowly, again with interest. As living organisms, we have various mechanisms to maintain homeostasis, including our weight. Somehow these have stopped working in the recent past, for a large fraction of the population. Something environmental has changed (it's too sudden to be genetic). Our set points are going up. A true explanation would tell us why. I have heard many plausible hypotheses. Some of them readily evaporate upon closer inspection. Na:K seems to be one of these, given the history of salt consumption you just shared.
See my more extensive answer below - I'd propose the reason for the obesity epidemic is constant effortless access to highly processed high calorie, low satiety foods, with zero need to move. With human genetic make-up, the automatic response to that is overeating calories and hence obesity unless one intervenes to resist the impulse (indeed hard to sustain, albeit not impossible - anorexia is a thing), or changes one's immediate environment (e.g. the food one keeps in one's home and one's movement routines.)
I disagree with this. The fact that the active mechanism of any functional weight loss strategy is having lower caloric intake than expenditure is obviously a critical aspect of dieting that makes sense to talk about, so I disagree with calling it a red herring. Calorie counting doesn't work well for everyone as a weight loss strategy, but it does work for some people. Obviously a strategy that works well when adhered to, and which some people can successfully adhere to, is worth talking about. Also obviously, people who have trouble with implementing it themselves should try other strategies. Find the strategy that works for you, and combine with a form of exercise that you enjoy.
I tried potassium supplementation.  The very first thing I noticed is that a significant portion of hunger was immediately converted into thirst; to be specific, where normally at time X I would be hungry, instead at time X I was thirsty instead.  There was an immediate and overall reduction of calories in. This suggests to me that I had a slight potassium deficiency which my body was compensating for by increasing the amount of food I was consuming. Cursory research suggests potassium content in fresh foods has declined ~20% over the past century - which is not particularly surprising, if you think about modern farming methodologies.  Additionally, it appears that lithium consumption (tying into SMTM's hypothesis) may deplete the body's potassium reserves (which could conceivably be the mechanism by which lithium causes weight gain, in slight contradiction to SMTM's hypothesis).  Additionally additionally, and most importantly - low potassium content appears to be correlated with something like a 20% increase in caloric consumption, second only to protein deficiency in terms of increasing "natural" caloric intake.  (All of this is cursory internet research, and should not be taken too seriously, but it is all pointing in a particular direction very suggestively). I think the "sodium intake" is a red herring, sort of (if your body needs potassium, but can't distinguish between potassium and sodium in food intake, it may result in people salting their food more - another change that occurred after I began supplementing potassium is that I didn't need as much salt to make food taste like anything - so sodium intake may be a symptom of potassium deficiency). Supposing we're all slightly potassium deficient at a healthy level of food consumption, and we cover the potassium intake gap by simply eating more food (thus getting the necessary levels of potassium), then potassium supplementation could quite reasonably decrease caloric consumption without any effort.  And
Thanks for this info. Ya this really goes in the direction of what I think is happening. 
Also, @Portia , you say you have never been overweight, I'm curious about you. Is it easy for you stay thin, or do you need use willpower to stop yourself from eating? (i.e. do you count calories and then stop yourself from eating?) Also do you think you could estimate your daily Potassium intake? (Many thin people I talked about this to said they had a really high potassium intake). No need to answer those personal question if you are not comfortable answering.
I find that a false dichotomy - it is easy for me, but when needed, I do count calories. I find counting calories relaxing. It gives me an exact certainty of how I am doing, with no worries. I can forget about what I have eaten, because I have tracked it. I don't have to worry whether I have under- or overeaten, because I know. But usually, it is not required. I wouldn't say me being normal weight is automatic at all - it is very much a consequence of awareness and choices. I know that a higher weight fucks up my joint disease and pushes my dysphoria through the roof, while I also have a healthy respect for low weight due to former anorexia. So I have decided to stay normal weight for life, and hence, I am. But nor would I describe it as a struggle. It runs in the background while I do everything else, and I have never found it hard. If it is hard, it is unsustainable when life gets hard, and hence, one should look for something simpler. I'm aware of where my body is at a time - usually, I have a scale that I step on once a day in the morning, and I see how my clothes fit (I still fit into clothes I have had since I have been 15, when my bones stopped growing, and I know which parts of my wardrobe correlate with which part of normal weight), notice how fast I run, how easily I climb, how easily body weight exercise comes to me, how slender my waist is. So I notice early when my body fat shifts.  When it is in the perfect range, I don't think about calories. If I feel like fasting for a day or two, I just do. If I feel like eating a giant portion of food, I just do. If I have a craving for a high calorie healthy food, I eat it. If I am food averse, I don't force it. I have found my body is usually on to something with the things it wants, and it evens out. I've had times where I consumed multiple days worth of calories in a day... to then find that I had come down with the flu, and that my body was now happily burning through it all with an epic fever that had me
1Jazi Zilber2mo
wow. nice post. and respect!
I totally believe that a low potassium 500 kcal diet would see rapid and significant weight loss. My experience so far tells me that I would expect doing a 500 kcal diet on low K would be very difficult (my body would just painfully crave food) whereas with high K it would make it much easier. 
Wow! Thanks for all the detail. You seem to have a precise and detailed knowledge of how your body works! I'm impressed. 

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!

You are right that KCl should be measured by weight if you want to do it properly. But I used measuring spoons to measure it, not a scale which would have been a lot more tedious. Thus I really mean 2 mililiters which was roughly 3.2g of KCl (at least with my crystals) which corresponds to roughly 1600 mg of K.  For comparison, my typical potato meal was 500g of potatoes which corresponds to 2700 mg of K.
Thanks for the reply

Two pieces of information that would really help me to unterpret this post

1. 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. 


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. 

1. I'm in my forties.  2. Unfortunately not. I only had a normal scale at my disposal. Subjectively it feels like it was mostly fat, but it was probably muscle too, My push-up count and chin-up count didn't change, and I would have expected them to go up had I lost only fat and kept all my muscle.  Comment on taste: I always made my potatoes tasty, adding butter to taste or a bit of sour cream, or hot sauce or other sauces and spices or herbs I liked. I just didn't add table salt (or MSG). Also remember that it is only one meal a day, all other meals are unchanged. Comment on other things: Sorry, my typo, I meant to say Cacao (chocolate) not the precursor to cocaine is what I used after christmas (fixed in the text), basically making myself a cup of hot chocolate. Other things also worked too which I mentioned such as red or black kidney beans meals that worked even better than potato meals. 
I did measure my waist circumference. It went from 106cm (mid-filled lungs) at the beginning  to 89cm (maximum air-filled lungs, I changed my method mid-way, I figured it was harder for me to decieve myself if always max-filled my lungs rather than doing it "mid"-way) at the end. But I quickly noticed that waist circ tracked weight surprisingly well, just that it had a ~3 day lag, so I ended up paying more attention to weight.  
> waist went down OK good - all we need now is your height The standard method to measure waist is with lungs neutral  (neither full nor empty) and measure at the point of the belly button. E,g, not necessarily where your belt goes. I assmume you did this.
I did it at the belly button, but I did it at lungs-full because I thought it would be harder for me to cheat myself at lungs full. lungs neutral felt like I could unconsciously be little less full when it would support my hypothesis and little more full when it wouldn't ... 
My smartwatch can scan body composition electrically. So can my bathroom scale, although I never figured out how to work the thing. It's the kind with metal foot plates. These things are probably not very accurate, but certainly affordable and convenient (compared to an immersion tank) and even noisy data is useful when you collect enough of it. I prefer the watch because it records the results on my phone.
Ya, I know ... by the time I thought it might be nice to get one of those because it really worked much better than I ever expected so I was going to write about it thus have more data might be nice, I had already reached my target weight. 
If you shifted a large portion of your diet to potatoes, which are only 2 % protein, unless you compensated for it actively with protein elsewhere through further shifts in your diet, I think muscle loss playing a role in the weight loss you observed is not implausible. If one had, say, 2,4 kg of potatoes a day (that would come to 1750 kcal, which is compatible with its use as a sole food while losing weight), one would only be getting 48 g of protein a day, while at a caloric deficit - I'd expect muscle loss with those values. And indeed, if you had maintained muscle mass, body weight exercises would have gotten markedly easier. Muscles weigh more than fat, too, so the loss shows quite a bit on the scale, and hence, may make up a significant proportion of the loss you observed. Also, as a German, I strongly protest the notion of the poster above you that potatoes are not tasty or varied. There are over 3000 potato breeds, covering all sorts of colours (white, yellow, orange, red, pink, purple...), shapes, consistencies (festkochend (with bite, e.g. great for fried potatoes), mehlig (creamy, e.g. if you want to mash them), vorwiegend festkochend (an interim)) and tastes, from sweet, fruity and subtle to intense and hearty with earthy, aromatic and nut-like notes. A good potato cultivar, harvested fresh or at least stored correctly, is delicious, needing nothing but a bit of salt and maybe a hint of fat. We've had outright campaigns to keep particularly tasty cultivars on the market (e.g. Linda), and German farmers traditionally name their potato cultivars they are proudest of for their wives. American potatoes bred to look pretty and become huge may be bland, but good potatoes really are not. They should be an excellent stand-alone, and enrich any dish they are added to. - And now I crave potatoes.
I had 500g of potatos a day and didn't change the other meals.  Strong agree with potatoes being tasty and being able to make them in so many ways. 

Any concerns on the amount of CL in the KCL you consume?

Not really. It's an ion. Your body easily eliminates anything which is water soluble in your pee. 

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:

  • replace breakfast with 2 bananas on days I eat breakfast
  • continue to skip breakfast on days that I fast until lunch
  • aim to drink 1 coconut water every day in place of a soda
  • pick foods with more potassium on the margin when possible (I eat most meals out or heat frozen things in the microwave)

I'm slightly tempted to try eating more bananas in place of other food. The Internet mildly recommends against... (read more)

Ya coconout water is great. I just finished a week or so of going back to my pre-potato diet but substituting most of my drinks (usually water) for coconut water which gave me between 2800 mg and 6000 mg of K per day (so at least as much as one meal of potatoes).  A few questions: Have you tried losing weight before and what was your experience then? (I ask because some people have legitimate doubt that this only works for people who haven't really tried to lose weight before.) Is your main goal in doing this to lose weight or to experiment? If you want to just test out K and are curious about the role of K for you, you're intervention is perfect. If you mainly want to lose weight, then as Portia pointed out in some other comments here, there is another thing which is critical (as I will get to in future posts, I'm still finilizing some experiments) is a high volume/weight meal low in calories. Considering that you heat up stuff in the microwave, let me give you some good options which are also high in K * Canned or boxed tomatoe soup (as long as they don't add too much Na in it) * Canned Red/Black kidney beans (add a bit of sour cream, hot sauce, herbs, to make tasty) * Really any type of canned beans or legumes (just look for low sodium content). Looking forward to hear about your experience. 
3Gordon Seidoh Worley5mo
Yep, I've lost significant weight before through intermittent fasting (dropped from 230 to 170 lbs, 5'10" tall). The lowest weight my body will tolerate without extreme effort seems to be 180. Right now I'm staying just shy of 200, and want to get back down to 180. I can fast again, but it's a lot of long, slow work and requires a lot of discipline. I lack the motivation right now for that, as at the time I wanted to become a bit more attractive to find a long-term partner. Now I'm married, so it's less pressing, but don't want to get above 200 for health and aesthetic reasons. Also, thanks for the suggestions! I try to have the majority of my diet be plants and minimize animal products, and when I do eat animal products prioritize minimizing suffering on the margin (e.g. no seafood, careful on egg sourcing, dairy mostly okay other than some GI issues with it, etc.), so I'm quite used to eating food with low caloric density that fills my stomach, and that helps a lot with avoiding calorie dense snacks.
have you considered watermelon?
2Gordon Seidoh Worley5mo
I love watermelon and appreciate the nudge to eat more of it. However, watermelon doesn't always serve as its high water content makes it more like a drink than an alternative to what I would otherwise eat. But eating more watermelon on the margin seems like a good idea.

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.

My current belief is that Potassium is only part of the answer, but it does have an important contribution. I will get to this more in future posts in the series. In the meantime some people did indeed try only adding KCl to their diet, and for some people, it did have an effect:


Typo for losing?

yes :) 

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?

Ya, I think it's a little bit more complicated than just K, but I think K plays a critical role. I'll get to this point when get into the effects of various things I tried both according to my internal model and my mathematical model. But for KCl SMTM already did a trial :

Did you count calories? Did you try to keep the same amount of calories of the replaced meals, but with potatoes?

That would only be meaningful if OP had accurately weighed and tracked the food, which is enough of a hassle that this would have been mentioned, I think. And without it... you would naturally assume that OP consumed fewer calories, because a significant part of their diet was now a highly satiating low calorie food with resistant starch. That would definitely be my guess.
Good question. As Portia says, I didn't. The whole point of this is to not use willpower, so restricting calories when you feel like eating goes against that. I didn't measure, but I'm willing to bet that how it works is that this diet makes me eat fewer calories without actively trying to eat fewer calories. What I tracked, was only things which were "easy" to track, for example how many meals (light, medium, heavy), how many "snacks", etc. Super imprecise measurements, what was really superizing in the end is despite that, how high and R^2 I could get on my linear model next day (or next few days) weight prediction. Will talk about this more in detail hopefully in a future post. 

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.

Super good point. So to add to this, coffee is another thing I tracked, and coffee also seemed to have an effect in weightloss. 

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)

I don't really want to go to unhealthy levels of BMI so I don't really want to go down much lower. I'm currently doing some more experimentation for the next posts so I'm intentionally back at a BMI of 26. Maybe eventually I will try to get to 24 after I'm done the current experiments, but I doubt I will want to get lower than that.  To answer your question about can it get me to 20. I don't really know, everything shows me that it was not harder to lose weight when I was at 29 than when I was 26 BMI but I subjectively felt that at 25.5 it started getting harder, but it might later it felt like it was just a plateau which eventually went away. So I'm not sure.  Yes, I have an average muscle mass. According to my new and improved body scale which claims to test body fat %, when I was at BMI of 24.7, my body fat % was 19,8% , but I don't know how much I trust this figure, I don't think those scales a reliable way to track absolute values even if they are probably ok to track relative change in those values.  I'd also love to know if it would work for you. I'd would be great if you would test it and report back :) 

The LessWrong Review runs every year to select the posts that have most stood the test of time. This post is not yet eligible for review, but will be at the end of 2024. The top fifty or so posts are featured prominently on the site throughout the year. Will this post make the top fifty?

Any concerns on the amount of CL in the KCL you consume?

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. 

Map of the potato consumption in Europe.Prevalence of obesity in Europe

Oh, and also comparing averages (patato consumption per capita) with the size of the tail of a distribution (obesity prevalence) can sometimes be problematic. See the following blog post for a good explanation: 
Very interesting observation. But I think a lot of things have this geographical correlation pattern that we are seeing in the above graph. The main one that immediately commes to mind is GDP/capita:   There could be just so many confounding factors here.  Also note that my lazy potato diet was equivalent to ~180kg/year of potatoes, so appart from Belarus, no country on the graph about reach that.   

I liked this post.

I think there are some very strong selection effects involved in the info that generated your priors about weight loss.

  1. It is in the interests of the diet industry to make people think weight loss is hard, and specifically that there is a secret they know and you don't, or a product only they can provide.
  2. The people who talk about how hard weight loss is are largely the ones struggling with it. They're the ones thinking and talking about it for longer spans of time, and the ones that have the most need to be involved in a community talking about weight loss.
... (read more)
As to the hypothesis you allude to of weightloss being either hard or easy for people, and that people who lose weight on the potato diet would have lost weight also if they tried something else: If I understand @Elizabeth 's post which I just randomly read a few minutes ago, at least in her case, the potatoes worked where other things didn't. That's just n=1, but it does indicate that a strong version of the hypothesis isn't true.  It's possible that there is a distribution of people: some who would lose weight under any diet, some who wouldn't lose weight under most diets but yes with potatoes, and some who wouldn't lose weight under any diet including potatoes. The question is then is then what proportion of people are in each bin (and it's probably more a spectrum and discrete bins). 
I have a pet hypothesis that weight loss intervention studies are done almost entirely on people highly resistant to weight loss (because people try multiple interventions before signing up for science), and that's why the are so many programs with great anecdotal support that fail in rcts.
note: now pretty sure watermelon was necessary for the weight loss, and unclear if potatoes contribute or not. There are more complications but I don't think this changes your larger point
Interesting.  Watermelon has 30 kCal and 112 mg K per 100g  (boiled) potatoes have 87 kCal and 380 mg K per 100g So per calory they have roughly the same amount of potassium, but watermelon is clearly much less energy dense than potatoes. 
My overall potassium over the last year+   I was losing weight from July to November in 2022, and August 2023 -now, so potassium doesn't look like an obvious driver. 
Oh wow!! Great data! Thanks for that.  So my incomplete tests for the moment seem to indicate that if I take no potassium and no calorie-not-dense meal, then I gain weight. If I just take ~2500 mg K or more but no calorie-not-dense meal, I lose weight very slowly, if I just take one calorie-not-dense meal a day but no K I lose weight very slowly, but if I do both, then I lose weight visibly. Do you think something like that could be consistent with your experience?
Define consistent? It's definitely consistent with my broader experience that very little in weight loss or food in general makes sense. I can come up with stories that the key in me was potassium delivered in a high fiber/low cal package, but I put that as less likely than fiber + water + slow release sugar. 
Ya. I think you are right about those 3 points influencing my priors about weight loss in a biased way.  However, and at this point I only have anectodal evidence for this, but I think (75% probability) that even the majority (50% + ) of people who have had a hard time losing weight could easily lose weight with a few easy guidlines that deal with 3 of what I think are very common causes for over-eating (Potassium deficiency / Sodium over-consumption in modern diet being one of the 3). The anectotal evidence I have for this is that most people on the potato diet lost weight, including many people who had tried to lose weight for a long time but failed. The other is that when I talked to some people who have always been thin, and I told them what I think works, they said that they have always been doing that naturally.