In the original potato diet study, we asked people to try to eat nothing but potatoes. This worked pretty well — people lost 10.6 lbs on average over just four weeks.
But we also told them, “perfect adherence isn’t necessary. If you can’t get potatoes, eat something else rather than go hungry, and pick up the potatoes again when you can.”
People took this to heart. We asked people to track how often they broke the diet, and almost everyone took at least one cheat day.
Five people said they stuck to the diet 100%, but everyone else said they broke the diet at least once. Most people cheated only a few times, but as you can see from this histogram, a substantial minority cheated more than half the time:
Taking these cheat days didn’t seem to matter much. Almost everyone lost weight, even if they cheated a lot:
In general, the more often people cheated, the less weight they lost. But even the people who cheated the most still lost around 5 lbs.
Realistically, our original potato diet study was really more like a 90% potato diet. People took quite a few cheat days, and it mostly didn’t seem to matter. Makes you wonder how low we can push that percent and still have it work — after all, the original weight loss effect was ginormous.
This is one reason why today we are announcing a 50% potato diet study. We’re looking for people to volunteer to get about 50% of their calories per day from potatoes for at least four weeks, and to share their data so we can do an analysis. You can sign up below.
The other reason we’re doing this study is a number of extremely interesting case studies.
Case Study: Joey No Floors Freshwater
The earliest case study comes from Joey “No Floors” Freshwater, who shared his story on twitter. He did a version of the potato diet consisting of “1-1.5lbs of potatoes a day when I could”. This comes out to about a 20% potato diet, and it turns out the 20% potato diet works quite well, at least for Joey.
Sadly Joey is no longer on twitter, but we do still have the screenshots:
Nicky Case Study: Nicky Case
The second case study comes from Nicky Case. Nicky participated in the original potato diet study and lost more than 10 lbs over four weeks, without much difficulty. This is kind of striking because Nicky was pretty lean to begin with.
After the potato diet ended, her weight slowly climbed back up. So 50 days after the end of the potato diet, she started a half-tato diet (“at least ONE meal per day is potato”). On the half-tato diet, she lost weight at about half the rate she did on the potato diet, and described it as “TRIVIALLY EASY to do”. Here’s the figure:
This is very encouraging. Nicky tried both the potato diet and the half-tato diet for more than 40 days each, and the direct comparison makes it pretty clear that the half-tato diet caused about half as much weight loss, at least for her.
Case Study: M’s Potatoes-by-Default
Our third case study comes from M, a reader whose email we published in December as a Philosophical Transactions post.
M tried a version of the potato diet he calls “potatoes by default”. He describes this approach like so:
If I didn’t have anything better to eat, I’d eat potatoes. This meant that if I had plans for lunch or dinner, I would eat whatever it was I would’ve normally eaten ad libitum, and I tried actively to prevent the diet from materially interfering with my lifestyle (I drank alcohol socially as I normally would’ve, I participated in all the meals I normally would’ve participated in with friends, I tried arbitrary new dishes at restaurants, etc.). … In practice, “potatoes by default” meant I was eating potatoes for roughly 1/3 of my meals, mostly for lunch when I was working from home during the week or on weekends, since I usually had dinner plans of some kind.
This relatively potato-light approach caused surprisingly rapid weight loss. M describes it like so: “I think my main reaction to the data was that it was kind of insane? I was eating potatoes a third of the time and literally whatever else I wanted the rest of the time, and losing weight almost as quickly as the full potato diet.”
Here’s the figure. The chart on the right is just a zoomed-in version of the chart on the left, the vertical red line is when he began the potato diet, and the gray bars are when he was traveling and ate no potatoes:
The orange dots in this plot follow the daily averages for the full-tato diet we did. You can see that they are very similar to the blue dots, which are M’s data. When M says that he was losing weight almost as quickly as the full potato diet, he wasn’t joking. While the half-tato diet worked about 50% as well for Nicky, “potatoes by default” seemed to work much better than 50% for M.
You’ll also notice that M kept on “potatoes by default” for much longer than 30 days, and while the weight loss seems to slow a bit near the end, he keeps losing weight for basically the whole period covered in the plot. He loses more than 10% of his body weight over about three months! And he wasn’t even getting that many calories from potatoes — only like 30%!
That’s why we are running a half-tato diet community trial. Let’s take a look at the design!
Half-Tato Diet Protocol
The half-tato diet is very flexible. As long as you are getting around 50% of your calories each day from potatoes, you’re on target.
Here are three ways of doing half-tato:
❖ True Half-Tato: Try to get 50% of your calories from potatoes each day, however you want.
❖ Potatoes-by-Default: This is M’s plan, and it worked well for him. Basically, if you don’t have any other plans for a meal, eat only potatoes (a little cooking oil and spices/hot sauce are ok, but nothing substantial). Otherwise, if you are seeing friends or going on a date or anything else, eat as you normally would. If you choose this plan, consider taking a close look at M’s email to us where he describes his protocol in more detail.
❖ Potato Meal: Have one meal a day be nothing but potatoes (with basic spices, etc.). For other meals, eat as normal. This is basically what Nicky Case tried for her half-tato diet. She describes it as “½ the weight-loss effect, but it was *much* easier than Full-Tato. Trivially easy, even.”
On the signup sheet (linked below), we will ask you to indicate which approach you are planning to follow. You don’t have to stick with the approach you choose, but it will be good to know which approaches are most popular, and if there happens to be a big difference between these approaches for some reason, maybe we’ll be able to pick up on it.
When you’re not eating potatoes, please eat as you normally would. The goal is to see how the diet works when you otherwise eat, exercise, and live as normal, so try not to change too much.
We do, however, have two small suggestions.
In the original potato diet study, we asked people to try to avoid dairy. But now we are not so worried about it. For the half-tato diet, please feel free to continue eating dairy if you want. We will just ask you to track the number of servings of dairy you eat each day on your data sheet. That way, on the off chance that dairy does make a huge difference, we may be able to detect it.
The second has to do with tomato products, especially ketchup. We reached out to the case studies we mentioned above, and most of them told us that they didn’t have ketchup with their potatoes, or didn’t have it very often, so “no ketchup” may be important for the half-tato diet to work. You may want to avoid tomato products and not have ketchup with your potatoes, but it’s really up to you.
Like with dairy, we will just ask you to track the number of servings of tomato products you eat each day on your data sheet. That way, if tomatoes stop the potato effect for some reason, we may be able to detect it.
To sum this up:
- Get around 50% of your calories from potatoes each day, using whatever method (one potato-only meal a day, potatoes-by-default, etc.) you like.
- Start with whole, raw potatoes when you can, consider cooking them in a way that keeps them as whole as possible.
- Otherwise, eat as you normally would. Don’t consciously eat better, but also don’t consciously eat worse.
- On the spreadsheet we share with you (below), track your weight, approximate percent potato for each day, your energy, mood, and the ease of the study, as described on the sheet.
- Track servings of dairy just in case, don’t bother avoiding it if you don’t want to.
- Track servings of tomato products, just so we can see if there’s a difference. Maybe consider avoiding them, especially if you’re not losing weight.
- Track any bonus variables you’re willing/interested to track.
On the first day of half-tato, start eating potatoes as per the approach you chose above (e.g. potatoes-by-default). As long as you are feeling ok, keep trying to stick with it. The effect sometimes takes a couple days to become clear; there’s lots of variation between different people; you may lose a little weight one day and gain weight the next; don’t worry if the effect takes a little while to show up.
If you start feeling bad or weird, try one of these helpful hints:
- Eating a potato (or something else). Hunger feels different on the potato diet and you may not realize that you are hungry. Yes, really.
- Drinking water.
- Eating a different kind of potato. Different varieties of potatoes may seem like they’re all pretty much the same, but they can really be quite different, and if you’re eating a lot of potatoes, these differences become much easier to notice. You will almost certainly want to eat more than one kind of potato.
- Peeling your potatoes. Eating less peel / no peel seems to help some people with digestive and energy issues, especially after a few days on the diet.
- Eating more salt. Potatoes are naturally low in sodium and you may not be getting enough. They’re also high in potassium, which can throw off your electrolyte balance if you don’t get enough sodium to match it.
If you try these things and still feel bad or weird, take a day or two off the half-tato diet and just mark down on your sheet that 0% of your food (or whatever) for those days was from potatoes.
If you start feeling really bad, or you otherwise can’t make the half-tato work for you, just stop the trial early. We don’t want anything bad to happen to you. Just send us an email to close out the trial as normal (see below).
In our previous community trials, we didn’t include a control group. This is because we expected the effect sizes to be ginormous. People don’t, generally speaking, spontaneously drop 10 lbs in four weeks, so it’s clear the weight loss on the potato diet is “real” without the need for a control group.
This worked less well for the potassium trial, but we wanted to get the biggest sample size we could for that study, and we weren’t sure how many signups we would get beforehand. We stand behind the idea that when you’re trying to estimate an effect size, it’s good to get as many people in the experimental condition as possible.
We’re still not going to include a control group, because we don’t think it would be very interesting to recruit half of you to sit around and do nothing for several weeks, and it wouldn’t teach us very much.
But we will do the next-best thing, and that’s to ask you to take a baseline of your weight change without the half-tato diet. For the first two weeks of the study, eat as you normally would, and track your weight over time. Then on the fifteenth day, start the half-tato protocol and get on to eating lots of potatoes. It’s simple.
This lets us use everyone as a control group for themselves, sort of like a crossover design. While this design wouldn’t work for everything, we think it works pretty well for the half-tato diet.
We’d like you to try the half-tato diet for at least four weeks. With the two-week baseline, this is a total commitment of six weeks.
But if you’re willing to go further, we would be really interested to have that data. So for the half-tato diet community trial, we are opening things up and letting people enroll for however long they want.
Credit where credit is due, this part of the design was Nicky Case’s idea. She describes it as a “hey this trial runs for however long you want, and we’ll just report data every month for whoever hasn’t dropped out yet” design, and we think it makes a lot of sense.
This is a bit like what we did with the potassium trial — we asked people to keep going to 60 days if they were willing, some did, and we reported on their data in a second analysis post. We want to do the same thing in this study, except that we’d like to ask you to sign up for longer spans up front, if you’re willing.
We won’t hold you to this. It’s not a commitment. We’d just like to know up front how long you’re planning to sign up for. If you can’t make it that long, that’s fine. Just tell us how long you’re thinking you might try.
(Obviously you can also keep going for longer if you want, don’t let us stop you.)
For example, you can sign up for:
- 2-week baseline + 4-week half-tato
- 2-week baseline + 8-week half-tato
- 2-week baseline + 12-week half-tato
And so on and so forth, all the way up to 2-week baseline + 68-week half-tato. We will take snapshots of the data at relevant intervals and analyze the data up to that point.
Sure, “report every month on whoever hasn’t dropped out yet” has a selection bias. The people who sign up for 52 weeks will not be your average ordinary citizens. In fact, they will be paragons, heroes. But that doesn’t concern us. We still want to see those data.
And if you sign up for 52 weeks but it turns out no one can actually be bothered to do half-tato that long, that’s still useful data. Just think about it. 😉
Ok researchers, time to sign up.
The only prerequisites for signing up are:
- You must be 18 or older;
- In generally good health, and specifically with no kidney problems;
- Willing to do a two-week period of baseline measurements;
- Willing to get about 50% of your calories every day from potatoes, as described above, for at least four weeks, and;
- Willing to share your data with us.
As usual, you can sign up to lose weight, lower your blood pressure, get more energy, or see one of the other potential effects. But you can also sign up to help advance the state of medical science. This study will tell us something about nutrition, weight loss, and obesity. If the half-tato diet works for most people, it will give us a practical weight-loss intervention that’s much easier than the 100% potato diet.
And beyond that, running a study like this through volunteers on the internet is a small step towards making science faster, smarter, and more democratic. Imagine a future where every time we’re like, “why is no one doing this?”, every time we’re like, “dietary scientists, what the hell?”, we get together and WE do it, and we get an answer. And if we get a half-answer, we iterate on the design and get closer and closer every time.
That seems like a future worth dreaming of. If you sign up, you get us closer to that future. We hope that this is only the beginning of what will be a century full of community-run scientific trials on the internet. Maybe by 2030, the redditors will have found a way to triple your lifespan. But for now we are doing potato.
Eating this much potato may sound a little daunting, but people who have tried it say that it is much easier than they expected, and delicious to boot. Here’s our suggestion: If you are at all interested in trying the half-tato diet, go ahead and sign up and start collecting your data. Collect your baseline measurements for two weeks, then try the first day or two of half-tato and see how it feels. If you hate it and have to stop, we would still love to have that data.
If at any point you get sick or begin having side-effects, stop the diet immediately. We can still use your data up to that point, and we don’t want anything to happen to you.
We are mostly interested in weight loss effects for people who are overweight (BMI 25+) or obese (BMI 30+), but if you are “normal weight” (BMI 20-25) you can also sign up. The original full-tato diet caused weight loss in people of normal weight, and it would be interesting to see if the same thing happens for the half-tato.
And for everyone, please consult with your doctor before trying this or any other weight loss regimen.
If you were part of the original SMTM Potato Diet Community Trial, or the SMTM Low-Dose Potassium Community Trial, please feel free to sign up for this study as well! We know that most people who were part of the Potato Diet Community Trial have returned to their baseline weight in the last 6 months, so the original results shouldn’t interfere. And it will be very interesting to compare your weight loss on the half-tato diet to your weight loss on the full-tato diet. Since we can make direct within-person comparisons, this will give us a much better sense of if the half-tato diet works half as well (or better; or worse) as the full-tato diet.
Anyways, to sign up:
- Fill out this google form, where you give us your basic demographics and contact info. You will assign yourself a subject number, which will keep your data anonymous in the future.
- We will clone a version of this google sheet and share the clone with you. This will be your personal spreadsheet for recording your data over the course of the diet.
- On the first day, weigh yourself in the morning. If you’re a “morning pooper”, measure yourself “after your first void”; if not, don’t worry about it. We don’t care if you wear pajamas or whatever, just keep it consistent. Note down your weight and the other measures (mood, energy, etc.) on the google sheet.
- For the first two weeks, eat as normal and continue to track your weight and other variables to provide the baseline. Then when the two weeks of baseline are complete (clearly marked on the data sheet), start eating about 50% potatoes, and continue with the half-tato diet for however long you signed up for (4 weeks or longer).
- We prefer that you try to get around 50% of your calories from potatoes for at least four weeks. But imperfect adherence is ok. If you only get 30% of your calories from potatoes one day, or you have to skip a day entirely, that’s all right. Just note it down on your sheet. We’re interested in how the diet works for normal people at home, with all the complications that entails.
- When you reach the end of the diet (whether you’re ending the diet early, reaching the span you signed up for, or going beyond it), send us an email with the subject line “[SUBJECT ID] Half-Tato Diet Complete”. This will give us a sense of how the study is proceeding in general and is your opportunity to tell us all about how the study went for you. Please tell us any information that doesn’t easily fit into the spreadsheet — how you felt, what kind of potatoes you used, how you prepared them, before and after pictures (if you want), advice to other people trying this, etc. There’s a chance that the half-tato approach will work for some people and not for others, and if that happens, we’ll dig into these accounts to see if we can figure out why.
- Remember that it is ok to end the study early if you need to, for example if you get sick, or if you decide that 12 weeks or whatever is too long of a commitment. It’s also fine to reach 12 weeks and keep going if you’re having a good time. Just make your intentions clear in the comments on your data sheet and send us an email whenever you decide to finish, we’d love to hear from you.
Assuming we get 20 or so people, we will write up our results and publish them on the blog. We would really like to get a couple hundred people, though, since at that point it becomes possible to do more complex statistical analyses. So if you think this is an interesting idea, please tell your friends!
18 thoughts on “Half-Tato Diet Community Trial: Sign up Now”
Please also record what kind of potatoes, yellow, russet, etc. are very different to eat, and likely have different amounts of nutrients.
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The “50% of your calories from potatoes each day” is confusing to me because potatoes are less caloric by weight than the other meals.
Replacing a meal with potato shouldn’t match that meals caloric total. So if you wanted to do half of you calories per day from potato you’d need something like 2 potato meals and one light “normal” meal.
Maybe this is just me getting confused by what the 50% means. Which of these do you mean?
– of a total of 2000 calories, 1000 should come from potatoes
– of a total of 3 meals, 1.5 of them should be potato
We mean that of a total of 2000 calories (or whatever), about 1000 (or 50% of the larger number) should come from potatoes. Replacing one meal a day may not get you quite to 50% but we don’t care. The effect seems robust to exact percent changes.
Also people might eat more at their potato meal. Your reasoning assumes that people dose meals by weight rather than by any other factor. Right?
If my daily caloric intake is 2500 calories, then half of that would amount to eating 11.3 average-sized russet potatoes per day (this figure is from ChatGPT4). That’s more potatoes than I expected. I won’t use ketchup, per the instructions, but I’m curious as to the possible reasons why tomato products might cause a problem.
Yep, that sounds right! Chris Voigt’s all-potato diet was targeted at 20 potatoes a day.
Re: ketchup. There are basically two reasons. The first is empirical — most of the case studies who have had success on the half-tato diet told us they either didn’t use ketchup at all or didn’t use it very often. We don’t know if that’s part of why they had success, but at the beginning we want to match the success stories as closely as possible, in case something like this matters.
The second is theoretical. There’s some evidence that tomatoes accumulate lithium, and we suspect that lithium might be a cause of the obesity epidemic. Either of these things might be false — tomatoes might not be high in lithium, lithium may not cause obesity at the levels found in food, or both — but it’s another element that has brought tomato products to our attention.
There were also a few comments from people in the original potato diet study who said that ketchup seemed to stop the weight loss for them.
So overall not a ton of evidence but enough that we wanted to mention.
An average russet potato has 164 calories. Half of 2500 is 1250. 1250/164 = 7.6. ChatGPT doesn’t “know” anything and in particular evidently does not know the calorie content of a potato or arithmetic. It is always and forever simply plausibly permuting its training corpus. You should not look to it for more than entertainment no matter how much it seems like it knows what it’s talking about. It is only a semblance.
My text prompt was, “How many potatoes would I need to eat in order to consume 1250 calories?”. ChatGPT4 assumed a medium-sized raw potato weighs 5.3 oz. (150 g) and contains 110 calories. ChatGPT4 didn’t specify the source of that information, but it looks like it came from the FDA (I Googled it). I shouldn’t have specified “russet” in my comment up above. Neither my text prompt nor ChatGPT4’s answer specified the variety of potato. So adding “russet” was my own little hallucination.
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I have a question regarding resistant starch. I would envision myself batch-cooking a large number of potatoes and keeping them to eat over the course of a few days. I didn’t see anything in your article about cooled vs freshly-cooked potatoes (hopefully I didn’t overlook it if you commented on this), but I have read that certain starches – like potatoes – when cooled and eaten cold or reheated, become “resistant” and are digested differently. Most notable, I’ve read that they have less of an effect on insulin (and consequently, blood sugar, possibly appetite &c). Any thoughts?
Hey Sarah! We’ve heard that too but we have no idea if it has any relationship to why potatoes cause weight loss. Definitely feel free to do batch cooking for starters and if the potatoes don’t seem to have any effect, you could switch to cooking them on a shorter-term basis.
I’ve personally had a lot of success with doing batch cooking. I don’t know if the resistant starch contributes or not, but honestly I can’t imagine doing potatoes without doing this. Potatoes take a long time to prepare, which would be death to trying to do this every day. I generally boil a five pound bag of potatoes (and two to three sweet potatoes), and that lasts me a few days as I pull them out and put a quicker finishing touch on the potatoes per-meal.
I am unable to digest cooked rice that’s been kept in a fridge overnight. On the internet many people claim that this is probably due to germs which multiply on the rice inside the fridge, but if that were the case, why does it only occur with rice? I find this explanation dubious. I much prefer the alternative, more sophisticated explanation – that refrigerating cooked rice causes it to transform the starch in it to a more resistant form, which I believe I have a food intolerance to. So I don’t think I personally could do this. And any other readers who have problems with refrigerated cooked rice, should probably be careful with this too. This post has more information: https://gutivate.com/blog/resistant-starches
Important: readers might assume that potato-based products like fries and chips are near-100% potato, but this is not necessarily the case! Here are some examples from the UK (these food items may be produced differently in other countries, so this information is not necessarily transferrable between countries):
* McDonald’s fries: 86% potato
* Leon baked waffle fries: 77% potato
* and surprisingly, Pringles: only 42% potato
I am now going to update my half-potato diet spreadsheet to account for these percentages. I thought I was eating more potato in my diet than I actually was!
I’ve been reading some of the write-ups (blog posts, Twitter threads, articles, etc.) about previous potato studies, including the SMTM one from last year. There is some really interesting and useful information there.
Can I make a suggestion? Would it make sense to create a message board for participants in the current “half-tato” study so that people can share their experiences, recipes, suggestions, life hacks, etc.? Having a place for people to interact might also just make the whole experiment more interesting for the participants and could potentially lower the dropout rate. I guess we can always just use the comments under this current blog post, though a separate page with a login might make people more comfortable posting there. Thanks.
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This is a great idea. Two thoughts:
In the past people have used twitter to discuss our community trials and that seemed to work well, though twitter has gotten a bit messier since then.
Also, there is a subreddit r/spudbud, which is dedicated to the potato diet. It doesn’t look very active but people could also congregate there.
Either would probably work, but maybe you can decide on something and then get the word out to participants, so that there is some sort of official or semi-official place for people to post about their thoughts, questions, etc.
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Whichever you pick, I think it’d be helpful to explicitly mention it in a future article 🙂
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How should we define a “serving” of tomato or dairy?
Partially up to your judgment, but in doubt you can use the serving size listed on the nutrition facts of whatever you’re eating.