What Is A Potato Diet

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

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The potato diet, as the name implies, is a short-term diet that restricts your food intake to only potatoes. It is commonly used as a rapid weight-loss strategy, though it lacks scientific verification. While some variations allow the addition of salt and oils, these additives must be used very sparingly.

What is a Potato Diet?

The potato diet is an unusually popular fad diet for rapid weight loss. Although some form of this diet has been around for more than 150 years, it has recently come back into the pop culture. Essentially, the potato diet consists of eating only potatoes for 3-5 consecutive days. There is some anecdotal evidence of its efficacy, as well as testimonials from some well-known individuals. But no scientific studies have verified these effects. In addition, you should be aware of the side-effects of following such crash diets. While it may help you lose some weight, there are also adversarial effects, such as low intake of important nutrients and the possibility of disturbing your body’s metabolism.

Rules of Potato Diet

There are variations of the diet in terms of its strictness, but the instructions are fairly straightforward, as put forward by Tim Steele, in his book Potato Hack: Weight Loss Simplified. His rules are as follow:

  1. Exclusively eat plain, cooked potatoes for a period of 3-5 days.
  2. One should eat between 2-5 pounds of potatoes each day.
  3. Avoid all other foods, including cheese, butter, sour cream, salsa, ketchup, etc.
  4. Salt is allowed in small quantities, but only if absolutely needed.
  5. When thirsty, only drink tea, black coffee, or water.
  6. Avoid heavy exercise, but light exercise (walking) is acceptable and even encouraged.
  7. Take all prescribed medications, but eliminate any unprescribed dietary supplements.
Whole and sliced potatoes with peels on a wooden background

Can a potato diet help you lose weight? Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Foods to Eat

The rules of this diet are quite clear on what you can eat, as briefly outlined below:

  • 2-5 pounds of cooked white potatoes per day.
  • Salt is allowed, but should be used sparingly
  • Oils, sauces, condiments (allowed in more lenient strategies)
  • Yellow or gold potatoes are allowed in some variations, but not in strict versions
  • Yams / sweet potatoes are allowed in some variations, but not in others, as they are higher in calories and vitamin A

Foods to Avoid

  • Do not eat any foods aside from cooked potatoes
  • Avoid excess oils in preparing your potatoes, such as french fries

Potato Diet for Weight Loss

Most people using this diet eat 2-5 pounds of potatoes per day, so while that may sound counterintuitive to losing weight, potatoes are surprisingly low in calories. Even that volume of potatoes each day would only total 700-1700 calories, which is below the recommended daily calorie intake for either men or women.

Although weight loss may seem like an insurmountable problem for many people, the basic equation is simple—the balance between the calories consumed and the calories burned each day. If you burn more than you consume, you will lose weight. If you are eating two pounds of potatoes per day, you take in roughly 700 calories. The average man burns about 2,500 calories per day. The differential is 1,800 calories each day. To lose one pound, you must burn roughly 3,500 calories. Thus, in two days, eating two pounds of potatoes per day, you could theoretically lose one pound. If you increased your activity levels to burn even more calories, the weight loss could be higher.

 

Additionally, potatoes contain proteinase inhibitor 2, a compound that can reduce hunger by slowing down the digestive process. This makes it easier for you to get through this highly restrictive diet without snacking or cheating. Now, the recommended length of time for this diet is only 3-5 days. Some people do claim to have used it for longer with more significant effects. However, there is a dearth of certain nutrients in potatoes, which would cause problems over time.

Other Benefits

While the potato diet is undeniably dull, potatoes are surprisingly rich in certain nutrients, including high levels of iron, potassium, vitamin C. That being said, they are also low in other key nutrients, such as calcium, and vitamin A.  There is also a good amount of dietary fiber in the potatoes, particularly if you choose to keep the skins on, which can help to aid the digestive process throughout this starch-heavy diet. While this diet isn’t sustainable, you will be getting a good amount of key nutrients during this weight-loss stint.

For people who are looking to lose weight fast, the potato diet is also a rather simple and inexpensive option. Potatoes are readily available anywhere that food is sold, and they are some of the cheapest vegetables out there. For the price and ease of this diet, potatoes may be healthier than other ‘crash diet’ options.

Risks

A potatoes-only diet means you are consuming a very low level of fats and proteins, two major nutrient groups that the body needs to function properly. You will get a small amount of protein, roughly 4 grams per potato, but a negligible amount of fats. When the body loses weight rapidly, it often takes that weight from muscle mass. Without a consistent stream of protein from the potatoes you’re eating, you could be depleting your muscles at a rapid rate.

Furthermore, as is the risk with many crash diets, many people rapidly gain back their weight soon afterward. As this article from The International Journal of Obesity explains, the body begins to slow its metabolism to conserve calories when on a crash diet. In effect, your body can begin to work against your goal of keeping the weight off, by burning calories slower once you return to your normal diet. At this point, you will gain back the weight.

There are always risks with extreme diets, particularly if they are carried out longer than 3 days to a week. Nutrient deficiencies can easily occur and energy levels can drop, along with immune system health. You may also end up training your body to maintain unhealthy metabolic cycles. If you choose to follow this diet for quick results, do so wisely and only after consulting a doctor to get an updated idea of your health status.

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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