In December – January 2018 I attempted to complete my third Whole30 reboot. I had been marginally successful, food-wise, on my first attempt and utterly failed at my second. I say marginally successful because I was of course still drinking alcohol which is a major no-no on the Whole30 diet. My goal for these wasn’t to lose weight or to start eating less but to re-evaluate my relationship with food. When I (frequently) state that I believe almost every American is an addict, what I can usually point to is food. “How can you be addicted to food though? We need it to survive!” is the average rebuttal. While it is true that one can’t quit food the same way they can quit alcohol and drugs, the way Americans eat is disgusting and, frankly, killing us as a society.
If you’re an average American, you probably swing wildly between wanting to be healthier and binge eating Taco Bell at 2AM like some kind of manic, off-rhythm metronome. Once a month or so you begin the day with great intentions of this finally being the day you’ll start cooking all of your meals, possibly prepping ahead of time, and tracking your caloric intake to figure out just how much you need to feel “normal” throughout the day. Then noon rolls around and you don’t feel like cooking; maybe you’re too busy with work or the kids have been a nightmare all morning. Then one o’clock comes and goes and you still haven’t cooked but now you’re really hungry. You have to eat! You’re totally sicking to your diet but you need to get something fast in you to make it through the next several hours so what’s the harm in a Big Mac? You cave to your emotions and dinner, as well as the rest of the week, is a wash.
Just like there are many ways in which an addict deals with their addiction, there are a million ways in which the above story can play out for different people. I illustrated how it worked for me but if you can’t relate to that particular story, it doesn’t mean we are inherently different. Coinciding with addictions are decades of emotional and physical trauma and genetic predispositions that make each of our situations unique. How it all culminates is familiar to most of us though. We eat a whole bag of Doritos while sitting in front of the TV because we had to have chips. We pick up fast food on the way home from work because we’re just too tired not too (a strange thought: being tired so you have to go out of your way to get something you don’t need). On the off chance that someone reading this isn’t a drug or alcohol addict and wants to understand what it feels like, that is what it feels like. That feeling of not being able to say no to a cheeseburger is how an alcoholic feels when they crave booze. The main difference is that after your cheeseburger, most of you can bring yourselves to stop.
So Whole30 wasn’t doing it for me. It’s a lot of work and very expensive if you want to do it the right way (you could eat chicken salad every day but that’s not really the point). I learned a few skills from it such as building a meal template for the week and prepping ahead of time but I couldn’t stick with it. Things kept “coming up” and I’d cave into my cravings for bread and cheese which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who knows me given that I didn’t have much success fighting my craving for alcohol for 20 years. The biggest challenge I had was coming home and wanting to cook. Even in sobriety there are days where I don’t want to come home from work and spend another hour in the kitchen. So I did something a bit radical and to some people a bit silly. I felt that the only way to be able to turn addiction to food into a simple consumption of fuel I had to really dumb down the process.
I ate nothing but potatoes for a month. This isn’t a new idea; Andrew Taylor has written books on it and given probably dozens of talks. In fact I first heard about it three years ago on some podcast or another (I used to listen to a lot of podcasts while nursing a hangover in the morning; they keep you awake). My friends will tell you that I am oft taken by extreme ideas because I love being gung ho about something for 45 minutes and then quitting completely. I think that I’m attracted to the idea of reinventing myself, but that’s another story for another time. It’s simple, though: you eat nothing but potatoes (about 5 pounds a day) for at least 30 days. Andrew Taylor did it for a year and lost 117lbs but I wasn’t really doing this for weight loss. I was doing it because eating the same, semi-bland (let’s be honest) meal for a month is a great way to show yourself that you don’t need to eat what you WANT every time you’re hungry. Post-potato diet my beliefs have changed fundamentally about food. When I look in the fridge and see a bag of spinach, chicken, and various other veggies and condiments, I don’t see what I want vs. what I don’t want. I don’t even see potential meals. I simply see calories. I’ve always been good at memorizing numbers and currently my head is a database of nutritional information for all of my staples. I didn’t choose staples by the taste or whether or not they were my favorite things, I chose them because they were the most nutritionally dense foods at the most reasonable price. Once could say that my new addiction is portion control (a great band too, by the way).
Now, I’m not insane. I still like doing out to dinner with friends and enjoying a well cooked, delicious meal. It’s not not what I need 6 days out of the week. Not only has this affected my waistline and wallet but it’s also removed a lot of decision making from my life, leaving me free to make more important decisions in that time. If you’re struggling to get over food addiction or even if you don’t think you have a food addiction but acknowledge that you eat too many french fries, give it a shot. You don’t have anything to lose and eating a bag of potatoes over a few days (if you fail) will at least save you some money. I spent about $10 a week on food during that month.
And… if you’re like the one friend I have who told me “but I don’t like potatoes” well… that’s kind of the point.