Why I’m switching to the Martian Potato Diet

In a scene from the movie "The Martian," Mark Watney works in an improvised greenhouse to grow potatoes in soil mixed with human waste.

In a scene from the movie “The Martian,” Mark Watney works in an improvised greenhouse to grow potatoes in soil mixed with human waste.

With three days and three pounds to go before my self-imposed weight-loss deadline – if I don’t make it I don’t get ice cream at Ivanhoe’s when we go to my nephew’s football game at Taylor University Saturday – I’m switching up strategy,  dropping the Slow Carb Diet in favor of the Martian Potato Diet.

For me to consistently stick to a diet, it has to engage my imagination. Last fall I was enthralled with all the tech-geek culture surrounding Tim Ferriss’ Slow Carb Diet. Though I’ve lost about 5 pounds in the past week, this time it’s been a whole lot harder because I’m watching our grocery budget and I don’t like dropping a bunch of money on increasingly pricey eggs as well as meat (though beans and veggies are cool).

The Martian Potato Diet, on the other hand, feels fresh and stoked by the buzz I’m still feeling from the movie, in which a stranded astronaut tries to grow potatoes to keep himself alive until help can be sent to Mars. (It’s incredibly eye-opening to see another planet as a place that has stuff on it – our stuff – that could be modified and used in a pinch. Yes, Matt Damon’s character is fictional, but he’s no superhuman. And he’s not using any Star Trek technology. This is fiction, but it’s not science fiction, at least not in the traditional sense.)

At first I assumed the crew had potatoes on board because NASA had determined this was a good emergency food source. Though I haven’t read the book – yet — and you wouldn’t know this from the movie, since all you see is Watney pulling out this pack of potatoes with no real explanation, it turns out that apparently the potatoes were brought along for the crew’s Thanksgiving dinner. Thrown into a crisis, Watney (who happens to be a botanist) tries to grow them in an improvised greenhouse using human waste as soil.

Given what I’ve learned over the past five years about how my brain works, my infatuation with this film should be sufficient for me to mimic this character’s diet for a few days. I’ve done this type of thing before – though typically only for one day at a time – with unusual or interesting diet scenarios in novels. At one point I limited myself to only what a kidnap victim held in the hold of a ship was given to eat in a Dick Francis thriller (the title now escapes me). Another time I allowed myself only what Kurt Vonnegut has described as his World War II German prisoner-of-war rations — 250 grams of black bread and and one pint of unseasoned potato soup.

I’m only doing this for a few days, so I’m not that concerned about what effect a potato-only diet will have on my body. But apparently potatoes contain all the essential amino acids, though some of them are in pretty low amounts — it takes 10 tubers a day to make a complete protein. The head of the Washington State Potato Commission consumed twice that amount in a 2010 publicity stunt in which he ate nothing but potatoes for two months. He reportedly lost 21 pounds, though his blood sugar was a little high afterward.

I’ve experimented myself with eating nothing but potatoes one day a week in the past. I found those days pretty satisfying, given that I rarely eat potatoes anymore due to their chart-topping glycemic index. And I found that I’d invariably be a pound or two lighter the following day.

Though Paleo types who now periodically follow what’s being called the Potato Protocol have come up with various rules for following this diet, I’m pretty much restricting myself to salt and ketchup, which Watney had access to in the movie. In keeping with that movie-mirroring theme, however, I am rationing mine – not so I don’t run out, like Watney did, but to avoid taking in a bunch of extra corn syrup-laden calories.

Note: I intended to publish this yesterday, but for some reason it got posted to my “pages” instead. After one day, my weight stayed exactly the same.

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