As you may know from some of my prior blog posts, I sometimes push myself to extremes when it comes to which foods I eat, how I approach weight loss, and how I approach exercise. Somehow, extremes seems to work better with my brain, rather than slowly progressing towards an ideal change. So, I was intrigued when I randomly encountered a video on YouTube featuring Penn Jillette, one half of the magician duo Penn & Teller. In the video, Penn describes how he lost 100 pounds… while still being able to eat whatever he wants. Now, don’t get me wrong – I fully understand how much the Internet is plagued by gimmicky weight loss headlines, but take it from me… there’s an interesting message embedded here.
If you just read the title, or just watch a fraction of it, you might very well conclude that he’s insane and move on. And frankly, you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. His approach is a bit nuts, but in due time, you start to see that there’s more to it than the face value. Penn starts his story off with a disclaimer, communicated with an amusing amount of bluntness:
“If you take medical advice from a Las Vegas magician, you are an idiot who deserves to die.”
Ooook then. So if you understand that and move on, he describes how he kicked off his weight loss effort by eating only potatoes for 14 days. Yes, potatoes. Whole potatoes. No adding salt, no altering the potatoes in any way. No specific meal times, either – he approached it with simplicity: if he was hungry, he ate a potato. As a guy that likes extremes, I respected his lunacy.
After the 14 days, he expanded slowly into other foods. He explained, for example, that an ear of corn tasted like candy to him, after his potato consumption spree. It was as if his potato diet had rebooted his taste buds. Whereas, in the past, he’d be overwhelmed with the taste of butter, salt, and wouldn’t quite taste the corn. This, I could relate to completely. As a former vegetarian of 8 years, I learned to appreciate the subtleties of non-meat consumption. Veggie hot dogs, for example, were never particularly tasty when you were used to eating delicious, actual meat sausages. But when you never had meat… your sense of taste adapted, and the veggie hot dogs began to taste fairly good.
I’ve had other experiences that illustrated this, also: switching from regular V8, to its low-sodium variant, and from 2% milk, to skim milk. In both cases, immediately after switching, I couldn’t believe how much weaker the flavors were. But, sure enough, as I kept at it, I got used to it, and before long, the super-exaggerated sodium content of the original V8 was no longer appealing to me. And 2% milk suffered a similar fate – its flavor became too intense – skim had become my normal. It’s not that the new foods themselves were lacking in flavor – it’s that my taste took some time to adjust to the subtleties.
This is echoed quite brilliantly in Penn’s conclusion, where he states the following:
“After this whole, incredibly restrictive diet, and all of this willpower, and all of this climbing a dietary Everest, as I sit here right now on the Big Think, I now eat whatever I want. But, what I want has changed profoundly.“
Penn used a potato mono-diet as his Everest, and once he reached the summit, he began allowing other foods to enter his diet. He describes his post-14-day diet with two words: whole plants. No animal products, processed grains, added sugar, salt. However, every two weeks, he allows himself to consume food just like a regular person. But something interesting happened – since the potato frenzy, and his subsequent whole plants diet, he finds he doesn’t crave animal products, or junk food like he used to. So, even though he indulges occasionally, he tends to select healthier options almost as an instinct, driven by his newfound tastes.
This all, naturally, reminds me of my weight loss adventures, and brings me back to a time where my own taste buds were appreciative of simpler foods. It is in this spirit that I purged my home of meat products once more, and jumped right back into near-vegetarianism. I say near because I’m in the process of depleting certain products, rather than giving them all away, such as the low-sodium Lipton Chicken Noodle soup that I enjoy. Yes, it contains “dehydrated mechanically separated cooked chicken” ಠ_ಠ, but, I figure it’s better than flat-out taking a bite out of chicken flesh.
I must emphasize, in closing, that there’s nothing inherently wrong with moderated meat consumption. I’m merely switching back to a diet that seemed to work better for me, habit and fitness-wise. And for this, I must thank Penn. His video reminded me of the role that taste plays in a diet, and in particular, its malleability.