The Tale Of A Potato (And Other Dietary Detours)

Several years ago, I was working with a weight loss client (Hi, J!) and when he started he didn’t see a great deal of fat loss success.

Of course, during our initial consultation, I would have spoken with him about his current eating behaviors, potential calorie goals to shoot for and some thoughts on how exercise and food would work together to help him succeed.

However, not everyone uses those tools at the beginning and sometimes throughout our working relationship, we have to revisit things we spoke about early on.

One day, J came in and said: “Hey, by the way, I’m down eight pounds.”

“No kidding?” I asked, “What changed?”

“Well, I cut out potatoes.”

If you don’t know me, I have a terrible poker face and I’m not sure I did a very good job of hiding my surprise or opportunity to make a sarcastic comment. I did manage to ask: “Do you typically eat a lot of potatoes?”

“Oh yes,” he replied. “You know, hash browns for breakfast, chips or fries with a sandwich at lunch and mashed potatoes or a baked potato at dinner.”


In J’s case, he not only made a sweeping change to his diet, he found one area where abundance occurred, stripped it away completely and dropped a good chunk of weight.

One point of interest was that, J didn’t reference all of the potato consumption during our initial consult. If he had, it might have sparked an avenue to travel to make some small changes and see more immediate results on the scale.

And J wouldn’t be alone in that regard.

It’s not uncommon for a potential client to not completely unveil what their diet looks like in reality during a consult. Sometimes, they simply forget and sometimes, an individual might feel some degree of shame or embarrassment that a certain food (or behavior) is in greater abundance than they care to admit.

It’s not just food either, clients might not mention how much they drink, how poorly they sleep or even remember all of the pre-existing injuries they may have before getting started with an exercise regimen.

Part of this is just human nature. If we don’t meticulously track our food intake, it’s easy to forget what our “normal” is. This is similar to how it might be difficult to say how many drafts and charges occur in our bank accounts when we don’t look at our statements regularly.

On another occasion, I was working with a gentleman who ate “pretty well” but wasn’t seeing the scale move. We got on the subject of what he drank throughout the day and he remarked that he drank a low calorie drink.

“Which one would that be?” I asked.

“Oh, I drink the Arnold Palmer Lite from Arizona. I love that stuff. I’m so glad it’s low in calories.”

I looked up the drink he referenced and each serving size (12 oz) was 80 calories.

“That looks good,” I said, “How much of it do you drink?”

“I can finish a jug of it every couple of days…” he replied.

One jug, at 12 oz per serving, was 880 calories. So, he was consuming approximately 400+ calories per day with his “Lite” drink. Once we brought that to his attention, he switched to unsweetened tea with some lemon and diet ginger ale and the scale started moving the direction that he wanted.

While on the subject of liquid calories, I was working with a woman once who could give me the calorie breakdown of every meal and snack she consumed. Every food selection was “healthy”, minimally processed, and practical for her busy lifestyle. She was within an appropriate calorie range where she should have seen weight loss occur. I asked her what she drank each day.

“Water and a lot of coffee.” she said.

“Ok, cool, is the coffee black?” I asked.

“No, I put some low calorie creamer and a little bit of sugar in it.”

“Have you tried measuring those?” I asked her.

“No, never. I just eyeball it.”

I told her to try measuring the creamer and the sugar on the next day.

Her rough approximation: over 500 calories (throughout the course of the day) from her “low calorie” creamer and her sugar. They certainly add up!

“The tale of the potato” isn’t uncommon and while the potato was J’s area of abundance, for someone else it’s snacking, or it’s liquid calories (creamers, juices, alcohol), or it’s added fats (cooking with oils, avocado on toast, nut butters, nuts).

Look for the areas that appear in abundance in your diet. Keep a skeptical eye.

As always: the details matter.

*Coach Sebastian below modeling a good-sized potato.*