My Backwards Potato Famine

Please don’t tell me I should see a doctor first. I already know this may be crazy. Dangerously unhealthy. But I’m doing it.

First, I have an insanely high cortisol level. (See photo.)  No one seems to know why. I’ve been to all kinds of doctors – who did all sorts of tests, including my collecting 24 hours’ worth of urine and getting enough blood tests to feed a village — of vampires. CAT-scans and MRIs found a tumor on one my adrenal glands. (They also found dozens of fibroids in my uterus, but that’s a story for another day.)The nephrologist had a surgeon go in through my crotch with a looong tube to take vein samplings from both glands. (Mercifully, I was out cold for this.)  The endocrinologist said it wasn’t the tumor, it is just stress. (Though the only stress I can think of is Trump, his supporters, and people going through my crotch to get pieces of veins near my kidneys.) Long story short – they don’t know how to fix it. I was supposed to have surgery to get an adrenal gland taken out. I was looking forward to it; I desperately wanted to get fixed. But then they told me that wouldn’t work. What will work? I was told reducing stress. Do you want to know what really, really stresses me out? Telling me that all that blood, all that urine, all those tests, that long ass tube into my crotch – it was for nothing. They can’t fix me.

If you don’t know, cortisol  is the stress hormone. It pumps a fight-or-flight response into your body so you can beat that caveman over the head with a club, or run like hell away from that saber-tooth tiger. If you have high levels like I do, pretty much 24/7, it can lead to high blood pressure, fatigue, anxiety, depression, irritability and weight gain – especially in the belly and face. I don’t think I’ve been particularly depressed or irritable, no more than usual. I am anxious and very tired all the time – a weird combination that push-pull each other. But my despite taking blood pressure medication, lighting weights, eating well and walking 6 miles a day, my blood pressure is pretty high and my belly is pretty big. The former is wearing down my body while the latter is crushing my spirit.

Let’s get one thing straight off the bat – there is nothing wrong with being fat. I can rattle off the names of dozens of truly gorgeous women we would call fat or obese. Most of them take great care of themselves; they are fit and boast good blood pressures and blood sugars. They are rightly body positive, sexy and good about themselves. I, however, am not one of them. 

I’ve been slim all my life. When I started to see myself gaining some weight in my 30s, I started running. One month after my first jog I entered my first race, the Midnight run in Central Park. Before long I was running 20-40 miles a week. I’ve been a bodybuilder fairly consistently since aged 22.  At my peak I regularly bench-pressed 145; earlier this year I bench-pressed 135 for 3 reps. Now, no matter what I do, I’m fat. It was bad enough that seizures have been destroying my brain cells and memory, now I no longer have agency over my body as well. I don’t feel like myself, and I don’t even look like myself. I hate it. I’m exhausted, sad and reclusive.

So, when I read Penn Gillette’s book, Presto, and he talked about a regime  that helped him lose 100 lbs, I didn’t have the luxury to dismiss it.  It’s an enetertaining book, and I recommend you read it if you want to learn more, but essentially you jump-start a completely plant-based diet with two weeksof eating nothing but potatoes. You can’t fry them, put anything in them, no pepper, salt, nothing. Plain potatoes – WITH the skin. You haveto eat the skin. You can only drink water. You can drink coffee, but it has to be black.  This is low-calorie despite the fact that you can eat as many potatoes as you want. (Turns out, it’s not all that many.)     You are supposed to do it for two weeks. This has the effect of cleansing your palate so even a corn on the cob will taste incredibly sweet your first day post-potatoes. You will wean yourself off the salt- and sugar-infused American diet.

I am on day two. It’s not easy. I’m used to having an almond butter protein smoothie  every morning, flavored yogurts, veggie burgers, pineapple fried-rice and the occasional croissant. I have only ever drunk my coffee light. Have you heard of the Marshmallow Test? It’s a famous psychological experiment where they ask individual children to sit alone in a room across from the table from a marshmallow. They are told if they resist eating the one marshmallow, 15 minutes later they will get two marshmallows. Essentially, the studylooks at delayed gratification. Researchers followed the children for 40 years. (Not surprisingly, those who were able to delay gratification did better on SAT scores, and life in general.) I don’t like marshmallows and I don’t know how I would have done in the study. But I do now know what it’s like to have a jar of capers stare you down, beckoning you with their siren song.

This is Day 2 of only being allowed to eat nothing but plain potatoes (with the skin) and drink nothing but water and black coffee (not too much). I did get light-headed last night and I have a headache as I write this, but so far so good. I’m also not supposed to exercise and to take cold showers and sleep a lot.  (Ray Cronise, the scientist behind Penn’s diet, has reasons for all this. The book explains it all.) I have committed to at least one week of my backwards potato famine, and I will shoot for the two prescribed. (I confess, had it not been a marshmallow, but say, a bag of Doritos, my fingers would have been covered in orange dust before the researcher shut the door.) I am going to really try, and that’swhy I’m writing this.

I encourage you to keep me accountable. Shame me into not going beyond my potato regimen. Do not let the capers win! Thank you.





Dixie Laite - Dame Town Writer

Author: Dixie Laite

Hi, I'm Sarah "Dixie" Laite, and I live in New York City with 5 parrots, 1 dog (Dr. Waffles) and 1 husband (Jeff). I love classic movies, animals, and haunting flea markets, ebay and TheRealReal.All my life I've been obsessed with figuring out how to navigate life as a woman. There are endless books, TV shows, gurus, guys, movies and magazines out there to guide you. But now that I'm closing in on 60, I noticed that the old rules don't apply, and most of the role models aren't old enough.I'm older now, I know more and weigh more. I'm eager to be inspired and to inspire others in return. Let's get a handle on this shit and figure it out together.

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  • Hey Dixie – wishing you well on the potato regime! Have you ever had a sleep study done? If not, I wonder if that would be helpful – maybe if they can do something or medicate to improve your sleep cycles (if that’s an issue) that might improve the cortisol levels? Just a thought. Much love and healing to you.

  • What a great read , as always.
    I’m SO sorry about your cortisol levels. I wish that I had some advice but I don’t.
    Good luck with the potato regiment. Doesn’t sound very appealing, to say the least. Still, I understand trying almost anything once.

    I completely understand the weight struggle and being anxious and exhausted simultaneously.

    Sending healing vibes.
    Another Sarah ?