Some final thoughts on John McDougall’s “The Starch Solution” diet

The post  below was removed from the Facebook “McDougall’s Starch Solution Group”. I’m surprised, because there were many supportive, informative comments in response to my post.  The comments were useful, and no arguments were taking place. Many people are going through the same problems I experienced, and it seems short-sighted to try to cover that up.

Because the post was removed, I have left the group and am continuing my search for a workable diet. There were useful suggestions after my post and I did want to read them again. The messages about Chef AJ were particularly interesting. I hope the original poster gets back to me by private message so I can get more information. In the meanwhile, here is the which was deleted from the group.


At this point I may get kicked out of the group, or asked to leave, but please give me one last chance to explain what I think is the problem. I mean it with sincerity and good intentions.

After much back and forth with The Starch Solution since last May, during which time I lost 40 lb and then gained it back, I have come to feel that the real “starch solution” is to eat less starches.

People have come back at me saying things like, “The MWL (Maximum Weight Loss) diet recommends reducing starches to 50% instead of 70%.”

Yes, that’s true. The MWL program does recommend less starches. But this isn’t the MWL group. We are talking about SS here in this group, right?

Or people will point out that Dr. McDougall says things like, “For more rapid weight loss you can reduce starches” and he then also refers to the MWL diet.

My problem with that is that McDougall never out-and-out admits that The Starch Solution simply does not work for some people – perhaps many people from posts I’ve seen here.

I think he shouldn’t say, “for more rapid weight loss” try MWL. I think he should say, “This diet may not work for many people because the starch ratio is too high and for some people you may not be able to lose weight AT ALL unless you reduce your starch portions to 50% or even less, like with the MWL diet.”

In other words, it’s not a matter of trying to achieve “more rapid” weight loss by reducing starches, it’s really a matter of trying to achieve any weight loss at all!

Of course another thing to consider is that a reduced starch diet like that is basically a plain old vegan, non-fat, non-nuts diet like many other doctors, including Ornish Heart-Disease-Reverse and Esselstyn propose.

I realize some people have achieved great success on Starch Solution. The Potato Strong guy seems to be doing really great.

All I’m saying is that The Starch Solution is not a universal answer and that Dr. McDougall’s 70% starch solution is too high for many people and I wish he would just admit that. Throwing in passages to the MWL diet while talking about SS and somehow mixing them up and saying they’re all the same thing seems off to me. It’s feels like “bait and switch to sell the SS book, frankly.

I do think vegan, non-oil dieting is probably healthiest. But I really do think that as far as weight loss goes, making most of your diet starch-based hurts weight loss for many people. I know it does for me.

So attack away. I’m just being honest here, as best I can.


Some final thoughts on John McDougall’s “The Starch Solution” diet — 28 Comments

  1. Dr.M is absolutely NOT doing this to sell his latest book!! He has been sending this message for decades ( long before writing SS) and his research is based on large world populations who have been lean and healthy over a long period of time eating a starch based diet. The need for a restrictive MWL is not a flaw in the starch system but rather a therapeutic measure for those of us who have become obese on a SAD diet and whose bodies no longer respond normally to a healthy diet. Even in that subset the vast majority will lose slowly but definitely lose if fully compliant. The few who claim to be exceptions are few and with closer scrutiny the culprit is not starch but rather hidden fat. Your comment suggesting a less than altruistic motive on Dr McDougalls efforts is ever so uninformed! No one has been as generous with free program; recipes; counselling and outreach than Dr. M. No one!!! He is as humanitarian as a medical professional has ever been!!

  2. Personally I thinknit is a fair essesment and she no problem with your conclusions. I actually removed myself from another group (may or may not have been how not to … 😉) for the same type of hardliner approach from admins. I think not discussing pitfalls or exceptions others might have (ie. I have a ton of food allergies so I cannot “follow” some of these diets to the letter so have done my own workarounds) limit us from knowledge and experiences that will help us on our journey, not to mention might get back to the “author” for further resurch into such “possibilities”…. Then again I’ve never been one for head in the sand adhearance to any one rule anyways 😜😜

  3. As we can see, disagreements about how “perfect” The Starch Solution is exists among people who have tried it.

    It’s Dr. McDougall’s – can I say it? – arrogance which prevents him from allowing for the possibility that there are compliant exceptions.

    If he would simply admit up front that the Starch Solution doesn’t work for everybody and that some people simply must eat less starch I would have no objections to what he promotes. But he can’t bring himself to concede that.

    Also, consider populations which are lean on starch based diets. I live in Japan where white rice is the staple and the obesity rate is 1/10th that of the U.S. But when I talk to my extremely slender friends all of them say they don’t eat rice at all three meals because they are afraid of gaining weight. And obesity doctors here recommend reducing rice intake.

    The very lean populations who eat mostly starch are traditional and the people who are lean are laborers and so can eat as much starch as they want.

    We need to take into consideration this reality and limit starch as needed, on a person-by-person basis.

    It simply is not “one size fits all” – no matter what Dr. McDougall claims.

  4. I agree…however, the Spud Fit guy ate potatoes and no fats. I think grains,legumes, etc. (lectins) play a part too. I lost weight and gained it back because I strayed..than simple. Dr. Esselstyn says that somehow fats sneak in to diets of people who are not truly compliant (see Youtube: Dr.Esselstyn – No Oil).

  5. I didn’t stray, and fats absolutely didn’t sneak back into my diet. But I started getting hunger cravings from the starches and simply ate too many calories. It’s easy to eat too many calories when you are eating so many starches. I’m not the only one to report this.

    So then McDougall says to cut back on starches, as with the MWL diet. But that’s not the Starch Solution diet then.

    So we are back again at the Starch Solution diet doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. We are all different, with different hunger trigger foods. And one size just doesn’t fit all.

  6. Doug, you are right. One size does NOT necessarily work for everyone. I have been “experimenting” with WFPB/Starch Solution for a few months now. For me, sugar is a trigger. Any amount. Dr. McD does say you can use it sparingly, but I need to avoid it completely. Bread is another trigger food. We all need to find what works best for us, as our bodies are all unique and come with different health issues and “diet” histories. Trying to stick totally to any one program hasn’t worked for me so far, and I continue to carefully surf the vast waters of weight loss/diet/health information that is out there. Support groups can be helpful, but not always necessary. At the end of the day, we are each ultimately responsible for our own health, and we alone face the mirror and the scale each day. My best to you as you continue your journey!

  7. I came to the SS forum out of curiosity. I don’t try to eat that way bc in the last 35 years I’ve tried every WOE. I like butter, coconut oil, and other fats and I like meat as a condiment and 2 raw eggs per day. I like nuts and cultured milk and a lot of veggies, and legumes & white rice for soluble fiber. I eat a lot of fresh juicy fruit. I digest these foods well. I don’t over eat.

  8. I think the answer is that people make their plate with 70 % starches by volume, not by calories. Starches are very calorie dense. So, that throws us off. 50-70% of your calories from starches and NOT overeating is the real issue. In our cultural we have trained our bodies and our brains to think we need more food than we actually do. So, I would count calories for a week or so just to get realistic portions and ratios in your head. I truly hope this is helpful. God Bless!

  9. Whilst I agree that there is no one-size fits all approach to losing weight, I can see why your posts in the group were removed. There were a lot of comments suggesting that the members who defended the plan (because it had worked for them) were acting like they were part of a cult, that’s just rude. People often see these groups as a refuge away from being criticised for the way they eat so when debate gets heated posts are flagged and mods have to do something. Personally, if I feel a plan isn’t working for me I just quietly move on, without the drama.

    I have been losing weight steadily roughly following the plan, but I’m making sure to eat loads of fruits and veggies with my meals. And to reach for fruits and veggies for snacks rather than rice and beans (which I could easily overeat). The book does say you need to eat plenty of fruit and veg, but from what I have seen often people underestimate how much that is (to be fair I do think the book is a little vague about how much this is).

    I think another thing that’s often overlooked is the reason why people overeat and I think that’s sadly missing from the starch solution. Are you eating because you’re hungry or are you really thirsty or bored or stressed? There are so many reasons why we over-eat I think key is finding yours. I like to think if I don’t want to eat an apple or some cucumber then I’m not really hungry.

    So, basically I agree that you the amount of starches people can eat and still lose weight will vary from person to person. I don’t agree that means McDougall is only in it to sell books and I can understand why people have defended him.

  10. There weren’t a “lot” of comments suggesting supporters were acting like they were part of a cult. There was one such comment. 99% of the comments were helpful, informative, supportive and practical. There was no need at all to delete the post. That was heavy handed in my opinion.

    If you can only report success and can’t talk about real-life problems it’s useless as a group anyway. My post did not get “heated” at all. It was a very calm, thoughtful discussion with many really useful comments. It’s a loss to the members that they can’t now learn the useful information commenters posted there.

    While I don’t think McDougall is necessarily in it just to sell books, I think with the “Starch Solution” he is, to a degree, using a bait and switch tactic, suggesting everybody will lose weight following his plan, refusing to concede that’s not the case, and then mentioning MWL as a way out – but even then not conceding lower starch ratios might actually be required to lose any weight at all (not just to “speed up” weight loss). I’ve seen many posts from people saying they cannot lose at such high starch ratios. They can’t all be wrong.

  11. I have a friend, who actually is a doctor, and his girlfriend got very sick. I designed a food plan to allow her to gain weight. It was primaily based on high density starches to meet her caloric needs. Even a small woman can eat 1500 to 2000 calories a day, which she has been doing.

    Your correct in pointing out that starches are not a good weight loss primary food. But, why the heck didn’t you notice weight gain as it occurred? You lost 40 and the gained some/modt back, yet didnt modify?

    Your post seems to place the locus of control on others.

    When i noticed i did not lose on starch based PBWF, I modified to lower density foods, staying away from dehydrated cooked starches like breads and cookies. Even then I neede to add a food window starting at 5 pm till bedtime.

    Your post was rude by including “bait and switch.” That phrase had no place in there. Did you expect them to be happy about being implied cheats?

    I belive i was the one who tipped you in the PBWF direction. Why no email to me during this time?

  12. Rebounding is a universal problem experienced by most dieters in all diets. It is estimated that over 80% or 90% of people on any diet experience rebound. Once it starts it’s not quite as simple to control as your comment implies.

    I didn’t “place the locus of control” on others. I simply pointed out that the Starch Solution makes claims that aren’t true for everybody – but Dr. McDougall won’t admit it.

    The “bait and switch” characterization is true. Dr. McDougall out and out claims that everybody loses weight if they comply and only suggests MWL if you want to “accelerate” your weight lose. He won’t concede that SS doesn’t work for everybody, even if you are in perfect compliance. The bait and switch is saying that everybody can lose weight eating 70% starch. It entices you into something that is an exaggeration. The switch is hidden in the book where he suggests the MWL plan to “improve” weight lose. It’s not rude to point this out; it’s just factual.

    I am acronym challenged. I have no idea what PBWF means, nor do I remember your post or request for an email.

  13. Thank you so much for your post. I’ve struggled on the starch solution, tried to follow it to the letter of the law without very small results (even tried the potato strong solution) and been admonishing myself. I’ve been frustrated because I didn’t want to go back to a high protein, no starch diet again after listening to all the facts on the studies and documentaries. (This has always worked marvelously for me in terms of weight-loss, but I feel dreadful on it)

    I can’t believe I was so daft not to consider that the 70% starch was the problem. I’m going to cut the starch, increase veggies and fruit and keep trying. I also appreciated the comment above about not touching sugar at all, that I must admit is also a trigger for me and hasn’t helped at all and I’m going to be EVEN MORE pedantic about the possibility of hidden fats.

    Thanks everyone. I have hope again!!

  14. 70% starch seems like a lot of starch! Even on a vegan, no oil program, I ate starches, but mostly whole wheat pasta, whole wheat bread and oatmeal. Not sure why they would take down your post, except, as you said, it does help to have positive responses to support a program.

    It sounds like you’re still trying to figure out the right proportions that work for you, personally. All diets are not for all people. I think many of us have to observe and figure out what works for us. I have figured out my proportions, and I don’t eat starchy veggies, and just the pasta and bread. For me, vegan with mostly veggies, tofu/tempe, and stir fries with lots of hot sauce works for me. As soon as I go on more starches, on goes more pounds…so it may have to do with the individual body type. Plus, I’m small, so it’s easy to gain weight.

    I know this is an older post, but for some reason I wasn’t getting your posts, but now I am again.

    By the way, my 28-year-old daughter is moving permanently to Nagoya, Japan, to marry her Japanese boyfriend. (She attended Kyushu University before.) I will be visiting her at some point, and might it be possible to meet up in Tokyo sometime when I’m there just for tea or chatting? I was on the Dean Ornish forum for awhile.

    Good luck with figuring out what works for you. We’re all different shapes, sizes and types.

  15. Yes, I’m still struggling with the right proportions. Actually, I don’t think it’s necessarily proportions at all. It’s total calories. Calories count whether you count them or not. Everything else is just a trick to get you to naturally limit calories. But I think maybe calorie counting, and more activity, and less “grazing” throughout the day – common sense things like that – are most effective. And for me, logging calories so I know what’s going on.

    For sure if you are in Tokyo let’s have some tea and chat!


  16. My own experience on SS was a failure, so I understand where you’re coming from.
    I’m still trying to make it work, though, as I’m quite desperate to lose weight.

    4 years ago, I lost 30 lbs in a few months on a ketogenic diet, but my health suffered greatly from eating meat.
    That drove me to try to find a healthy plant-based diet.
    I discovered and switched to SS.
    The scale’s needle hasn’t moved in 2.5 years.
    I’ve tried several Mary Minis as well, but those too have failed to move the needle.
    One would think that eating absolutely nothing but potatoes (or whole grain rice, which was another MM I tried) would lead to weight loss.
    Actually eating a week of nothing but potatoes led to a bit of weight gain!
    In desperation I have contacted McDougall’s office, and was in email conversation with Mary McD, and Jeff Novick.
    Both eventually gave up on my case.

  17. I’ve been having good luck lately with whole food plant based eating following Dr. Greger’s guidelines in How Not To Die. Check out

  18. I think we have a huge problem with calories. For some people the ss will reduce calorie intake. For some it won’t. How do we get that satiety?

  19. If you ask me, that’s just one side of the story, the other one is higher essential nutrient density. For me it is protein. If my organism does not get enough of this nutrient, then it craves for more.

  20. … and some essential fatty acids, I suppose, walnuts, beans. If those are missing, the body is craving for more. This is what I have been missing from my tests with SS.

  21. I’m amazed at how people think you can have too many starches and or bodies are so different. Dr. M HAS THE DATA TO BACK IT UP. I have been working out since high school. I travel in the CPG….consumer package goods…yes, supplier for grocery stores. I’m 56, still training. Eating like Adam and Eve works. The startch gives you a full feeling. Working out burns fat. Its is very simple, move you body, incorperate some stretch training, eat clean. Trt to eat your heavy carbs in AM. You still need to put in the hard work. Sorry couch potato does not count as a startch. Move and stick with Dr M.

  22. Calories count whether you count them or not.

    Please check out my more recent posts. I’m down 116 lb now and just a few pounds from a normal BMI.

    To get here I did have to also log calories and be careful of calorie density.

    I think McDougall’s starch ratio is too high. For me anyway.

  23. SS does NOT work for me because I eat natural fats from fruits, seeds and buts which are extremely important (avocado, chia seeds, almonds for example!). I don’t see the point of eating just a bunch of potatoes and greens. We also need lots of fruits. The keto and the SS diets are not for me, too restrictive. Thank you.

  24. Hi all, not sure if any of you are still interested in eating this way but if you are I recommend watching the calorie density talk by Jeff Novice. He gave this talk at one of the McDougall weekend programmes I believe and its helped me understand how to eat on this lifestyle better. Its absolutely about calories but the trick is lowering the calorie density of your food so you can eat to satiety while in a calorie deficit. That’s the trick. So you’re at a deficit but aren’t battling your hungry drive and driving yourself mad!!

  25. Yes, I agree. In fact, just today I posted to a Starch Solution group on Facebook the following:

    Starch is what is satiating. But I do think you can overdo it though, because many starches are high in calorie density. I concentrate on lower calorie density starches, like potatoes.

    I’ve lost 125 lb so far, am down to 158 lb, am at a normal BMI for the first time in my life, and my HbA1c blood sugar went down from a dangerously high 12 to a completely normal 5.5 and I’ve been off of blood sugar meds for over a year now.

    That said, I still have to watch calories. I often say the true “Starch Solution” is to avoid eating too many starches. It would be easy for a food addict like me to add an extra potato to dinner and munch away at it, even though I’m not technically hungry. So calories still count, whether you count them or not. In that sense, I disagree with Dr. McDougall.

    I’m more of a Chef AJ follower in that I am ultra careful about calorie density and make sure to have lots of vegetables with each meal – more than Dr. McDougall thinks is necessary with his basic veggie to starch ratio.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *