Lose weight effortlessly through the Shangri-La diet?

Seth Roberts’s book, The Shangri-La Diet: The No Hunger Eat Anything Weight-Loss Plan, is out.. Maybe I can be the first person to review it. (I’ve known Seth for over 10 years; we co-taught a class at Berkeley on left-handedness.)

Seth figured out his basic idea–that drinking unflavored sugar water lowers his “setpoint,” thus making it easy for him to lose weight–about 10 years ago, following several years of self-experimentation (see here for a link to his article). Since then, he’s tried it on other people, apparently with much success, and generalized it to inclde driking unflavored oil as a different option for keeping the setpoint down every day.

The book itself describes the method, and the theory and experimental evidence behind it. It seems pretty convincing to me, although I confess I haven’t tried the diet myself. I suppose that thousands will, now that the book has come out. If it really is widely successful, I’ll just have to say that I’m impressed with Seth for following this fairly lonely research path for so many years. I had encouraged him to try to study the diet using a controlled experiment, but who knows, maybe this is a better approach, The unflavored-oil option seems to be a good addition, in making the diet less risky for diabetics.

Some other random notes:

1. I like the idea of a moving setpoint. Although then maybe the word “setpoint” is inappropriate?

2. The book is surprisingly readable, given that I already knew the punchline (the diet itelf). A bit like the book “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” which is actually suspenseful, even though you know from the beginning that they’re the same guy.

3. In the appendix, Seth describes some published research that influenced his work. The researchers were from fairly obscure places–Laval University, Brooklyn College, and Monell Chemical Sciences Institute. Perhaps this is because animal nutrition research is an obscure field that flourishes in out-of-the-way places? Or perhaps because there are literally millions of scientific researchers around the world, and it’s somewhat random who ends up at the “top” places?

4. Near the end of the book, Seth discusses ways in which the food industry could profit from his dieting insights and make money offering foods that lower the setpoint. That’s a cool idea–to try to harness these powerful forces in society to move in that direction.

5. With thousands of people trying this diet, will there be a way to monitor its success? Or maybe now, some enterprising researchers will do a controlled experiment. It really shouldn’t be difficult at all to do such a study; perhaps it could be a good project for some class in statistics or psychology or nutrition.


P.S. See Alex’s blurb here, which I guess a few thousand more people will notice. I’m curious what Alex (and others) think about my point 5 above. In a way, you could say it’s a non-issue, since each individual person can see if the diet works for him or her. But for scientific understanding, if nothing else, I think it would be interesting to learn the overall effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of the diet.

P.P.S. Regarding point 1 above, Denis Cote writes,

Indeed, there is some talk about a settling point which is a more appropriate label. (see Pinel et al 2000. Hunger, Eating, and Ill Health, American Psychologist. 55(10), 1105-1116.

I’ll have to take a look. The American Psychologist is my favorite scientific journal in the sense of being enjoyable and interesting to read.

P.S. See here, here, and here for more on the book.

10 thoughts on “Lose weight effortlessly through the Shangri-La diet?

  1. I have a thermostat in my house. I believe it's common to refer to the temperature at which the thermostat is set as the "setpoint temperature." And yet, I can adjust the thermostat. I think most people understand the concept of a thermostat, and understand that the thermostat has a setpoint (by whatever name) at which it remains until you do something to adjust it.

    Admittedly us academics have trouble with simple concepts, sometimes. But I think we can all handle "setpoint", and I think it's a far better name than "settling point."

  2. Phil,

    My point is not just that the setpoint can be changed, but that in Seth's theory it changes every time you eat something (as illustrated in the graph on page 43 of his book). So it doesn't seem so "set" to me. With your thermostat, you have the option of leaving it at a single "set" point, but Seth claims there's no such stable point for weight.

  3. In the immortal words of Rosanne Rosannadanna, "oh, that's very different…never mind."

    I agree with you that if the "setpoint" changes every meal, it's not a "setpoint." It seems like a kinda crazy claim, though. Within any 5-year period in my adult life, my weight has never varied by more than three pounds from the 5-year average (as far as I know; I confess to not weighing myself very often). And yet, I have almost never consciously tried to modify my diet or exercise regime in order to maintain or attain a particular weight. It sure _seems_ like my body is "trying" to maintain a particular weight, as if I did have a setpoint that varies only very slowly with time. (I am getting heavier at about 1.2 pounds per year on average…all muscle, natch).

  4. "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" is the one of the first books about self-experimentation. But maybe you knew that.

    Your most interesting comment is about the relative obscurity of the institutions where the data that led to my theory was collected. It is curious that Michel Cabanac, who to my mind is obviously a genius, with all sorts of fundamental contributions, ended up at a relatively obscure university. Surely it says something about the ability of those around him in his early career, which was in Paris, to recognize talent. It is even more curious that Israel Ramirez, after ten years of brilliant research, left science entirely and became a software engineeer. At Monell I think he was supported entirely by grants ("soft money").

    Here is another explanation to consider for the pattern that you have pointed out: People at more prestigious places such as Harvard and Yale who might have done the research I relied on were too busy continuing to do research similar to the research that got them to Harvard or Yale. They took their positions to be validation of their research methods, ideas, and/or topics. Whereas Cabanac and Ramirez were quite open to new ideas and new ways of doing things. There is a book all about a similar pattern in business titled The Innovator's Dilemma — a tendency for the most powerful innovations to NOT come from the top of an industry. People at the top of an industry play it too safe, the author concludes. They are "imprisoned by success" he may say. When Jane Jacobs was writing her first book, for some reason she met with some professors of urban planning from Harvard. I think they liked her and wanted to help her. They told her she should do surveys, which was (a) what they themselves did and (b) useless advice.

  5. Given that this is a statistics oriented blog, do we have some statistics to show for this thing? To analyze? Parse? Consider?

  6. That is quite an interesting discovery. One thing thought that I would say is that the food industry probably finds it much more profitable to peddle its existing adulterated and chemical ridden foods than for a "lose weight cure".

    This is probably the biggest obstacle to the proliferation of this idea. In fact, if it could have large commercial success, I'm sure that Seth would have kept the "recipe" a secret ;)

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