Shangri-la diet — have you tried it?
May 2, 2008 7:47 AM   Subscribe

Further to this question from 2006, has anybody tried the Shangri-la diet in the two years since? Note I'm not looking for information or websites. Already got them. I'm looking for personal experience stories.
posted by deeper red to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I tried it for about six weeks. Didn't have any net effect--the oil did reduce my appetite a little, but apparently only as much as what was covered by the oil, so I was still ingesting the same total calories and did not lose any weight.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:05 AM on May 2, 2008

Best answer: I did it for many months. I lost about 25 pounds, then it started to slow down dramatically. I found it a lot harder to shed 1-2 pounds here and there (while not changing anything else that I had already been doing). Overall I never felt deprived, which I liked, but in general drinking the oil was never a pleasant experience. It was easier when it just became habit. People never really understood what I was doing, not that it bothered me, but you do grow weary of constantly explaining to people that it's actually not unhealthy and you're actually not crazy. It's probably a lot like being a Ron Paul supporter I imagine.
posted by genial at 8:14 AM on May 2, 2008 [4 favorites]

One thing I forgot to mention. I found the forums a helpful source of encouragement with some extremely nice people, However, some of them will shout the praises of SLD like a second religion and refuse to accept that it doesn't work for everyone. I personally don't believe it hurts you to try it, but depending on your body type you have to accept that you may not see the results that others have. That being said, I'm a firm believer that for the subset that it works, it works.
posted by genial at 8:19 AM on May 2, 2008

Best answer: I've been doing it. The weight loss has been slow and has required that I pay somewhat more attention to what I'm eating than I had been led to expect, and I haven't always managed to stay on it, but I did lose about 30 pounds last year, and am down about 10 so far this year. That's two pants sizes overall. Shortly I will see the underside of 300 for the first time in over a decade. I still have a ways to go, obviously (I would like to be 220-ish), but hey, I've got the time.
posted by kindall at 8:23 AM on May 2, 2008

I did it for a few weeks (using oil); it seemed to drastically curtail my appetite at first, but I stopped for reasons I can't quite recall. The act of drinking the oil wasn't an issue for me, so I imagine that it either stopped working or I never managed to burn-in the habit. (These days, I'm searching for a gym; that's a habit I want to burn in!)
posted by korpios at 8:51 AM on May 2, 2008

I tried it for a few days. It worked in terms of reducing my appetite and caloric intake, but it isn't really pleasant so I did not continue. I was only looking to lose a few pounds anyway and there are easier ways to achieve moderate weight loss, like watching the carbs and fats, and eating lots of vegetables.
posted by caddis at 8:59 AM on May 2, 2008

Ben Popken, of Consumerist, recorded his weight loss over time, using the Shangri-la diet plan. A really interesting discussion, this includes the web-based apps that he used to track progress.
posted by Susurration at 11:53 AM on May 2, 2008

Best answer: The Spousal Unit and I tried it enthusiastically for several months with no positive effects.
posted by trinity8-director at 1:41 PM on May 2, 2008

Best answer: I lost 105 pounds in a year on SLD using olive oil and have kept it off for five months of not doing the oil due to travel. (Flying with oil is not fun.) The compulsion to eat carb-heavy junk food pretty much disappeared in the first few days and I started making rational decisions about what to eat. (Which is where kindall's excellent point comes in -- I had to then figure out how much to eat to lose weight.) I also gave up a serious Diet Coke habit without even thinking about it.
posted by backupjesus at 1:46 PM on May 2, 2008

Best answer: I have been on this diet for 2 & ½ weeks and I have noticed a marked lowering of overall hunger and cravings for fatty foods. I lost 5-6 kilos within the first 9 days, but the loss has slowed and is not as impressive as at first, this may have to do with stoping using ELOO & using sugar water, or it may be because I am doing pretty intense exercise which is building muscle? It may also be due to some side effects from coming off a medication associated with weight gain/fluid retention. We shall see.

I have been in two minds the whole time, is this for real, or is this another phony load of old crap? The science seems to hold up. The theory is sound, and this is maybe why the diet is so persuasive. The idea of losing overall weight by taking in bland tasting calories is counterintuitive, but metabolic rate being influenced by taste receptor signaling is by no means crank science - it is extremely likely not the only factor involved, though. Seth Roberts' 'set point' theory has not been tested scientifically; the reported results are subjective. But they look persuasive.

The thought has crossed my mind that, well, he's a psychologist and the diet does have 'miracle' claims that kind of mirror other fad diets, so maybe it is a big psych test & he's writing a thesis on suggestibility & fad diets or something. But the reduction in hunger *is* real, because by this time usually when I've cut down my junk food diet as drastically as this, I've gone on a mad KFC binge or something by now. Maybe it is auto suggestion.

I found the ELOO vile beyond description. Heating it helps a bit, but it is not the taste that turns me off, it's the texture. For some reason it just makes me want to vom. But both the book & the blogs say that the sugar water works just as well, so I've been using that. I may try sugar water & ELOO, see how that goes.

I'm not sure. It seems to be working. But no diet anywhere is going to give you instant results, it is like turning a cruise ship, it is a slow-at-first but incremental thing.

There appear to be some unreasonable expectations set up by the SLD, like the weight will just fall off. That is neither healthy nor likely, because according to Roberts' own theory, the body is struggling to maintain its own weight set point, so the change is not gonna be immediate.

The only thing I think is really dangerous in SLD is that it encourages you to get on the scales all the time and log your weight. I think this can lead to disappointment. You should only weigh yourself every week or even every month, or make a graph of trends over months, because you are dealing with a metabolism that changes only slowly. You must keep at it, and don't expect instant results, because that just doesn't happen, so constantly checking the scales can be detramental, IMHO. I think the diet needs to be run over a long period of time, like a year, before you can get an accurate picture.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 11:52 PM on May 2, 2008

Response by poster: Henry, I have very similar thoughts.

I don't think this diet is renegade psychological research. Seth Roberts wouldn't get that kind of research proposal past the ethics committee. Plus, he'd be sued into oblivion by people who bought the book. I think he's genuine. I just don't agree with him.

That said, I think you're right when you say there's a high percentage of suggestibility here. This is proven by the people on his message boards who are astonishingly evangelistic and almost cultish about the fact it works. It's important for them to believe, as if belief is what's making it work. People on other diets might just say, "If it doesn't work for you then too bad."

I noticed that nearly everybody doing the Shangri-la "diet" combines it with a traditional diet and/or exercise. This is perhaps key. Wouldn't logic suggest that, if you start a proven diet, and lose weight, that the diet is the cause?

The oil and sugar water are interesting. They're two of the most commonly used placebos, of course (sugar pills and snake oil, anybody?). I think they do help, but not in the way Seth Roberts explains. What they do is pass control for an internal process to an external agent. "I have no hunger [internal process] because I drink oil [external process]". Anybody who has dieted will tell you that relying on external agents, such as diet clubs, or even keeping a dieting log, makes it easier.

More crucially, taking the oil/sugar water causes people to pay minute attention to their appetite and to question it constantly. This is how the "appetite suppression" component works, and this is the second key explanatory factor. You might think you've listened to your appetite in the past, but that's before you tried Shangri-la. You practically have a constant two-way conversation with it all the time. You question it constantly. The old ways of your hunger prodding you to eat break down completely. You redefine the relationship.

Again, the oil and sugar water act as an external agent for this. Am I really hungry? Well, I took the oil two hours ago, so I can't be.

Questioning the appetite also brings with it a lot of common sense. Seth Roberts quotes one of his case studies in the book as saying that she was so confident in the appetite suppression that she would try and get away with eating as little as possible at each meal. Well, if we all did this, we all might lose weight, regardless of drinking oil or sugar water.

What I wonder about most is how Seth Roberts is viewed by his peers. He wrote this best-selling diet book based on anecdotes, and without a shred of evidence above and beyond some tests on rats. If I were another psychologist, I'd be giving him a wide berth at conferences and so on. I wouldn't want to be associated with him at all.
posted by deeper red at 2:26 AM on May 3, 2008

Response by poster: Incidentally, the set-point theory isn't the controversial part of Seth Roberts' theory. Most people who know about these things accept that a person's weight holds at a set point. There's even been some research that this is linked to a certain hormone secreted by fat cells, and as such is measurable.

What's controversial about Shangri-la is that Roberts claims tasteless calories can lower the set-point, effectively making your body think it should be thinner, and thereby causing it to kill the appetite and get to the body to this thinner state. Hence the theory that you shouldn't have to alter what you eat when doing Shangri-la, despite the fact that everybody does.
posted by deeper red at 7:32 AM on May 3, 2008

Best answer: More crucially, taking the oil/sugar water causes people to pay minute attention to their appetite and to question it constantly. This is how the "appetite suppression" component works, and this is the second key explanatory factor.

I'm sorry, but the kind of hunger that used to drive me to eat an entire large pizza and chase it down with a pint of ice cream did not go away because I am paying minute attention to it. It barely went away when I stuffed myself in that fashion. Nor was it in any way imaginary.

Yes, if we ate less, we'd lose weight. But normally, you'd be hungry if you did that. That's kind of the whole point of this diet: you can eat less, yet not be hungry. You gain the luxury of paying attention to what you eat, instead of eating whatever you can get the fastest to satisfy the cravings.

I suspect that people who don't have a weight problem have heard the word "hunger" but are not quite clear on what it actually means. "I am hungry" does not mean "I could eat a little something in the near future, or not," it means "OH MY GOD I MUST EAT AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE RIGHT NOW, GET OUT OF MY WAY OR I SHALL CONSUME YOU AS WELL, I'M NOT PICKY."

To put this in perspective, I once nearly bit the head off a girl at a fast-food drive-thru because she had extended my food to me, then pulled it back because she'd forgotten to put napkins in the bag or something like that. Not one of my proudest moments, I'll confess, but Christ, don't toy with a hungry man like that! -- Well, that doesn't happen anymore, thankfully.
posted by kindall at 2:43 PM on May 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: YEah, the hunger suppression does seem to be a little bit more effective than just suggestion might .. er.. suggest. For one, not everyone is susceptible to suggestion. For the same reasons that not everyone can be hypnotized.

I mean, I am just not hungry. Period. I have been eating fucking rabbit food for the last 2 weeks, seriously. I mean, I had a teeny tiny chocolate bar the other day, well it was mostly biscuit, but that is the only damn thing I've had that approaches 'junk food' in the last fortnight. And I am not craving junk food. That just doesn't happen to me, I have a big appetite. I don't believe suggestion is strong enough to overcome that, because I don't have that much belief invested in the SLD. I am losing weight with or without it, using exercise. But the SLD has made it a hell of a lot easier to not eat crappy food. So I'm running with it, because despite my deep skepticism, this appetite suppression is really quite extraordinary.

The science behind Roberts' theory is more than just anecdotes; I know because I spent a couple of weeks trawling thru scientific papers researching these claims before I bought the book. The only scientifically untested claim is that by using the bland tasting caloric load it lowers the body's 'programmed' weight set point. But having said that, the theory behind why this functions the way he claims it does is by no means outrageous, and is backed up by a reasonable amount of data and common sense.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 9:05 PM on May 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

I tried it a few months ago for about two weeks. It worked disturbingly well. Disturbing because after four days, everything tasted like grapeseed oil, which tastes like plastic. Ugh. I've thought about trying it again with a different oil or with sugar water.

The thing I was most surprised about was the increased impulse control. I still had cravings but I was able to just say, "ok, I have a craving" and then either not eat at all, or eat something healthier. For instance, one night I found myself at the market after an 11-hour workday, craving frozen pizza, which is just about one of the worst foods to eat. However, I'd decided I was going to have one anyway, because I really wanted it and I'd been "good." I went to the frozen foods aisle...and just could not bring myself to put the frozen pizza in my basket. It just didn't seem worth it.
posted by lunasol at 10:13 PM on May 3, 2008

OP, FWIW I don't buy Roberts' set-point theory of appetite supression and I'm pretty leery of the idea of set points in general, since nonlinear systems can produce values that look like set points but are not. (Arthur De Vany used to have a paper up called "Why We Get Fat" that explained this well; it's down now, but perhaps it's in a Google cache.) What I do buy into is the idea of a taste-calorie association and that highly caloric foods are associated with tastiness, or some subconscious version of it. Consider the French fry. Why do most people find a bland vegetable cooked in a bland fat and then salted so delicious?

However, I think Roberts' key point in his SLD writings is that, if you're experimenting on yourself to benefit yourself, the causation of successes doesn't matter. Maybe SLD only works for me because of the placebo effect; if that's the case, though, it's still working for me, so why question it?
posted by backupjesus at 9:14 AM on May 4, 2008

Response by poster: The only scientifically untested claim is that by using the bland tasting caloric load it lowers the body's 'programmed' weight set point.

The "bland calories" idea is key point to the diet, and as you say it's completely untested apart from anecdote. I'm talking about rigourous double-blind testing.

But I think I've given the wrong impression, and I'm sorry. I was massively impressed reading Kindall's story, and I wish him/her all the luck in the world. What (s)he's achieved is impressive. I speak as a fat person who recently visited a dietician and realised within minutes that I knew about three times more than her about weight loss, simply because I've tried (and failed) at some many diets. Being fat is an illness that doctors and most thin people think you can brush off like a cold. It's a horrible combination of psychology and physiology. I compare it to an addiction like heroin, but you can't give it up because you need it to live. You might as well be addicted to air.

What worries me is that, to quote most of its proponents, "Shangri-la doesn't work for everybody" (I think Roberts himself quotes an 80% success rate), which rings alarm bells. It tells me there are other variables here that Roberts isn't taking into account, which means his theory isn't sound. It means he doesn't have the whole picture, because if he did then there would be 100% success, or there would be a damn good reason why the 20% don't succeed (seemingly including me right now, after a week and half a bottle of oil, although I'm not giving up just yet).

Thank you for your replies. You've brought me to a much closer understanding of this diet, which is what I wanted. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go and drink 4 tablespoons of oil.
posted by deeper red at 12:18 PM on May 4, 2008

Oddly enough, four tablespoons may be too much. I was taking three a day for a long time. Then I dropped to two, and the appetite suppression became significantly more noticeable. I've been doing two a day since then. So it can vary; if you're not having much luck, try reducing it a bit and seeing what the effect is. Or replace some of your daily dose with the sugar water, or split it up into morning and evening doses. (I get better appetite suppression when I have some oil and some sugar water, but the sugar water's just not as convenient, so I go with the oil even though I could probably be losing weight faster.) As Roberts would say, experiment a bit.

I should probably also note that it took over a month for it to really kick in for me in the first place, so if you're just starting, be patient. Roberts also mentions in the book that if you were gaining weight when you start the diet, it might take a while to work.

I think no diet works for everyone. People are overweight for different reasons, so addressing one cause (as Shangri-La does) will only work for those people who are overweight for that reason. Roberts expresses skepticism in his book that Shangri-La will work for "emotional eaters," though some who have classified themselves that way have reported success. I think he is right that a miscalibrated sense of hunger is the main reason a lot of people are overweight, and I think the diet does work with that problem. Human biochemistry is still a very poorly understood topic, and I would be far more skeptical of any plan that claimed it could help everyone.

There are many factors in making something "work," including lifestyle and personality. Atkins, for example, worked great for me when I was in my 20s. It doesn't work now, because my tolerance for massive lifestyle upheaval and inconvenience is simply much lower now than it was then. Then, I could do Atkins because it was different and therefore cool; six months away from forty, coolness has long ago ceased to be a motivating factor. Also, I know that while I lost a lot of weight on Atkins, I also gained a lot more back afterward because I just couldn't keep eating that way. So actually, it didn't "work" for me either, in the long run.

Good luck deeper red.
posted by kindall at 2:38 PM on May 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

OK, I can confirm that this diet does indeed work.

I have dropped two pants sizes. I have lost approx 11 kilos in 2 months.

I walked past the bakery today and looked at all the yummy cakes and pastries and didn't have any kind of desire to eat them. I mean, they look and smell great, but I just didn't feel like eating them. This is not like me, people.

I should stress that I have been pretty much eating whatever I like, when I feel hungry. I have eaten fish & chips (but unlike normal, I felt full before I finished the entire serve, so I stuck it in the fridge, which is a new thing for me). There is still half a tub of ice cream in the fridge after 4 weeks, which is unheard of in my house. I love ice cream and tend to crave it late at night.. well, that's no longer the case. The other day I ate a couple of chicken pies, the small serve ones.. wow, they really filled me up, whereas usually they'd leave me craving more tasty savory foods.

I am not craving fatty or overly sweet sugary foods. I am not snacking or craving snacks as usual.

In fact, I found that I wasn't doing the diet quite right - weight loss was steady but slow, & I went back to the book & realised I wasn't taking in enough bland tasting calories - due to my basic skepticism about the diet - so I added a teaspoon of ELOO back into the process and voila, *that very night* I lost .7 of a kilo. That week my weight loss increased at a noticeably higher rate.

Overall, my eating and exercising hasn't changed, but the weight is falling off. It's unbelievable.

Verdict: the diet works.

Everyone around me is remarking on my weight loss. My overweight uncle has even been convinced to start the Shangri-La diet, and he is Mr Skeptic.

So I hope that this helps someone out there, I cannot recommend this 'metabolism hack' enough.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 4:46 AM on June 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

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