The Shangri-La Diet
|LC Class||RM222.2 .R5597 2007|
The Shangri-La Diet is both the name of a book by the psychologist Seth Roberts, a professor at Tsinghua University and professor emeritus at UC Berkeley, and the name of the diet that the book advocates. The book discusses consuming 100–400 calories per day in a flavorless food such as extra light olive oil one hour outside of mealtimes as a method of appetite suppression leading to weight loss.
As a graduate student, Roberts studied animal cognition, specifically rat psychology. As a psychology professor, Roberts read a report by Israel Ramirez, a scientist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, about the effect of saccharin on the growth and weight of rats. Based on this research, he developed a new theory of weight control. The theory is based mostly on self-experimentation data that lead him to conclude a relationship, notably a primal relationship, with calories consumed and "flavor" programmed by the brain. A key insight came from the observation of subjects who were unfamiliar to drinking common soft drinks; they uniformly recoiled at the experience. He recommended eating foods with a low glycemic index like sushi. The result was a loss of significant weight. 
In 2000, Roberts visited Paris. He noticed in himself a significant loss of appetite and speculated that it was due to experiencing unfamiliar flavors of soft drinks that were not available to him in the USA. He reasoned, postulated, and concluded that there was a very deep association of familiar "flavorful" flavors with the regulation of body weight and that what a person eats can alter the setpoint. The more familiar and "flavorful" the food, the greater the effect on the body's setpoint or self-regulating system. So, accordingly, eating flavorful junkfood that is very high in flavor will increase the setpoint while taking 100-400 "flavorless" calories per day between meals will reduce the body's setpoint. Seth Roberts focused entirely on the psychology of the association by the brain with calories and familiar flavors and that effect on the setpoint.
The book features short anecdotes from followers of the diet who had heard of it through Roberts' blog or The New York Times. Roberts' diet is based on the fundamental principle of a set point – the weight which, according to Roberts, a person's brain strives to maintain. When actual weight is below the set point, appetite increases; when actual weight is above the set point, appetite decreases. Furthermore, eating certain foods can raise or lower the set point. Foods that have a strong flavor-calorie relationship (such as fast food or donuts) raise the set point, whereas bland foods which are slowly digested (like extra light olive oil or fructose mixed with water) lower the set point. Roberts states that the diet is based upon connecting two unconnected fields: weight control and associative learning. Because of this, the research behind the diet is from multiple fields, ranging from Pavlovian psychology to physiology to rat psychology.
About the diet
The diet calls for consuming 100–400 calories per day of flavorless food between normal meals (i.e. any foods with flavor). The flavorless food may be extra-light (not extra-virgin) olive oil or unflavored sugar water for a weight loss of about a pound per week. For additional impact for enhanced loss of weight up to 2 pounds per week, he recommends eating bland food. It must be consumed in a flavorless window, which is at least one hour after flavors have been consumed, and at least one hour before flavors will be consumed. The consumption of flavorless calories supposedly lowers the set point, and therefore, lowers weight.
Through word of mouth, the book became a New York Times bestseller in May, 2006. It was featured on Good Morning America, on which journalist Diane Sawyer tried a tablespoon of olive oil. It received additional coverage by The Times, ABC News, The New York Times, and The Washington Post.
Roberts was criticized by UCLA medical professor John Ford on the fact that it had not been subjected to scientific peer review. In an interview on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's Sunday Night program, nutritionist David Jenkins also criticized the lack of scientific research validating the diet. In the same program, Roberts responded, saying that the results are there for all to see and that "there was no need for a big study to demonstrate the obvious". Jenkins admitted that the diet can only be benign, saying, "It is both cheap and safe."
- Interview with Author Dr. Seth Roberts The Diet Channel
- Ramirez, Israel Stimulation of Energy Intake and Growth by Saccharin in Rats September 25, 1989.
- Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything(Allen Lane, 2005) 217 ISBN 0-7139-9806-7, ISBN 978-0-7139-9806-1
- The Elephant Speaks "It’s true, in the grand scientific tradition, that my discovery of sugar water’s useful effects began with an accident (in Paris)."
- Roberts, Seth (April 25, 2006). The Shangri-La Diet: The No Hunger Eat Anything Weight-Loss Plan. Perigee Trade. ISBN 0-399-53316-8.
- Science behind the diet on SethRoberts.net
- Sclafani et al.Flavor Conditioning as a Function of Fat Source on ScienceDirect.net
- Cabanec, Michel Evidence that transient nicotine lowers the body weight set point on ScienceDaily
- "Hardcover Advice". The New York Times. May 21, 2006.
- "Oil and Water: Key to Weight Loss?". ABC. November 14, 2005. Retrieved 2008-06-26.
- Dubner, Stephen (November 14, 2005). "The Shangri-La Diet, Between Hard Covers". Freakonomics Blog, New York Times. Retrieved 2008-06-26.
- A fat lot of use on TimesOnline.co.uk, Jan 7, 2007
- "Oil and water: key to weight loss?". abcnews.com. November 14, 2005.
- Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt (September 11, 2005). "Does the truth lie within?". New York Times.
- "Diets do's and don'ts". Washington Post. August 13, 2006.
- Ford, John Troubles in Shangri-La Archived 2009-10-04 at the Portuguese Web Archive on TCSDaily
- David Jenkins YouTube Video
- Seth Roberts Blog. Cause of Death, 10 May 2014. Retrieved on 6 June 2014.