Strange Experiments Lead to Shangri-La

Seth Roberts likes to do weird experiments on himself. And in so doing, he may have accidentally tripped upon the craziest weight-loss trick yet: a few calories a day of bland food will reset your body’s set-point.

Calling this technique the “Shangri-la” diet (a misnomer), some anectodal evidence is starting to pile up in Roberts’ favour. For some tips on how to implement this, check out Creating Passionate Users.

Roberts is the latest in a line of “anecdotes over science” type science writers who have produced such popular works as The Tipping Point and Freakonomics. We like good stories better than good science and, for dieters, this is a damn good story: a little sugar or oil each day can lead to significant, long -term weight loss.

Yet, as cohesive as these author’s stories may be, the interpretations and conclusions are subjective and not a matter of fact. As Frank Serpico pointed out to Malcom Gladwell after the publication of Blink, not all is as it seems to be.

This is not to say that the Shangri-La diet doesn’t work – it may well do. But if and how and why are essentially unknowns.

It’s worth noting some of the experiments Roberts’ has been putting himself through and his conclusions:

  1. Seeing faces in the morning on television decreased mood in the evening (>10 hrs later) and improved mood the next day (>24 hrs later), yet had no detectable effect before that (0–10 hrs later). The effect was strongest if the faces were life-sized and at a conversational distance. Travel across time zones reduced the effect for a few weeks.
  2. Standing 8 hours per day reduced early awakening and made sleep more restorative, even though more standing was associated with less sleep.
  3. Morning light (1 hr/day) reduced early awakening and made sleep more restorative.
  4. Breakfast increased early awakening.
  5. Standing and morning light together eliminated colds (upper respiratory tract infections) for more than 5 years.
  6. Drinking lots of water, eating low-glycemic-index foods, and eating sushi each caused a modest weight loss.
  7. Drinking unflavored fructose water caused a large weight loss that has lasted more than 1 year. While losing weight, hunger was much less than usual. Unflavored sucrose water had a similar effect. The new theory of weight control, which helped discover this effect, assumes that flavors associated with calories raise the body-fat set point: The stronger the association, the greater the increase. Between meals the set point declines.

It is likely these experiement overlapped. So I suspect that the Shangri-La diet may work better if you stand 8 hours a day and get an hour of morning sunshine.

Any other suggestions for Mr. Roberts? I would like to know the effect on metabolism of taking a freezing cold shower every morning but would rather not try it myself. I can think of a few others but they’re not fit for committing to black and white…