Thursday, February 16, 2012

eating in shangri-la

I don't really do diets. They don't work for me. Like many women, my weight has fluctuated during my life. When things start to go too far in the up direction the only thing that has ever worked for me is to get strict with portion control and try to up my exercise regime — mostly walking or biking. A neighbor of mine noticed I was hitting the gym more often lately and thought I might be interested in The Shangri-La Diet: The No Hunger Eat Anything Weight-Loss Plan, a book she had on her shelves but had never tried. She said it sounded interesting because there was science behind the diet. I'm not a scientist, but I gave it a look.

The author, psychologist Seth Roberts, discovered that he lost weight on a trip to Paris in 2000. He connected that weight loss to consuming French soft drinks with unfamiliar flavors, claiming that consuming unfamiliar tastes naturally quelled his appetite. He connected his personal experience to a report he read by Israel Ramirez, which concerned the stimulation and growth in rats due to saccharin. He believes that our bodies have a set point, a "perfect" weight that our brain tries to maintain. When our weight goes below this magic set point number we eat more. When our weight goes above the set point, our appetite decreases and we eat less.

His Paris vacation experience caused him to theorize that consuming unfamiliar-tasting, or optimally, flavorless foods, can actually suppress the appetite. Roberts believes that we can adjust our set point by consuming 100–400 calories per day (2 tablespoons) of extra light olive oil (not extra virgin, which has flavor associations) or sugar water (made with either fructose or sucrose — he claims the body doesn't register "sweet" as a taste). Hmmm. The olive oil or sugar water should be taken an hour outside of mealtimes. Otherwise a person can eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner as they normally do. There are no other dietary suggestions or restrictions.

I am very suspicious of his suggestion of consuming sugar water, no matter his scientific claims. I think we all consume too much sugar as it is, so I knew I wasn't going to even consider trying that. But how hard would it be to take two tablespoons of a light-tasting olive oil a day? So I gave it a whirl.

What became clear after a little more than a week of trying this out is:

#1 - It's cheap and easy - extra light olive oil is easy to find
#2 - By having to leave an hour on either side of swallowing the oil, that virtually eliminates snacking, so instant willpower
#3 - I haven't noticed any of the claims of appetite suppression due to the unfamiliar or non-taste of the oil, but I am more aware of what I'm eating, which goes back to my old dieting stand-by, portion control

Bottom line: I lost three pounds in a week and a half. I'm not sure whether that loss really has anything to do with the olive oil or is more me being more cognizant of not just what I am eating, but when. The Shangri-La Diet is really more about behavior and commitment to a course than dieting. I'd be interested if those of a more scientific turn of mind had a better sense of the supposed benefits of sugar water; if there are any real body mechanics behind it. I'm not sure how much longer I'll continue drinking olive oil, but if I do end up losing my desired ten pounds I guess I will have to admit that I have been to Shangri-La and back.
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