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.