Friday, June 12, 2009

Trying the Shangri-La Diet

I have never had any interest in reading a diet book. For one thing, I like the foods I like and I don't have any desire to give them up. For another, on this topic, at least, I do whatever my wife tells me to (it doesn't hurt that she's a fantastic cook). To top it off, these diets, these fads, have always felt to me to be more than a little hucksterism.

So, under normal circumstances, I would never have picked up the book "The Shangri-La Diet" by Seth Roberts PhD. With a subtitle that claims "The No Hunger, Eat Anything, Weight-Loss Plan", how could this be anything be fantasy?

But, I had gotten to know the author over the past several months as we both attended meetings of the Quantified Self group, and he seemed to me to be very thoughtful, an innovative and careful scientist. (See for yourself on Seth's blog.)

When I learned he'd written this book, I just had to see what it was about. And, once I read it, I just had to give the diet a try! I'm happy to report that it's working!

The "Diet"
You'll just have to read the book yourself, or check out the website, to learn the details, but here's the gist.

The "diet" consists of drinking 1-2 tablespoons of flavor-less oil (such as extra-light olive oil) each day. You can supplement this with 1-2 tablespoons of sugar dissolved in water (that's right -- simple sugar-water). You need to drink these things away from other foods -- at least an hour before and after other foods. Other than that, eat what you want! That's it, no more to know. Sounds crazy, no?!

The research and science behind this is, however, quite thorough. The basic notion is that your body has a "weight set point", a weight it would like to be at. If your actual weight is below your set point, you will feel hungry more quickly and it will take more food before you feel full. And, if your actual weight is above your set point, it will take longer before you feel hungry and you will feel full more quickly. It turns out that your set point can change, and it is influenced by the food you eat. Certain foods raise your set point, others (such as flavor-less oil and sugar water) lower it. If you want to lose weight, without driving yourself crazy with hunger pangs, you need to lower your set point. Again, read the book to get more details about the science.

My Results To-Date
To keep things simple, I have been drinking 2 tablespoons of extra-light olive oil (ELOO) each day. One tablespoon about an hour after breakfast, and another an hour after dinner. Other than that, I have made no other changes. As I describe below, I am eating less, but that's happening naturally.

This chart shows my progress. The blue circles are weight measurements, taken every day just before going to bed. I was out of town a few days in early May -- no measurements, and no ELOO either. As you can see my weight fluctuated quite significantly every day. This was a big surprise to me, but apparently is quite normal. To get a sense of how I am doing despite these fluctuations, I calculate a "Trend" that is plotted as the green line. (For those who care, the Trend is an exponentially smoothed moving average with 10% smoothing.)
Looking at the trend, you can see that over the past six weeks I have steadily lost three pounds. Not spectacular, but definitely in the right direction. And, it has been painless! I could benefit from losing a lot more than just three pounds, so I'll keep doing this and see what happens.

In addition to losing weight, I've also learned a few other things from this experience.

Need a scale that works I actually started this effort a week earlier than what is shown on the chart above. Those daily weight fluctuations made me suspect that my scale was no good, and so I tested it. Though I learned that those daily fluctuations were to be expected, I also found out that my scale was adding an additional ~5-10 pounds of variation! I could step-on, step-off, step-on and get very different numbers. So, I got a cheap new scale. This one is nice and steady.

What does hunger feel like? Since I had read the book, understood the theory, and was trying the diet, I just naturally started paying attention to feelings of hunger. I discovered that I was never really hungry. Apparently I had been eating whatever I'd been eating and whenever I'd been eating for reasons other than hunger. I eat breakfast when I wake up, lunch when it's lunch time, dinner when it's dinner time, and have various other snacks during the day when it's time for a break. None of this is due to hunger! Even now, after several weeks of paying attention to my hunger and my eating, I am hardly ever hungry before I start eating.

How much to eat? If hunger wasn't in the picture, how did I decide when to stop eating? I had never thought about this, so I had to start paying attention. As far as I can tell, the amount I had been eating before had been whatever "seemed" right -- a sandwich should be about this big, the dinner plate (at least the first helping) should be about this full, and so on, just because that's what looked right. And, finishing whatever was on my plate was just the right, proper thing to do. Now that I'm paying attention to feeling hungry/full, I find that I am eating much less than before. I still find it impossible to fight the habit of finishing my plate, so I try to take smaller portions.

No comments: