Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Shangri-La Diet

Five years ago now I gave up rowing, ballooned horribly in weight, and started reading up about diets.

As a result of reading various plausible-sounding modern theories about human metabolism, I changed what I ate, cutting down the quantities of various fast carbohydrates like bread, pasta, potatoes, and rice. I also stopped drinking fruit juice and tried to eat more fruit and vegetables.

This worked a treat. In about six months I was no longer overweight. As an unexpected bonus my lifelong tendency to short periods of depression disappeared, which was a greater benefit than the weight loss.

And my weight has remained stable, and my black moods gone, for the last five years.

I've completely stopped worrying about my weight and no longer track it or think about what I eat. (Although it is still true that what I eat is largely what I learned to like while weaning myself off the fast carbs, so I'm probably eating much as I would be if I was thinking about it. I would say my diet these days is probably mostly fry-ups and fruit. There are also significant calories from alcohol.)

Just before last Christmas, I remember noticing that the belt I have worn since I was a student was now on its tightest setting, and I was thinking about making another hole. I was fitting easily into all my clothes, including some I'd had as a student, and the various 36" trousers I got hold of in the post-rowing ballooning period felt very baggy and wouldn't stay up without a belt. I was actually starting to wonder about going to the gym to keep my muscle mass up. (If I had to choose, I'd be fat rather than skinny. Luckily there is a nice broad happy medium between.)

When I went back home to Yorkshire for Christmas, my mother did her usual trick of filling the environment with unlimited supplies of delicious and entirely evil and unnatural foods (which is her way of showing me that she loves me, and although I wish she wouldn't, there is simply nothing to be done if I want to stay friends with her), and over the two weeks of the holiday I went up an entire belt notch. This happens every time I go and stay with them, and I figured the new weight would come off again after a couple of months like it usually does.

But it hasn't done. In fact I've been getting fatter and fatter, and I'm now having trouble fitting into my clothes again.

Just this morning I was wondering what had changed, when I remembered that (after a series of gigantic benders that had left me feeling disgusted with myself and worried about alcoholism) I'd pretty much given up smoking and drinking for the first three months of the year. And although I've taken both up again now, my smoking is more 'a couple of cigars on a Friday night', than a regular habit like it used to be.

And of course smoking is traditionally associated with weight loss. Apparently lots of young girls take it up specifically because it's an appetite suppressant.

Reading up on it, there's apparently some evidence that nicotine lowers the body's set-point, which is supposed by analogy to be the dial on the thermostat of weight.

Apparently if I keep on smoking at my new low rate (which I intend to), the set point will eventually make its way back to something sensible and the weight will go away.

But I wonder if I can cheat.

A guy called Seth Roberts invented a few years ago something called the 'Shangri-La Diet'.

It sounds so much like a fad that if I noticed it at all I dismissed it entirely in my earlier search. My attention has recently been drawn to it by the fact that several people whose intellects I trust appear to take it seriously.

There's lots of anecdotal evidence that it works, some experiments that show that some of the proposed mechanisms in it work in rats, one theory that it works by a mechanism completely different to the one supposed by its inventor, and unless I've missed some, no controlled studies whatsoever to find out whether or not it actually works on human beings. I imagine that it sounds so weird that nobody in nutrition wants to waste their time proving that it doesn't.

So I'm going to try it on myself. It's completely mental and involves eating oil. Oil is really high calorie. My curiosity is roused. It should be easy enough to tell if it works or not!


  1. Buy a GPS watch and take up running. James H or I will be happy to show you ours...

  2. All ectomorphs think that because it makes them look as though they have indomitable willpower. I used to row an unbelievable amount and was usually overweight despite being strong and fit.

    Even now I probably exercise four times a week or so!

    You can also test your theory. Give up exercise and eat what you want. You'd predict that after 6 months you should become obese. I'd expect you to lose muscle at a frightening rate, but not to change greatly in weight. In fact it might even go down!

  3. > I used to row an unbelievable amount...

    I don't think rowing does much for weight loss. That was one reason for taking up running: seeing the number of good rowers with pot bellies :-). Maybe its something to do with not carrying the weight.

    I *could* test my theory, but I don't want to give up exercise. I have tried eating too much, and I do gain weight. My theory is you need to do both.

  4. That's fine then. As long as you're saying "There's something special about running.", I have no information and I don't disagree.