Final Guest-Blog From Seth Roberts

Here is the final post from our guest blogger, Seth Roberts. If you need to get up to speed on Seth’s unorthodox research with weight-loss, mood, acne, and sleep, click here (our N.Y. Times article about him), here (research extras and pix), here (the first round of reader comments), and here, here, here, here, and here for his earlier blog postings.

GUEST BLOGGER:
“Thank You”
by SETH ROBERTS
Sun., Sept. 18

The highlight for me was the acne discussion. So much interest! And all of a sudden, there it was: considerable support for the idea that acne is caused by certain foods. Plus at least one person was able to figure out what those foods were: “For nearly a year, I diligently experimented with different foods/exposures to test their effect on my face [and have] identified about 8-10 seemingly unrelated food triggers … As long as I avoid these triggers, my face is clear. It’s the damnedest list that includes such seemingly innocuous foods as spinach and oatmeal.”

I am happy to help others figure out exactly how he generated his list. His method, which would surely be free, safe, and available to anyone, would help millions, if not tens of millions. I hope to write a book about the use of self-experimentation to solve everyday problems other than obesity, such as acne. The value and underlying logic of such a book could hardly be better put than what one commentator wrote:

“Your approach, OTOH, is setting up experiments (which may derive from the physician- promulgated information) in the universe over which you have control, and to which you have access. The results are highly relevant to that universe. At that point, the information is released so we ‘other universes’ can experiment toward replication to test not the validity of your experiments, but the size and nature of the universe to which such results apply. Now that’s science, in a new democratic variation of the paradigm.”

The acne discussion convinced me that there is room on the web for a site devoted to the use of self-experimentation to solve everyday problems. Maybe there is already an acne site — but a) people interested in doing self-experimentation — perhaps a tiny minority of all acne sufferers because, at least in the beginning, self-experimentation to find non-drug solutions is surely long and complex with uncertain outcome — might benefit from a site more devoted to them; and b) those using self-experimentation to alleviate acne might benefit from contact with people using self-experimentation to solve other problems. Leonard Syme, a Berkeley public health professor, once told me that NIH was poorly organized: Division into institutes by organ and disease (Eye Institute, Cancer Institute, Institute of Mental Health) made little sense if, as was surely the case, different diseases and diseases in different organs had common causes. I hope there is eventually such a site and when there is you will be able to find it by going to www.sethroberts.net. Dubner was surprised I did not have a web page. Why? he asked. No good reason, I said.

You will be able to learn more about my weight-loss ideas and their application by going to www.shangriladiet.com. So far, people in publishing seem to like the title The Shangri-La Diet so that may actually be the title of the weight-loss book I hope to write. I am especially interested in hearing from people who have had trouble finding success with the diet because there is surely room for improvement; and, being human, I would like to hear from people whom it has helped.

Finally, I want to thank Andrew Gelman and Alex Tabarrok who together brought my long eccentric paper to Dubner’s attention. I know Andrew from Berkeley, where we taught a freshman seminar on left-handedness. A reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle visited our class one day, presumably to write about it; and then wrote nothing. I have never met Alex. After Dubner read my paper, he told Levitt about it. “I thought he wouldn’t like it,” Dubner said, “but he did.” Maybe that’s why they’re friends: They like the same things.


Anonymous

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Anonymous

A disappointing series that seems aimed at self-promotion. Roberts comes off as an expert teaser, accomplishing little more than feeding off his 15 minutes of fame.

Andrew Gelman

I wouldn't call Seth a "teaser." There's tons of information on his self-experiments in his Behavioral and Brain Sciences article (see here). This represents something like 15 years of research, so I think "15 minutes of fame" is taking the short view of things. There are some large issues about how to conduct exploratory scientific studies (and there's room for debate on these issues). My impression is that Seth was aiming for a conversational, impressionistic tone in his blog entries. You can look to his scientific papers for more precision.

Anonymous

after being on the atkins diet a few years ago for about 2 months, my skin completely cleared up and became 100% less oily. atkins eliminates a lot of foods from your diet so im guessing that's the cause. i wish i knew which foods are the culprits w/o having to go on atkins again ;)

Anonymous

I am skeptical of some of these reports = at any rate, they are far from the full story - because acne can take 6-8 weeks to respond to treatment, and often with eg retina a, there is an initial flareup of acne that was already developing below the surface of the skin, before results kick in. This indicates that your two day latency period between particular foods and acne breakouts is either due to food intensifying an existing problem or to some form of acne, but far from the full story.

Also, high glycemic diets *are* known to cause acne (which is why the atkins diet might help clear things up).

I'm pretty discouraged by the fact that you appear unfamiliar with the literature on acne.

I have started your diet and am giving it a try, but the poor research/scholarship on acne doesn't speak well for you.

Anonymous

"I am especially interested in hearing from people who have had trouble finding success with the diet because there is surely room for improvement; and, being human, I would like to hear from people whom it has helped."

I'm all in favor of self-experimentation. But may I ask why a research professor at a major university is unable to conduct a formal study to follow up on the self-experimentation???

Seems to me that you should be able to do that.

Anonymous

"I am especially interested in hearing from people who have had trouble finding success with the diet because there is surely room for improvement; and, being human, I would like to hear from people whom it has helped."

Are you willing to answer questions about the diet? I notice that you have barely responded to any comments to date.

Anonymous

here's the link.
http://www.freakonomics.com/2005/09/seth-roberts-on-acne-guest-blog-pt-iv.html#c112679063813546152
Really, Dr. Roberts - that's just too much, quoting a commenter with rosacea. Sheesh.

Anonymous

People, get a grip. This guy has brought more value to the table than any of us are likely to in our lives, and all you can do is nitpick the smallest details to satisfy your sense of self importance. The title of his study was "Self-experimentation as a source of new ideas", not "I am an expert at every subject I experiment on"! Get a hobby!

seth roberts

yes, he had roseacea. It is my mistake to say that his experience supports the idea that acne is due to food. The rest of the comments did that. Still, the broad point is the same: via self-experimentation he managed to find a solution that was far from obvious and far from what doctors told him to do. I spoke to him a few days ago. The first useful thing he noticed was that the problem got better on vacations. On a trip to San Francisco it cleared up completely. This made him determined to find the cause. Each morning, with a clear face, he ate one food, then paid attention to what happened during the day. He found, to his surprise, that every food seemed to be a trigger. Maybe the idea that food is a trigger is wrong, he decided. That led him to his first discovery: it was caused by fluorescent lights (at work). After he eliminated fluorescent light exposure, he found the problem nevertheless still reappeared now and then. When it did he would take note of what he had been eating and put the ingredients on a "list of suspects." Then he would deliberately eat items on that list and watch what happened. For example, by accident he found that eating three pumpkin-flavored Clif Bars had a terrible effect. Other flavors of Clif Bar did not. The problem turned out to be cinnamon. In that way he came up with list of foods he mentioned.

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Anonymous

Still no response to comments about your diet and more serious questions about your research methods.

For example, you supply before and after pictures of friends who successfully lost weight with your diet. But a post from one of those friends revealed it wasn't as simple as you claim. Really, eating mush to avoid taste? That takes a very dedicated dieter who is willing to undertake a regimen more complicated than swallowing a few tablespoons of oil a day.

Anonymous

"via self-experimentation he managed to find a solution that was far from obvious and far from what doctors told him to do. I spoke to him a few days ago."

evaluating what triggers rosacea for yourself is standard issue advice to patients. What you report this guy as doing is standard, and what most patients are instructed to do.

Anonymous

Of course, many patients are not adept at self-experimentation, or don't understand how to go about it - and in that respect, your work might be useful to them.

However none of this addresses whether self-experimentation is useful for acne. And there were NOT many people who said that they had found triggers for acne that are not known triggers.

Anonymous

I think the problem here may be more due to your writing style than anything else. I apologize if I was too critical. However, I am quite discouraged by your reports about acne.

Anonymous

First of all, this topic is so far out of bounds of what I though this web site was suppose to be about that it's rather ridiculous. Secondly, the idea that Roberts is engaged in some noble scientific pursuit of self-experimentation while at the same time avoiding direct answers to questions because he doesn't want to give it all away before he gets his diet book published is really lame. Finally, after reading a post or two from one of his friends who supposedly lost a lot of weight on this "diet" (should have had him sign an NDA Seth!)it's pretty clear this is really about using bland or flavorless foods to fill up and kill appetite--not very original, really- I mean the idea of munching on broccoli or celery sticks as a way of losing weight is hardly radical, and I don't see much of a distinction between what Roberts is suggesting and this age old advice. This whole thing smacks of hucksterism to me...

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Anonymous

Beg pardon.

But as a person who has had rosacea for the past 8 years or so, I have to tell you: Rosacea is a kind of acne. 'Acne Rosacea' they call it.

I can hardly understand what all of this negative commenting is really about-- in truth, if you want more on this kind of stuff buy his book. He has no obligation to give all of his information away.

Also, about 'self experimentation being standard advice...' really? My dermitologist never told me to experiment. He simply gave me (ineffective) lotions, gels and creams. Go figure.

I'm interested to know (in regards to rosacea and acne) what common triggers are, and where one might start in trying to treat the disorder. Like I mentioned, my dermitologist's treatments have done very little, and I have had no periods of time where I notice no symptoms.

Recently I've been on a lotion called 'Rosula' which seems to be gradually improving my face's condition. Has this lotion been known to work?

As a person who consumes basically any/all types of food, I guess it might be difficult to know where to begin in trying to discover food triggers.

One thing I have noticed: any thing that causes my face to flush (you know, the hot feeling you get, perhaps when embarassed?) triggers a breakout. This might be from anger (rarely) or adrenaline rush.

... Maybe I should try eating Kosher for a while?

Ah, anyway. Thanks for the interesting ideas, and good luck with your work.

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Anonymous

I imagine that there must be a certain amount of muscle mass lost on that diet.
The presence of of food-processing elements shouldn't be overlooked in dieting either, like hydrogenated oils or High fructose corn syrup.

-Also, how do you get a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals? Not doing so could be bad.

I'm guessing that the oil does a fair bit to suppress appetite by itself.

The general daily caloric guideline I've heard is avg. 12(k)Cal/lb. of bodyweight for men, women can shoot for 10. Activity level would increase it, though.

Anonymous

There's no point debating whether Roberts' methods "could" work. Experience is the best test: just try them, then decide. His methods certainly seem to be of less harm than following strict diets, or of remaining dangerously overweight.

So far on the sucrose I've lost 6 lbs in 5 days, despite eating better than I have in years: two huge, delicious, very nutritious meals. During these 5 days, breakfast has usuallly been sauteed tempeh, green veggies, and mushrooms, plus wholemeal bread and cheese, orange juice, and organic decaf coffee with milk. Lunch is of similar quantity and quality, but has included coconut pudding homemade from thick, rich coconut milk (we needed to finish off the pudding) and fresh fruits. Certainly not nutrient deficient! Neither calorie or flavor deficient, yet the fat is falling off thus far. I'm breastfeeding and my milk production has not suffered, but, rather, increased. My mood and sleep are fine. My baby is still her big, chubby, happy self.

For me, the debate is over. I've never been able to lose weight so effectively--not even on a raw foods diet or when athletically swimming four hours a week--and I'm eating better than ever. As long as the sucrose/oil keeps helping me eat well enough to feed myself and my baby excellently while helping me regain a healthy weight, I'll keep drinking the sugar water and toasting Seth with every sip. When it stops working (if indeed it does stop working), then I'll stop using it and be thankful for the weight it did help me lose safely.

If his method does continue working for me and the others trying it globally, then we may finally have found a real treatment for one of humanity's more serious scourges. If it doesn't work long term or generalizably, then it certainly seems no loss. After all, conventional weight loss treatments have a failure rate that is worse than post-therapy criminal recidivism rates. What kind of effective treatment, then, are those?

So if you're wondering, "just try, lah," as we say here in Malaysia.

-American Mom in Malaysia

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