A Not-So-Cheap Way to Get Skinny

Oil and SugarThe Shangri-La staples.

A couple of years back, we wrote about the very interesting research of Berkeley psychology professor Seth Roberts, whose self-experimentation included a weight-loss program that was incredibly simple, cheap, and seemingly effective.

Later, Seth turned his method into a book called The Shangri-La Diet. The diet is really a simple appetite-suppressing plan whereby you regularly ingest some sugar water or olive oil a few times a day, which blunts your hunger by tricking your body’s set point.

I don’t know whether the folks who developed the appetite suppressant called SLIM Shots read about Seth’s work, but their premise sure seems similar:

SLIM Shots is 100 percent natural — safe and suitable for everyone. SLIM Shots contains a patented formula of purified palm oil and oat oil and water — all naturally occurring but blended into a complex which helps you lose weight or maintain weight naturally.

Seth told me that he’d been approached by a California supplement maker who was interested in turning his diet idea into a diet product, but it didn’t go forward. Too bad. With SLIM Shots charging what looks like $30 or $40 for a month’s supply of little cups of oil and water, there seems to be a lot of money made in cheap diet fixes.


Steve

This has a higher margin than snake oil.

serious coffee

One size does not fit all in addressing weight loss solutions.

Dismissing weight is not a matter of reducing food intake and increasing exercise- not for everyone.

I can drop 10 pounds anytime doing the opposite ie increasing food, and maintaining basic exercise. The key is choosing the right food for one's metabolism and in the right combinations. Plus take Vit C - its harder for the body to mobilize and release excesss fat without it.

Sean

Well, I can only say that I very easily lost about 30lbs on Robert's SLD over about a year using flavorless fructose water, which I found to be more effective than oil. I think there is clearly something to the flavorless calorie hypothesis. I stopped doing it and gradually put the weight back on, and so am now doing it again with oil instead of fructose, as I have read there are significant potential metabolic issues that go with consuming large quantities of fructose. We'll see how effective the oil is.

On the SlimShots, I actually think it may be a different mechanism at work (if they work) than in SLD. In SLD, the issue is flavorless calories. SlimShots as I understand it is based on the well documented pysiological phenomenon known as the illeal brake, whereby when even small quantities of fat fat are directly injected into the illeum (bypassing digestion) it tends to exert an outsized appetite suppression effect. The problem with, say, just ingesting oil (from an illeal brake standpoint) is that it usually gets digested before reaching the illeum. Presumably, the claim SlimShots is making is that their substance somehow is formulated to delay digestion and makes it into the illeum, thus triggering the illeal brake effect.

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TJ

I totally thought this article was about drugs from the picture...

Phil

To go off on a tangent here ... if you've seen the TV commercials for Slim Shots (on GSN), the lady doing them looks very familiar from another "order now" ad. But I just can't remember which product she was selling. Anyone remember?

Jonathan

I think someone bought the book as a result of this article. Why else would it say "Those who bought this item also bought: 'Discover Your Inner Economist'" in addition to 'Good Calories, Bad Calories' and 'The Fat Resistance Diet'?

Allison

I'm not a medical doctor, but doesn't supressing your appetite to encourage weightloss really just trick your body into starving itself?

Before it was a book, the Shangri-La Diet was an internet phenomenon that was popular among some of my geekier friends. A lot of them kept blogs, describing and recording their progress, much like Roberts did. Their purpose wasn't really weight loss, but just mad-scientist style experimenting. They had comments like, "I feel so weird." One of my friends tried it and then realized, after the fact, that he hadn't eaten any food in three days.

This is healthy?

schadenfreude

I took Psychology 101 from Dr. Roberts when I was an undergraduate in the late 80's. He must have lost his weight before then because I remember him being on the slim side.

One of the assignments in the class was to develop a test that you could perform on yourself. But as I recall, weight loss was explicitly ruled out since they didn't want to be responsible for the inevitable eating disorders that would develop in the sorority-girl-dominated class.

david

@Allison
Presumably you would use common sense and eat better since you're eating less. If you haven't eaten in three days, you should probably scale back the amount of oil or sugar water or whatever you're doing. It's like anything else...a little is good, a lot is too much. How much is too much depends on how much you weigh to start with and how fast you feel it's healthy to lose weight.

@Mango
It works for many people, though not everyone: http://boards.sethroberts.net/
I don't anticipate any clinical trials because they cost money and there's no new drug or product to make money off of.

Caleb

If you want a not-so-cheap way to lose weight, try getting an undiagnosed digestive problem for a few months. Of course, it may be cheap for you monetarily, depending on your health-care plan, but the pain may not be worth it. The weight just drops right off, however.

(trying to endure until the appointment with the specialist)

Mango

@david:

Plenty of researchers manage to get funding without directly producing drugs or products. And besides, if the claims in his book are substantiated, it could conceivably lead to further weight loss products. His diet rests on certain claims that, if true, could have a lot of consequences in how we manage nutrition.

I know 'it works for some people', but it's not clear it works because of the reasons he says. Is it because of the technique he claims lowers set point, or is it just because people who go on the diet become more conscious of what they eat, and also carve out a chunk of their day where they don't eat anything whereas previously they had snacks or meals?

It looks like Roberts is preying on a credulous American public that doesn't know how to distinguish valid scientific results from vague hypotheses. This is how many snake-oil peddlers do it: develop a plausible but unsupported claim, write a book exclaiming it's true (sprinkled with scientific language, though lacking scientific evidence), gather a few testimonials, and rely on confirmation bias to take it the rest of the way.

It's disappointing to see Dubner supporting this practice.

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Mango

Why does Dubner keep promoting a fad diet book?

The first time I saw a link about Roberts in this blog, I observed it made some medical claims, and followed it up to see if there was any scientific foundation for them. It turns out there's not. Self-experimentation -- while sometimes a not unreasonable way to form hypotheses -- does not constitute a clinical trial.

At the time Roberts published his book he made promises that studies were underway to support his claims. It's 2008 now, and the promised results have yet to appear. Someone needs to get Penn and Teller on the case.

frankenduf

wonder why they use palm oil- it's highly saturated and chronic use is probably not a good idea for effecting an improved lipid profile- olive or flax seed might be as tolerable- don't forget spicy ingredients also supress the appetite, in addition to fat and soluble fiber exemplified above- the impetus to make money off this stuff is laughable- there have been conscientious health care practitioners who have exhorted these types of appetite suppression shots for years, as a service to public health and disease prevention

Michael F. Martin

The Shangri-La diet never quite worked for me. It was true that I tended not to overeat when I was taking extra light olive oil supplements. But it merely stabilized my weight; it didn't help me lose weight.

What has worked -- spectacularly well -- is non-exercise ambulatory thermogenesis (a/k/a NEAT), which is being promoted by James Levine at the Mayo Clinic. In a nutshell, his hypothesis is that we burn more of the calories contained in adipose tissue by engaging in light physical activities over extended periods of time than we do engaging in strenuous physical activities for short periods of time. There are metabolic and physiological mechanisms to explain this -- an advantage that the Shangri-La Diet has not gained yet to my knowledge (except that hunger is triggered by the derivative of glucose levels).

Meagan

@Mango I think the initial column (2005?) about Roberts had to do more with thinking differently in terms of research (is self experimentation invalid just because popular practice says so?) And showing weird and unexpected connections with unexpected results (watching TV in the morning makes him happy because cavemen saw lots of people in the morning). So maybe he keeps bringing it up more as a follow up than a promotion. Just a guess.

Jess

Fad diets are SO annoying. Everyone I know that is overweight is always looking for the next quick fix. Truth is, healthy living is a lifestyle, not something you do for a couple of months at a time. Eat less, excercise more. Doesn't get much easier than that.

sikantis

The best way to lose weight is first to listen to your body. It tells you when it has enough - only when you don't eat and do something else at the same time. Second you look for diversified food, cook yourself and stop eating filler like chips.
No diet in whatever form can help you when you don't change your attitude toward eating and food.

I'm very interested in food, healthy eating and cooking. I'm writing each sunday on my Special News Blog about food: http://www.sikantisblog.com. When eating is fun and not compensation for sure you have no weight problems anymore.

Ricardo

The set-point theory of hunger (a.k.a. homeostasis is outdated and there's lots of evidence against it.

We must assume he is eating less or healthier with these sugar shots. If he stops taking these shots and goes back to his old eating habits, he'll gain that weight right back. This is the positive-incentive theory of hunger (also understood as a settling point theory which is quite distinct despite the name) which leads to the leaky barrel model of weight.

Stephen M (Ethesis)

Jess, read Taubes or some of the related authors.

I lost about 60 pounds on the SLD and have kept it off for the last two years (my weight has slipped downward in the last month or so, but it held stable for two years. I've some reserves, so I can withstand a little weight loss).

Mango, good question on what happened with the trials that were going to be held in New York.

I have suspected, on and off, that his theory for why the diet works may not be correct. On the other side, it works for over half of the people I've seen try it.

Not like he doesn't give away all of the details for free on his website. The book is more of an afterthought. I personally offered to send him money after I'd lost the first thirty or forty pounds, I was really grateful. He turned me down. I suspect that if he were after money, he'd have accepted it.

Read through http://www.amptoons.com/blog/archives/2006/04/03/the-case-against-weight-loss-dieting/

You will learn something. SLD is completely different.

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MattS

Based on what I've read, I believe Sean is correct. SlimShots doesn't appear to be simply "oil and sugar" but an emulsion that can survive digestion to trigger the Illeal Break, which in turn causes satiety. None of these other methods appear to have the same mechanism of action.

If you do a search for the main ingredient in SlimShots ("Fabuless"), you'll see it's owned and researched by DSM, a company based in the Netherlands. There are quite a few clinical studies on the ingredient. And they're published, double-blind peer-reviewed studies (in the International Journal of Obesity, for example).