Further Evidence for the Shangri-La Diet?

A few years back now, we wrote about the psychology professor Seth Roberts and his Shangri-La Diet, in which one attempts to lower the body’s set point by swallowing occasional shots of olive oil or sugar water.

According to this article in Medical News Today (thanks, Jeff!), the olive-oil secret may truly lie in an appetite-killing fatty acid:

A fatty acid found in abundance in olive oil and other “healthy” unsaturated fats has yet another benefit: it helps keep the body satisfied to prolong the time between meals.

A new study in the October Cell Metabolism, a publication of Cell Press, reveals that once this type of fat, known as oleic acid, reaches the intestine, it is converted into a lipid hormone (oleoylethanolamide, or OEA) that wards off the next round of hunger pangs. The researchers said it may be the first description of an ingredient in food that directly provides the raw materials for a hormone’s production.

If a new market were opening today to traffic in all the world’s oleic acid, who would bid it up higher: the weight-loss industry (to put it in every product) or the food and restaurant industries (to dump it all in the ocean)?



If you have a big meal at the end of the day and then go to bed, you're not doing anything to consume all of the energy you just unlocked, so it quietly turns to fat while you sleep. Minimising the amount you eat before bed (by eating more meals or a big lunch) is a good idea for this reason.


If this were in every food, people would be much less likely to become overweight in the first place, thus killing the weight loss industry.

Although it won't matter; the weight loss industry sells beauty rather than health, and being a relative measure, there will always be a healthy percentage of the population who don't measure up for some reason or another.


How do we know this effect of oleic acid provides MORE satiety than it "should"? Maybe this is just the normal way that fats make us feel full. And maybe this hormone just tops up our satiety to the point where it's exactly the 9 calories per gram that it "should" be.

Does the study address this point?


nice post- indeed any fat ingested will increase satiety via CCK release- this is a new mechanism discovered, further adding to the benefits of monounsaturated fat- what's with the shot tho? don't they know what an olive is in shangri-la? or is it the magical land of liquid foods?

Michael Bishop

I assume you were joking about the food and restaurant industry buying up OEA to dump it in the ocean, but I don't think its a good idea to joke about it. People believe this sort of thing.


"Most people also get the large majority of their calories through 2-3 big meals a day. It's much better from a health and fat loss perspective to spread your calories out on 5-7 smaller meals/snacks, but consuming the same total calories for the day."

Victor, can you explain this to me scientifically? If I consume the same amount of calories, why does it matter how I spread them out? That makes no sense to me.



I think that the reason more meals seems to keep someone from being as heavy has to do with the starvation response of your body. As your stomach empties your body lowers your metabolism so that you don't die of starvation. The more meals you eat the less often your body slows your metabolism during the day, so the more calories you burn.


Finally, an oil from Canada that helps people. Maybe this will pull our currency out of freefall.


People don't realize that carbs are the primary reason they're fat. First, carbs are less satiating and you have to eat more carb calories to feel full versus fat calories. Second, people tend to eat simple carbs (white bread for example), which are a few steps above sugar. They digest faster, giving the body a smaller window to use it as energy. If you don't use it, it turns into fat.

Sadly, the idea that fat makes you fat while carbs aren't more of a culprit sort of "makes sense," but most of the times it doesn't work that way. It's also very fattening to eat a high carb, high fat meal (french fries are a great example). Every fat person I know eats way too many carbs, and they're almost always bad carbs. Yes, it's the fattening toast/jam/muffin/pancakes/waffles/syrup you have for breakfast, not the eggs and sausage.

It's probably because the food pyramid emphasizes the "importance" of eating a high carb diet. I find it hilarious that so many people are so trusting of something like the food pyramid, which is developed by the government, but are completely distrusting of other aspects of the government. It's the same people! So why would the government screw you like that? My guess is that America's a breadbasket and the reason carbs are so emphasized is to sell more grain. Unfortunately, this is causing more obesity and heart disease (wheat products are notorious for this) in the country.

Most people also get the large majority of their calories through 2-3 big meals a day. It's much better from a health and fat loss perspective to spread your calories out on 5-7 smaller meals/snacks, but consuming the same total calories for the day. Oh, and drink lots of water. Water is essential in fat loss. If your pee is yellow, you're dehydrated.

So back to the topic... This suppresses hunger works because fats are satiating. Eating more smaller, but more frequently is also good for the body fat loss. Makes perfect sense. Eating some almonds when you want a snack or even some natural peanut butter will work too. Just make sure you don't bring the chocolate, sugar, jelly, bread, etc. with your snack.


Bobby G

I wonder what kind of hunger it wards off. After all, hunger due to someone's physical and physiological need to consume sustenance is but one of several hunger-inducing processes. Hunger can also stem from seeing other people eat, or from seeing or smelling or even think about highly-appetizing food. Chemically, in the brain, seeing (or smelling, which is even more potent) a really good-looking pizza, even when one is not hungry, can have the same effect as if one had not eaten for a substantial stretch of time.

So I'm curious if olive oil protects against these other, perhaps more will-oriented forms of hunger, or if it just protects against the "starving" hunger. I'd imagine that not many people in the developed world experience the "starving" hunger that often.


Also to Victor--Studies on intermittent fasting contradict the idea that more frequent meals are healthier. Also, slower metabolism=slower aging=healthier. The trick is to not overeat. As others here have mentioned, there are many reasons for overeating. Olive oil won't stop me from eating for fun, out of boredom, out of sadness, etc.


How much of the dieting wisdom being distributed in these comments is scientifically validated?

I know the Shangri-La Diet isn't. Seth Roberts for years has been promising experimental results to prove his theories around lowering set point. It's 2008 now and nothing has emerged. While this latest result about oleic acid is nice, it:
a) doesn't support any of Seth Roberts' claims, and
b) still needs to be corroborated by other research in order to discount the possibility of methodology error.


I'm amazed. This is the first forum addressing weight and nutrition I've ever come across where the participants are able to spell. And it's interesting stuff too.


I just tried the diet for a week (after buying the book and following all the directions, few as there are) and gained 3 pounds. The only thing I can report is that unfamiliar foods tasted more intense and delicious while familiar food seemed somehow very boring all of a sudden. I suspect that most people that don't have good results with it don't bother to write in and post and that's why, from reading the blogs, it appears that the diet is way more successful than it probably is.


I suggest that how we choose what and when to eat is based not just on the food item but equally on how convenient and effort free it is to get the food item. So we want to eat something fatty or sugary and something that takes little effort to prepare or purchase. Without changing anything else you could get an excellent dietary result simply by changing the rewards and costs in your dietary eating environment by ensuring that there was always a very low effort and convenient substitute food available that was healthy. All you really need to do to stick with a diet and lose weight is make a 30 minute effort every morning to cut up 1-4 pieces of fresh fruit and keep it within reach through the day or at least make sure it's available before your first hunger craving after your last meal. I think that when you get hungry you do a sort of calculation to decide what to eat and convenience + eating pleasure of each food option is evaluated to decide what you are feeling hungry for at the moment. So just by having a bowl of fresh cut fruit available you might eat it since it's there and all you have to do is put it in your mouth. Then your overall demand for food decreases and it makes the pleasure food that isn't as good for you less rewarding so your partially satisfied and maybe eat less of it.