The Unfinished Mystery of the Shangri-La Diet

Followup toBeware of Other-Optimizing

Once upon a time, Seth Roberts (a professor of psychology at Berkeley, on the editorial board of Nutrition) noticed that he'd started losing weight while on vacation in Europe.  For no apparent reason, he'd stopped wanting to eat.

Some time later, The Shangri-La Diet swept... the econoblogosphere, anyway.  People including some respectable economists tried it, found that it actually seemed to work, and told their friends.

The Shangri-La Diet is unfortunately named - I would have called it "the set-point diet".  And even worse, the actual procedure sounds like the wackiest fad diet imaginable:

Just drink two tablespoons of extra-light olive oil early in the morning... don't eat anything else for at least an hour afterward... and in a few days it will no longer take willpower to eat less; you'll feel so full all the time, you'll have to remind yourself to eat.

Why?  I'm tempted to say "No one knows" just to see what kind of comments would show up, but that would be cheating.  Roberts does have a theory motivating the diet, an elegant combination of pieces individually backed by previous experiments:

  • Your metabolism has a set point, like the setting on a thermostat: when your weight is below the set point, you feel hungry; when your weight is above the set point, you feel full.
  • But the set point is not a constant; it is raised and lowered by what you eat.
  • This mechanism in turn seems to be regulated by a flavor-calorie association.  (Possibly as a famine-storage mechanism that tries to store more resources when dense food sources are available.)  If you eat something with flavor X, which is followed by your metabolism detecting a large source of calories, flavor X will (a) seem more appealing and taste better, and (b) will raise your set point whenever you eat items with flavor X.
  • Your set point is always naturally dropping, but is raised by eating; usually these forces are in dynamic balance and your weight stays constant.

I'm not going to go into all the existing evidence that backs up each step of this theory, but the theory is very beautiful and elegant.  The actual Shangri-La Diet is painfully simple by comparison: consume nearly tasteless extra-light olive oil, being careful not to associate it with any flavors before or after, to raise your body weight a little without raising your set point.  Your body weight goes above your set point, and you stop feeling hungry.  Then you eat less... and your weight drops... and your set point drops a little less than that... but then next morning it's time for your next dose of extra-light olive oil, which once again puts your (decreased) weight a bit above the set point.  The regular dose of almost flavorless calories tilts the dynamic balance downward.  That's the theory.

Many people, including some trustworthy econblogger types, have reported losing 1-2 pounds/week by implementing the actual actions of the Shangri-La Diet, up to 30 pounds or even more in some cases.  Without expending willpower.

I tried it.  It didn't work for me.

Now here's the frustrating thing:  The Shangri-La Diet does not contain an obvious exception for Eliezer Yudkowsky.  On the theory as stated, it should just work.  But I am not the only person who reports trying this diet (and a couple of variations that Roberts recommended) without anything happening, except possibly some weight gain due to the added calories.

And here's the more frustrating thing:  Roberts's explanation felt right.  It's one of those insights that you grasp and then so much else snaps into place.

It explained that frustrating experience I'd often had, wherein I would try a new food and it would fill me up for a whole day - and then, as I kept on eating this amazing food in an effort to keep my total intake down, the satiation effect would go away.

It explained why I'd lost on the order of 50-60 pounds - with what, in retrospect, was very little effort - when I first moved out of my parents' house and to a new city and started eating non-Jewish food.  In retrospect, I was eating an amazingly little amount each day, like 1200 calories, but without any feeling of hunger.  And then my weight slowly started creeping up again, and no amount of exercise - to which (ha!) I'd originally attributed the weight loss - seemed able to stop it.

It's always hard to pick reality out of the gigantic morass of competing dietary theories.  One of the elegant charms of Robert's hypothesis is that it helps explain why this is so - the mess of incoherent results.  Any new diet will seem to work for a few months or weeks, you're losing weight and everything seems wonderful, you tell all your friends and they buy the same diet book, and then bam the flavor-calorie association kicks back in and you're back to hell.  The number-one result of weight-loss science is that 95% of people who lose weight regain it.

(I haven't heard any complaints from people regaining weight they lost on the Shangri-La Diet, however - if it works for you at all, it seems to go on working.  Most of the complaints on the forums are from people who suddenly plateau after losing 30 pounds, but who want to lose more.  Or people like me, who try it, and find that it doesn't seem to do anything, or that we're gaining weight with no apparent loss of appetite.)

I have a pretty strong feeling - I don't know if I should trust it, since I'm not a dietary scientist - that Roberts's hypothesis is at least partially right.  It makes a lot of data snap into focus.  The pieces are well-supported individually.

But I don't think that Roberts has the whole story.  There's something missing - something that would explain why the Shangri-La Diet lets some people control their weight as easily as a thermostat setting, and why others lose 30 pounds and then plateau well short of their goal, and why others simply find the Shangri-La diet ineffective.  The Mystery of Shangri-La is not how the diet works when it does work; Roberts has made an excellent case for that.  The question is why it sometimes doesn't work.  There is a deeper law, I strongly suspect, that governs both the rule and the exception.

The problem is, though - and here's the really frustrating part - Roberts seems to think he does have the whole answer.  If the diet doesn't work at first, his answer is to try more oil... which is a pretty scary answer if you're already gaining weight from the extra calorie intake!  I decided not to go down this route because it didn't seem to work for the people on the forums who were reporting that the Shangri-La Diet didn't work for them.  They just gained even more weight.

And what really makes this a catastrophe is that this theory has never been analyzed by controlled experiment, which drives me up the frickin' WALL.  Roberts himself is a big advocate of "self-experimentation", which I suppose explains why he's not pushing harder for testing.  (Though it's not like Roberts is a standard pseudoscientist, he's an academic in good standing.)  But with reports of such drastic success from so many observers, some of them reliable, outside dietary scientists ought to be studying this.  What the fsck, dietary scientists?  Get off your butts and study this thing!  NOW!  Report these huge results in a peer-reviewed journal so that everyone gets excited and starts studying the exceptions to the rule!

It's awful; it seems like Roberts has gotten so close to burying the scourge Obesity, but the theory is still missing some final element, some completing piece that would explain the rule and the exception, and with that last piece it might be possible to make the diet work for everyone...

If we had a large-sized rationalist community going that had solved the group effort coordination problem, those of us who are metabolically disprivileged would be pooling resources and launching our own controlled study of this thing, and entering every conceivable variable we could report into the matrix, and hiring a professional biochemist to analyze our metabolisms before and afterward, and we would cryopreserve anyone who got in our way.  You have no idea.

(Warning:  Do not try the Shangri-La diet at home based on only the info here, there's a couple of caveats and I can't think offhand of a good complete description on the 'Net.  Also you might want to reconsider the recommendation to use fructose in the sugar water route, because IIRC fructose has been shown to contribute to insulin resistance or something like that - sucrose may actually make more sense, despite the higher glycemic index.)

Continued inAkrasia and Shangri-La

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Any new diet will seem to work for a few months or weeks, you're losing weight and everything seems wonderful, you tell all your friends and they buy the same diet book, and then bam the flavor-calorie association kicks back in and you're back to hell. The number-one result of weight-loss science is that 95% of people who lose weight regain it.

This suggests that the important factor in weight loss has nothing to do with any specific diet. Rather the key is the sudden shock to the endocrinological system that goes along with starting a new diet. Given any stable diet, your system will adapt to keep you at a certain weight. But if you constantly change your diet, your system will never be able to adapt.

Proposal: the meta-diet. Get 12 wonder diet books. Mark each month with a corresponding diet (Jan. is Atkin's, Feb is Shangri-La, ...) Every month, ditch the previous diet without a second thought and scrupulously adhere to the new one.

The problem with that strategy is that the more diets you try, the more likely it is that at least one of them is seriously harmful.

Provided you aren't already malnourished, NO diet, even starvation, is going to be harmful over the course of one month.

100% not true. Ignoring actual poisons, overemphasis in some foods might make you ill, underemphasis might make you ill, too little X might affect your ability to process Y, and just plain starving for a month will leave you with organ damage.

You need to check your references more closely. I checked the last and what it actually said was:

prolonged starvation (in excess of 1–2 months) causes permanent organ damage[citation needed]

Notice it was in excess of 1-2 months, and it gave no citation.

I did realize another exception after I posted - if you have a problem like diabetes or several nutritional or metabolic disorders, you would also have problems.

Refusing to eat for a month isn't harmful? I'm not a nutritionist, but I find that claim absurd.

Proposal: the meta-diet.

I've seen this seriously suggested by dietary experts, but can't find the citation. Compare to similar strategies in defeating infections.

Out of curiousity, on the specific subject of this diet: did you try blocking your sense of smell, preferably for the entire duration of the "no flavors" period?

As an enthusiastic home cook, the first thing that came to mind for me is that the vast majority of what we interpret as "flavor" is actually an interplay of taste and smell (hence why almost everything tastes like crap when you have nasal congestion). I recall that research has shown smell as having partiularly strong associative powers for memory, so it would not surprise me to find that it's actually a smell-calorie association at work, totally independent of what you actually put in your mouth.

Ergo, I would predict that experiencing strong smells around the same time as taking the flavorless calories would sabotage the effect catastrophically. Unfortunately for the pursuit of science, I have a naturally and stubbornly low bodyweight set point, so I can't test this personally.

That's one of the alternative avenues that Seth Roberts recommends - basically wearing nose clips for the rest of your life. I didn't actually try that, but maybe I'll go ahead and give it a shot.

If it's not too personal: Do you live with any other people, and would they have been commonly eating food within a few hours of the oil dose? Do you have a particularly acute sense of smell? Those seem like possible confounding factors for why some people get no benefit whatsoever, particularly the latter because it would be difficult to notice.

If you really want to do a trial by fire of the idea, taking a slightly larger dose of oil and then wearing nose clips for the entire morning ought to put the idea to rest one way or another...

I find even ELOO has flavor, so I would shoot it while holding my nose, then rinse my mouth out with water, then wait a bit. Even then, I would "taste" some flavor when I stopped holding my nose.

After reading all the comments and getting a lot more details about Eliezer's situation and the general responses to SLA, I have a theory:

SLA works by reducing appetite. The majority of the time, if you reduce appetite that causes people to eat less. When they eat less, they usually lose weight.

The problem is that SLA won't work if that link is broken. If you already weren't eating when you were hungry, then changing your hunger levels might not change how much you eat, which would result in you eating the same amount or if adding the oil doesn't reduce that amount you eat slightly more. In Eliezer's case, he already has so much willpower that he can break the link if he wants to, so SLA didn't solve the right problem. There are other ways to unlink that don't involve willpower, as well. For these people, SLA doesn't work. For another group, the link is severed past X pounds lost so it stops working.

From Eliezer's other article:

You can never be sure in the realm of the mind... but out in material foodland, I know that I was, in fact, drinking extra-light olive oil in the fashion prescribed. There is no reason within Roberts's theory why it shouldn't have worked.

Which just means Roberts's theory is incomplete. In the complicated mess that is the human metabolism there is something else that needs to be considered. (My guess would be "something to do with insulin".)

As a diabetic (the kind caused by immunology, not the kind caused by diet), I am able to measure and experiment with insulin and blood sugar directly. I also think that Roberts is entirely wrong about why his diet works, and unless I see a study that says otherwise, I will believe that it would work equally well if you filled the olive oil with (metabolically inert) spices.

The real answer is that having fat in your system and being digested creates a buffer against blood sugar lows, which would make you feel hungry. If you eat some olive oil in the morning, the period in which it's being digested covers all three meals; on the other hand, fat eaten with dinner is mostly digested while you sleep. Normal appetite approximately matches energy expenditure, but blood sugar crash-driven eating is extra on top of that.

This really does not match my experience. If the effect is from having fat in your system, why does the method stop working if you have flavored fat, and work less the more times you have a given flavored fat?

I have eaten fatty meals, and I have taken flavorless fat SLA-style, and (at the beginning) the difference is massive. The latter killed my appetite. It was amazing.

I didn't see any evidence showing that it stops working if you have flavored fat. You say you've eaten fatty meals, but have you eaten fat-only meals, first thing in the morning? Most of the fatty things that people would normally eat are also high in protein, which has a very different effect on blood sugar.

Oops, there is a much better objection to your hypothesis which I should have made the first time.

Seth Roberts started out suggesting that people use either sugar water or flavorless oil to get their tasteless calories. Eventually he stopped recommending sugar water because of the negative effects on blood sugar levels. But not because it didn't work!

If your hypothesis was right, then sugar water would make people gain weight, and there would be a dramatic difference between the sugar water and oil methods. Whereas my impression (although I didn't read the forums thoroughly) is that people only found a small to moderate difference between sugar water and oil methods.

(And no, I have not tried a fat-only meal first thing in the morning, I always have protein with my fat, so you're right that I don't have a fair comparison)

So you have a theory personally developed and promoted by an enthusiastic individual, a whole slew of positival anecdotal evidence, but no actual proper experimental verification. Sound much like - ooh any complementary or alternative medical treatment you'd care to mention? Are you sure you're being fully rational here?

A difference is the considerable rat-based theoretical/experimental justification for why it should work. Seth Roberts claims that he came up with the theory first and then invented the diet, which he then found to work for him.

Most alternative medicines/practices have clearly insane theory behind them. I don't know anything about nutrition, so I can't tell you whether it makes sense or not, but I can spot most pseudoscience a mile off.

That was enough to raise it out of the background lunacy. So I tried it and it seems to work for me. I couldn't agree more that a proper test is needed!

And if this sort of evidence can be overlooked/ignored for large clinical trials, what other sorts of partially or totally valid alternative treatments might be receiving similar improper treatment?

Far fewer than are correctly being ignored because the evidence and practices of alt medicine, and their studies, suffer from all the problems of regular medicine plus countless fascinating old & new pathologies of their own.

I'm just going to put this here because I was rather annoyed, after the fact, not to have been warned*: Drinking oil straight (which I tried for the first time this morning) is disgusting. It made me want to puke, although fortunately this had worn off by the end of the one-hour window when I wanted to eat. (Also, then I had a perfectly typical lunch which I enjoyed a normal amount and did not feel less motivated to eat than usual.)

*My model of what things are and are not disgusting to eat straight predicted this, but my model of how people talk about diets predicted that if it was in fact that disgusting, it would be a listed drawback of the diet.

Perhaps it was significantly more disgusting(Alicorn) than it was disgusting(most people).

Confirmed by experiment. :D

I've just left reading LW to eat 2 spoons of olive oil. For my taste receptors, it has a bad taste, but not a strong one. I certainly do not desire to eat more (and I am not afraid that this taste would ever asociate with anything I would voluntarily eat) and I had to drink water afterwards, but it was not that bad, and at the moment I write this comment the effect is over.

However, it vas very pleasant to leave the kitchen after the experiment. So here is another hypothesis: this diet works because it associates negative feelings with kitchen and eating in general.

Then why does it also work for sugar water, which does not taste repulsive?

On a related note: Swallowing 15 rather large Omega three capsules doesn't make me want to puke at all. I use them for the macro-nutrient load at times even if I have never officially gone on the Shangri-La diet. Swallowing with water is easier but not required.

Yeah, I'd probably find swallowing even a large number of pills less unpleasant; does that (in theory) work just as well? Are they expensive?

Yeah, I'd probably find swallowing even a large number of pills less unpleasant; does that (in theory) work just as well?

In theory? Who knows? I'm sure Seth Roberts could speculate something on the spot more impressive than I can speculate. But from the reasoning I've heard they should be better.

Are they expensive?

I haven't noticed them being expensive. But I spend a bit on supplements in general. I consider it a hobby. Let's see... maybe 5c a capsule? Well worth it though. My brain loves me for it. (The first 1 per day anyway, the rest it looks at me and says WTF?)

Olive Oil sold in the US is often rancid and low quality. It's possible you just got a bad batch. See this 538 article:

and we would cryopreserve anyone who got in our way. You have no idea.

I just noticed this little gem. I'm going to adopt it as my default expression when extreme declarations of uncompromising resolve are called for!

Obvious test is obvious: Does IV calories work similarly?

The Shangri-La diet maybe works by bypassing the flavour-calorie association. If the calories go directly to your bloodstream; the bypass can't really get any cleaner.

While controlled trials for SLA would be great, Roberts' advocacy of self-experimentation is awesome, and if it leads him to being biased against big studies...well...he is still adding to our collective knowledge.

Anyway, SLA kicked ass for me. I think I lost 8 lbs in the first couple weeks, 15 lbs in 2 or 3 months. But individual endocrinology varies widely and I can easily believe it doesn't work for everyone. Or maybe you're doing it wrong :). Also, even though SLA worked great for me at the beginning, it wore off over the course of months. I dunno if it was b/c I got closer to my set point, or b/c I started developing an association with the limited amount of flavor there is even in ELOO.

And yeah, like you say, use oil not fructose water.

I've seen Roberts mention once or twice on his blog that he couldn't get a controlled experiment approved by the review board. (No details.) Also he seemed open to the diet just not working for some people.

Some variations haven't been mentioned here, like adding random combos of spices to your food to mix up the flavor. What I settled on, what worked for me without any unpleasantness drawing on willpower over time, was to pour flaxseed oil on toast and eat it noseclipped.

FWIW, one of the reasons Shangri-la didn't quite work for me at first is that I had acid reflux issues. My reflux belches apparently count as "a taste" and after I started taking Zantac to control them - and also drinking less carbonated soda - it worked much better. Another problem I had is an issue S-L has in common with some other diet systems such as Eat-Stop-Eat - any encouragement to "eat whatever you want" when on the diet/regimen is counterproductive if you're eating for any reason other than hunger. I sometimes eat due to boredom or stress or habit; S-L won't stop me from doing that. And it definitely doesn't help to be parsimonious about the sugar or oil because you're afraid of calorie consumption - small amounts just don't work.

What did sort of work for me was to combine S-L with a certain amount of calorie counting - trying to make a conscious effort to cut back net calorie consumption a little, but not too much. To the degree that even that didn't work, it was mostly a matter of akrasy - the oil is nauseating and unsatisfying in the moment I take it so I often didn't feel like taking it.

It's especially hard to come to grips with the idea that even if it works, SL is something you pretty much have to keep doing for the rest of your life. It's the same problem many people have with antidepressants. You take a treatment and if the treatment works it seems like you're getting better and then that you've gotten better, so you start wondering if you really need to keep taking it. Eventually you fall off the treatment...and lose all the previous gains.

What kind of rationalists are you? There is one way to lose weight with tons of research backing it, and perfectly valid molecular explanation how it works - one ECA pill every morning until you're done, if you're losing weight faster than 1kg/week definitely eat more as that's not very healthy.

You should behave like proper rationalists now, read some pubmed, order some pills, and lose as much weight as you want. No significant side effects observed, unlike "natural" dieting which causes hunger, loss of willpower, loss of energy etc. Your appetite will be so low you'll have to use alarm clock to remind yourself to eat, but it won't hurt when you do, so no willpower expended either way. Ask any random bodybuilder for advice if you need it, they mastered the art of getting rid of fat without harming rest of the body.

I'm 79 kg (bmi 22) down from 106 kg (bmi 30) five years ago, so unlike 95% of after-diet rebouncers I know what I'm talking about.

There is one way to lose weight[...] - one ECA pill every morning until you're done.

I'm 86 kg (bmi ~27). I took your advice and tried taking one ECA pill every morning for the last few weeks and...I was gaining weight on it. I think I had a little loss of appetite right at first - along with a feeling of being "wired" - but the effect wore off after a day or two.

One confounding factor is that I normally consume a lot of caffeine (~200 mg) daily in the form of Diet Coke. I cut back a bit on the soda while taking ECA, so the change in my caffeine consumption while taking ECA compared to baseline was quite small - perhaps being a prior caffeine addict renders ECA less effective?

As with Shangri-la, one might conclude any of the following: (a) I just need to take more ECA (b) I just need to stick with it for longer - eventually the effect will kick in (c) It works for some people but not others for as-yet unidentified reasons (d) it doesn't work, and other factors explain the apparent success in some

Upvoted for reporting self-experiment result.

Well, at least you tried. My points would be:

  • Primary effect should be appetite suppression. There are all kinds of things that can go wrong between appetite suppression and fat loss, but if appetite suppression is not present, something must be wrong early. So ignore possibility (b) - you might need to wait for fat loss, but appetite suppression should be almost immediate.
  • What kind of ECA was it? How much ephedrine/caffeine/aspirin? What I used had 60mg ephedrine and 200mg caffeine (plus probably as much caffeine in drinks). Also some pills are called "ECA" but do not contain any ephedrine and instead something supposedly equivalent.
  • And as you said, I wouldn't be surprised if you needed more caffeine if you normally take a lot of it.
  • Were you actually gaining fat? (as measured by clothing size, or body resistance meters, or other proxy)
  • By the way, why did you want to lose body weight if your bmi was normal?
  • I took ECA Extreme which is claimed to contain 25 mg "ephedra extract", 200mg caffeine, and a few "woo" ingredients. So perhaps I just need a more ephedra-heavy mix.

  • I was just about stable in terms of fat, neither increasing nor decreasing.

  • Oops, my mistake - my bodyfat percentage is ~23% (measured by electronic resistance scale); my bmi is actually ~27(corrected in the post) . I don't really care about BMI - I expect that to be on the high side because BMI is a silly measurement and I'm trying for an "athletic" build. But I do want to reduce fat. I'm hoping to get bodyfat below 20%. My bodyfat level is currently in an "acceptable" health range, but I've been working on some circus skills (aerial acrobatics) for which it would be a huge advantage if I could be on the low end of acceptable.

25mg of "ephedra extract" might as well be 5mg of actual ephedrine. Seems like the most likely point of failure. Try with stronger ephedrine - if you don't see decent appetite suppression I'll be surprised.

Fat:carb ratio isn't really relevant, but most modern diets are pretty low in protein and micronutrients, barely enough. If you cut amount of your food by 1/3 without changing composition, you might put your protein and micronutrient consumption below healthy threshold, what will result in all sorts of badness. Micronutriens are easy (multivitamin pill). Most bodybuilders keep protein intake pretty much constant on cutting and bulking, so they're on moderate protein on bulking, and high protein when cutting. Plus proteins don't store well in our bodies (we have fat storage obviously, plus carb storage in liver and sort-of- in muscles (it's can only be used for muscle work, never gets released back to blood), but no protein storage), so you pretty much have to eat multiple small protein-containing meals a day if you want to efficiently lose fat without losing muscle.

As I understand it, ECA pills that contain actual ephedrine in amounts as high as you used can no longer be sold either in the US or in the EU - even the link you gave is now invalid because they've reformulated your pill. (The new Forza has "30 mg of Ephedra Extract" instead of 60 mg of ephedrine HCL; they recommend you take twice as many pills as before to get a similar effect.)

The good news for Americans is that we can still legally buy 25 mg Ephedrine. It can't be sold with weight-loss/bodybuilding claims but it's a legal over-the-counter treatment for asthma, if you don't buy too much of it at one time. So we can make our own ECA stack using three separate pills. I used this stack: 25mg Ephedrine (Vasopro), 200 mg Caffeine (No-Doz) and 325 mg aspirin.'s working! You were correct to claim real Ephedrine would have a significant appetite suppressant effect - this was immediately apparent the first day I took it. It'd probably be stronger if I doubled the Eph dose to approach what you were taking - I might do that in a bit. It's too soon to tell whether I'll reach my long-term goals but things are definitely moving in the right direction!

UPDATE (2009): it's still working. So far (about 3 months along), my BMI has dropped from 27 to 25.7; bodyfat has dropped from 23% to 20.5%, and weight has dropped from 86kg to ~81 kg.

I've been reading all the medical literature I can find on ECA and editing the wikipedia entry. A few things I've realized along the way: (1) the aspirin component really isn't necessary; all that matters is the ephedrine and caffeine. (to the extent that it's been studied, there's no clear benefit for most users). (2) It is possible - albeit pretty statistically unlikely - to overdose on ephedrine or ephedra or have bad health effects. When ECA was legal as a supplement there were a great many "adverse effect" reports including perhaps a dozen deaths attributed to it. The FDA banned the sale of ephedra supplements because there was what they regarded as a significant risk associated with it and they didn't count the fact that it enables easy weight loss as an offsetting benefit.

However, my estimate is that the benefit of this drug far, far outweighs the cost. Every plausible back-of-the-envelope calculation I've made says I should keep taking it.

UPDATE (2015): Much like Shangri-La, that initially promising effect of ECA reached a plateau. I didn't reach my target weight. It seemed like a bad idea to keep taking speed for the indefinite future so I stopped. After I stopped, I regained all the lost weight and then some.

(And as of today my current weight is low once again, but that was accomplished using a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT mechanism which is worth a separate post of its own. No oil or ephedrine were used in the method that ultimately proved successful for me.)

Messing with your feelings of hunger is seriously dangerous. Starvation leads to a massive biochemical response, among other things a excretion of endorphines, so you can get kicks from hunger. (That seems to be one of the ways anorexia works -

So, if you want to test the ECA- theory for yourself, be very, very careful. (I speak as a person with weak feelings of hunger which tends to forget to eat. I constantly battle against my tendency to lose weight, especially if stressed. That's no classical eating disorder - I'm very aware that I'm much to thin (BMI around 18). After approx. 2-3 days of low caloric intake (say, only breakfast and nothing else) hunger goes away completely and is replaced by feelings of euphoria and happiness. I suppose, this could happen to anyone who switches of his feelings of hunger. So, be careful, make and keep a timetable for meals!)

People with normal weight and higher (exact numbers depend on gender etc.) have a lot of adipose tissue, which absorbs and releases fuel all the time - after every meal there's excess energy, between meals and at nights there's deficit of energy, it actively manages that.

When you eat insufficient amount of food, your body tries to keep your energy in homeostasis by things like:

  • increased hunger (strongly countered by ECA)
  • decreased energy levels (strongly countered by ECA)
  • decreased metabolic rate (somewhat countered by ECA which has minor thermogenic effect)
  • increased release of fuel from adipose tissue (what we want, maybe somewhat enhanced by ECA)
  • increased breakdown of lean tissue (maybe somewhat countered by ECA, eating relatively higher protein diet may have protective effect here)

Your homeostasis will get what it wants somehow, and ECA tries to prevent it from doing it the way you don't want it to, so it's more or less limited to primarily relying on releasing fuel from adipose tissue. Trying to starve yourself, and willpower the hunger away works much worse than that.

If your adipose tissue cannot do that since it lacks sufficient stored fuel, your body will try the other things harder, and you may have some nasty side effects.

Anyway, who the hell would want to take ECA while being at BMI 18?

Maybe I've been a bit unclear. That may be because I'm no native writer of English.

The point I wanted to make was just "Be very, very careful if you start messing with your feelings of hunger." Self inflicted eating disorders are no fun.

(Also, there are a lot of people with eating disorders out there. Knowledge about starving more effective can be harmful to some people.)

And just to make it clear no one in their right state of mind would start taking ECA while being at BMI 18, the bit about my BMI was just anecdotal to make my point clearer. The nonanecdotal knowledge is in the link I provided, and a short search at Pubmed or Google Scholar should unearth more facts about hunger and it's psychic and physical effects.

I think you were very clear. As might be obvious from this thread, a lot of people have trouble believing in the range of human metabolisms.

Do you know any studies showing effect on life expectancy?

ECA seems to work by throwing the body into Continuous Panic Mode. Surely that will burn calories, but just going by analogies to stress, it doesn't sound good for you even if you dodge the bullet of heart symptoms.

There are no studies on life expectancy effects of almost anything including peanut butter, orange juice, and French fries.

One big argument for ECA safety is that you don't have to take it continuously. Just figure out how many kilograms you want to lose, it's most likely going to take 1-2 weeks per kg on ECA (assuming your eat mostly when hungry and just as much as needed to satisfy that, you can obviously drink 5 litres a day of sugared drinks a day even with zero appetite, and still be gaining weight). Unless you're gaining weight very quickly on your normal diet (in which case you need to adjust that) you won't have to repeat that in very long time, possibly ever.

The main effect of ECA is down-regulating your appetite - something there are very few known proven methods to do, fen-phen comes to mind, but it was removed from the market (completely misguidedly I'd say). ECA also seems to have some effects on fat and muscle metabolism, and some mild stimulating effects, but it's not obvious from research that these are of much relevance to humans.

This is serious stuff, so if you have some heart condition or don't think you can use it responsibly, don't do it. But then the only other anti-obesity method with better research record is surgery.

I've never even heard of ECA pills, just had to look them up. So they really work? Side effects?

I've always found that the less i eat the less I want to eat. I just have to get into that "zone" of not eating and I then don't miss food at all. I also feel a mental high when I don't eat.

Has anyone else found this?

As far as side effects go, it's a low dose stimulant. Some people experience very significant stimulation for the first few days, but it passes quickly while appetite suppression effect persists. If you're used to caffeine stimulation effect will be lower. You may have sleeping problems if you take them late during the day, they're supposed to be taken in the morning.

I would not recommend taking ECA long term. 2-3 months at a time should be enough to achieve significant weight loss. Just take them every day, and adequate dose, I've seen some people taking them inconsistently and that led to no results whatsoever and all the side effects, and Internet is full of reports of people who took too little ECA and it didn't do anything. Dose response seems to be binary, too low dosage doesn't work at all, very high dosage doesn't provide any more appetite suppression than normal dosage, but you get a lot more side effects.

I've never even heard of ECA pills, just had to look them up. So they really work?

Yes, of course they work. They are stimulants. Cocaine, adderall and meth also work as an effective weight loss drugs, in case you were wondering.

Side effects?

Less than the aforementioned cocaine on a side-effect/desired-effect basis. Basically expect the side effects to be "kind of like just having lots of coffee all the time but stronger".

I'm 79 kg (bmi 22) down from 106 kg (bmi 30) five years ago, so unlike 95% of after-diet rebouncers I know what I'm talking about.

Is this deliberate irony?

I just looked up ECA. It is perhaps not as safe as you suggest, but I'd have to actually see the relevant numbers. Seems to be (primarily due to the E, apperently) linked to heart issues. Mostly via making existing issues worse, but possibly in some cases causing issues where there weren't before. At least according to wikipedia

Read the wikipedia article before following this advice.

"In the United States, it is illegal to market products containing ephedrine or ephedra alkaloids as a dietary supplement."

Best check with your local bodybuilders. In UK you can conveniently order it from the Internet from this website or one of many others. In many countries ephedrine from natural sources doesn't fall under regulations. Politicians don't seem that bothered by that, as amounts found in ephedra isn't economical for large scale amphetamines manufacturing.

Just drink two tablespoons of extra-light olive oil early in the morning... don't eat anything else for at least an hour afterward... and in a few days it will no longer take willpower to eat less; you'll feel so full all the time, you'll have to remind yourself to eat.

...and then increase the dose to 4 tablespoons if that doesn't work, and then try some other stuff such as crazy-spicing your food if that doesn't work, according to page 62 and Chapter 6 of Roberts' "Shangri-La" Diet" book. I hope you at least tried the higher dose before giving up.

A more elegant explanation of the effectiveness of the diet would be that eating a calorically-dense food in the morning knocks your fat metabolism into gear.

I would like to take measurement of body temperatures while on the Shangri-La diet; I would expect body temperature to rise significantly from its nighttime low towards maximal resting temperaturen when olive oil was consumed (oil/fat being the most calorically dense macronutrient). Fat storage is very powerful, and very mysterious to doctors. If you're body doesn't feel comfortable losing weight, you will find it extremely difficult to do so and even more difficult to keep the weight off. The most important thing is to balance the body's nutrient needs and remove stressors that would cause of enhance weight gain. Any human could run for days on end if they were able to access this fat storage without other constraints (and the point of V02 training is to increase access to this energy).

Other people have suggested similar things, but I'll take it a step farther: the issue may simply be fidelity of sensory input neurons, i.e. different things count as "having taste" for different people. I assure you, you could give me olive oil so lite that it glowed, and it would still have a very distinctive and strong taste to me.

This, I guess, is where the noseclip suggestion came from.

I have an (I think) better idea: "drink" the stuff by putting it in a (clean!) turkey baster, stick the turkey baster in the back of your throat, and squeeze. If you have a gag reflex problem, not so much, of course, but I'd sure be interested to find out how that works for people who have tried the diet and had it fail.


When extra light olive oil didn't work, I tried taking oil in the form of swallowed flax oil caplets. Swallowing twenty of those wasn't much fun, but it still didn't work.

I haven't heard any complaints from people regaining weight they lost on the Shangri-La Diet,

I've been doing informal research on diet and weight loss for 2 years now. I can say that there seems to be a survivorship bias problem. i.e. people seem to be more likely to report their early success than their later failure. Which is a problem since in diet and weight loss, long term results are what matters.

In fact, when I pester people for updates, I normally get either good news or no response. I don't recall even one person telling me that they fell off the wagon and regained everything.

I'm definitely interested in your research. I've done some myself.

The survey I recommend reading both the livejournal and the dreamwidth comments. They don't trend in the same direction.

My conclusions Short version: people can hurt themselves badly by trying to lose weight. "Roll your own" moderate low carb and exercise regimes work safely for some people.

One more thought

(Sorry for the double post-- I first put this in a continued thread where it would be less likely to be seen.

This to me sounds like "I was hanging around a Scientologist community and they all told me that auditing is great for my health". Obviously, nobody who thought that dieting was good for them would be part of the "fat acceptance community".

There's a reason why anecdotal evidence isn't considered good evidence. Are there a significant number of actual scientists, doctors, and researchers who think that someone who is more than 50 pounds over the norm should not be losing weight? (That's the plural. You can find one or two researchers who'll support anything. Having a general consensus is something else.)

Epidemiological studies show an increase in mortality associated with over-weight and obesity. Individuals who are obese (BMI > 30) have a 50 to 100 percent increased risk of premature death from all causes compared to individuals with a BMI in the range of 20 to 25.An estimated 300,000 deaths a year may be attributable to obesity.

Morbidity from obesity may be as great as from poverty, smoking, or problem drinking. Overweight and obesity are associated with an increased risk for coronary heart disease; type 2 diabetes; endometrial, colon, postmenopausal breast, and other cancers; and certain musculoskeletal disorders, such as knee osteoarthritis (table 1). Both modest and large weight gains are associated with significantly increased risk of disease. For example, a weight gain of 11 to 18 pounds increases a person's risk of developing type 2 diabetes to twice that of individuals who have not gained weight, while those who gain 44 pounds or more have four times the risk of type 2 diabetes.

A gain of approximately 10 to 20 pounds results in an increased risk of coronary heart disease (nonfatal myocardial infarction and death) of 1.25 times in women and 1.6 times in men. Higher levels of body weight gain of 22 pounds in men and 44 pounds in women result in an increased coronary heart disease risk of 1.75 and 2.65, respectively. In women with a BMI of 34 or greater, the risk of developing endometrial cancer is increased by more than six times. Overweight and obesity are also known to exacerbate many chronic conditions such as hypertension and elevated cholesterol.

(References removed, but they're all there in the original.)

Have you got evidence that deliberately losing weight improves health?