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.
4Eli Tyre4y
The "Only vodka" diet. Hm?
Refusing to eat for a month isn't harmful? I'm not a nutritionist, but I find that claim absurd.
If you have more than a few pounds of fat, for VERY nearly 100% of people, no, it's strictly beneficial or net-neutral.
Or just invent new "diets". e.g., "This month I will only eat foods that start with the letter P."
I hereby officially declare October a Pizza Month! :D
I can just feel the pounds dropping away!
I've seen this seriously suggested by dietary experts, but can't find the citation. Compare to similar strategies in defeating infections.

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.

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.

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.

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)

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.

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?
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. 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?)
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?
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.

In the book he claims IV calories work similarly.
Well, how about that. :)

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... (read more)

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 appetit... (read more)

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 stil... (read more)

I realize this is a reply to an 8-year old update on a 14-year old post, but on the off chance that this reaches you - what was the diet you described as "ultimately proved successful"? And would you still say that?  I'm diving into the rabbit hole of obesity & diet research and found this whole old thread on the shangri-la diet to be quite interesting. Thanks for sharing your self-experimentation, and updating, even after years. 
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.
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.
Is this deliberate irony?
What is ECA?
Ephedrine, caffeine and aspirin, apparently.
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.
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. 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 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
Have they mastered the art of getting ECA in countries where Ephedrine is a controlled substance?
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.
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."

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 bored... (read more)

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.) (References removed, but they're all there in the original.)
Have you got evidence that deliberately losing weight improves health?
What? I just quoted the Surgeon General's report which claims that.
No, you posted claims that gaining weight (probably actually being heavier rather than gaining the weight) is dangerous, not that losing weight reverses the danger.
That's entirely correct, but you asked for evidence not proof. The fact that obesity is associated with increased mortality is evidence (but not proof) that losing weight improves the situation. Another piece of evidence is studies which show obese T2 diabetics who lose weight with weight loss surgery tend to see improvements in their diabetic symptoms. (I can try to find them if you are seriously skeptical). Of course you also have to use your common sense here. At least part of the reason obesity as associated with worse health is that it puts extra chronic strain on your system -- your heart, your knees, your lungs, etc. So common sense also says that going from obese to non-obese, all things being equal, will improve your health. It would be difficult to get further evidence or proof. Partly because it's very unusual for people to lose substantial weight and keep it off. So it's hard to find a suitable group of people to study scientifically. Besides which, you can bet that among people who do successful weight loss, a very large percentage are doing other things which can be expected to improve their health -- such as exercise and eating less junk food -- regardless of whether they lose weight. So if you are obese and are able to become thin and stay there, I would say it's pretty much a no-brainer. But that's a big "if." I personally believe that if one is sufficiently intelligent and sane to hold down a professional job, then it's do-able.
Cool, I will check it out. FWIW I'm pretty much satisfied that generally speaking, obesity is a mental problem and not a problem of metabolism. This is very interesting to me. Perhaps going to Weight Watchers is like "announcing your goals," i.e. signing up for Weight Watchers "satisfies your self-identity just enough that you're less motivated to do the hard work needed." Even buying a glossy book on weight loss might have such an effect. Perhaps it is even better to approach weight loss indirectly, to take the following attitude: "I'm going to start eating better and exercising. If I lose a little weight, great, but if not I am still better off." i.e. not only don't announce your goals to other people, don't even tell them to yourself.
Funny thing-- I'm pretty much satisfied that conventional dieting is a mental disorder. The failure rate is caused by a lack of respect for feedback from emotions and body. A roll-your-own diet designed by a calm person is adapted to that person rather than based on fantasies of self-control and self-transformation through suffering. I've read a fair number of accounts from people who found that they simply weren't getting enough food if they followed the rules at Weight Watchers, and also that Weight Watchers was teaching a number of strategies for ignoring hunger-- it was training eating disorders. This doesn't mean it works out that badly for everyone.
Well would you mind defining "conventional dieting" and "mental disorder"? I would guess this is probably true to a large extent. I think that among other things, early success can cause overconfidence, which can undermine one's ability to deal with bumps in the road. But even putting that aside, it's easy to not appreciate what you are up against. I'm not too familiar with Weight Watchers, but from what I understand, you get a certain number of "points" per day and you can use those points on pretty much any food. My criticism of this is approach is that (1) some foods are, for lack of a better word, addictive; they screw up your brain's ability to make intelligent decisions about food. So you are better off keeping those foods to a minimum even if they are technically permitted by one's diet. (2) A point system gives you a lot of choices about what to eat and when and the mental process of choosing depletes your mental energy. (3) A point system is hard to use at special events. Who wants to be seen weighing and measuring food at Thanksgiving? But at the same time, any kind of "cheating" has the potential to set a bad precedent.
Since you did not tell me what you mean by "mental disorder" or "conventional dieting," I will assume that "conventional dieting" means attempting to lose weight and keep it off by means of eating a balanced diet which is restricted in energy content. While engaging in (and maintaining) such a diet requires a lot of thought about one's food intake, I don't see any basis to categorize such thought as a "mental disorder." It need not make one miserable; undermine one's relationships with family or friends; or stop one from holding down a job. So basically I think you need to re-think this idea particularly if you yourself are trying to lose weight.

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, yo... (read more)

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, a... (read more)

6Eliezer Yudkowsky15y
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.

Rethinking Thin has somewhat about what's known about the biology of hunger, satiation, and fat loss and retention. It's complicated. It's complicated even for "normal" people, and less is known about how it can vary or break.

I respect Seth's approach of self-experimentation, and I wish people for whom the Shangri-La diet doesn't work would poke around to see what weird thing they might find that works for them. However, I've seen Seth wildly over-generalize and over-recommend about the things that work for him. IIRC, he has mentioned that SLD wo... (read more)

As I have just noted on RW: Fad diets are generated from a confluence of sincerity and stupidity. 1. Person does thing A. 2. Shortly after, person experiences thing B. 3. Person concludes A caused B. 4. Person writes book generalising this as the solution for everyone else in the whole world. This process produces diets suffering certain fairly obvious and important epistemic and scientific deficiencies. Compare broscience.
I think you're too kind. I suspect that some fad diets are just people making things up, without even a limited basis in personal experience.
The Shangri-La diet and Atkins diets would be in that category, as would the entire contents of Four Hour Body by Tim Ferriss. (That I tried Ferriss' blatantly faddy "instant fat loss" diet, because it was made entirely of food I like, and it worked - I'm down from 105kg to 95kg and feel great - is a source of some sceptics' chagrin to me, possibly more than pretty much matching all stereotypes of my conventional star sign.) You have to remember: just because the purported science behind what they say looks made-up doesn't mean it isn't their sincere understanding as such. People who assume correlation equals causation are often not the best at medical literature search and summary. Remember: "assume good faith" is a nicer statement of "never assume malice when stupidity would suffice."
I disagree with respect to the Four Hour Body. While Ferriss is particularly good at presenting his content to a popular science audience, using enthusiasm and anecdotes to make the information salient, the scientific basis in the background isn't bad and definitely not in the same category as Shangri-La or Atkins. (I refer here to the presentation in his recent book, not the even more hypeish blog post from 2007 with the rather provocative and unrealistic link-bait title!) What is particularly notable, and unusual for this kind of health and fitness book is the entire chapter on "Spotting Bad Science 101". It opens with a section on the difference between correlation and causation, a principle that is sprinkled throughout the rest of the book in notes and reminders. It would clearly be unfair to apply the criticism "people who assume correlation equals causation are often not the best at medical literature search and summary" in this case. Particularly if extended to the 'entire contents' of the book! A criticism that I would level at Ferriss is that he takes weight loss principles that are fairly well known (in some circles) and repackages them under his own brand name, complete with the 'faddishness' that you mention. Plenty of blatant attention seeking all round. I don't endorse everything in The Four Hour Body; it is not a textbook. It's just the best book that happens to be out there on the subject that is accessible to the intended audience. It models an instrumentally rational approach more so than a purely scientific one, balancing the use of established science with trying to incorporating other forms of legitimate but less rigorous forms of evidence from evidently successful professional advisors and simple experiment by hackers.
I'm afraid my faith in Tim Ferriss' grasp of science and indeed epistemology was fatally shaken by looking into his claim that the ECA stack was scientifically proven. I was extremely interested by this, as I have worked on the Wikipedia article and found not even a consistent claimed mechanism from ECA advocates - what I could find gave a different mechanism each time, and was mostly terribly low-quality stuff on people's random web pages or eHow articles or FAQs that misspelled "freqently"[sic]. That Ferriss said he had a scientifically-backed mechanism was potentially great news! So I sought out his references PDF (he doesn't put them in the actual book) and looked up what he had ... it was a long quote from an old version of the Wikipedia article. Except that that text was removed from the article because it was completely uncited, overall or in detail. And Ferriss' quote from the article carefully removed all the "citation needed" tags. So yeah, given that example I have no faith whatsoever in Ferriss' grasp of what constitutes evidence beyond "it worked for me", let alone science.
You don't think "consume a @#%load of stimulants and you're going to lose weight" is scientifically proven? It just isn't a claim that is worth justifying beyond reference to whatever wikipedia has to say. What Tim said about ECA didn't extend much beyond offhand mentions of the blatantly obvious. Including the part about dependence, ending up requiring constant stimulant use to maintain even normal levels of function and in general suggesting it is a stupid thing to do. He just isn't an ECA advocate - not even one that knows how to spell 'frequently'. There is no way I'm going to follow you on that one. You are totally misjudging the extent to which that constitutes evidence against Tim's epistemic capability. Extending the criticism to "the entire contents of Four Hour Body by Tim Ferriss [emphasis in context]" is inexcusable. So is declaring an author incapable of understanding the difference between causation and correlation despite overwhelming evidence against your conclusion (a chapter explaining and constant emphasis where relevant) and basically no evidence for beyond 'fatal' disapproval.
That is indeed scientifically proven, as I already noted in the RW article. However, what Ferriss actually says in the book is (to cut'n'paste from the PDF I have here): This sentence has a footnote, the text of which is: I noticed this was the explanation from the deleted Wikipedia text. "At last, something citable!" I thought. And when I went to the reference PDF, I found a link to the old Wikipedia version with no references in whole or in part for that section and covered in "[citation needed]". I think quoting an old Wikipedia article version as your crowning moment of evidence and carefully removing the "citation needed" tags is pretty damning. You have already misleadingly summarised what he says in the book in this case, as I note at the beginning of this comment, so aren't doing that well yourself.
Our disagreement here is substantial and unlikely to change due to further conversation.

Eliezer, do you eat more or less in response to low grade nausea? I have a hypothesis as to why the diet didn't work me for me. Mostly, the diet had no effect but occasionally I had appetite suppression with auxiliary symptoms that reminded me of the first trimester of pregnancy. In my case, the activated pathways seem to be related. I think maybe the diet works by making you nauseous, but since there's no flavor there's no obvious Garcia effect.

I'm not actually sure that the diet, as you've written it, would work even if the theory were complete. You say that an association is formed between flavor X and calories and that association with X controls the set point. But why would X be the dominant factor, when you're already eating flavors A, B, through to W whose contribution to the set point got you to the weight you started at? Does the book elaborate on how the association works?

Yes the strength of the association is cumulative. So if you eat highly flavored food that is high in calories, your set point goes up (think junk food). if you eat calories with little or no flavor, your set point goes down. Effectively your brain is trying to work out "is there lots of high calorie food around?" Part of the mechanism is the food/calories association. In the book he points to a fair number of pieces of evidence that point to this conclusion. And it explains a few things that are otherwise surprising Eg why is diet soda fattening (answer: you consume it at MacDonalds with high calorie foods and it adds to the associative power of the junk food meal by adding flavor). Eg why did my wife lose a lot of weight when she injured her nose and lost her sense of smell for a while (answer: her flavor/calorie associative mechanism broke). Why are high calorie hyperpalatable standardized foods so addictive: because they create super-strong associations. Lots more.... Obviously there are some missing pieces to the puzzle: Eg why does it fail with some people? Also he is a psychologist and misunderstands some aspects of food metabolism. For example, he says fructose is "low glycemic index" and therefore takes a while to be absorbed into your blood as glucose. In fact, generally, fructose (and the fructose component of table sugar) is not turned into glucose at all. It is usually metabolised into fats by the liver. Only when your liver is depleted of glycogen is it used to replenish the liver's glycogen, which can be turned into glucose.

As far as the oil diet, I tried it last year but didn't find much benefit. I had lost 40 pounds a year eralier and have kept it off since then through teeth-clenched, iron-willed, unceasing self-control. I tried oil for a few months and I can't really say it made it any easier. The oil tended to induce nausea which did suppress my appetite for a few hours, but it wasn't much fun feeling sick a lot.

You can alternatively drink sugar water in place of the oil, because sugar, in Roberts' model, does not have flavor.

By the way, "the set-point diet" is already taken - (I tried this one and it did not work for me.)

This has been touched on indirectly in other comments, but it seems the simplest explanation of the failure mode described would be that the technique is just not being correctly performed, that there's some simple key variable that no one thinks to control for. Maybe you smell someone else in the building cooking breakfast, or brush your teeth with mint toothpaste, or use the wrong brand of oil.

On the note of self-testing vs. controlled experiment, has anyone here tried the polyphasic ("uberman") sleep cycle? Does anyone know of any controlled experiments, either self-administered or larger-scale, which I could look at? I was interested in trying it a few years ago, but dropped in in about 24 hours (before I could have really even been said to try it) due to microsleep in waking hours.

I managed polyphasic sleep for a week once. It was hellish awful, and eventually I couldn't force myself to carry on through the barrier and see if it lifted...
I tried it for a few months in grad school. It works better than you'd expect, but not as well as you'd hope. Days 2-3 were very rough, but after I acclimated, my subjective experience was similar to staying up a few hours past my normal bedtime (mild fatigue, but not unpleasant or debilitating if I was actively doing something). Three things killed it for me: 1. It is very difficult to maintain a social life if you need to go home and nap every 3.5 hours on a strict schedule. 2. My class schedule was different on different days of the week, so I had to fudge my nap schedule around the classes. The fatigue was much worse on the days (Tuesdays and Thursdays, I think) that I couldn't keep my usual nap schedule. 3. Any stimulants at all will wreck the sleep cycle, and weird sleep cycle or no, I often find myself needing caffeine in order to acheive the mental energy I need to force myself to focus on something I need to get done. As for formal experiments, the best source I know of is "Why We Nap: Evolution, Chronobiology, and Functions of Polyphasic and Ultrashort Sleep" by Claudio Stampi. It documents most of the existing studies as of when it was written (1992) as well as a formal study conducted by the author. It's out-of-print and fairly rare, but there's a PDF available here:
It doesn't seem like anyone really keeps up uberman for much longer than a year. An alternative sleep schedule that I do sometimes is biphasic, 3-5 hours twice a day.

The background article for Shangri-La diet is titled What makes food fattening? A Pavlovian theory of weight control. This theory doesn't strike me as particularly Pavlovian. It might be more appropriate to call it a Powersian theory.

Roberts calls it Pavlovian because he conceives of a specific flavor as an unconditioned stimulus and calories as the conditioned stimulus. He thinks set point changes are a response to a learned association between calories and a specific flavor. It's not a perfect fit to classical conditioning, but it's not a totally wacky naming. (I agree that PCT is a better fit, but it seems unlikely that Roberts is aware of PCT.)
Indeed. I'm pretty sure the word "Pavlovian" made its way in there mostly because the revelation involved salivating.

This post has generated a disproportionate number of comments. I think it illustrates the common struggles we all face in attempting to optimize our own behavior as well as that of others. At what point does other-optimizing become a case of trying to hard and lapsing into failure mode, a disutility loop if you will. The UC Berkeley writer Michael Pollan summed up his dietary advice in seven words: "Eat food, mostly plants, not too much." Or how about renowned nutritionist Marion Nestle: "East less, move more." Of course, one ... (read more)

FWIW, my diet gurus are mostly here:

What I find interesting is this matches, almost exactly, the 30 pounds I lost when I decided to consistently take a multi-vitamin with every meal on the theory that hunger was caused (at least at times) by vitamin deficiencies, and maybe making sure I was flush with vitamins would help.

Worked great for a month or so - I lost (and have kept off) 30 pounds (Unfortunately that means I'm down to 310). Then it just kinda stopped - I haven't gone back up (indeed there have been moments when it acted like it might start going back down again, but so far I'm stuck... (read more)

The diet pretty obviously works because fat plays a huge role in satiety. If you can get a certain amount of fat in the lowest caloric form possible (olive oil, most likely), you won't be have to eat massively caloric things like bacon cheeseburgers in order to slake your hunger.

Still, good diet and exercise are the keys to staying thin. Satisfy your hunger by filling up on vegetables and lean protein. Exercise harder, eat less.

See Akrasia and Shangri-La, the sequel, for the reason why I wish there were some way I could strangle you over the Internet.

It seems like you're questioning the value of diet and exercise -- almost as if they don't work for all people, or they only work for limited amounts of time. This is, of course, untrue, and I know you know this. The real key is to put yourself into a virtuous cycle, where the rewards (or negative consequences) of diet and exercise make themselves apparent to you every day, rather than months down the line, effectively circumventing akrasia.

I am questioning the value of diet and exercise. Thermodynamics is technically true but useless, barring the application of physical constraint or inhuman willpower to artificially produce famine conditions and keep them in place permanently. You, clearly, are one of the metabolically privileged, so let me assure you that I could try exactly the same things you do to control your weight and fail. My fat cells would keep the energy that yours release; a skipped meal you wouldn't notice would have me dizzy when I stand up; exercise that grows your muscle mass would do nothing for mine.

Eliezer, have you ever fasted on Yom Kippur? (or for any other 24 hour period)? I would be really interested to know if you have, and what sort of effects you felt.

Not for as far back as I can remember. One of the scarier parts of my childhood was having to hide food so that I could get something to eat on Yom Kippur, and hoping my parents never found out. I do remember at some point being too exhausted to walk either to or from the synagogue even with my father yelling at me - maybe that was when I was young enough to believe enough to actually fast?

I reasonably expect I would do better now, especially if I'd eaten all protein for a couple of days previous - my adult metabolism is not quite as bad as I remember it being in childhood, and my mind is a whole lot stronger. I'm not particularly inclined to test it, though.

When I was younger I would often consider buying a mini-fridge to put under my bed solely so that on Yom Kippur I would be able to eat without the fear of getting kicked out of the house and shunned because "you aren't respecting our traditions." Good times...
Thank you for your response, I have another question: Under normal circumstances, do you find yourself from time to time resisting the urge to consume superstimulus type foods? To illustrate, consider your typical educated middle aged American man who is moderately overweight. He may not be actively dieting per se, but when he wakes up in the morning, he may have the urge to eat a plate of nachos or a slice of pie for breakfast. He might then tell himself "oh come on, don't be such a fat slob" and have a bowl of cereal and fruit instead. Of course, he might have nachos and beer that night we he is hanging out with his buddies, but the point is that he makes some degree of effort to eat healthy. So my question to you is do you exert some degree of mental effort to eat healthy (even if it's not enough effort to make you thin)? Or do you just eat whatever you feel would be tastiest in the most satisfying quantities?
6Eliezer Yudkowsky11y
I don't know what the hell your mental model of me is like, but I can't eat the tasty things that normal people around me eat, on pain of blowing up like a balloon. If you go to the SIAI office, you'll see a lot of thin people eating chocolate, candy bars, chocolate-coated nuts, and so on - just their normal way of getting energy for a workday - and me drinking protein-powder in water.
I can confirm this. :)
Thank you for your response. Sorry if I insulted you, but a few posts back you seemed to be saying that you did not want to expend the mental energy to diet and get and stay thin. At the same time, I think it's worth keeping in mind that you do (apparently) spend some amount of mental energy to keep your weight in check. Which I think is totally reasonable and normal. I am trying to develop my own theory of diet, exercise and weight loss. One idea which I had today is that perhaps one can take the mental energy which a normal, non-dieting person expends on his food intake and focus it so as to get the most bang for the buck, so to speak. Thank you again for responding to my question.
3Eliezer Yudkowsky11y
Reread. I was and am saying that mental energy doesn't work to do that. There is no known procedure for "become thin" except Adipotide.
Here's what you said that I was thinking of (it's in the companion thread): Perhaps I misinterpreted your words, but I understood you to be saying that you thought you could get thin and stay thin if you devoted the vast majority of your mental energy to the project. Which I think is probably true. P.S. What do you make of the posters here and in related fora who claim to have achieved and maintained significant weight loss? Do you think they are lying? P.P.S. Are you really that optimistic about Adipotide? My sense is that over the years, I have heard many reports about promising new drugs; usually the excitement fizzles out. Based on past history, it would seem to be a bit of a long-shot. Any reason to me more optimistic on this drug? Thank you again for responding to my comments.
I solved my cravings issues. After developing a food intolerance, I planned a diet that included enough salt, fruit, vegetables, protein, fat, everything. Because I was ensuring that I got everything that I needed every day, my cravings went away. I stuck to that diet for years, with 20% less calories than I needed. I didn't miss them. I discovered that counting calories for each meal was such a chore for me that it would ruin my willpower. So I made a meal plan that had everything already counted out, provided enough variety to keep me from getting bored, and was designed for fast cooking so I wouldn't get tempted to snack instead of sticking to my meals. I stuck to that diet for years, and consistently lost weight. From what I can tell, my entire problem with "lack of willpower" was actually imbalanced nutrition. I'd fail to eat enough salt one day and then find myself pigging out on pizza the next. I'd eat a lot of seeds one day and wouldn't feel satisfied, so I'd keep eating them. I've stopped binges by adding salt and I've noticed that if I eat vegetables with my seeds, I feel satisfied much sooner. Also, I think food additives cause me cravings. Sometimes there is a processed food item I can't stop eating once I start, but a home made version doesn't have the same effect. I make everything from scratch on my diet (not as time-consuming as it sounds because I maximize efficiency) and I think that was a large part of my success.
There are a lot of things that help. Here is a list with yours at the top. It definitely helped me. Perhaps part of the problem is that people are looking for a single thing that will solve the problem. For many people, myself included, you need to get a lot of things right. 1. Ensure no micro-nutrient deficiencies. And note that different people have very different needs. 2. Ecological issues - control over the accessibility of fattening foods. (No chocolate under the desk) 3. Avoid excessive stress. Including lack of sleep, pain, infections as well as the boss shouting at you a lot. 4. Optimum amount of exercise. Too much energy depleting hard "cardio" can cause 5. Build up lean body mass through strength training. The right strength training not some rubbish inflicted on you by a minimally trained instructor. 6. Optimum nutrition timing. Some people thrive on one meal a day, and find eating more often makes them hungry, others need to graze. 7. Sufficient bulkiness of food to stimulate the stomach's stretch receptors. 8. Sufficient of the various macro-nutrients (glucose equivalents, proteins including correct amino acid mix, the various forms of fats (eg Omega 3s and Omega 6s). 9. Compensate for metabolic defects. Eg some people have trouble turning short chain Omega 3s into long chain Omega 3s. Similarly carotene / vitamin A. You may need to supplement the exact thing you need. 10. Avoid appetite stimulants (eg caffeols which are in coffee including decaf but not in caffeine tablets). 11. Avoid highly glycemic food in large quantities due to insulin spikes and rebound hunger (chinese restaurant effect). 1. You may have to deal with some psychological issues around food. This is very common. Food is a common tool used to make many forms of psychological pain go away for a while. None of the above will help with that. Many more.
Would you mind sharing your weight loss history and current status?
I was 80kg with very low muscle mass so my body fat was probably around 30%. I lost weight to about 67kg and have put weight on back up to 74kg, mostly muscle*. My waist has overall gone from 104cm to about 90cm The process took about 10 years with many ups and downs and setbacks. I want to get back under 70kg. The major outstanding problem is that I tend to gain weight in Fall when the days are getting shorter. This at 165cm in height. *I found at I have low Testosterone levels which probably contributed to my difficulties in losing fat in particular. The recent gains in weight are linked to increased muscle mass resulting from normalizing my Testosterone levels combined with HIIT and resistance training.
I like this list. I especially like the fact that it is very explicit about different things working for different people -- there is no one magic pill/exercise/diet that works for everyone!!eleven! And number 12 is a biggie. It receives very little research because it's hard to quantify, measure, control for, it's very diverse, etc. but my impression is that for many people it's the real reason they have weight problems they can't get a handle on.
Yes I agree . . . there is apparently a significant problem with alcoholism among people who get weight loss surgery and I suspect this is part of the reason.
I'm told there can be a physical component to that -- weight loss surgery that involves changes to the intestinal layout means alcohol gets absorbed more quickly (most liquid is absorbed in the large intestine), meaning patients get drunker quicker. A quick Google supports this -- apparently the higher alcoholism rates haven't been found in association with lap band surgery, which doesn't affect the intestines.
That's really interesting. When I think about it, it is plausible that rate of absorbtion would affect the addictiveness of alcohol.
Doesn't look too plausible to me. There are easy ways to increase the rate of absorption of alcohol, for example drink on an empty stomach, or drink carbonated alcoholic drinks. I haven't heard of these behaviors being associated with alcoholism.
That's an interesting point too. The basis for my reasoning above is Paul Graham's idea that if you take something you like and make it more intense it increases the potential for addiction. I do agree that the examples you give go against this intuition. What are the drinks of choice for alcoholics? There is the stereotype of the wino but not the champagne-o.
That's because alcoholics generally can't afford champagne on a regular basis.
A SodaStream and a bottle of vodka leads to... interesting results quickly and cheaply.
I don't see why not . . . it doesn't cost much to carbonate liquids, agreed?
I thought champagne referred to wine from the Champagne region of France.
It's interesting, the use of the word "champagne" is somewhat controversial. I believe that it used to be that you could call carbonated wine "champagne" if it were prepared in the Champagne style. According to Wikipedia, they changed the law in 2006 but grandfathered wines which were sold before then. Anyway, this is a bit of a side issue. If you don't want to call it "champagne," you can call it "sparkling wine" and the same argument applies.
Differences in the rate of absorption can definitely be important to addiction; oral amphetamines are not particularly addictive, but amphetamines taken in other ways that increase absorption rate are very addictive. And the last I checked the research on that, there wasn't much understanding of exactly why the line there is where it is. Perhaps alcohol just works completely differently, but it is also possible that drinking on an empty stomach, or drinking carbonated drinks, doesn't increase absorption enough to make a difference. Or perhaps it does make a difference, but not enough to have turned up in any research yet; this isn't an area where small effects would be easy to detect.
I would add as EY says some people just have it tough. There are some populations with a legacy of severe famine who are tremendously prone to weight gain. Epigenetic effects from childhood illness, hunger, neglect or abuse seem also to be a factor in some people. Various illnesses also cause weight gain eg Cushing's syndrome.
Have you tried weightlifting? I can well believe that it doesn't work for you - just want to check :). It is the most time-efficient way of affecting your weight through exercise, way better than cardio. It has the biggest endocrinological effects so I would think it would work the best against a stubborn body.
5Eliezer Yudkowsky15y
Yup. I didn't notice any muscle development; I did seem able to lift somewhat larger weights over time, but that could have been placebo or skill.
Since the thread has been resurrected already... have you tried Clenbuterol? That's something that can bipass pesky genetic inconveniences.
7Eliezer Yudkowsky12y
I'm currently trying it. If it works at all, it's working at the rate of something like 1 pound per two weeks, and I'm not sure it's working at all. (A two-week Clenbuterol cycle is enough for metabolically privileged people to lose 10 pounds of fat, apparently.) EDIT Nov 2012: It didn't really work at all so far as I can tell.
Wow. I was not expecting that answer. It's the sort of suggestion I throw around expecting people to be far too squeamish to consider it seriously.
I have the same problem you do (am clinically obese despite a relatively active daily schedule--I walk three miles a day, don't drink soft drinks, don't eat junk food, eat lots of fresh fruits & vegetables etc). I've come to a lot of the same conclusions, especially that insulin resistance probably has a lot to do with my problem. I switched to whole grains years ago (brown rice, whole wheat pasta, whole grain bread etc.) but my weight continued to creep up. These grains (along with others like bulgur and couscous) do make up the bulk of my diet, and my recent reading has led me to believe that the glycemic load of these foods combined with my own insulin resistance is probably what's making me fat. I know you tried a low carb diet in the past, but you mentioned mostly eating turkey and bananas--bananas are a relatively high glycemic load food ( so that could explain why you didn't see much progress low-carbing it. (Low carb diets do work for me, but like the vast majority of people, I'm not able to maintain a diet based on such sweeping restrictions in the long term: and when I go off the diet, I quickly gain back the lost weight plus extra pounds.) I'm taking the glycemic load approach now, which is a lot more flexible in terms of what it allows you to eat. (It's worth noting that there's a distinction between the "glycemic index" and the "glycemic load" charts, and that the glycemic load charts are much more useful for practical purposes.) I'm also supplementing with cinnamon and apple cider vinegar, both of which seem to have a beneficial effect on insulin resistance. I'll try to put up another post in six weeks to report the results.
Updated results: I got pregnant, which pretty much kiboshes the experiment. I don't think the pregnancy is attributable to a low-glycemic-load diet, however!
Newer research has revealed that certain chronic conditions seem much more common than is thought. It could be that a relatively large portion of the population is suffering from certain conditions which don't exhibit severe enough symptoms to be diagnosed with anything or that symptoms are ignored by harmful social paradigms, e.g. someone with a mitochonodrial disorder is labelled as "lazy" despite inability to properly metabolize energy. Lyme Disease is one disease which could be extremely prevalent but be underdiagnosed because of the difficulty in which it is diagnosed and the lack of reliable tests. There are plenty of other candidates as well. If one has any persevering health problems, it bears that one should try to objectively judge one's physical& mental abilities for the possibility of physiological abnormalities.
My experience is years of frustration with my health, being overweight, low energy all the time, and it turns out that the lyme disease I had been treated for back in high school had survived and continued to plague me beyond my immune system's capacity to completely eradicate. It returned periodically for years, and only during periods of extremely low stress when I was out of school was I able to live comfortably at all. What tipped me off to getting treatment was comparing my physical abilities during high school as an athlete to my abilities up to this point in which I can barely engage in anaerobic exercise.
0David Althaus12y
Do you think Clenbuterol is more effective or has fewer side-effects than Ephedrine or Amphetamine?
More effective (for weight loss) and less side effects than amphetamine (at weight loss dosages of the latter). More effective but with more sides than ephedrine (Clen isn't a toy!). But at doses needed for ephedrine to compete with Clen in desired effects ephedrine has more sides. Essentially both substances work via the same mechanism (beta adrenergic receptor agonists) but Clen is much more specific to beta-2. Clenbuterol really comes into its own when used for cutting (losing weight after already gaining a lot of muscle). In this situation losing weight is already easy enough - aside from the energy use by the muscle tissue the bulking cycle has probably already involved force feeding - eating less is the default. The trick is to lose the fat quickly while minimising the loss of muscle. The mild anabolic effects of clenbuterol (through mechanisms completely unrelated to that of androgenic substances) partially offset the overall muscle catabolism. Clenbuterol is also rather handy for cardiovascular and endurance performance - it's an asthma drug after all. If a cyclist is banned for doping and it isn't for EPO it is probably for clenbuterol.
Such developments are hard to notice in someone you see every day e.g. yourself. Did you ask someone who hadn't seen you in a while (or maybe look at a picture of yourself from before you had started weightlifting)?
Affecting it upwards, you mean. The goal of body builders wasn't exactly to become skinnier last time I checked. (The caveat is that muscle is denser than fat, so if you gain muscle while keeping your total weight constant you'll look skinnier.)
No, downwards. For anyone with a significant amount of fat and underdeveloped muscles. It usually isn't. Yet this is not incompatible with body building being an efficient form of weight loss.
Bodybuilders generally aim to build muscular mass through a cycle of high-intensity workouts under high-calorie conditions alternating with near-fasting (along with some even sketchier practices), but that doesn't say much about weight training in general; modern bodybuilding is incredibly specialized and has little to do with any kind of athletics. By varying diet and the conditions of training, it's possible to use weights to increase endurance, build muscle mass, burn fat, or build strength, and while these all overlap to a certain degree they're not really all that strongly linked. An exclusive focus on one will tend to improve that one much faster than the others.
I don't understand how eliminating fat in this scenario merely makes me merely "look skinnier" rather than actually being skinnier. Constant mass + increased density = reduced volume = (in this case) skinnier... doesn't it?
I was using skinnier as a one-word shorthand for ‘less heavy’, but you're right that a volume-based definition is closer to the common understanding than a mass-based one. (Cf massive which is also about mass in technical speech but about size in colloquial speech, though for a different reason.) (Plus, in most cases of people trying to lose weight, they would actually care more about fat mass than total mass if they fully understood the difference and could measure both.) (In Italian we have a phrase falso magro lit. ‘false lean [person]’ for people who weigh more than one would guess by looking at them.)
But... wouldn't that make them truly lean? Or falsely fat?
Dammit... I meant “more than one would guess”. Fixed.
0Swimmer963 (Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg) 12y
Also, a person with lots of muscle definition won't look "fat" even if they weigh much more than average. They won't look skinny either, but large-and-muscular is generally considered healthier and more attractive than large-and-flabby.
The parenthetical distinction was between 'losing weight' and looking (and even being) skinnier. ie. Gained weight, lost volume and subjectively appear to have lost even more volume.
To expand on this: Imagine a counterfactual organism that always preferentially stores X number of calories per day as fat, where X is equivalent to the calorie expenditure of running at top speed for over 24 hours, and does not increase muscle mass. If the organism eats more than X calories, it gains weight. If it eats less than X calories, it will experience crippling lethargy and eventually die. Obviously no such organism would be produced by natural selection, but assume the Least Convenient Possible World. Would advising such an organism "eat less, exercise more" enable it to lose weight?
Of course not, but you've contrived an odd corner-case that, in fact, doesn't exist in reality. I'm not sure what that goes to show.
Except that my counterfactual organism seems to more strongly resemble Eliezer Yudkowsky than does whatever model you're working from.
Oh come on. If Eliezer eats fewer calories than he expends, he's not going to die of hunger. I fully buy that will-power is a legitimate issue, but bringing up extreme cases like this to make your point doesn't enhance the conversation.
But he may spend large amounts of time in a state where physiological and psychological responses are screaming "eat more food!". This state is not conducive to a happy, productive life.
I won't dispute this. For some people, a calculated decision to remain overweight in today's world in order to focus on other things may be the best course of action. Alternatively, if losing weight is that important to you, you can alter your environment so "today's world" doesn't make it so tempting to eat crappy foods. Your body can be screaming out "eat more food!" all it wants, but if you're living in a cabin in some remote corner of Alaska, there's only so much damage that can do.

if losing weight is that important to you, you can alter your environment so "today's world" doesn't make it so tempting to eat crappy foods

What part of "None of the simple cute little solutions that seem like they really ought to work and do work for the metabolically privileged actually work for me" do you not understand? I've lived in a carefully crappy-food-free apartment and gained weight, and back when I was "losing weight thanks to willpower and exercise!" I ate Little Debbie's poison nuggets and lost weight.

You are ignorant of the governing laws. I don't know how to make it any clearer. Your mind is full of things that sound like good and virtuous truths of a fair and sensible universe where diligence is rewarded and laziness punished. These things are lies.

This reminds me of diabetics that I know. Do you have any problems with insulin?
So, maybe staying thin requires Herculean effort for some. Why turn your back on that particular challenge? Elsewhere you seem to take a lot of pride in your determination to "save the world," which seems like no small feat. Don't try to lose weight -- lose weight!

I can starve or think, not both at the same time.

I had the same experience. In my case I actually tested this and I found to my great surprise that I was more productive at tough (for me) intellectual tasks when dieting (500 calorie deficit). It might be worth testing if not actually done yet. I do accept that some people have terrible problems mobilizing body fat for fuel. This can drive appetite. Weight loss is a wicked problem. There can be many reasons for overeating. Psychology (i found IFS therapy best here), high insulin from excess glycemic carbs, genetic ungiftedness, hormonal issues often driven by excess fructose and/or Omega 6 fats. What is frustrating is you have to get it all right before you lose weight sustainably.
I love this comment. It reminds me how some days my brain is working like a champ and I can tackle any complex programming job with ease. Other days I'm simply aware that my brain is pretending to be a much less smart person's brain, and I should stick to more menial projects. If my job required me to be smart every day, I'd have to pay much more attention to the food / sleep / whatever combination that determines how my brain works the next morning.
I'm sure you've seen the psych research suggesting people have a finite amount of "willpower" they can exercise at a given time. It probably does make sense for some people to worry about hard-thinking (or other endeavors) than staying in top shape.
It's not just that you only have so much "will power" that you ration, it's that your brain doesn't work when you're starving. I had to cut weight for wrestling in high school (from a healthy 185 down to 160) and the will power to not eat wasn't even that difficult (though it did suck), but I still couldn't think well.
I've had your symptoms, too. Skipping a meal would cause my blood sugar to crash (causing irritability and brain fog, for me) and I stopped losing weight temporarily even on the meal plan that worked for me (other comment). The problems that caused this for me were getting a new food intolerance and microbial imbalance (caused by eating things I was intolerant of while I was still trying to figure out the source of the problem). I was hungrier and I stopped losing weight. You've wondered about your metabolism, but have you thought about whether your digestion could be improved? I'm not sure what kinds of conditions might cause this problem and whether they might be hidden (or even whether the problem is more of an absorption issue, some result of the immune system response, or something else), and it's definitely not my business whether you have symptoms or not, but I'll tell you a few things in case they could be useful: I've heard that food intolerance tests are unreliable. If I wanted to know if I had a food intolerance, I'd do an elimination diet to be sure. Probiotic supplements (heck, supplements in general) tend to be poor quality. I won't buy supplements by brands that aren't verified to meet quality standards when independently tested. I use for this, because the government doesn't test them for you. This related link may be of interest.
"exercise that grows your muscle mass would do nothing for mine." Bullshit. The rational thing to do here is to replace 'goal: loose weigth' with 'goal: become fit'. Lift weights or do bodyweight-exercises (pushups, lunges etc.) + walk/run/bike.
3Eliezer Yudkowsky15y
Tried it. Didn't work. Welcome to the unfair universe. Mind you, aerobic exercise does put me in better aerobic condition, sorta. It just doesn't have anything to do with weight loss.

Tried it. Didn't work. Welcome to the unfair universe.

Good thing you don't have that attitude about FAI.

Mind you, aerobic exercise does put me in better aerobic condition, sorta. It just doesn't have anything to do with weight loss.

Have you considered the possibility that you just did something wrong? Common knowledge says that you need to exercise for 20 minutes or more to do any fat burning, but I've read an interesting book that says aerobics don't actually improve your fitness or burn fat.

Specifically, the author claims that, yes, exercising for more than 20 minutes will cause you to burn fat because your sugar stores are exhausted. However, he says, this tells your body that it needs to keep fat around, since clearly you're doing things that need it. Thus, the long-term effect of long-duration aerobics is that you adapt to store fat more... which is why runners who stop running, quickly get fat.

What he suggests needs to happen instead is that you exercise in a way that rapidly consumes sugar, but doesn't dip into the fat stores, so that the adaptation response is to make the body lean towards storing food as sugar, and to convert stored fat to sugar.

His theory is th... (read more)

This strikes me as very unlikely, given that humans have lower sprinting speeds than most prey and predator animals, but better endurance capabilities, enabling us to catch them through persistence hunting. Humans have adaptations that make us quite good at steady long distance running, such as an energy-conserving bipedal gait and highly efficient cooling through sweat, but compared to other animals our size we're quite bad at covering short distances quickly. The idea that our ancestral environment demanded a lot of sprinting relative to long distance running sounds downright implausible.
That sounds like the theory Christopher McDougall presents in Born To Run. As far as I know, he doesn't have any credentials in the relevant fields (not that that has too much impact on whether the theory is likely or not) so maybe he is relying on previous work? If you don't mind me asking, where have you gotten your information from? EDIT: Nevermind, I followed your link to persistence hunting and from there to Endurance Running Hypothesis.
Crisis of belief? Definitely maybe. I don't know EY's full situation, but I'm still having a hard time digesting the idea that he just can't do it. I believe you're just describing high-intensity interval training (HIIT) above. When I started learning about diet and fitness, that was a big one. I agree with the poster who said to ask the bodybuilders. I got into reading bodybuilding information sites and they really do have it down to a fine art. There are many subtleties beyond "good diet and exercise." Screw up a few little things and you won't lose weight. Diet: low carb, and only unrefined, high good fats, high protein ("low carb" here just means not the 80% carbs people normally consume - it doesn't have to be ridiculous like Atkins). Tons of vegetables and fruit (slightly more controversial). Lots of small meals. Eat less calories than you burn [Edit: though obviously this is wishy-washy. Still, count calories in general. Sometimes you have to eat more to boost your metabolism, etc]. There are degrees of strictness, and much more specific ratios and timing and cycles, but those are the basics. Exercise: Do heavy weightlifting. Do full-body lifts like chin ups, push ups/bench press, squats, deadlifts, military press, etc. And do HIIT. And continuously switch your routine around in some way. If this is exactly what you've done, then I underestimate the severity of a slow metabolism. And of course, this doesn't address the willpower issue at all. I just have to say it anyway though, because if you're eating well and exercising regularly and not losing weight, just missing a few things like: -eating 5-6 meals a day, not 3 -pounding a spoonful of fish oil a day -doing 15 min. HIIT 3-4 times a week and not slow cardio -doing squats and deadlifts can make the difference between losing a pound or two a week and actually gaining weight.
Yeah, in my case it's omega 3s or 6s, deadlifts, HIIT, pull-ups, side presses, lots of minimally-processed or unprocessed foods, raw meats and eggs, and the occasional tomato/lemon puree for alkalinization. My achilles' heel has been not being spectacularly regular about any of this, in that I'll also eat out or eat junk when pressed for time or otherwise stressed. And sometimes my exercise will make me sore all over for days, causing me to skip some exercise. When I have ALL of this stuff lined up just so, I lose weight and have more energy. Drop even one piece, and it's flatline or gain.
Weight loss efforts provide much opportunity for magical thinking and drawing false conclusions about causality. You mention a half-dozen factors you had to "tweak" in order to lose weight. So suppose I tweak factor A with no affect. Then I tweak B, then C, then D, and eventually I get up to tweak F and then... I start losing weight for a while! What can I usefully conclude from this? Nearly nothing! Most people conclude that Tweak F must have been an important factor. But perhaps Tweak C was what mattered and it merely took a long time for results to become apparent. Or perhaps the timing is purely coincidental - I lose weight at random intervals or in response to stress at work or changes in my personal life and the latest downturn merely coincided with Tweak F. Or perhaps it's an observer affect, such as the fact that I'm paying attention to my weight in order to evaluate which tweak is working, is what made me lose weight. In short, if there are really tons of variables that all have to be simultaneously satisfied for weight loss to work, there's a decent chance than any conclusion you draw from your personal observations will be useless or counterproductive for anyone else.
Hell, some of them are probably useless or counterproductive for me! ;-) (Hence the admonition to try different things.)
I don't know you, but I'd guess that you're deluded about how much productive tweaking you've done. People are useless at figuring out what causes what when there's a large time-lag between cause and observed effect, especially when there's lots of noise too.
Basically this is something the body cannot do. The fat is stored with some glycerides that can be converted to glucose but the rest cannot. So this theory sounds like broscience to me. What you are actually doing may work though, 10 minutes of HIIT will not burn much glucose (this is good - if you burn glucose it has to be replaced - you want to burn fat) and will add a fair bit of fat-burning muscle.
Mr. Eby, I am doing some informal research on diet, weight loss, exercise etc. I am curious: What was your highest weight; lowest weight in the last 10 years; and current weight? What do you do to maintain your weight? Are you happy with your current weight and level of physical fitness? P.S. I am sorry to invade your privacy but it does seem like you have held yourself out to the world as something of a guru.
If you're still reading, 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
Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes also claims aerobics doesn't work to lose weight and refers to a bunch of studies to that effect. Though he doesn't go so far as to deny there are cardiovascular benefits.
Incorrect, at least from my experience. I lost ~30 pounds, a little more, when I was 16 and doing aerobics one summer. The only diet element I had was eating slightly less. Mind, it was an hour, sometimes an hour and half of intense great aerobics with no breather pause and I was sweating a great deal by the end of each session. I did gain that weight back in less than a month, so fast that my classmates didn't even notice I had lost a lot of weight in the first place, so the end effect was that it didn't work, but the idea of aerobics not leading to weight loss at all is not true.
You cannot counterbalance the evidence behind a claim that "refers to a bunch of studies" by citing anecdotal evidence.
You can most certainly give people a cause to actually look at the "referred to studies" to see what they actually say rather than third hand impressions given in a one sentence comment about a book. ie. To see whether the actual studies are incompatible with the prediction "If someone does intense cardio for one and a half hours (every day) AND actually ate less rather than more energy from food while maintaining this schedule they will probably lose weight". As far as I know the "doesn't work" means something far more specific, practical and psychological that isn't particularly incompatible with the highly unnatural circumstances mentioned in Kiraly's experience. It is also something rather closely relevant to the "I did gain that weight back in less than a month" observation.
This is exactly what pjeby's description of the book you're calling "incorrect" suggested would happen.
I took off about fifteen pounds in seven weeks with nothing but cardio, and dropped another twenty after that in a few more months, still with more cardio (it probably would have taken less if I hadn't had to recover from getting hit by a car in the middle of it,) and I was still losing weight at the time that I seriously altered my workout regimen, because I'd lost too much weight. I put weight back on afterwards, but it was almost all muscle, so that people actually commented that I was looking leaner after I put twenty back on than before I gained the weight (some people even thought I was losing weight while I was gaining it.) I still weigh less today than when I started working out, and have more muscle as well. On the other hand, I have a predisposition to eating disorders (suffered anorexia as a kid,) and my approach to exercise for someone who was not a competitive athlete at the time could fairly be described as fanatical, so it's reasonable to expect that most people who start working out with the intention of taking weight off would not achieve similar results.
PACE: Rediscover Your Native Fitness, by Al Sears, MD.
Apart from aesthetic preferences, replacing "loose weight" with "continually increase my fitness" (which is not something you'll ever be done with) is a far more constructive goal (and it will eliminate the diet-mindset-rollercoaster). I suspect that lack of will power often means impatience. And impatience comes from unrealistic expectations regarding what you "should" be able to do in time n. Daily moderate (will-power-) exercise will give positive results on a whole range of parameters, but it might take a year before the effects (including the habit of exercising) really show. Off course you could be an exception.
I have to second Eliezer on this one. Saying "good diet and exercise" is just a disguised way of saying "be more disciplined". While it is true that being more disciplined would cause someone to lose weight, telling someone to be more disciplined does not cause them to actually /be/ more disciplined. The value of advice is properly judged by its effect, and actual observation shows that the "be more disciplined" advice has no effect or even the opposite effect, so it's simply bad advice. The part which is true is already known by the person receiving the advice, so truth is no defense.

This touches on a general issue about free will.

In a world where everyone is sort of a jerk and says "Just shut up and exercise, you fatso!" there may be such a strong drive to avoid condemnation and low social status that you actually do shut up and exercise.

In the alternate world where everyone understands that it's not really your fault and you can't shout people into having more willpower and willpower is a sketchy concept anyway and accepts you for who you are - you will have no incentive to get better.

So occasionally I do tell people the equivalent of "shut up and exercise" for certain things, even though I know it doesn't work directly. It's a case by case basis, depending on how many opportunities the person is missing and how likely I think my advice is to seriously affect them.

In a world where everyone is sort of a jerk and says "Just shut up and exercise, you fatso!" there may be such a strong drive to avoid condemnation and low social status that you actually do shut up and exercise.

I did shut up and exercise. It didn't work. That's the point at which you have a problem.

And for years I felt guilty and that I must be doing something wrong; and then I read about the Shangri-La diet and all these people losing 50 pounds with ease; and then it didn't work for me; and that was when I figured out that yes, I actually had put in a really serious try, and that what was really going on was that the laws just didn't work the good and virtuous and just way that everyone said they did.

Now maybe for other things... if willpower really does work... then telling people "Shut up and expend willpower" might be helpful. I've just gotten a lot more skeptical, now.

2Scott Alexander15y
Wasn't talking about your case in particular. Of would-be-dieters I know, the majority try to go to the gym a few times and then flake out. So although it may apply to you, I don't think "You can't just tell people to try harder" is always good advice.
8Paul Crowley15y
You have it completely backward. In my experience, to a first approximation we already live in the "everyone is a jerk" world, and the steaming piles of moralism serve to make it very hard for people to even think about this issue because of the waves of low self-esteem it brings on.
If a thin person is in state S1, and a fat person is in a state S2, then a thin person who got that way by dieting is in state S3 and despite looking identical, S1 != S3. S1 has no particular tendency to change. S3 has a strong tendency to become S2. Diets don't work. You just don't have the super-senses to distinguish S1 from S3 at a glance.
Diet (singular) does work in the sense of consistently, indefinitely eating healthier foods.

No... it... DOESN'T. I tried that. I ate a simple Paleo diet which consists of nothing except healthy foods; my staples were home-cooked turkey and bananas. I did it for months. I lost not a single pound.

You CANNOT BEGIN TO IMAGINE how much stuff that really truly seems like it ought to work simply DOES NOT WORK when you are metabolically disprivileged.

Bananas are flagged as a risky item by a number of paleo-type diet authors, though not by 'The Paleo Diet'. They have a fairly high glycemic index. Not that it invalidates your point. I lost 45lbs on the Paleo Diet and have kept most of it off 2 years later (I've crept up by about 8-10lbs and I'm trying to be a bit stricter to bring that back down). I didn't avoid bananas completely but I'd read enough to be wary of them. I'm sure it doesn't work for everybody but I find it persuasive and effective. IF the theory that sugar and refined carbohydrates are the biggest risk factors for weight gain is true THEN learning enough to become convinced of just how bad they are, to the point that you develop a strong negative emotional response to foods containing them, is an effective technique of applying initially conscious rationality to create new habits. Of course it may not work for everybody. Variations in individual metabolism seem to be an understudied aspect of diet research.
Are you saying it didn't work because it didn't curb your hunger or your desire for other, less healthy foods? Or it didn't work because you stuck to the diet of healthy foods and gained weight nonetheless? The latter seems hard to believe, though I suppose it's technically possible to accumulate an excess of calories via turkey and bananas...
3Eliezer Yudkowsky15y
The latter.
So are you claiming to be a counterexample to 'weight change=calories in - calories out'?
I can honestly say, I actually have healthy tastes - I actually like salad (I have a salad garden for exactly that reason), and do work on a small (3 acres) property when I'm not at my day job. Although I do like most traditional deserts, they are not a typical portion of the meal, barring holidays. I do tend to eat 'candy' when it's around . . . which is one reason I don't keep it around. So I sympathize entirely with the original poster when he says eating nothing but healthy foods doesn't help. My 'Vitamin Pill' version of the Shangra-la diet lost me 30 pounds straight through the holidays when I was eating deserts . . . and stopped. So there are definitely other factors that are being missed. Jonnan
The above is equivalent to saying "being in state S1 works". S3 is characterized by not being able to consistently, indefinitely eat healthier foods. IOW: the above is a dodge.
Assuming unlimited willpower, burning more calories than you consume will reduce body weight (c.f. thermodynamics, &c.). Easy! The issue is not how to reduce weight, per se, it's about how to do so while also suppressing hunger pangs and other physiological and psychological effects of wanting more food than you're getting. As an aside, exercise itself isn't actually particularly useful unless you devote a lot of time to it, as the calorie burn rate is fairly low. Raising the basal metabolic rate via anaerobic exercise may have value, though.
Another issue is how to reduce fat weight per se. One of the eye-opening parts of Gary Taubes' talk was the fact that somebody can be simultaneously emaciated and obese. Fat cells want to survive and sometimes will do so to the detriment of their host. Another Taubes insight: when it comes to vertical growth, we posit one causal direction. We say that a teenager eats a lot because he's a growing boy; we do not say he's growing taller because he eats a lot. It's accepted that the body of a teenager has somehow decided for itself that it wants to get taller and appetite/metabolism will accommodate that need. Perhaps horizontal growth isn't all that different.
1Paul Crowley15y
Could you explain that without the metaphor of intentionality? Fat cells don't have their own germ line, so I can't reason about what they "want" the way I can reason about what a virus "wants". Thanks!
I think that was just a colorful way of saying what the rest of the post elaborated on--that the body may prioritize fat storage higher than other energy uses that the person associated with the body may prefer.
Also, fat cells are biologically active. Obesity is caused by hormone activity and fat cells provide inputs into that biological process as well as being part of the outcome of it. Rats that overproduce insulin can die of starvation despite being obese - the body gets energy by breaking down muscle - including heart muscle - in order to preserve the fat.
Yeah, and I realize that simply recommending "diet and exercise" is a bit too pat. Getting oneself into virtuous cycles, with extremely short-term rewards and consequences, is the most effective meta-tactic I know. There are various ways to do this; the key is just to render willpower moot.
I find decapitation works the best -- you take about 5kg off right at the start, and continue losing gradually (but not as drastically) from then on.
6Eliezer Yudkowsky15y
I find that when I'm trying to teleport to Pluto, the first step is to scrunch up my forehead really hard and teleport to Mars.
7Paul Crowley15y
Uh, you appreciate that even if the Sun, Earth, Mars, and Pluto are all neatly aligned, you will barely be any closer to Pluto when you get to Mars than you were here? On the other hand, maybe Dr Manhattan can give you a lift...
I wonder why these comments are being voted down; I got a good chuckle out of both.
You do realize, I hope, that comments now start with a score of 0?
Maybe people didn't realize they were jokes? I don't know, I've made some dumb jokes and they got voted up, so I'm confused.

"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... "

Coincidentally, I started looking into the diet a couple days before you posted this. I saw a few examples of him saying "try more oil", but didn't follow closely enough to see if that ever worked.

You make it sound like it doesn't, but how much evidence do you have on this?

You said it explained you losing 50lbs or so, but now it doesn't work for you. Why don't you try more variations until you do find something th... (read more)

In the book he concedes it does not work for everyone.
[+][comment deleted]4y0