Akrasia and Shangri-La

by Eliezer Yudkowsky2 min read10th Apr 200997 comments

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AkrasiaWillpowerWell-being
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Continuation ofThe Unfinished Mystery of the Shangri-La Diet

My post about the Shangri-La Diet is there to make a point about akrasia.  It's not just an excuse: people really are different and what works for one person sometimes doesn't work for another.

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".)

But if the actions needed to implement the Shangri-La Diet weren't so simple and verifiable... if some of them took place within the mind... if it took, not a metabolic trick, but willpower to get to that amazing state where dieting comes effortlessly and you can lose 30 pounds...

Then when the Shangri-La Diet didn't work, we unfortunate exceptions would get yelled at for doing it wrong and not having enough willpower.  Roberts already seems to think that his diet ought to work for everyone; when someone says it's not working, Roberts tells them to drink more extra-light olive oil or try a slightly different variant of the diet, rather than saying, "This doesn't work for some people and I don't know why."

If the failure had occurred somewhere inside the dark recesses of my mind where it could be blamed on me, rather than within my metabolism...

If Roberts's hypothesis is correct, then I'm sure that plenty of people have made some dietary change, started losing weight due to the disrupted flavor-calorie association, and congratulated themselves on their wonderful willpower for eating less.  When I moved out of my parents' home and started eating less and exercising and losing more than a pound a week, you can bet I was congratulating myself on my amazing willpower.

Hah.  No, I just stumbled onto a metabolic pot of gold that let me lose a lot of weight using a sustainable expenditure of willpower.  When that pot of gold was exhausted, willpower ceased to avail.

(The metabolically privileged don't believe in metabolic privilege, since they are able to lose weight by trying! harder! to diet and exercise, and the diet and exercise actually work the way they're supposed to... I remember the nine-month period in my life where that was true.)

When I look at the current state of the art in fighting akrasia, I see the same sort of mess.

People try all sorts of crazy things—and as in dieting, there's secretly a general reason why any crazy thing might seem to work: if you expect to win an internal conflict, you've already programmed yourself to do the right thing because you expect that to be your action; it takes less willpower to win an internal conflict you expect to win.

And people make up all sorts of fantastic stories to explain why their tricks worked for them.

But their tricks don't work for everyone—some others report success, some don't.  The inventors do not know the deep generalizations that would tell them why and who, explain the rule and the exception.  But the stories the inventors have created to explain their own successes, naturally praise their own willpower and other virtues, and contain no element of luck... and so they exhort others:  Try harder!  You're doing it wrong!

There is a place in the mind for willpower.  Don't get me wrong, it's useful stuff.  But people who assign their successes to willpower—who congratulate themselves on their stern characters—may be a tad reluctant to appreciate just how much you can be privileged or disprivileged by having a mental metabolism where expending willpower is effective, where you can achieve encouraging results, at an acceptable cost to yourself, and sustain the effort in the long run.

 

Part of the sequence The Craft and the Community

Next post: "Collective Apathy and the Internet"

Previous post: "Beware of Other-Optimizing"

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The metabolically privileged don't believe in metabolic privilege, since they are able to lose weight by trying!

Some of us do believe in it since we are able to stay very thin without trying. I have never dieted and never needed to.

But, we probably don't post very much on diet blogs.

I come from a family of thin people who eat fairly unhealthily but are quite active. When I first stopped living with my parents, I basically stopped exercising and ate even more unhealthily. I became very unfit in the sense of e.g., not being able to run a block without getting out of breath, but gained very little weight. So I figure the causation is probably not mainly exercise -> thinness, but more on the lines of genes -> (thinness & athleticism) or genes -> thinness -> athleticism.

8mytyde8yAmericans who have grown up in at least moderate financial security have developed astounding rates of obesity. People who grew up in Nazi-occupied countries who were malnourished as children also developed astoundingly high obesity rates as adults. From the evidence I've seen, genetics is over-emphasized as the missing factor in almost every medical theory before enough is known to know better. While income correlates with obesity, it does not explain the physiological mechanism through which poorer people (relative wealth may seem to mean much more than absolute wealth, interestingly) have a much harder time staying healthy. It seems much more plausible that both semi-adaptable epigenomic variation and multi-generational lifestyle adaptions play bigger roles in generating familial and social trends of obesity. The nutrition, gut health, and overall health of BOTH parents contributes to the making of a child, and the mother's health strongly affects it from then until birth, after which point colostrum and then breast milk will continue to play a direct parent-to-child role in the young one's development. Though there is no conclusive research that I'm aware of, it is probable that children establish certain growth limitations based on signals about nutrient availability received directly from their parents during conception and then from the mother during pregnancy and breastfeeding (variances of conveyed gut flora could be the mechanism here). Then, lifestyle and its epigenomic effects as normalized during childhood continues to play probably the same-seeming role since parents will tend to feed their children the same things they eat. Anthropologically, going back a mere few hundred years there were no cultures anywhere in the world suffering obesity epidemics, so it doesn't make sense to attribute variance too strongly to genetics. Historically, humans have survived healthfully on almost any combination of macronutrients while the main variant between health
0[anonymous]8yWhich ought to be nearly obvious to anyone who has compared the calorie expenditures of common physical activities with the calorie contents of common foodstuffs. (Yes, increasing muscle mass increases thermogenesis (but so does caffeine) and I personally feel that doing abs help me feel less hungry because they kind of compress my stomach (but so does wearing higher-rise trousers and pulling their belt tighter), but those are second-order effects.)
1hesperidia6yThis is also observed when wearing back-braces and corsets over the long term. In the corset-wearing/waist-training community particularly, some people have observed that without significant changes in behavior, corsets may decrease appetite; the actual effect is of course highly variable, but it's frequent enough to be conventional wisdom in that community, so.

Slightly off topic here, but even in cases where it is "just willpower" that a person needs, anecdotal experiences suggest that said willpower is often more easily obtained by strategy than by, um, willpower. For example, I was unable to do much of anything in college, and stressing out about it (which is what I somehow thought "willpower" was; I wasn't very intrapersonally sophisticated) didn't help, and eventually trying to investigate how I worked and how to sort of rewire the relevant skillsets, did help. Similarly, someone I know well yo-yo dieted for a couple decades, literally (though with longish pauses), then used the Beck CBT book to successfully stick to one of those same diets. (I realize willpower of any variety won't help some with healthy weight loss. I don't mean the example like that. It's just interesting that even willpower kind of isn't about willpower.)

"There are no outs. Even if someone else would call it an extenuating circumstance and forgive me for giving up, I'll just get it done anyway."

This post and Extenuating Circumstances aren't literally contradictory, but their implications seem to point in opposite directions. I would like to see more discussion of when to apply this mode of thinking and when to apply the Extenuating Circumstances mode of thinking.

Right now I'm interpreting the difference as being that if you really want to lose weight, you shouldn't accept "I have an inconvenient metabolic set point" as an excuse not to do so, but you should realize that it will shift which routes are easier than others and take that into account when planning your best strategy for weight loss. So you might try devote effort to finding some clever trick instead of trying to steamroller ahead with sheer willpower.

Am I on the right track?

6Z_M_Davis12yAnd this is to say nothing of "Shut Up and Do the Impossible [http://www.overcomingbias.com/2008/10/shut-up-and-do.html]"!

Maybe I'll do a longer reply later... The basic answer is that you can do the impossible but it comes with a price. Burn down every obstacle, sacrifice whatever it takes, devote any amount of time and any amount of energy required? You only get a few shots of that magnitude. Sure, if I made it the one priority in my life and gave up that FAI stuff, I could lose weight.

6pjeby12yEven if you had to check yourself into a bariatric (is that the right word?) clinic for drugs and doctor's supervision, it's not like they're going ban you from having a computer or visitors. Even if you had to take time off, how long would it be for? Have you even asked that question? What other questions haven't you asked about this yet? Don't. You'll be better off not spending more time writing your way into deeper rationalization and justification of an already damaging belief. My wife went through years of off and on dieting, trying every damn thing that came out and not getting anywhere, and despairing that she'd ever be able to lose the weight. Then, she made a change in her beliefs... and the very next thing she tried -- something she'd previously ruled out as an option -- worked. She's lost over 100 pounds so far, with the most fun and least problems of anything she'd tried before. The point of which is not that you'll necessarily find something that works that quickly. The point is that what you believe about what's possible or what's wrong with you or what's useful to try, is much more likely to be a FAR greater limiting factor on your ability to lose weight than anything about your metabolism, unless you're actually diabetic or have some sort of diagnosable glandular disorder. So if you really think you're metabolically challenged, go to a doctor, for goodness' sake. Preferably one that specializes in problem weight-loss cases, who doesn't just prescribe-and-run. Medicine in general may not be all that great, but they do have some cool test equipment. Might as well take advantage. ;-) (Post-downmod edit: In case there's any confusion, I'm not arguing that beliefs directly affect weight loss; only that beliefs can prevent you from seriously investigating an option that might work for you... especially if that option seems "too hard" or "too much work".)
3Eliezer Yudkowsky12yThere are plenty of things I could try with more money. But for this either SIAI needs to be more successful with fundraising or my career as a speaker needs to take off... which I can only help make happen by swapping effort to making more money, which gets us back into that "diverting effort from FAI" business.
3jscn12yI find it hard to believe that you haven't thought about the following, but you haven't mentioned it so I will. Conventional wisdom says: 1) Being at a healthy weight/having a 'healthy lifestyle' will (accidents and terminal genetic disorders aside) result in you living a longer life. This means more time to work on FAI stuff. 2) Exercise and good diet tend to increase feelings of well being and energy levels. This means better/more effective work on FAI stuff. Discounting physical health and concentrating on intellectual life seems to me to be a status symbol for many intellectuals. But I would think that spending time and mental energy on physical well being would give larger benefits, in the long term, to one's intellectual endeavours.
2ialdabaoth8yAlso, different people get different numbers of such shots, and with different maximum magnitudes.

I've got a slew of digestion issues and some metabolic problems (first ulcer at age 13). Pertinent info I've learned:

1) Diarrhea is a hell of a way to lose weight.

2) Treating your diet like a controlled scientific experiment does wonders. For about a year I never at more than 2 - 4 ingredients per meal (an ingredient being a single, unprocessed, whole food). That was a tough year, and my diet remains restricted due to what I learned, but the health I've earned is invaluable. What helps me is to think of food as a source of fuel, not pleasure.

1[anonymous]8ySuggested reading: The Hacker's Diet [http://www.fourmilab.ch/hackdiet/] by John Walker.

I've joked that I've been on "the video game diet" - I would be so absorbed in my video games that I'd skip meals.

3Vladimir_Nesov12yRings right to me. When I'm buried deep in research papers, I don't remember to be hungry (doesn't work for thinking, only for reading-guided learning). Though after a day or so of not eating anything, the mind goes noticeably stupider. I understand that the problem for some people is not that they suffer from hunger, and so can't focus on work, but that lack of food weakens then, even if the distracting effect of hunger is lifted by other means.
1James_Miller12yThe video game diet works for me as well.

The metabolically privileged don't believe in metabolic privilege, since they are able to lose weight by trying!

I, for one, believe in metabolic privilege. There is enormous variance in the human metabolism. I am six feet tall, I have (in the past) consistently eaten over 3,000 calories a day, rarely eat less than 2,000, engage in an irrationally miniscule amount of exercise, and have not tipped past 135 pounds in ten years.

2mattnewport12yWithout denying that metabolic privilege may be real, this is hardly sufficient evidence to convince the less wrong crowd of its existence. An alternative theory: some people naturally favour foods that cause less weight gain for their caloric value (the fact that such foods exist is the basic thesis behind many modern diets, see e.g. Good Calories, Bad Calories [http://www.amazon.com/Good-Calories-Bad-Controversial-Science/dp/1400033462/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1239402958&sr=8-1] for an overview and copious references to relevant research). To establish the existence of 'metabolic privilege' would require some fairly large scale and difficult medical research. I imagine there is some existing research indicating e.g. a genetic link to weight gain based on twin studies but even that could also be explained by the theory above assuming food preferences are also heritable.
8Eliezer Yudkowsky12yChildren who overeat as kids have twice as many fat cells (large or small) for the rest of their life.
7mytyde8yPeople who grew up in Nazi-occupied countries who were malnourished as children also developed astoundingly high obesity rates as adults. From the evidence I've seen, genetics is over-emphasized as the missing factor in almost every medical theory before enough is known to know better. While income correlates with obesity, it does not explain the physiological mechanism through which poorer people (relative wealth may seem to mean much more than absolute wealth, interestingly) have a much harder time staying healthy. It seems much more plausible that both semi-adaptable epigenomic variation and multi-generational lifestyle adaptions play bigger roles in generating familial and social trends of obesity. The nutrition, gut health, and overall health of BOTH parents contributes to the making of a child, and the mother's health strongly affects it from then until birth, after which point colostrum and then breast milk will continue to play a direct parent-to-child role in the young one's development. Though there is no conclusive research that I'm aware of, it is probable that children establish certain growth limitations based on signals about nutrient availability received directly from their parents during conception and then from the mother during pregnancy and breastfeeding (variances of conveyed gut flora could be the mechanism here). Then, lifestyle and its epigenomic effects as normalized during childhood continues to play probably the same-seeming role since parents will tend to feed their children the same things they eat. Anthropologically, going back a mere few hundred years there were no cultures anywhere in the world suffering obesity epidemics, so it doesn't make sense to attribute variance too strongly to genetics. Historically, humans have survived healthfully on almost any combination of macronutrients while the main variant between healthy civilizations seems to have been micronutrients. Since studies generally don't account in any fashion for idio
0MasterOfTheObvious5yThe fact that metabolic privilege is conveyed via epigenetic vs genetic inheritance does not actually undermine the argument that privilege exists. No one is arguing that the effects of white male privilege come from the genetic components of being a white male. The discussion of where this metabolic privilege comes from is very useful, but let's not confuse it with a discussion of whether or not it exists. It is hard to debate the fact that certain people seem to have little difficulty maintaining a weight that is socially acceptable and others have a much harder time. I personally have a great deal of difficulty putting on weight and I am occasionally subjected to "skinny shaming" by my colleges at work. I take this in stride, knowing that I have the easier side of that coin. But is does seem to me that most individuals have a certain weight that they trend toward when they are not paying attention to what they eat. For a lucky few, that weight is in a socially acceptable range. Most are not so fortunate.
0ryleah7yIf parental health plays a role in this I would be interested in seeing if there's a correlation between parental vaccination and obesity.
3waveman2yI don't have a citation but I did read a paper which appeared to show that, while at first fat cells get smaller (and unhappier!), after about two years excess cells get culled. So if you can tough it out for two years it gets easier. I acknowledge that there is also research that says otherwise. Not too easy to find, though journalism that says this is easy to find. Both my wife and I lost about 15 kg of fat and did find after a couple of years life got easier, so maybe it's true.
3mattnewport12y'Good Calories, Bad Calories' covers much of the research related to 'Syndrome X'/Metabolic Syndrome [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metabolic_syndrome]. Some research seems to indicate that consumption of high glycemic index foods over an extended period can cause permanent damaging metabolic changes. I think it is slightly misleading to equate damage to the metabolic system due to historical factors with a more general claim that healthy metabolisms vary widely however. The presence of Type 2 Diabetes is clearly a very relevant data point to be aware of when advising on diet and would lead to different advice than to a 'normal' healthy individual. I think the same is likely true of other types of metabolic damage that may have occurred in the past. Of course given the current state of understanding of the biology underlying all this it's difficult to find unambiguous answers.
2brazil847yWhile I accept that this is literally true, I am very skeptical of the connotation -- that greater numbers of fat cells is the mechanism responsible for the difficulty in losing weight and maintaining weight loss. The hypothesis makes sense, since fat people who lose weight still have a lot of fat cells. But if it were true, one would expect that surgical removal of fat cells would have a significant positive impact on obesity. A couple studies have been done on this issue; I can try to find them if you like. There was not a significant positive impact. So the inference is that (1) large numbers of fat cells; and (2) difficulty in losing weight and maintaining weight loss, are both the result of a third factor.

Yeah, this is so true.

I think I give some credit for how SLA and ADCR work for me to "willpower", but when I look at my dietary history, it is not one of willpower! I stayed overweight for 2 years before discovering SLA. The difference was a technique that worked, not willpower. And for exercise, I was out of shape for ~5 years until I found a form of exercise (olympic-style weightlifting) that was really fun. My willpower didn't change.

My mind keeps wanting to take credit, but really, these were matters of technique. Although, that perspective leads me to pitch these techniques more, not less!

Of any area that is fraught with bad advice and poor thinking, it has to be nutrition. Because of the emotions tied up in body image, I think it may even surpass politics as a mindkiller.

As far as anecdotal evidence goes, I've always been very thin, but my wife has struggled with multiple diets. She tried Shangri-La at my suggestion, and experienced the appetite suppression, but with no weight change. That seems even stranger for Roberts's theory than it just not working.

Diet is heavily moralized, and advice often boils down to "try harder and it will... (read more)

0SoullessAutomaton12yThis is indeed peculiar. For how long did she attempt the diet, if I may ask?
0badger12yAround two months. She is trying it out again, but this time in conjunction with another diet because even appetite suppression alone is helpful.
2gwern9yBesides that Australian study, see "The Workout Enigma" [http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/17/phys-ed-the-workout-enigma/], describing http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20689460 [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20689460]
2JulianMorrison12yUnsurprising given that most of the effect of exercise is informational, equivalent to twiddling a control knob. Some people have mis-wired controls; for them exercise does no more than just burning a small number of immediate calories.
0mytyde8yIf they don't have the nutritional basis for changing their bodies, they won't. Some people, mostly those suffering from chronic conditions, are actually low in cholesterol
-5AlexU12y

This could have been a good article. Unfortunately, Eliezer falls into the same trap as Robert by implicitly making up his own model (the "metabolic privilege model") which should explain "everything". Whereas some argue that the "non-responders" are lacking willpower, Eliezer argues that they are just metabolically disprivileged. Thus, he explains why the rest does not respond.

But what does it mean to be "metabolically disprivileged"? Is our metabolic system really such a static system?

In science, every model sim... (read more)

0brazil847yThat's an interesting question. As far as I can tell, it means that one's fat cells do not respond to energy deficits by releasing energy. So for example, a morbidly obese person who gets weight loss surgery and loses weight would fall into the category of "metabolically privileged." Because his fat cells are reacting properly to an energy deficit. From the fact that weight loss surgery does generally result in weight loss, at least in the short term among those who survive it, it's reasonable to infer that metabolic disprivilege is pretty rare, even among the obese. Another question is whether metabolic privilege varies in a quantitative way from person to person. One can imagine that some peoples' fat cells do a great job of compensating for caloric deficits while other peoples' do a worse job. Pretty much everyone reports that weight loss is uncomfortable; perhaps those in the latter group will experience more discomfort. It's an interesting question, but I'm not sure it's that important. A pretty standard diet entails a deficit of roughly 500 calories per day with an aim of approximately 1 pound a week of fat loss. But if a 500 calorie deficit is unbearable, there's no rule which says you can't dial it down to 300 or 200.
0[anonymous]7yNot to white-knight the concept of metabolic privilege unduly, but weight loss surgery isn't a metabolic intervention.

Eliezer, excuse me if you've already done this, but have you tried doing your own research about what's going on with your metabolism? Everything you've mentioned has been trying other people's ideas about diet and exercise.

Heh. I just started on a slow carb diet. It's been fantastically successful - I lost 8kg in a week (105kg down to 97kg), which is generally considered rather too fast, but I have lots of energy and feel great.

I got it from Four Hour Body, Tim Ferriss' latest magnum opus of, ah, broscience. He applied science to his own body! ... then generalised from himself to everyone else in the world. But the diet's promise was remarkable and it just so happened that I like all the foods he listed for it, so it wouldn't be onerous. And it hasn't been. I don't miss pota... (read more)

2brazil848yHow are things working out for you 20 months later? I would be very interested to know.
3David_Gerard8yStill around 95kg. Still like the food. All is fine :-)
1brazil847yHow are things now 3 years later? Are things working out? And if so, have you changed your thinking since the beginning?
3David_Gerard7yGot thoroughly sick of it by last year, largely gave up. Now I eat it some days, ignore it others. Haven't checked weight lately :-)
1brazil847yThank you for responding . . . I wish I could up-vote your post by about 50 points. My impression is that when people kvell about their diet success, they tend to be reluctant to update down the road if things don't work out. Leading to a survivorship bias problem. And making it difficult to get a better understanding of how diets run off the rails. From a meta point of view, there is arguably only one real way to diet successfully, which is to think about all the ways that diets fail and then plan and adopt strategies to deal with those problems.
1David_Gerard7yThe essential problem remains: humanity's basically solved the food problem, but our genes don't understand this so pack on the fat in preparation for a famine that will never arrive. So all diets are unnatural. Too much food for our health is a great problem to have, though, much better than the previous problem.
0RichardKennaway7yI thought the entire point of the paleo diet is that it is natural, er, consonant with the ancestral evolutionary environment?
1David_Gerard7ySo it claims. I believe this is more than slightly disputed.
0brazil847yWell that's one essential aspect of the problem. There are other issues too. But I think this point is important in at least one respect: There is an idea out there that there is something wrong with obsessing over one's food intake and weight. Another poster asserted that dieting is a mental disorder. But given that for a lot of people, System 1 (non-conscious thought) is unable to navigate today's environment successfully, it's not unreasonable to use System 2 (conscious thought) as a substitute. Or even what one might call "System 3" -- conscious thought plus brain extensions such as calendars, food and weight logs, written meal plans, etc.
1brazil848yThank you for responding! I've been doing some informal research into diet and weight loss.
2drethelin8yWhen I tried the diet I lost 10-15 pounds reasonably fast and then plateaued after a month or two. I started losing again when I plain cut out carbs on non-cheat days. Also BP coffee and fasting seems to help but I haven't been doing those as long as simple carb-dodging
-1mytyde8yThat's really neat. How is it that Tim Ferriss could have developed a more effective weightloss system than nutritional experts? If such a claim is indeed true, it would necessarily lead to questioning the basis of nutritional experimentation: is it even built upon a solid enough base to be useful?

OK, guilty. Most of my successes in life so far are explained by the fact that it's easy for me to work hard for long periods of time without burning out, and that my internal reward system is set up to make delayed gratification easy.

...Amusingly, I used to think I had inherited an awful metabolism that made it impossible for me to lose weight, because it is really hard for me to lose weight by dieting, even though I was swimming competitively and very fit. A couple of years ago, when I finally decided that my actual weight was just fine and what the hell, I concluded that I was fortunate to have a fast metabolism and be able to eat whatever I wanted without gaining weight. Unsure what to conclude from this.

Insulin / tendency to insulin resistance. Or perhaps your body is just very reluctant to give up fat. In Atkins' book he describes some extreme cases of such people one chap could not lose fat on 800 calories a day of pure fat in his diet.

I would also consider the effect of high cortisol levels on metabolism. Apart from Cushing's {disease,syndrome} it would appear that high cortisol levels are associated with various forms of childhood trouble (illness, neglect, abuse, hunger) - perhaps an epigenetic effect. And high cortisol produces a strong tendency to... (read more)

0waveman4yLow Testosterone can also be a factor with people who have trouble losing weight. The normal range is 320-1100 but some people seem to have troubles below 450ng/dl., especially those with highish cortisol.

I've suffered from insomnia for as long as I can remember (I'm 25). I've tried every form of medication / therapy / sleep study / sleep hygiene that you could possibly imagine. Just like Eliezer can't lose a pound -- I can't still can't get into a normal / sustainable sleeping pattern. Very frustrating! We have a long way to go.

0David Althaus10yYou should try Melatonin. I've suffered from insomnia for 2 years. Sine I'm taking Melatonin, booom, my insomnia is gone. Edit: Actually, it doesn't help me anymore.

I'm going to hazard a theory why the olive oil in the morning causes weight loss. I do something similar, except I use coconut oil. I put a dollop into my morning coffee along with other foods like tumeric and, cocoa beans. I'm making up an energetic cocktail with lots of good stuff in it. The fats in this slow digestion and cause satiation. It doesn't seem to me like there's any rocket science to it. Fats are slower to digest and provide long lasting energy. If you keep the carbs in this low or non-existent, you don't get an insulin rush, which leads to d... (read more)

Looking at this, and then at Yvain's blue-minimizing robot analogy...

... I wonder if akrasia isn't just what happens when the conscious "rider" tries to enforce something on the unconscious "robot"?

Due to recent emotional trauma, I've shifted from a rather cliche procrastinating college student to someone much more focused. On the inside, it feels like I'm just trying harder - but remembering how I felt a year ago, it's clearly not that simple. A year ago, I felt like I was trying as hard as I feasibly could.

Oh, sure, I had plenty of ex... (read more)

Of possible relevance for failure to lose weight on a diet: Clinical significance of adaptive thermogenesis

I don't have access to the article, and have only read the abstract. If anybody does have access or has read the paper, what are the environmental factors that might influence thermogenesis during dieting (as mentioned in the abstract)?

it's a relief to hear of others not having success with shangri-la. i wish it worked for everyone but it doesn't and it's (apparently) not just me doing it wrong. though how you mess up drinking oil is beyond me.

i have lost 20 pounds this year (after about 2 years of trying various strategies including shangrila) and the answer was just discipline. cut out sweets ruthlessly and practice letting myself feel hunger. but i'm definitely plateaued now. and i have to exercise my free will every day to stay there. and it slowly starts moving up when i relax it. sigh

and i wish exercise worked as well. but i'd already maxed out that strategy years ago.

-1mytyde8yThe "extra-virgin" designation does make a difference, fyi. That's probably not what was throwing you off, but I'll leave this here for future Shangi-la researchers.
1pjeby8yYou mean "extra light". Extra virgin is the one that doesn't actually work.

How does one reject the hypothesis "You're failing because you aren't trying hard enough / you're doing it wrong?"

In the case of the Shangri-la bit, it obviously works, but in the "eat less, excersize more" diet, how can one conclude that the failing is in the strategy and not the user?

I'm not trying to say you're wrong; I'm genuinely curious as to how one can decide this approach fails.

2anonym12yWell, if you hold your diet steady but burn an extra 500 calories a day (3500 calories a week) exercising, with no significant changes to your weight, that would a pretty big indicator...
-2jimmy12yIf you aren't losing weight with the "eat less, exercise more" diet, you're doing it wrong and conservation of energy says so. A somewhat separate question is "is the 'eat less, exercise more' diet supposed to lower your set point through exercise or just make you miserable but skinny?" To see if that works for you I guess you'd just lose weight and then ask yourself "how much does this suck?"

The whole business is an unbelievable nightmare realm. I'm slightly underweight, but I've watched several people close to me go though all sorts of struggles with it, and I can understand how much everyone wants to be the one who's going to deliver the secret that can help all these people achieve what they want.

On the engineering level, only one fact matters: change in energy stored equals energy consumed minus energy expended (as The Hacker's Diet observes). But acting on that equation looks like the hardest thing in the world. Did you read "Brea... (read more)

On the engineering level, only one fact matters: change in energy stored equals energy consumed minus energy expended

Bullshit.

There's a hundred factors being identified that e.g. control how fast energy gets sucked up by fat cells leaving you weak and still hungry, versus how long energy is left available in the bloodstream leaving you feel strong and ready for running. Or e.g. how much nutrient that passes into your mouth is absorbed in the intestinal tract. Or e.g. when exercise creates new lean muscle that burns more calories on its own.

The fact that change in fat equals fat stored minus fat consumed is technically true but useless: I deny its connotations. The idea that the calories you take in through your mouth are the "input" and that the exercise you do to burn them is "output" and that the balance between the two is all that matters is false but appealing bullshit that plays hell with the bodies and feelings of every poor fat person who tries to live that lie. Between input and output there is a giant complicated machine and yes the exact form of the input and the exact form of the output and what you ate as a kid and all sorts of other things affect it.

false but appealing bullshit that plays hell with the bodies and feelings of every poor fat person who tries to live that lie

This is precisely how I feel about most self-help and productivity advice, except substituting "mind" for "bodies", and "procrastinator" for "fat person". ;-)

3ialdabaoth8yThe fact that it feels precisely identical should not be surprising at all - precisely the same mechanism is occurring in both cases. Mental health/productivity and physical health/fitness are both situations that have a massive social stigma, and a massive incentive for people who are (to use Msr. Yudkowski's term) "privileged" to function in a manner that allows them to achieve socially acceptable results by performing socially acceptable procedures. The fact is, our culture (and regrettably, ESPECIALLY the sort of people who are attracted to lesswrong) thrives on the sort of "but I'm better than that!" thinking that leads directly to prejudiced bullshit about "willpower" and "not trying hard enough" and "wanting to fail" and "ugly fat fucks" and "useless social retards" and "parasite welfare queens". Because, as a species of social primate thrust into a constant high-stress environment, those of you who are constantly receiving cortisol/dopamine signals that you're just-barely-making-it-but-look-out-for-that-tiger need people to feel superior to.
3NancyLebovitz7yI find that LW has much less of the prejudiced bullshit you describe than mainstream culture, probably because of the common belief that willpower isn't magic.
2ialdabaoth7yInteresting. I would very much like to also find that LW has much less of that prejudiced bullshit. Can you think of a way that our behaviors might lead to our differences in experience, so that I might experience more of the LW that you are experiencing?
3NancyLebovitz7yI suspect that I've got some tendency towards "glass half full"-- I tend to notice the good stuff. Also, LW being better on the issue than the mainstream doesn't mean that LW is consistently good, just that it isn't resoundingly awful. This update from CFAR [http://lesswrong.com/lw/il3/three_ways_cfar_has_changed_my_view_of_rationality/#comments] is a good example on LW of supporting skillful means rather than just blaming people who aren't doing well.
-1Eugine_Nier7yTrue on the other hand, social pressure is a great way to fight akrasia. On the other hand telling people they have no control over their actions is a great way to promote akrasia.
2NancyLebovitz7ySocial pressure works to oppose akrasia.... except when it doesn't work. Some people end up crushed rather than pushed in a useful direction.
0[anonymous]7ySee also [http://lesswrong.com/lw/2as/diseased_thinking_dissolving_questions_about/]
1TheOtherDave8yDo you use the second person with the intention of not including yourself in that group? If so, I'm interested in what you believe distinguishes your group from the group you're addressing.
1ialdabaoth8yI'm a useless social retard, and thus am no longer receiving signals that I'm just-barely-making-it. I am instead receiving I'm-fucked-and-need-to-self-terminate-for-the-sake-of-the-pack signals.
2DSherron8yUm, no you're not? This is the theory of Group Selectionism [http://lesswrong.com/lw/kw/the_tragedy_of_group_selectionism/]. There is no chemical signal that your brain will naturally produce corresponding to "suicide for the good of the pack". You can arrive at that idea through other means, but there is almost certainly no low-level chemical signal which corresponds to suicide for the good of the group; everyone who might've passed that gene on to you died out for the sake of the people that didn't have it.
0waveman7yIf the pack contains blood relatives, yes it can. See Kin Selection.
3PhilGoetz12y0 < bullshit(change in weight = consumption - exercise) < bullshit(you can lose a pound of fat a day with my new diet even though you expend less than a pound of fat's worth of calories in a day). From personal experience, this is a great one, and seldom mentioned. Bodybuilding can be a better way to lose weight than running, even though the running burns more calories while you're doing it.
3SoullessAutomaton12yWell, if you manage to consistently gain weight while consuming fewer calories than you expend, this has interesting consequences for thermodynamics. It's not bullshit, but it's also a red herring for the actual question, which is how to actually reduce body weight in a sustainable, healthy manner.
6Paul Crowley12yThere's a difference between "false" and "bullshit". You could argue that the equation is bullshit without saying that it was strictly false.
3saturn12yThe thing is, it's both bullshit and strictly false. There's always some amount of food energy that goes in your mouth and comes straight out the other end, and this varies based on a host of poorly-understood factors. Edit: I'm arguing against the extremely common assertion that energy eaten = energy expended + weight gain, which is what your original comment looked like. If you're talking strictly about fat cell behavior, you're right, but this is rather useless information for the purpose of weight loss. What SoullessAutomaton said was energy eaten >= energy expended + weight gain, which is indeed true.
1jonas12yIf you have diabetes mellitus you lose a lot of glucose in your urine. Certainly that simple case complicates the energy in energy out dogma.
0Paul Crowley12y"out" would have been a better word than "expended" - to cover all the ways that energy can leave your body, including glucose in the urine.
2SoullessAutomaton12yFair enough, but I think making the distinction explicit is important, and that Eliezer's edited post is better for it. Call me superstitious, but I prefer to avoid anything that might get the Laws of Thermodynamics angry. You don't wanna mess with those guys.
0Jonnan12yNah - they're cool
3Eliezer Yudkowsky12yEdited to make clear the difference.
0[anonymous]12yIsn't that exactly what he said?
2Paul Crowley12yEdited following your edit. I'm slightly worried about the way my laptop seems to have developed hands that are closing around my throat.
2ChrisHibbert12yFor those who need help with the joke [http://lesswrong.com/lw/a6/the_unfinished_mystery_of_the_shangrila_diet/6oq#comments] . edited to use proper LW linking