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my big book of little catastrophes
I ate WHAT?
the world is a circle that never begins 
4th-May-2006 10:24 am
tiny clara
I've always been somewhere between skinny and thin. Except for the year or two when I was working out like crazy and got kind of buff, but that was too hard to maintain so now I'm back to yoga-slim. But as the years advance, so does the waistline. Like many Americans I could stand to lose a few pounds. Not enough that anyone but me would notice, but it would be nice to be able to fit in those pants again.

I don't like "diets". I eat a pretty balanced diet already. I grew up not being allowed to eat junk food or crap, so i have a good diet. I just eat too much of the good stuff, and sometimes I go nuts on the treats. I think if I just eat a bit less I'd do fine. If only I didn't have to fight my appetite to do that!

Enter The Shangri-la Diet by Seth Roberts. I read about this on Kathy Sierra's Creating Passionate Users blog a few days ago. It's not really a diet, it's a way of reprogramming your appetite using the body's natural mechanism for adjusting to food availability. It's a hack, so it appeals to my engineering outlook.

The theory in a nutshell is that when food is plentiful you can eat whatever you want as much as you want. When food is scarce, you get by on what you can, and it's not going to be as yummy because choice is limited. Therefore the brain associates familiar flavors with bounty. And since you want to store fat during plenty, your appetite increases as a result of that perceived bounty. When times are lean, you live off your reserves, so you don't want a big appetite to distract you when there isn't a lot to be had. Makes sense as far as left-field theories go.

How it works is even simpler. You just ingest some flavorless calories between meals. This lowers your set point, the weight your body is eating to achieve. If you weigh more than your set point, your appetite naturally decreases and you eat less. The diet recommends sugar water or extra-light olive oil (ELOO), at from 100 to 400 calories per day. For some reason the sweet flavor of sucrose or fructose doesn't count as flavor and works to lower your set point. The only trick is you have to drink the calories at least an hour before or after eating, chewing gum, brushing your teeth, or putting anything in your mouth that can create a flavor-calorie association.

I decided to give it a shot, both to drop about 10 lbs myself, but also because I have some overweight family members and friends and wanted to know for myself if it was worth recommending. I started with the sugar water and flavorless oil on Tuesday. Two days later and I already notice a difference in my appetite. Yesterday I had a very light lunch and was satisfied for the afternoon. Last night I had a typical dinner and was really stuffed; I think I could have eaten about half my usual portion and been fine. This morning I had about 2/3 the amount of cereal I usually have. So it looks like I'm off to a good start. The book says you can lose a few pounds a week pretty easily, so we'll see how it goes.

One nice thing about this "diet" is that you don't have to adopt some crazy food plan, like Atkins or South Beach. Those diets can be very hard to stick to because they are so unnatural. With Shangri-la you can eat your normal diet, just less of it. Of course I'm going to take the opportunity to eat less of the stuff on the poor end of the quality range, so my overall nutrition should improve.

I read a very interesting blog about the potential effects of Shangri-la on American culture. What if in the space of a year or two everyone who was overweight was easily able to become thin? What would that do to our culture? Will there be more pressure for fat people to lose weight if it's so easy to do? Last night on the news I watched a piece on how Americans are becoming so fat that there is now a "growth industry" (pardon the pun) around creating supersized items like clothing, chairs, bicycle seats, doorways, coffins, umbrellas, etc. Now I wonder if the opposite will occur. All I can say is that it will sure be nice not to have to sit on a plane next to someone who is taking up part of mine for her twinkie habit.

By the way, if you're going to do this diet, read the book. It's simple to do, but there's a bit more to it than can fit in a blog post. If you're local and want to borrow my copy, just let me know.
4th-May-2006 05:54 pm (UTC)
The theory in a nutshell is that when food is plentiful you can eat whatever you want as much as you want. When food is scarce, you get by on what you can, and it's not going to be as yummy because choice is limited.

Hey I can help you out with this. Just send me all your money (for safekeeping), and then you'll be too broke to buy food and you'll lose those 10 pounds in no time! :)
4th-May-2006 05:58 pm (UTC)
dork! :-P
4th-May-2006 09:38 pm (UTC)
This makes a lot of sense. It reminds me of what happened when I moved to Korea: I didn't know much about where to buy food and what to eat, so I got by on a relatively small number of familiar things at first until my choices expanded. I lost (even more) weight over here in the months after I moved, although a little of it's coming back. I still eat less than I used to, and still weigh less. Plus, two weeks in Cambodia will take care of my waistline, so I'm not at all worried.
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