What is it?
One of the most bizarre diets to become popular in recent years, the Shangri-La Diet is the brainchild of psychology professor Seth Roberts. According to Roberts, the diet is so named in order to conjure up images of the "fictional Himalayan community, a place of great peace and tranquility; this diet puts people at peace with food." While the name is pretty whimsical, the weirdest part of the Shangri-La Diet is the diet itself. It really only has one rule: Take 1-3 tablespoons of extra light olive oil and/or 1-2 tablespoons of sugar water twice daily between meals.
According to Roberts, the body learns to associate especially flavorful foods with calories, thus leading us towards overindulgence in our favorite foods. The result? Uncontrollable weight gain. Roberts suggests that by consuming olive oil and sugar water, which have calories but no taste, you can teach your body to stop associating flavor with calories. Eventually, your body will want less of whatever foods you're eating. The idea is that the body has a "set point," a weight level that the body naturally seeks to maintain. Roberts believes that the key to weight loss is controlling your body's "set point;" specifically, he believes that by consuming olive oil and sugar water, one can reduce their "set point" to a lower weight.
Other suggestions (but not requirements) of the Shangri-La diet: Stopping your nose up in some way to avoid smelling good foods, thus making them less flavorful. Eating unfamiliar foods (unfamiliar associations help to lower the "set point"—one of Roberts' suggestions, for example, is putting cinnamon on pizza). Eating bland foods whenever possible—e.g., pureed vegetables, plain soup broth, bread with no butter.
It's advertised as the "no hunger, eat anything weight loss plan." The diet promises freedom from hunger and cravings—that you'll be able to teach your body to want less food. Once you've trained your body to want less food, you'll be able to eat whatever you want—the reason being that you'll only want a small amount, and a small amount of anything won't hurt.
The Shangri-La Diet promises a paradigm shift in the understanding of dieting. Roberts argues that his system is based on a better understanding of how weight-control systems work than other diets. His claim is that, until now, nearly all weight loss programs have incorrectly focused on severe portion control—demanding that one food type or another be subtracted from your menu. The Shangri-La Diet promises that you won't have to subtract anything in order to successfully lose weight. In fact, all you have to do is add a small amount of extra light olive oil or sugar water to you daily food intake, and you're all set to start dropping pounds. Roberts promises that the Shangri-La Diet is "almost as easy as taking a pill, and a hundred times safer and less expensive."
Pros & Cons
It's cheap, and it's relatively safe. Because your meals will most likely be composed of the same types of foods you were eating before starting the Shangri-La Diet, the diet probably won't result in the loss of any important nutrients or vitamins. It's about as inexpensive as diet plans come.
The Shangri-La Diet is appealing in many ways. It's very simple, and doesn't require any real significant lifestyle changes. In fact, one of its key tenets is that you don't have to subtract anything from your diet or life; you only have to add. There are no forbidden types of food, so it will appeal to those unwilling to give up their favorite foods. There's none of the typical calorie-counting or physical exercise that usually scare people away from dieting.
On the other hand, not too many people will be happy eating purposefully bland food, and taking regular spoonfuls of olive oil and/or sugar water can be unappetizing. The diet does not have any portion control guidelines, and makes no effort at changing what a person is actually eating. Just adding sugar water and olive oil to a daily routine of junk food isn't going to help you lose weight or make you healthier. The diet assumes that people will desire less food.
And that's where the most troublesome aspect of this diet plans lies: the logic of the Shangri-La Diet runs counter to much of the current professional wisdom about weight loss, and the jury is still out on whether there is actually a legitimate scientific basis for Roberts' "set point" theory. A lot of Roberts' evidence is based on self-experimentation
In other words: the Shangri-La Diet may not work.
Consuming extra light olive oil between meals may work to reduce the desire for food: a 2008 study published in Cell Metabolism found that a fatty acid found in abundance in olive oil and other unsaturated fats helps to keep the body satisfied between meals. But at the same time, it seems that consuming any small snack between meals will reduce the chances of binging at meal times. It's unclear whether consuming olive oil or sugar water is any better than, say, eating an apple between meals.
Also at issue is the claim that flavorful, tasty foods are fattening. While this may be true in some cases, it is definitely not a set-in-stone fact in. For one thing, taste is a matter of opinion. More importantly, there are thousands upon thousands of recipes out there for delicious and healthy food options.
Of even greater concern is that the Shangri-La plan makes no effort to address any lifestyle factors, like physical activity, or the psychological components of weight control. There are no guidelines as to how much or what food is being eaten; the diet simply assumes people will begin to eat less if they add sugar water and olive oil to their daily routine Without taking on the more fundamental aspects of weight management, it's hard to see how a temporary reduction in appetite will work to produce long-term results in weight loss. Finally, Healthline recommends that any diet plan be accompanied by an increase in physical activity.