Battlepanda: Not my idea of Shangri-la


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Not my idea of Shangri-la

In this September Freakonomics column, we hear about Seth Roberts, the psychology professor who have achieved minor fame trying out experiments on how to sleep better, feel less grumpy and get rid of acne on just one subject -- himself. All in all, very cool and freakonomical. But I have to say the diet plan he came up with seems a little nutty:
Over the years, he [Roberts] had tried a sushi diet, a tubular-pasta diet, a five-liters-of-water-a-day diet and various others. They all proved ineffective or too hard or too boring to sustain. He had by now come to embrace the theory that our bodies are regulated by a ''set point,'' a sort of Stone Age thermostat that sets an optimal weight for each person. This thermostat, however, works the opposite of the one in your home. When your home gets cold, the thermostat turns on the furnace. But according to Roberts's interpretation of the set-point theory, when food is scarcer, you become less hungry; and you get hungrier when there's a lot of food around.
Roberts tried to game this Stone Age system. What if he could keep his thermostat low by sending fewer flavor signals? One obvious solution was a bland diet, but that didn't interest Roberts. (He is, in fact, a serious foodie.) After a great deal of experimenting, he discovered two agents capable of tricking the set-point system. A few tablespoons of unflavored oil (he used canola or extra light olive oil), swallowed a few times a day between mealtimes, gave his body some calories but didn't trip the signal to stock up on more. Several ounces of sugar water (he used granulated fructose, which has a lower glycemic index than table sugar) produced the same effect.
So, basically, Roberts is trying to trick his body into starvation mode -- low metabolism, low desire to eat. From another source that reported his ideas, we are informed that he takes only 1,200 calories a day! He calls it the Shangri-la diet and plans to write a book. But I doubt many people, well, many American anyhow, is going to be willing to follow him into paradise.