One Woman’s Shangri-La Diet

From the SLD forums:

It has been two years since I started [SLD], and I just couldn’t think about changing this simple, natural way of life that has given me such peace and freedom.  I often think of a comedy skit I saw on t.v. some time ago where this guy was given a new electric sander as a gift, but kept using it without plugging it in.

To try to lose weight without SLD is like not plugging in an electric sander. Other weight-loss methods work; they’re just much harder, like a sander versus an electric sander.

In her sig file she describes her method and results:

48 years old, 5 feet 4 inches
March 7 160
May 8 119
May 9 116
1-2T OIL/day AND/OR N.CLIP 300-500 calories food.
CFF daily.
To sustain weight loss: Eat fewer calories; enjoy the food you eat; low G.I.; only highest quality.
Don’t assault your precious body with empty calories.

N.CLIP = noseclip. CFF = calorie-free flavor. See the SLD forums for more about them.

To lose 25% of your weight and go a year without regain is a huge accomplishment.

What about Multivitamins?

A recent large study concluded:

After a median follow-up of 8.0 and 7.9 years in the clinical trial and observational study cohorts, respectively, the Women’s Health Initiative study provided convincing evidence that multivitamin use has little or no influence on the risk of common cancers, CVD, or total mortality in postmenopausal women.

I think this supports what I’ve been saying. In this blog I’ve emphasized two deficiencies in the American diet:

  • Not enough omega-3
  • Not enough fermented food

Neither is reduced by a multivitamin pill. As far as I can tell, when either one is fixed with something resembling an optimal dose, there are easy-to-notice benefits. Before I started making these points, there were plenty of reasons to think these are major deficiencies. For example, the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis suggested that we might need more omega-3 than we usually get. The Umami Hypothesis suggested we need a lot more fermented food than we usually eat. In contrast, I can’t think of a single reason to think that Americans suffer from major vitamin deficiencies. I take a multivitamin pill but I’d stop long before I’d give up flaxseed oil or fermented foods.

A Shangri-La Diet Skeptic’s Log

From the Shangri-La Diet Forums:

I chanced upon the book on sale at Barnes and Noble for $4.98. I pored over the book with a slice of stratta, one chocolate lava cake, and a large Green Tea Frappuccino. I was smirking as I read it, in disbelief — it sounded ridiculous!!  . . . I’ve been on different diets since 2003. I weighed 137.5 lbs at my heaviest in 2006. The lowest I’ve been was 126 lb in 4/2004. For New Year 2008 I resolved to take a break from caring about my wt. I wanted to see how big would I actually get if I do nothing – I canceled the GYM (saved $100/month) and ate all the food I wanted anytime.  I was happy as a lark and actually shed some weight without even trying.  My weight settled between 128-130 lb. New Year 2009 came and a coworker asked what diet I was planning to be on. She also informed me of the company’s drive, inviting employees to a health challenge:  For every pound you lose, Pound For Pound will donate 10¢ to Feeding America . . . A sucker for “causes”, I committed to lose 7 lb. I have been procrastinating ever since – it’s not that easy to get back on track and start working-out again. I couldn’t give up Belgian Chocolates or Nutella Crepes.  The first thing I do when I wake up is pop a truffle or 4 in my mouth. (isn’t that gross?)  I do the same at night, before eating my lunch or dinner etc. There’s nothing quite like it – the texture of different truffles, the smell, etc., especially after having no food for at least 2 hours. I eat my dessert before my meal. When I read this book, I thought – this can’t be true. Lose your appetite without even trying? Let’s see… 3/18/2009 I cleaned up my dusty Tanita scale, replaced the batteries & weighed myself. It registered 128.5 lb . . . 3/26/2009 It’s not really time to weigh in or measure but yesterday my belt had to be re-adjusted down a notch. Results WT= 123.5 lb Body Measurement of parts with losses (inches): Waist = -.5; Abs = -.5; Hips -.5 ; Under Bra -.5 Total lost = 2 inches. I guess it works. I only have 2 lb more to go for the Pound for Pound Challenge. Have I changed my eating habits? I’d say I’m eating a lot less chocolates (by far). I’m so motivated to lose more wt. I have already shared the news at work, of course. This is by far the easiest diet I’ve ever been on with the quickest results.

It’s like a weight-loss ad come to humorous life.

Nose-Clipping Works

From Igor Carron’s blog, which is usually about compressive sensing:

Since mid-December, I have lost about nineteen pounds (8.5 kg) by following some of the results of the self-experimentation of Seth Roberts, a professor at Berkeley . . . What did it take to do this ? For me, just one thing: a $4 nose clip that I put on my nose every time I eat. That’s it. No exercise. I eat what I usually eat although now in a rather lower amount (not because I am starving myself but because I feel full earlier). The weight loss was pretty steep at the beginning. Putting a nose clip has some social cost though and when I eat out with friends or through the Christmas food, I lose it. . . . I can now see abs that I had not seen for the past twenty years.

Yay for Dambisa Moyo!

Many years ago I wrote to the editors of Spy suggesting they do an article about what happened to the money raised by Live Aid. Dambisa Moyo, an African-born economist/author of a book called Dead Aid, has followed up my suggestion. In an interview, she said this:

MOYO Forty years ago, China was poorer than many African countries. Yes, they have money today, but where did that money come from? They built that, they worked very hard to create a situation where they are not dependent on aid.

SOLOMON What do you think has held back Africans?

MOYO I believe it’s largely aid. You get the corruption — historically, leaders have stolen the money without penalty — and you get the dependency, which kills entrepreneurship. You also disenfranchise African citizens, because the government is beholden to foreign donors and not accountable to its people.

Too bad she wasn’t asked what she thought of Jeffrey Sachs or Bill Gates. As Jane Jacobs once said, it’s a curious thing: you can’t help something unless you love it.

More In another interview, Moyo asks, relative to Bono and Africa, how would Americans feel “if Amy Winehouse started to give the US government advice about the credit crunch? And was listened to?”

A Chinese Dinner Party

Last week I went to a dinner party at a restaurant held by a non-Tsinghua professor. It was nice of him to invite me. I’d been to two similar dinner parties before and this one was so much more pleasant because the grad student sitting next to me translated what everyone was saying. Which was stuff about cigarettes, Beijing is now more expensive than Hong Kong, rumors of ranking battles, buying a house, driving drunk (you are amazed how you park and drive while drunk), for example.
Do I have delicate Western sensibilities? Everyone was served an extremely strong drink called bai jio, which is about 50% alcohol. Not everyone had to drink it, except the three graduate students. Being the youngest, each of them had to go around the table toasting each of the rest of the guests. After each toast they had to do “bottoms up” — drink the whole tablespoon-sized glass. That’s 11 bottoms-ups (or 9 since your fellow sufferers would allow you to cheat)! I couldn’t toss down one glass of the stuff, and I’m a fan of soju (20% alcohol). It is horribly strong. I drank one glass the whole evening and it was too much. The graduate students jockeyed for who would go last — they hated it. Why does this happen? I asked my translator. “We’re entertainment,” she said.

I suggested she replace the bai jio, which is colorless, with water. Amazingly this was a new idea. She did it (furtively) and the deception worked. Still, she was very happy when the dinner ended before she had finished all her toasts. Did you tell the other students? I asked. Not till later, she said. Too important. Next time, she said, she’d bring a water bottle and a can of Coke to allow for drinks with other colors.

The bai jio tradition gives a sad twist to a letter on Chinese human rights just published in The New York Review of Books. The letter is signed by “hundreds of Chinese intellectuals” — many of them professors, no doubt. It contains the following:

We see the powerless in our society—the vulnerable groups, the people who have been suppressed and monitored, who have suffered cruelty and even torture, and who have had no adequate avenues for their protests, no courts to hear their pleas—becoming more militant . . .

Or more devious.

Do Genes Matter for Health?

How much disease do genes cause? Sure, they cause some rare diseases that affect very few people but what about major health problems, such as depression, that affect everyone? The notion that genes make a big difference to human health — that some people are healthy and others sick because of genetic differences — was much of the rationale for funding the human genome sequencing project, which cost billions. The founders of the company 23andme (23 = 23 human chromosomes) often say genes matter, most recently in The New Yorker:

“It’s very useful if you know that you’re at increased risk for deep-vein thrombosis and you’re on a plane,” she continued. “You might want to stay vigilant about moving around.” Instead of finding out the hard way that their children are allergic to peanuts, parents may someday be able to test their DNA. Even small inherited traits, Avey added, can serve as health clues: “There is some correlation between your ability to metabolize caffeine and your risk for a heart attack.”

There is something breathtaking in the fact that someone who believes you can learn about allergies by studying DNA is taken seriously in The New Yorker.

Some rare non-hype on this issue has recently come from Dr. David Goldstein:

But David B. Goldstein of Duke University, a leading young population geneticist known partly for his research into the genetic roots of Jewish ancestry, says the effort to nail down the genetics of most common diseases is not working. “There is absolutely no question,” he said, “that for the whole hope of personalized medicine [where people with different genes are treated differently], the news has been just about as bleak as it could be.”

The researchers have been unable to find genes that make much difference.

If they had found such genes, I would have been stunned. My self-experimentation has led me to believe that our environments are far from ideal — in non-obvious ways. I believe that people don’t get sick because of their genes, or gene-by-environment interactions, they get sick because of their environments, which lack something essential or include something bad. Animal experiments have given us a decent understanding of nutrition; maybe we know half or more than half of the basic requirements. When it comes to subjects that don’t lend themselves to animal experiments, little is known — about what causes depression, for example. My self-experimentation took over where animal experiments left off; it provided a way to do experiments that generate ideas. (Which is crucial for knowledge advancement, as opposed to career advancement.) I have been able to find one big self-experimental effect after another (most recently, about omega-3s and sleep) related to common health problems only because (a) so little was known and (b) I accidentally picked up an effective tool (self-experimentation) that no one else had used this way (to find new experimental effects).

More More from the other side of the debate: 1. Elderly genetics. 2. Google co-founder has Parkinson’s gene. It is hard to find support for my side of the debate in print. It isn’t easy to notice when you don’t get sick (because of advances in the study of nutrition, for example) so it isn’t easy to notice how study of the environment has paid off in concrete ways. I’m in an unusual position: I can easily notice how my life has improved via self-experimentation.

Even more Dean Ornish agrees with me. Thanks to Carl Willat.

I Love This

In late July, JemSparkles posted this to the SLD forums:

Ok so I have tried many diets. Here’s the list Jenny Craig (10 lbs lost but gained back), Atkins (3 months of phase 1 and nothing lost), Curves (1 year and 10 lbs lost), Herbal Magic, a multitude of diet pills, the Zone, and then simply working out non stop. The weight doesn’t want to come off. So here I am with the last attempt that sounds crazy enough to work! I bought the book and this is day two. I am going to start tracking my data and see if I get any results.

Here’s to hoping!!!

Ok so I weighed myself for the first time this morning and my starting weight will be 260lbs.

Two weeks later she posted this:

Ok so I haven’t seen the fast results that some have seen but I am seeing results which is what matters. And compared to any diet this has been super easy to keep up with.

Today she posted this:

254!!! Yes I am finally down a total of 6 pounds and starting to feel much better. I have been working really hard on this and am not giving up. This diet has been the most effective I have been on to date.

We now return to our regularly-scheduled blogging.

The Undone Work: Electric Cars

During Bill McKibben’s book tour for Maybe One (1998), an argument for having no more than one child, he gave a reading in Berkeley. I attended, and asked a question: Jane Jacobs says the problem isn’t too many people, the problem is the undone work. (Which I also said at the end of The Shangri-La Diet.) For example, air pollution. The solution won’t be fewer people, it will be cars that pollute less. I asked McKibben what he thought of this. He said he thought highly of Jacobs, but  the EV1 was a failure. Terrible answer, I thought.

Yesterday I spoke to the owner of an electric car. It is entirely powered by electricity from solar panels on the roof of her house. It can’t go on the highway but is perfectly good for taking her and her two children around town. She’s had it about a year; she bought it after seeing someone else drive one. Leaving aside the cost of the solar panels, driving costs her almost nothing, is very quiet, and produces no pollution. The car was made in Vancouver. In America, it’s small; it wouldn’t be small in Japan. Looks like the future, I thought.

Green Motors, a Berkeley store specializing in electric cars, started by the man she bought it from. Lovely website, his enthusiasm shines through. Car-maker difficulties.

More about Unreported Side Effects of Powerful Drugs

A few days ago I blogged about how Tim Lundeen, via careful  and repeated measurement — let’s call it self-experimentation — uncovered a serious and previously-unreported side effect of a drug he was taking. Tim’s example illustrates an important use of self-experimentation: discovering unreported side effects, which I believe are common.

By coincidence today I came across a talk about the very subject of unmentioned side effects: Alison Bass speaking about her new book, Side Effects: A Prosecutor, a Whistleblower, and a Bestselling Antidepressant on Trial. Near the end, Bass said,

It’s not the just the antidepressants, it’s not just the antipsychotics. This is happening with a lot of other drugs. With Vioxx, with Vytorin, an anti-cholesterol drug, with Propries [?] and Marimet [?], anti-anemia drugs. Where again and again the drug companies know that there are more severe side effects and they’re not letting the public know about that. It just keeps happening, unfortunately.

Just as it would be foolish to think the problem is limited to mental-health drugs, it would be foolish to think the problem is limited to side effects, that drug company researchers do everything right except fail to report side effects. Tim’s example shows how hard it is to learn about unreported side effects — so it is only realistic to think that there are other big problems with drug company research we don’t know about. Bass mentioned one I didn’t know about. A company did a clinical trial of Paxil. The goal was to see if the drug helped with Measures of Depression A and B. Turns out it didn’t: no effect. So the company changed the measures! They shifted to reporting different measures that the drug did seem to improve. Creating the hypothesis to be tested after the data supposedly supporting that hypothesis had already been collected. Without making this clear. (Which I presciently mentioned here, in response to an interesting comment by Andrew Gelman.) And if you think that drug companies do research like this — in ways that seriously damage people’s lives — but everyone else, such as academia, is really good, that is as realistic as thinking the problem with drug company research is restricted to side effects. Self-experimentation has all sorts of limitations, yes, but (a) you know what they are and (b) it is cheap enough so that you can gather more data to deal with the problems. Drug company research and lots of other research is too expensive to fail — or even be honest about shortcomings.

This is an aspect of scientific method that scientists rarely discuss: the effect of cost on honesty. Is there an economic term (a Veblen good, perhaps?) for things whose quality goes down as their cost goes up?

Should Those Who Are Part of the Problem Be Part of the Solution? (continued)

In the last chapter of The Shangri-La Diet and this post, I said it was foolish for those who want to improve the world to denigrate those in industry. (“[Food] companies will put anything in their food if they think the extra marketing hype will help them sell more of it,” said Marian Nestle.) A recent article in the NY Times described in detail how a wash-your-hands campaign became more effective by studying industry tactics. The head of the campaign said pretty much what I’ve been saying:

“For a long time, the public health community was distrustful [not to mention scornful] of industry, because many felt these companies were trying to sell products that made people’s lives less healthy, by encouraging them to smoke, or to eat unhealthy foods, or by selling expensive products people didn’t really need,” Dr. Curtis said. “But those tactics also allow us to save lives. If we want to really help the world, we need every tool we can get.”

And every person.

Thanks to Marian Lizzi.

Chocolate is Good For You

I put cocoa powder in my black tea. I like the complexity it adds and believe it’s good for you. More evidence of its health benefits has just been published:

Design: Randomized, placebo-controlled, single-blind crossover trial of 45 healthy adults [mean age: 53 y; mean body mass index (in kg/m2): 30]. In phase 1, subjects were randomly assigned to consume a solid dark chocolate bar (containing 22 g cocoa powder) or a cocoa-free placebo bar (containing 0 g cocoa powder). In phase 2, subjects were randomly assigned to consume sugar-free cocoa (containing 22 g cocoa powder), sugared cocoa (containing 22 g cocoa powder), or a placebo (containing 0 g cocoa powder).

Results: Solid dark chocolate and liquid cocoa ingestion improved endothelial function (measured as flow-mediated dilatation) compared with placebo (dark chocolate: 4.3 ± 3.4% compared with –1.8 ± 3.3%; p < 0.001; sugar-free and sugared cocoa: 5.7 ± 2.6% and 2.0 ± 1.8% compared with –1.5 ± 2.8%; p < 0.001). Blood pressure decreased after the ingestion of dark chocolate and sugar-free cocoa compared with placebo (dark chocolate: systolic, –3.2 ± 5.8 mm Hg compared with 2.7 ± 6.6 mm Hg; p < 0.001; and diastolic, –1.4 ± 3.9 mm Hg compared with 2.7 ± 6.4 mm Hg; p = 0.01; sugar-free cocoa: systolic, –2.1 ± 7.0 mm Hg compared with 3.2 ± 5.6 mm Hg; p < 0.001; and diastolic: –1.2 ± 8.7 mm Hg compared with 2.8 ± 5.6 mm Hg; p = 0.014). Endothelial function improved significantly more with sugar-free than with regular cocoa (5.7 ± 2.6% compared with 2.0 ± 1.8%; p < 0.001). Conclusions: The acute ingestion of both solid dark chocolate and liquid cocoa improved endothelial function and lowered blood pressure in overweight adults.

22 g cocoa powder = 2.5 tablespoons. If you live near Berkeley, you might want to attend the Charles Chocolates annual open house, which is this Saturday (July 12) at 2 pm. They are located in Emeryville at 6259 Hollis.

100 Pounds Lost on the Shangri-La Diet

WheatenDad, a 70-year-old man who lives in San Carlos, California, started the Shangri-La Diet two years ago and  began posting his weight on the Shangri-La Diet forums. At the time, he weighed 300 pounds (BMI = 38). Now he weighs about 200 pounds (BMI = 26). He lost about 1 pound/week for 2 years:

He did SLD by taking 3 tablespoons/day of extra-light olive oil. In February 2008 he increased it to 4 tablespoons/day. In May 2007 he started walking 1-2 miles/day, eventually increasing this to 3-4 miles/day.

SLD in Indonesian

There is a long discussion of the Shangri-La Diet here on an Indonesian forum. I like the locations some posters give: “the hottest city in Java,” “space,” “a quiet little house,” “above the earth,” “nowhere to be found.”

Thanks to Mark Schrimsher of CalorieLab. The 2005 CalorieLab post on SLD — now an historical artifact. Why Japanese People in Japan Don’t Get that Fat.

Evidence Snobs

At a reunion of Reed College graduates who majored in psychology, I gave a talk about self-experimentation. One question was what I thought of Evidence-Based Medicine. I said the idea you could improve on anecdotes had merit, but that proponents of Evidence-Based Medicine have been evidence snobs (which derives from Alex Tabarrok’s credit snobs). I meant they’ve dismissed useful evidence because it didn’t reach some level of purity. Because health is important, I said, ignoring useful information, such as when coming up with nutritional recommendations, is really unfortunate.

Afterwards, four people mentioned “evidence snobs” to me. (Making it the most-mentioned thing I said.) They all liked it. Thanks, Alex.