One of the most bizarre
diets to become popular in recent years, the Shangri-La Diet was the brainchild
of psychology professor Seth Roberts. According to Roberts, the diet was so
named to conjure up images of the fictional Himalayan community because, just
as Shangri-La is associated with peace and tranquility, Roberts said, “This
diet puts people at peace with food." The name is pretty whimsical, and the
diet is plenty eccentric too. It only has one rule: Take 1-3 tablespoons of
extra light olive oil and/or 1-2 tablespoons of sugar water twice daily,
According to Roberts, the
body learns to associate especially flavorful foods with calories, thus leading
us toward overindulgence in our favorite foods. The result? Uncontrollable
weight gain. Roberts suggested that by consuming olive oil and sugar water,
which have calories but little 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 it seeks to maintain.
Roberts believed that the
key to weight loss is controlling the weight your body wants to maintain through
understanding how different foods can increase or decrease the set point. Specifically,
he believed that by consuming olive oil and sugar water — what he called “zero-set point foods” — one could reduce their set point to a lower
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 because unfamiliar associations help to lower the set point (one of
Roberts' suggestions was putting cinnamon on pizza), and eating bland foods
whenever possible, such as pureed vegetables, plain soup broth, and bread with
It's advertised as the
"no hunger, eat anything weight loss plan." The diet promises freedom
from hunger and cravings through teaching 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 because you'll only want a small amount, and a small amount of anything
The Shangri-La Diet is
advertised as a paradigm shift in the understanding of dieting. Roberts argued
that his system was based on a better understanding of how weight control
systems work than other diets. His claim was that, until now, nearly all weight
loss programs had incorrectly focused on severe portion control — demanding
that one food type or another be subtracted from your menu. The Shangri-La Diet
pledges 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 your daily food intake, and you'll be all set to start
dropping pounds. Roberts said that the Shangri-La Diet is "almost as easy
as taking a pill, and 100 times safer and less expensive."
Pros and 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 also
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 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
favorites. 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 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. Much of Roberts'
evidence is based on self-experimentation.
In other words: the
Shangri-La diet may not work.
There is some science
supporting the potential of olive oil to increase feelings of fullness. A small
found that adding olive oil, or just the scent of olive oil, seems to boost satiety.
In a second part of the
study, researchers tested yogurt enriched with only the scent of olive oil and
found that the group that consumed yogurt without the olive oil aroma ate an
average of 176 more calories each day than the group given the olive oil-scented
One issue with the
foundation of the Shangri-La diet 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. For one thing, taste is a matter of opinion. More importantly, there are
thousands upon thousands of recipes out there for delicious food options that
are healthy too.
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.