Thursday, May 17, 2007
There Is No Spoon
The Shangri-La Diet
by Seth Roberts
Published by The Penguin Group
Book cover design has always interested me, and the design by Ben Gibson for The Shangri-La Diet has inspired many associations for me while reading this compelling diet book.
The title of the book first attracted my attention when the authors of Freakonomics wrote a review for The New York Times. It is not unusual for a diet book to be named after an idylic location or concept, The South Beach Diet, The Zone or The Scarsdale Diet. (Scarsdale has an average family income of $200,000+ and 2.3% live below the poverty line, including those who are under 18 or over 65.) So I thought, well, The Shangri-La Diet has high aspirations. The title evoked thoughts of a peaceful feeling, youthful energy, pre-industrial nutrition and a spiritual sense of well-being.
The cover has a sunburst fading into a tranquil pale green and in the center of the sunburst is a spoon. Several metaphors came to mind; we are "spoon-fed" many ideas about proper diet and health including government dietary food guides, we want to believe there is a quick fix diet that we will benefit from, the adage that the difference between heaven or hell comes down to ten foot long spoons that can't reach our mouths, in heaven we feed each other, in hell we don't come up with that solution of co-operation and then I thought of The Matrix movie. In The Shangri-La Diet the basic idea is to include a tablespoon of flavourless oil.
The idea begins with "eat fat to lose fat". I felt as if I had stumbled upon a science fiction novel or a huge satire about dieting. I couldn't believe it, and in fact, I kind of laughed. I laughed partly because immediately this diet sounded like a joke but also because I take flax seed oil everyday and I have found the more fat I eat, with less starches the more slim and balanced my body and mind feels, but this diet pushed even my optimistic attitude. This diet book is utterly counter-intuitive at first glance...but with further reading and practice seems so common sense.
I had the overwhelming sense I was reading a book by one of my peeps!
The movie the Matrix has a scene where the hero meets a small boy who is bending spoons with his mind. The hero wants to learn how to do this as the conflict in the film sets up the premise that there are at least two realities, one is computered generated and one is the real world. The boy tells out hero that to bend the spoon you must realize "there is no spoon".
In many ways, The Shangri-La Diet tells us there is no diet.
My understanding of the diet is that we unconsciously associate certain foods and flavours affecting the way our body processes nutrients and therefore adjusts the way we crave nutrients.
Our body associates flavour with calories. Therefore the more flavour-calorie associations we make (unconsciously) the more we crave food. And the speed with which we digest our food affects the calorie flavour association. In turn this creates a system much like a temperature control system in our houses. If we set the tempurature at 68 degrees, the furnace or air-conditioning unit will always aim for the "set point" of 68 degrees. Our appetite and cravings work very similar according to The Shangri-La Diet. By readjusting our own bodies "set point" we will change the way it craves food.
The Shangri-La Diet helps our bodies to realign a "set point" that may have been put out of whack by a variety of conditions, including flavour, commercially produced foods and lack of variety in many of our diets.
The Shangri-La Diet is the most flexible weight-loss plan yet devised. No forbidden foods, no restricted foods, no calorie counting, no meal plans, and , above all, no deprivation. No subtraction, just addition. Just follow the flexible basic framework and choose among the many possibilities it allows.(pg. 52,The Shangri-La Diet)
The author, Seth Roberts, isn't kidding.
I've been following the four basic rules in his diet's framework for five days. This morning I woke up, followed step one and then went to the hardware store to buy some varathane to seal a bookshelf we had painted. I thought, on the way home I will stop and have a coffee and breakfast at an outdoor cafe near the hardware store. I bought the varathane and stopped at the cafe and ordered a large coffee and a bagel with cream cheese. ( a bagel is an amazing low carb food, it has 11 grams of protein and the cream cheese has aproximatly 2-4 grams of protein.) I sat on ther patio to finish the last few pages of The Shnagri-La Diet in order to come home and write this review. I took several sips of my delicious coffee. I took one bite of my bagel and cream cheese and chewed. I immediately realized I wasn't hungry. I finished this book. I went inside and got my bagel wrapped "to-go". I came home and varathaned the shelves out on the back deck and finished my coffee. I still didn't feel particularily hungry, and no signs of shaking or blood sugar discomfort.
Evidence of my decreased appetite.
In five days, I have lost one inch off my hips.
Evidence of energy level combined with decreased appetite. I varathaned my shelves and was still not hungry!
This book is really fun to read and it is also right up my alley. For visitors who have come here to my blog, you will already know that I write a fair bit of content about food, civilization and nutrition. I've written four posts here about this diet: here are some of those with a reference including a film clip on a news magazine. I've written about depression, mood disorders and nutrition especially Vitamin B and further about pre-agricultural quality of life, nutrition and ethics.. Nutrition and our mental and physical well-being has been a lifelong passion of mine, and a significant theme on this blog.
The Shangri-La Diet has been an inspiration and an exhilarating read for me because I feel it ties right into these potentially life changing attitudes to food and quality of life.
Evidence of my enthusiasm for this book, lots of post-it notes.
I've been taking flax seed oil for about 8 years with my breakfast. I have changed the volume of intake and method of intake according to The Shangri-La Diet and see a rapid positive response. Flax Seed Oil was introduced to me by a friend who manufactures and distributes his oil through his own company. His website is one of the first links I added to this blog, not only because I believe in the benefits of adding flax seed oil to one's diet, but because I have also visited his processing plant and seen how his company turned the former farm property into a wetlands , the high level of quality assurance in the product and a commitment to organic small farm support. Omega-3 has entered the mainstream over the past ten years with packaging on eggs confirming the rich omega-3 properties, with labels on cooking oils and popular news stories highlighting omega-3 in fish. After 3 days altering the method of my consumption of flax seed oil to Robert's diet I woke up with no pain. I had been suffering from sore bones in my neck, feet and lower back. No reccurance since I've been taking the recommended dose in The Shangri-La Diet. Flax seed oil has not only seemed to affect my hunger, my weight, but it's anti-inflamatory benefits seem to have been amped as well.
Omerga-3 also improves brain function, later research has implied. Because our brains are more than half fat, it makes sense that the wrong fats or too little fat may cause mental health problems. One connection is with mood disorders. Countires with low fish consumption, such as Israel, have much higher rates of bipolar disorder than countries with high fish consumption, such as Korea and Iceland. In some experiments in which patients with bipolar disorder or depression were given fish oil, these patients improved compared to patients not given fish oil. A survey of elderly Chicago adults found that those who ate more fish had less cognitive decline over time than those who ate less fish. (pg 60, The Shangri-La Diet)
Whichever oil you choose, it will almost surely have positive side effects, such as better skin and softer hair. It is also likely to produce better sleep: as I mentioned in the Foreward, about three quarters of SLDers report this, Among the many other positive side effects reported are fewer menstrual headaches, reduction of arthritis (which makes sense because Omega-3 is an anti-inflamatory), better balance, and reduction of rosacea (a skin disease.)(pg. 62, The Shangri-La Diet)
Besides adding Flax Seed Oil to one's diet, this book explores the idea of flavour as contributing to the body's "set point". The book suggests several methods to affect the "set point" adjustment of our bodies. For example the book suggests cooking more and experimenting with new flavours, demonstrating that French women eat lots of rich food but remain slim.Perhaps considering the habits of "foodies" may suggest a culture of food connoisseurship may be the main reason that the French are less obese than Americans. (pg 136, The Shangri-La Diet)
The opposite of new food is familiar food, and the foods that can become most familiar are those that taste exactly the same each time-what I call DITTO FOODS. These mass produced foods come mostly from factories and chain restaurants. Because their flavors are so constant, when they are eaten repeatedly they can produce very strong flavor-calorie associations-much stronger than similar foods that vary in flavor, such as your homemade lasagna or meat loaf, which vary a bit each time you make them. (To increase the power of this method, I intentionally vary the flavors of my cooking.)
Ditto foods are the profit centers of the food industry. They include convenience food (such as frozen entrees, breakfast cereals, canned and frozen juices) ready-to-eat food, canned soup, junk food (such as soda, potato chips, and candy), fast food, and chain restaurant food. Almost any food sold in a package or made in a factory qualifies. It isn't just "bad" food; "good" food can be ditto food as well. (pg 99, The Shangri-La Diet) What follows are examples of how an eating rut can contribute to altering our body's "set point" by becoming too familiar...therefore we become unusually hungry. It seems that on top of the basic rules of this diet...there are reasons why being an adventurous eater can help us lose weight. It is absolutely fascinating to read his ongoing research on food and the brain and body.
You don't need to know about nutrition to follow the four basic rules of this diet. However, there are all kinds of interesting notes about the diet and his theories in this book. Roberts also has had a blog and website associated with this diet book for just over a year and has included quotes from these sources as part of his research, evidence and new ideas. I found it terrific to witness how the internet is contributing to research especially in health and nutrition fields of study.
Roberts continues to explore how flavor affects our bodies "set point" Low carb and good-carb diets work moderately well. I believe this is because they replace carbohydrates that are digested quickly (high glycemic-index foods), such as breads, potatoes, and sweets, with foods that are digested more slowly, such as fats, proteins, and low-glycemic-index carbohydrates such as green vegetables. The slowly digested foods have weaker flavor-calorie associations than the quicker digested foods and thus raise your set point less.
Weak flavors like slowly digested foods, never become strongly associated with calories. This makes foods with weak flavors-I'll call them DELICATELY FLAVORED foods-less fattening than other foods. It isn't easy to eat enough of these foods to lose significant amounts of weight. I tried eating plain white fish-no seasonings at all- and gave up after one meal. Sushi was easie; I lost weight on my sushi diet. But it was hard to eat sushi every day, not to mention expensive and unwise due to mercury in tuna. I believe that many meal-replacement drinks such as Slim-Fast are efffective because they have weak flavors.(pg 107,The Shangri-La Diet)
Much of the book offers these insights for those people who may have difficulty following the four basic rules of the diet. If you are able to incorporate the four basic rules I don't think you will ever have to worry about the flavor research Seth Roberts is conducting and others in the nutrition/weight professions, although I have found the entire book compelling reading.
I have finished my coffee, and eaten half my bagel and cream cheese. I don't feel hungry or tired and I didn't count calories or worry about anything. In five and a half days of following the four basic rules of this diet I have not worried about how much I eat. I have noticed I have eaten a couple of delicious snacks of blueberries and yogurt, another snack of a bagel with cream cheese and half an avocado and then a substantial meal.
I haven't changed my choice of good nutritious food that I already eat...but I have found that I am not very hungry so my portions have decreased.
I have no pain, (pain associated with moderate exercise, a pulled muscle or something in my neck I had for about three months and slight chronic pain from rheumatoid arthritis since 16 years old) and very little cravings, obsession with food or appetite. I am a little more hungry by 4 p.m. and by then I am ready to do another of the four basic rules and start preparing supper. I may be feeling hungry by supper, but I have been eating a much smaller serving of supper.
The major change I have made is to take more flax seed oil, and to take it without tasting the oil, yep...by plugging my nose. I'm not kidding.
The theory behind The Shangri-La Diet is the association of calories to flavor, so by eliminating the flavor of the flax seed oil the process seems to act like an appetite suppressant...but with a much healthier positive result than say the option of dangerous appetite suppressants like "pep pills" or diet pills. Same theory, healthier option?
In the movie The Matrix there is a scene where the characters are eating. The premise of the movie is that the people who are aware of what the matrix is, a computer generated reality denying the real world, must hide within the earths core and attempt to educate people to the nature of reality. During this quest, they have prepared a single cell food source. The characters joke that it is flavorless, "it tastes like chicken". There appears to be other food available but they subsidise their nutrition with this convenient yet flavorless food. The characters are portrayed by very fit, even athletic looking people. The Matrix seems to support The Shangri-La Diet intuitively as Carrie Ann Moss, Keanu Reeves and the entire cast and extras appear unusually slim for a mostly sendentary population. We know their exercise is fake. Their stunts and gravity-defying athleticism is mostly occuring while they fight the machines in the computer generated world of The Matrix.
My favourite section of this diet book is right near the end, again referring to something dear to my heart The Antidote To Civilization. It is a perfectly crafted insight which brilliantly blends Club Med, doughnuts and Jane Jabobs. Seth Roberts is one of my peeps, and his book might just end up on my World Peace Reading List.
If you want to enjoy all the wonderful flavours of life, to feel energetic, have great sleep and find your ideal weight please check out The Shangri-La Diet. You won't be disappointed because it isn't a spood-fed diet doctrine. There is no spoon.