Saturday, July 15, 2006

Interview with Seth Roberts (author of the Shangri-la Diet)

QUESTION I'm talking with Dr. Seth Roberts, author of The Shangri-La Diet. Good morning, Dr. Roberts.

ANSWER Good morning.

QUESTION It's been three months since the book was published. What's happened that since publication?

ANSWER Well, it's strange. I've been learning about weight control for a long time. I started self-experimentation about it, trying to lose weight myself, sixteen years ago. The discovery that led to the book -- my experience in Paris -- was six years ago. You might think six years of experience would be enough to make the diet perfect, or close to perfect. At least for me. Well, no, not at all. In the past three months I have started to do the diet differently. And it's made a big difference -- not on my weight, which was fine, but on my sleep. My sleep has gotten better. I never thought that writing a diet book would improve my sleep, but that's what's happened.

QUESTION How did that happen?

ANSWER The most important thing since publication of the book has been growth of the forums at These forums are an online community where people ask questions, answer questions, tell their progress, and give encouragement. It's a support group without the inconvenience, someone said. Right now there're about 10,000 posts and 1,000 members. Anyone with a question about the diet or a problem with the diet should visit the forums and ask for help. It's very likely that someone knows the answer or has had the same problem. I call it Shangri-La Diet University. The address, again, is You can learn a lot about the diet that isn't in the book.

I've learned a lot from the forums. One thing I've learned is that the diet often has surprising positive side effects. One of these positive side effects is better sleep. Lots of people reported this. I was fascinated by this because that hand't happened to me. My sleep didn't improve when I started the diet. I wanted to see how common this was so I posted a poll. It turned out that two-thirds of people drinking oil for the diet said their sleep had improved. So better sleep wasn't just a surprising side effect, it was a common one. I wondered if the reason my sleep hadn't improved was because I mostly used extra-light olive oil, which is low in omega-three fatty acids. So I switched to walnut oil, which is high in omega-three, and also started taking 10 flax-seed oil capsules per day. Flaxseed oil is high in omega-three.

My sleep improved right away. And it has stayed that way. I'm getting the best sleep of my adult life. Every night when I go to bed, I know I'm going to wake up feeling really good. I'm not sure it is the omega-three that caused the improvement because people have reported better sleep with olive oil and coconut oil, which have little or no omega-three. So I don't know what causes the sleep improvement. But there it is -- it's a great side effect of the diet. And I suspect that any food that improves your sleep also improves your brain in other ways. At the same time my sleep improved, so did my balance.

QUESTION What have been other positive side effects?

ANSWER Most of the positive side effects have come from drinking oil. As one person said, it turns out that fat is not poison. The oil is obviously good for your skin. Many people, including me, have gotten softer skin and hair. Several people have had skin problems, such as eczema, clear up. One person's acne improved, which is kind of amazing because acne is supposedly caused by oil. A few people have said the oil has made them more flexible, less stiff. A few people have said that being on the diet helped them quit smoking and quit drinking coffee. Omega-three is supposed to improve mood; maybe that's what's happening in these cases.

QUESTION Most people do the diet by drinking oil?

ANSWER Yes. If you do the sugar water, you need to drink it slowly. And the sugar water sometimes causes hunger. The oil is a lot faster. You don't have to drink it slowly. Sometimes the oil causes indigestion. If you have that problem, just reduce the dose for a few days to give your body time to get used to it. Your body needs time to make enough of the right enzymes to digest the oil.

QUESTION But isn't it difficult to drink oil? When I tell people about this diet, and about drinking oil, sometimes they say "I couldn't do that."

ANSWER Yes, that's a common reaction. One good idea from the forums is that it helps to drink the oil with water. If you add enough water, it's more like drinking water than drinking oil. And the water reduces the flavor of the oil, which is also good. Some people find it helps to add sugar to the oil/water mixture -- about 1 teaspoon of sugar for 1 tablespoon of oil.

Speaking of improvements, another improvement from the forums has been in what times of day to take the oil. Lots of people have good results taking it late at night, right before bedtime, and early in the morning. I myself have switched to taking my oil right before bedtime instead of during the day. I haven't seen any difference in my weight, but it's easier.

QUESTION Which oils are best?

ANSWER I don't know. I'm not sure what causes the positive side effects so I can't say how to maximize them. I think right now on the forums the favorite oils are extra-light olive oil, refined coconut oil, and refined walnut oil. But with more experience this might change. What is clearer is which oils are the worst. I did a poll asking about negative side effects. Half of the people who used canola oil had some sort of problem. The other oils I asked about, which included olive oil, walnut oil, and coconut oil, caused fewer problems. So canola oil seems to be the worst.

QUESTION What have you learned about who the diet will help?

ANSWER When I wrote the book, I wasn't sure whether it would help people who suffer from emotional eating -- people who overeat when they get upset. But many people have posted that the diet has helped them with this problem. On the other side of the ledger, the diet doesn't seem to be much help to people who are thin and who exercise a lot. Some of these people have tried the diet because they feel hungry and think about food too much. If the diet helps them, its effects are subtle and take several weeks to become clear.

QUESTION That reminds me to ask: How long do the effects of the diet take to become apparent?

ANSWER In most cases, the appetite suppression becomes clear in a few days or a week. In a few cases, it can take much longer than that.

QUESTION What do other people say they have learned from the forums?

ANSWER Well, many things, some of which I have already gone over. One I haven't mentioned is a spirit of self-experimentation. The diet is not rigid, unlike most diets. The forums are full of people talking about how they switched oils, varied how they took the oil, many other variations. This is all very reasonable; I think all this self-experimentation will eventually help everyone.

QUESTION What about the emotional effects of the diet?

ANSWER Yes, that's another big change since publication. If I wrote the book now I'd say much more about emotional effects. From reading the forums I've come to see that the emotional effects are very big and very important. Of course everyone is happy to lose weight. I felt that way. But there are two other effects of the diet that I didn't feel that are probably more important. One is a feeling of control. Lots of people feel out of control around food. Not all the time, maybe, but often. They can't keep from eating junk food, they can't keep from eating chocolate, they can't keep themselves from finishing the whole package of cookies once they start. They don't want to be this way, of course. The diet has given them control. They are able to eat the way they want to eat. "Now I see how normal people think about food," someone said.

The other big emotional effect is less guilt. It's bad enough being overweight; it's even worse being blamed for it. People who are overweight are told that it is their fault -- if only you would exercise more, eat less, et cetera, et cetera. It starts with their parents, but it continues throughout life. Nutrition and health experts say this sort of thing all the time. When this advice doesn't work -- and it almost never does -- the natural reaction is to think: What's wrong with me? It's really horrible. One effect of the Shangri-La diet is to make it clear that the reason the standard "eat less, exercise more" advice didn't work is that it was the wrong advice. The fact that you didn't lose weight doesn't mean that there's something wrong with you -- the problem is that the advice was wrong. Today, somebody doing the diet wrote in the forums: "It feels as if a great burden of guilt . . . has been lifted off me." Many people feel that way.

QUESTION Can you sum up what you've learned in a few words?

ANSWER Yes. First, don't be discouraged if the diet doesn't work quickly. Sometimes it can take weeks before the effects become apparent. And don't be discouraged by plateaus. Just because you haven't lost weight for a month doesn't mean you aren't going to lose more weight.

Second, try different things. If you read the forums, you will see what a wide range of things have worked for other people. Different oils, different ways of taking the oil, and so on.

Third, if you have a problem or a question, go to the forums. Ask for help. Someone else has had the same problem or question as you. They will be happy to help you.


annegb said...

Seth, I did not know you were a doctor.

And I'll probably forget. I'll just say "there's this guy who blogs who's a doctor. . ."

Stephen said...

He is a PhD type doctor (the original type -- the kind that does research and publishes and teaches. M.D.s took up the title doctor only in the 1900s).

Ann said...

Seth, what kind of doctor?

Stephen said...

His PhD is in psychology.

For more about Seth, visit:

Stephen said...

For a teleconference, recorded, for free:

Playback Number: (641) 985-5004
Access Code: 420795#

It lasts about 1 hour 25 minutes.