While many diet plans limit total caloric intake or emphasize certain types of foods over others, a radical food plan called the Shangri-La Diet places no such restrictions on a dieter's daily meals. Instead, dieters following the Shangri-La Diet can eat practically anything they want at regular meal times, but they are encouraged to drink a bland sugar water concoction or tasteless edible oil between meals. This is supposed to affect the dieter's connection between the taste of foods and the calories they contain. Eventually, a faithful adherent to the Shangri-La Diet should lose weight, along with the desire to indulge in heavy amounts of high calorie foods.
The Shangri-La diet was developed by an assistant professor of psychology at UC-Berkeley named Seth Roberts. Roberts theorized that our metabolic rates were set during a time of feast or famine during the time of the cavemen. When food was in abundance, cavemen would eat as much food as possible and most likely gain significant weight in the process. When food became scarce, the cave men's bodies would adapt to the slim offerings and become less hungry. Roberts calls this variable level of hunger and satiation the set point. Many modern dietitians believe there is indeed a set point which the body does seek to maintain, but Roberts believes that this set point can be raised or lowered through diet.
Under his Shangri-La Diet plan, dieters are urged to stop associating flavorful foods with the need for sustenance. If someone really enjoys the taste of pizza, for example, that person is likely to indulge heavily at meal time, which in turn will raise his or her set point. Roberts believes that by consuming a bland but satisfying sugar water solution or tasteless oil such as canola or extra light olive oil before or after meals, the dieter will eventually lose the desire to indulge in flavorful but fattening foods at other times. Roberts himself claims to only eat one small meal a day, since the Shangri-La Diet plan has lowered his own set point to a minimal maintenance level.
Critics of the Shangri-La diet suggest that the ingestion of fructose-based sugar water between meals is a dangerous practice. Fructose is a sweetener derived from corn, not fruit. The liver has a difficult time properly metabolizing fructose, so any diet requiring daily doses could lead to serious health problems. In addition, there is little scientific evidence that a person's set point, provided it actually exists, could be affected by a simple change in diet. The Shangri-La Diet, much like other so-called "fad diets," calls for a lifetime change in a person's eating habits, which can lead to yo-yo dieting and an artificial dependence on the sugar water or flavorless oil for weight maintenance.
The Shangri-La Diet's main appeal lies in its non-restrictive nature. Dieters on the Shangri-La plan are encouraged to follow a low glycemic diet similar to the South Beach diet plan, but the eventual goal is to wean people off the addictive association between taste and caloric intake. When the dieter's brain experiences unusual or bland tastes, Roberts suggests, it has no frame of reference with which to connect those flavors. Without that mental association, a Shangri-La dieter won't be as tempted to overindulge in plain sugar water or tasteless oil. Eventually this disconnection should extend to other foods as well. This stage is one of the key steps in the Shangri-La Diet plan.