Is Jimmy Moore’s Ketosis Diet the Shangri-La Diet in Disguise?

I have recently encountered three examples that suggest low-carb diets don’t work well long-term:

1. Alex Chernavsky tried a low-carb diet in 2002. Starting at 270 pounds, he lost 70 pounds. A year later, he started to rapidly regain the lost weight. He stopped the diet.

2. A “medical professional” started at about 260 pounds (she’s 5’3″).  After reading Wheat Belly, she gave up wheat. “After several months of being wheat free I lost 10 lbs. But that’s where it stopped.” Then she did  full low-carb. “From May to July I did what basically was Atkins induction. I lost 20 lbs but then the weight loss stopped.”

3. Jimmy Moore lost a lot of weight eating low-carb. Starting in 2004 at 410 pounds, he lost 180 pounds. Then he gained half of it back, ending up near 300 pounds in early 2012.

The theory behind the Shangri-La Diet (SLD) says unfamiliar food will cause weight loss because its smell is not (yet) associated with calories. As the food becomes familiar, its smell becomes associated with calories. Weight loss due to unfamiliarity will disappear. Going low-carb usually involves eating unfamiliar foods. They become familiar. This explains low-carb weight regain. The theory explains partial low-carb success (e.g., Jimmy Moore didn’t regain all the lost weight) by assuming that the high-carb foods (e.g., soft drinks) given up produced stronger smell-calorie associations than the low-carb foods (e.g., steak) that replaced them.

Recently Jimmy Moore has been losing weight again. Starting at 306 pounds, over 7 months he has lost 60 pounds. He believes that to lose weight with a low-carb diet, there must be sufficient ketones in your blood — you must be at the optimal level of ketosis. “In order to be fully keto-adapted and to start burning stored body fat for fuel, ketone levels must be between 0.5 to 3.0 millimolar,” he wrote. To be fully keto-adapted, he began measuring his ketone level regularly.  His first test showed that his ketone level was 0.3. “Holy cow, that could be one of the reasons why I’m not seeing my weight go down!” he wrote. He began adjusting his diet to put his ketone level between 0.5 and 3.0 millimolar, which involved changing protein intake as well as carb intake.

He changed his diet in various ways (mainly protein reduction) and started losing weight. In what I’ve read, he does not describe his current diet or earlier diet in detail,  but does say this:

I will tell you that I’ve drank liberal amounts of water and 2 Tbs Carlson’s liquid fish oil daily along with my regular daily vitamins during this experiment.

Which sounds exactly like the Shangri-La Diet. Alex Chernavsky lost considerable weight and has kept it off doing almost the same thing with flaxseed oil.

My guess is that he is losing weight because of the fish oil. The theory behind SLD makes two predictions: 1. If Jimmy stops the fish oil and continues the ketone level adjustment, he will stop losing weight. 2. If Jimmy stops the ketone level adjustment but continues the fish oil, he will continue losing weight.

I asked Jimmy for comment. Here’s what he said:

It’s an interesting theory, but not one I want to particularly test out since I’m still doing so well at accomplishing what I am aiming for right now–fat loss, mental acuity and great overall health [all due to the fish oil, I believe -- Seth]. Perhaps once this period of testing NK [nutritional ketosis] is over in May, I can add in your suggestion as another testing point.

The theory behind low-carb dieting has never made any correct predictions, as far as I know. It does not explain why the lost weight is often regained. If it turns out Jimmy Moore’s weight loss is due to his ketone adjustment, that will be the first correct prediction of the theory.

In contrast, the theory behind SLD led me to five new ways to lose weight (eating bland food, eating slowly-digested food, drinking unflavored sugar water, drinking oil with no smell, eating food nose-clipped). That’s roughly the same as  five correct predictions, two of them (drinking sugar water, drinking oil with no smell) counter-intuitive.

Jimmy Moore’s weight loss may eventually show you can lose weight via SLD even when you don’t realize you’re doing SLD.

19 Responses to “Is Jimmy Moore’s Ketosis Diet the Shangri-La Diet in Disguise?”

  1. John W Says:

    Have you been following all the recent interest in the “Potato” diet among Paleo enthusiasts? It also seems like the Shangri-la in disguise (bland food version). What is amazing is the number of bizarre ad-hoc theories that are flying around to explain why it works, when both you and Stephen Guyenet would have predictedid it easily!

  2. Txomin Says:

    Overeating is overeating independently of the amount of carbs in a diet. And, by necessity, overeating creates a surplus that the body has to do something about.

    Portion control, people, portion control. Substitute quantity for quality and your grocery bill won’t notice the difference.

  3. Tom Says:

    John W, I don’t see what a potato-only binge has to with Shangri La.

    Txomin, just eat less? Brilliant! I can’t believe no one’s ever thought of it!

  4. KevinF Says:

    Dude this is seriously lame. Let’s just say don’t spend your Nobel Prize money til the check clears, know what I mean?

    Seth: “It is lame” because . . . ?

  5. RAD Says:

    Seth,

    It is not clear to me whether you believe your Shangri-La Diet acts by reducing appetite or by changing how the body responds to the same number of calories (or both?).

    If someone is counting and maintaining a constant intake of overall calories and only changes whether or not they are consuming odourless calories between regular meals, do you predict any difference in weight gain/loss?

    My apologies if you have answered this before.

    Seth: I believe it acts by reducing the bodyfat set point. Which reduces appetite until the new lower level is reached. I don’t know if set point changes cause metabolic changes so I cannot answer your prediction question.

  6. Chuck Says:

    Jimmy Moore consumes 85% of his calories from fat – fish oil, coconut oil, MCT and butter – I think this is more than just the SLD effect. Removing just the fish oil may or may not effect the outcome – it would depend on what he replaced those calories with – if he replaced them at all.

    Metabolism is very complicated – very interdependent – so much we still don’t know.

    Cheers

  7. Nancy Lebovitz Says:

    I give Jimmy Moore a lot of credit for having a reasonable theory and testing it.

  8. Kirk Says:

    Whether JM is practicing SLD depends upon whether some portion of calories are flavorless and are consumed in the midst of a flavor-free window. Perhaps you could ask?

    As far as I can tell, there are two versions of the potato diet.

    Those who add flavor (butter, sour cream, salt, herbs, spices) may be losing weight due to (a) avoiding SAD foods and (b) satiety from eating root vegetables.

    Those who eat potatoes without any flavoring not only get (a) and (b) but also (c) negative alliesthesia and (d) reduced calorie intake due to avoiding tasty oils.

    I can distinguish the taste of plain potatoes from the taste of white rice from the taste of plain yogurt, and thus I do not consider these foods to be SLD-flavorless unless they are eaten nose-clipped.

    Paul Jaminet advances another hypotheses for why people rebound from a diet: the diet restricts nutrients the body needs, therefore over time the body’s stored reserves are consumed, and thus eventually the body acts: the deficiency must be corrected by eating other foods. See his answer to the question about the potato diet at http://www.latestinpaleo.com/blog/2012/12/16/perfect-health-diet-qa-with-paul-jaminet.html .

  9. Chuck Says:

    Here’s a very recent, and informative, podcast interview with Jimmy Moore – http://www.fatburningman.com/jimmy-moore-nutritional-ketosis/

    He’s diffidently not using bland, or unusual, foods for his current n=1. Also, when he hit 230 lbs (he’s 6’3″), he said he stopped trying to lose weight and added more carbs to his diet. That’s when the rebound started. So I think there is more to the low-carb rebound stories than, oh gee, I don’t know what happened, I didn’t change a thing, meme.

    Kirk – There’s also a third potato diet, the middle-way, so to speak, ala Free The Animal. RN uses a tad of fat per potato and sufficient supplements so he doesn’t fall into Jaminet’s hole of nutritional deficiency. He’s also drinking raw (or lightly pasteurized) milk. Seems to be working for him.

    Cheers

  10. libfree Says:

    @seth I agree with you on a lot of things but this is not one of them. I’ve kept long records of my path towards being a reasonably weighted person and the low carbs – high fat thing is the one that worked and worked for the long term. One day I looked back at my logs and realized that my longer term weight losses involved lower carbs and higher fats. Some things about low carb – high fat.

    1. Appetite is reduced. While I have large meals, I only have two of them and my calories remain higher.
    2. I have more energy and capacity. I measure this during my workouts. I put in strenuous exercise every day and keep logs of my perceived exertion (you have to be careful, caffeine and other stimulants can throw you off) and I have more energy off the carbs in long distance cardio.
    3. The science seems sound from an evolutionary view. Having developed very large brains, we needed large sources of energy to fuel them. Fat is a very good source of this.

    Seth: “The science seems sound”? The test of a theory is whether it makes correct predictions. I agree, low-carb diets cause weight loss. Whether they cause weight loss for the reason their proponents say is a more difficult question. I am unable to find any correct predictions their theory makes. For example, their theory predicts that you should gain weight if you add sugar water to what you eat. Exactly the opposite happened. The brain needs sugar (glucose) — I fail to see how your evolutionary argument supports low-carb diets over high-carb ones.

  11. Txomin Says:

    Tom, sarcasm has no effect on weight. The idea of portion control is as old as time (and as effective). It is after all biology 101. Yet, all you have to do is read this thread to realize that it has been dismissed or forgotten even if any and all diet programs end up there nonetheless. I say, start from the top and, instead of making strange choices (that can only produce strange results), gradually substitute quantity for quality, thus learning to eat better while enjoying it more at no additional expense.

    Seth: Why do you think portion control works? Has it worked for you, for example?

  12. Tom Says:

    Nonsense. “Just eat less, you gluttonous fatty,” has been a catastrophic failure for the past 40 years. It’s not “biology 101″; it’s actually sanctimonious nonsense that’s endlessly repeated by moralizing people who don’t know any better.

  13. Kurt Says:

    I’ve been doing a similar NK lifestyle, inspired by the same book that inspired Jimmy (the art and science of low-carb performance.) I’ve achieved great results with NK so far, primarily in the form of near-complete appetite suppression and weight loss, without any ‘side effects’ in terms of fatigue, etc. I typically eat one, very high-fat meal in the morning, and usually don’t eat much (if anything else) the rest of the day. Part of that however includes adding coconut or MCT oil to my coffee…

    As I was drinking it the other day, the SLD came to mind. I’d read the book years ago but never really achieved any results (doing the LTOO variant)– but I’ve always liked the idea. I don’t know if it’s applicable given the taste/smell of coffee/coconut oil in my own example, but would you consider the coffee/oil part the overlap with SLD? If so, and if I wanted to experiment with it, would you think it sufficient to replace that fat with an equal amount of other more “familiar” fat (like say from butter), and see if my results change? Just curious, I find it all pretty fascinating…

    Seth: Maybe the calories in the coconut or MCT oil are not becoming associated with the coffee smell. I can’t say why that would happen but it’s possible. To test this idea, just stop adding the coconut or MCT oil to the coffee and see if the results change.

    It is the strength of smell-calorie associations that matters. Familiar foods tend to have strong associations, unfamiliar foods weak (or zero) associations. Unclear if you would smell the butter when added to the coffee so hard to predict the effect.

    Were you doing low-carb before you started the NK diet? How long have you been doing the NK diet? What was your starting weight and how much weight have you lost? I think it is well-established that going from an ordinary diet to a low carb diet causes weight loss, both long-term and short-term. What’s less obvious is that NK is better than other low-carb diets.

  14. Is Jimmy Moore's Ketosis Diet the Shangri-La Diet in Disguise? | Online Diets and Weight Loss Says:

    [...] See the article here: Is Jimmy Moore's Ketosis Diet the Shangri-La Diet in Disguise? [...]

  15. Kurt Says:

    Yeah, I went from strict vegetarian to low-carb (under ~50g) about a year and a half ago because i felt awful & kept gaining weight eating ‘healthy’ stuff like whole grains/fruit. LC has been amazingly consistent for stabilizing/maintaining my weight, but i never really lost any significant amount. More recently, I started my NK test by cranking up dietary fat and reducing protein. With a few minor ‘breaks’, I’ve been in ketosis (measured via blood meter) for about 3 months. I’m down ~15 lbs in that time (starting ~255), just going slow and steady. I’ve been drinking the coffee/oil nearly every single day, which seems to have the biggest effect on appetite suppression for me.

    In my case, NK appears to work significantly better than my general LC diet for weight-loss, but I can’t really conclude the mechanism. The NK explanation (higher-fat, moderate-fat, low-carb => keto-adaptation => accessing body fat more readily) seems very different than the potential SLD explanation, but I don’t know which (if either) is really going on.

    Seth: Maybe fats produce weaker smell-calorie associations than carbs or protein so anything that causes you to eat more fat is likely to lower your setpoint (assuming the theory behind SLD is true). Adding calories to a highly-familiar smell (coffee) that is already associated with zero or few calories may not produce strong smell-calorie associations. The system that forms smell-calorie associations stops paying attention to familiar smells. In contrast, with a new smell, pairing that smell with lots of calories should produce a strong smell-calorie association.

  16. Jill Says:

    How does the smell-calorie association work if you switch from a highly-familiar smell (coffee) that is already associated with a LOT of calories (i.e., lots of cream) to coffee with essentially no calories (no additives)?

    Seth: The smell-calorie association should become weaker.

  17. My Nutritional Ketosis Success: Is It The Calories Or The Ketones? Says:

    [...] I’m taking daily, self-experimenting blogger and author Seth Roberts says I’m simply doing his Shangri La Diet in disguise. But I was already taking fish oil prior to beginning this in May [...]

  18. Derek Says:

    Wow, this has got to be the worst diet blog I have ever had the misfortune to stumble upon. I want my 10 minutes back! (That I lost reading this smelly garbage).

    Smells associated with calories?!?!

    What kind of “scientific method” did you use to cook that one up?

    In squandering my time reading through your article on Jimmy Moore’s NK success, I noted that you make tons of baseless conjectures with no science to back any of them up. Please take down your blog. As a physicist and mathematician it is painful reading such utter tripe, even if only having to do so once.

    Seth: There is a vast literature on flavor-calorie associations, better described as smell-calorie associations. See the work of Anthony Sclafani, for example.

  19. Donna Says:

    Derek-
    I am just a poorly educated nobody, so I didn’t realize it was “Garbage” and “Tripe.” In my ignorance, I just read Seth’s book, tried it…and it worked! I guess it is a good thing I didn’t finish my degree. :>)
    -Donna