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.