Impossible Things That Are True: The Shangri-La Diet and the Behavior of Goldman Sachs

It simply cannot be that drinking sugar water causes weight loss. Sugar caused the obesity epidemic! It simply cannot be that eating fat will cause weight loss. Eating fat is why we’re fat! Everyone knows this. It simply cannot be that whether you smell a food while you eat it makes any difference. Weight loss is all about calories in, calories out.  The Shangri-La Diet says all three things are true. I cannot think of an historical precedent. Science has uncovered all sorts of unlikely stuff but nothing so surprising that is also immediately useful.

I thought of the Shangri-La Diet when I read this description by Michael Lewis of what Goldman Sachs has recently done:

Stop and think once more about what has just happened on Wall Street: its most admired firm [Goldman Sachs] conspired to flood the financial system with worthless securities, then set itself up to profit from betting against those very same securities, and in the bargain helped to precipitate a world historic financial crisis that cost millions of people their jobs and convulsed our political system. In other places, or at other times, the firm would be put out of business, and its leaders shamed and jailed and strung from lampposts. (I am not advocating the latter.) Instead Goldman Sachs, like the other too-big-to-fail firms, has been handed tens of billions in government subsidies, on the theory that we cannot live without them. They were then permitted to pay politicians to prevent laws being passed to change their business, and bribe public officials (with the implicit promise of future employment) to neuter the laws that were passed—so that they might continue to behave in more or less the same way that brought ruin on us all.

“The theory that we cannot live without them” was advocated by some of the most prestigious economists in the country.

What Goldman Sachs did — impossible-seeming, but it happened — is a sin of commission. Visible, at least to Michael Lewis, and capable of being pointed out (as Lewis does here) and marveled at.

The Shangri-La Diet seems like a bizarre thing, the diet from outer space, the crazy diet, whatever.  It can’t be true, but it is. Yet the Shangri-La Diet, strange as it sounds, is actually the only visible sign (at least, visible to many people) of a massive sin of omission: failure to do good research about health. Obesity has been a major health problem for a very long time, more than a hundred years, and an overwhelmingly large problem since about 1980, 30 years ago. Yet conventional thinking about it is so bad  – because mainstream research is so impotent — that people still take seriously ideas that date back to the 1950s and before, such as calories in calories out. A weight loss method discovered more than a hundred years old (cutting carbs) is still a big deal.  It is as if people were still marvelling at electricity.

The commonality of the two situations (Shangri-La Diet and Goldman Sachs) is that the people who are supposed to understand the world (health scientists in the case of SLD, economists in the case of Goldman Sachs) have in both cases so bungled their jobs that truly terrible things happened. In the case of SLD, the obesity epidemic happened. (Not to mention epidemics of depression, diabetes, auto-immune diseases, and so on. ) A slow-moving unmissable worldwide epidemic that has made hundreds of millions of people feel ashamed every time they look at themselves. In the case of Goldman Sachs, what happened was the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent poor recovery and the fact that the “solution” to the crisis left in place what had caused it.

7 Responses to “Impossible Things That Are True: The Shangri-La Diet and the Behavior of Goldman Sachs”

  1. Morex Says:

    Hi Seth.

    Yes, SLD sounds like a very crazy idea and a stupid thing to do. How on earth will you lose weight drinking frigging oil?

    This morning I was just thinking on how will I explain my new look to my parents when they see me? Last time I went to visit them (December 2012) I was about 125 kilos.

    After only a month living in Shangri-la I am 105 kilos… or something like that.

    They’ll be in shock and they’ll want to know my new “diet” because all their life have been struggling with weight too. We’re a family of big people and terrible nutrition habits!

    SLD is not for people thinking inside the box. SLD means reading, researching and willing to experiment in oneself.

    Sadly not everyone is comfortable doing that.

  2. Alex Chernavsky Says:

    Morex — you lost 20 kilograms in one month? That’s almost 1.5 pounds per day. That doesn’t sound possible.

  3. dearieme Says:

    My dear sir, are you suggesting that people who deal with Goldman Sachs should wear nose-clips?

    Seth: It seems that way, doesn’t it?

  4. Morex Says:

    Alex,

    I forgot to mention I am a runner and I am training for a marathon. That may be it :)

  5. Txomin Says:

    If you do strange things, you will obtain strange results.

  6. BenSix Says:

    Morex — you lost 20 kilograms in one month? That’s almost 1.5 pounds per day. That doesn’t sound possible.

    Some boxers and MMA fighters have lost 50 pounds extremely quickly but much of this water weight. I’m not sure you could lose 20 kilograms of fat and muscle in so short a time without amputating a leg.

  7. Tim Beneke Says:

    There is a sense in which one key insight of SLD is deeply implicit in our everyday understanding of hunger, eating and overeating. If you ask people who would weigh more, someone eating a diet of plain brown rice and steamed vegetables, or someone eating a diet that included a lot of cakes, cookies, ice cream, and so on, everyone will say the latter would cause weight gain. But ask them why? Why wouldn’t they both eat the same number of calories that would satisfy their hunger and why wouldn’t that be exactly the same. Why wouldn’t they both eat the same number of calories and stop? Then people will slowly find themselves reasoning in such a way that leads to the conclusion that something about cakes, cookies and ice cream must somehow generate more hunger, must cause them to “pig out” or get “addicted”.

    The most stunning comment anyone ever made to me about weight loss was when I weighed 280 pounds, and after I described my diet and the foods that I pigged out on (high in sugar and fat), Seth said to me: “Interesting that no one ever pigs out on fruits and vegetables.”

    It stopped me cold…