Oil and Water: Key to Weight Loss?

A spoonful of sugar helps your weight go down, according to one University of California, Berkeley professor.

Seth Roberts says he lost 35 pounds in three months by drinking tablespoons of oil and glasses of sugar water in-between meals to quell the urge to continue to eat.

"I take one tablespoon a day of extra virgin olive oil," said Roberts, a psychology professor. "That's for me. For other people it could be different. And when I'm in a café, I have a cup of hot sugar water."

Roberts calls it the Shangri-La Diet, and suggests it works by suppressing a basic "caveman" instinct from days when access to food was intermittent. The diet tricks the body from thinking it needs to eat every last bit of food before an impending famine.

"It isn't really a fad diet," said Stephen Dubner, co-author of the "Freakonomics" column in The New York Times. "It's more about understanding the theory behind eating. It's not about denying things. It ultimately leads to lessening the amount you eat. In effect, by taking this canola oil and this sugar water, you're tricking your metabolism."

Dubner and his co-author, Steven Levitt, tried the diet themselves. Dubner said he lost 5 to 6 pounds over the course of a couple weeks, and had a "shockingly" easy time skipping lunch. Dubner said he wasn't really trying to diet, but Roberts, who began the diet at 200 pounds, eventually lost 40 pounds. His friend lost 80 pounds in six months on the Shangri-La Diet.

"This is an incredibly simple and elegant way of understanding what appetite is about," Dubner said. "The novelty of this is trying to persuade you to be more disciplined and tricking the system."

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