Few people have used the theory behind the Shangri-La Diet more successfully than Tim Beneke, an Oakland journalist. I put before and after photos of him — before and after he lost about 100 pounds — on the front page of the proposal for The Shangri-La Diet. He writes:

It’s very clear to me this summer that it’s much easier for me to go tasteless and only consume the mush if I don’t go to Berkeley, and just stay home in my apartment (except going for my neighborhood walk). And it’s not merely a matter of behavior. When I go to Berkeley and walk near places where I am accustomed to eating (and tasting) — mostly restaurants, sandwich shops and coffee houses — I actually experience more hunger and must consume more mush to satisfy hunger than if I stay home.

I’m not surprised that auditory and visual signals for food cause hunger. There are lots of conditioned cravings like that. Tim goes on to wonder if these learned signals for food raise the body-fat setpoint, as the theory behind the Shangri-La Diet says that food-associated flavors do. If you walk by your favorite bakery every day, will you weigh more than if you don’t?

I always lose weight when I travel in foreign countries. I’ve attributed this to unfamiliar food. But could unfamiliar places also play a role?

In 1973, Edward Zamble, a professor of psychology at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, published an experiment very relevant to this question. He divided rats into two groups. Both group got their daily meal at random times. For one group, the meal was preceded by 30 minutes of light; the light went off before the food was available. The other group was exposed to the same amount of light but the light bore no relation to when they were fed. The rats with signaled food ate more and weighed more than the rats with unsignaled food.

I knew of this experiment — and often mentioned it — before I came up with the theory behind the Shangri-La Diet, but I never connected them.