Fad diets are usually exercises in restriction: fewer carbs, fewer processed foods, fewer meat. However, one weight-loss theory bucks this trend, insisting that to lose weight, all you have to do is add a tbsp. of olive oil to your diet. It sounds counterintuitive, but proponents of this diet claim that olive oil can reduce your cravings and regulate your appetite.
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The first person to propose an olive oil diet was Seth Roberts, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Tsinghua University and the University of California, Berkeley. Roberts began researching the psychobiology of food, or how our bodies convince our brains to eat. He found that consuming 1 to 2 tbsp. of olive oil every day could possibly rewire our bodies, making us feel satiated without overeating. Roberts applied the theory and lost 35 pounds; he then published a book, calling his theory the Shangri-La Diet.
Roberts told "Woman's World" magazine that our bodies run on a "caveman" instinct. This instinct makes us feel we need to eat every last bit of food on our plates to avoid starvation. When there's an abundance of delicious food, we eat until it's gone. However, if we take regular doses of flavorless calories -- such as olive oil -- our bodies think food is scarce, and our hunger instinct is mostly deactivated.
Whether or not it sparks weight loss, olive oil is a very healthy food that can be incorporated into any diet. According to MayoClinic.com nutritionist Katherine Zeratsky, olive oil contains monounsaturated fat that can lower your risk of heart disease. Virgin and extra virgin olive oils also contain high levels of antioxidants.
In June 2010, researchers at The Miriam Hospital announced that they had tested olive oil as a dietary supplement for breast cancer survivors. The found that 80 percent of participants lost weight by eating a plant-based diet with added olive oil. "Woman's World" and "Good Morning America" have published testimonials from people who tried the Shangri-La diet, with remarkable success. Roberts' website tracks the weight-loss results published by olive oil dieters, whose weight loss averages as much as 1 lb. a week.
While the science behind the olive oil diet remains theoretical, research into olive oil's dietary role continues. Nutritionists recommend it as a healthy food, both for its nutritional benefits and because it provides necessary lipids. Brown University recommends a Mediterranean-style diet to its students, which includes 3 tbsp. of olive oil every day for an adult male trying to lose weight. Researchers still don't know for sure whether a tbsp.a day will cause you to drop a pant size, but they are pretty sure it can't hurt.