You described Taubes as disputing setpoint theory, yet in this interview he agrees there is a 'settling point': http://www.blog.sethroberts.net/2008/01/19/interview-with-gary-taubes-part-12/
Kirk and Heidi555, thanks for making me aware of this interview. There's a lot of meat there.
The difference between "setpoint" and "settling point" is not a trivial or merely philosophical distinction. It has quite a real and practical significance. Taubes makes this clear both in his book (on page 428) and in the interview. A setpoint is a centrally determined reference quantity used to regulate a system. For example, the water level in a lake can be set using a level controller that opens gates allowing water to flow in or out until the setpoint level is reached, then the gates close again. Or a thermostat turns on a heater or air conditioner if the temperature of the house deviates from the setpoint, until the setpoint themostat temperature is reached. By contrast, a "settling point" is not a causal driving factor but rather the unintentional consequence of a natural dynamic equilibrium that results when a complex system achieves a balance. So the lake reaches a steady level due when the inflows, outflows and evaporation reach steady state. Or a house without a thermostat reaches a steady state temperature when the outside heat, internal circulation, leaks, etc. are in balance.
Taubes actually gets into an argument with Seth on just this point in the interview (INTERVIEWER = Seth). Here's a sampling, from Section 11 of the interview on Seth's blog:
INTERVIEWER So you read my post about the most surprising thing in your book?
TAUBES What was the most surprising thing?
INTERVIEWER That you didn’t agree that set points play a role in homeostasis.
TAUBES It’s funny – the more I think about it, the more Claude Bernard was brilliant...The fundamental idea of homeostasis is that the body works to maintain the stability of what he called the milieu interieur, which gets translated to “internal environment”... The idea of the set point is that there’s some central controller in the brain that maintains homeostasis, but that’s naive. Rather, there’s an unbelievably complicated mechanism composed of individual settling points. Like the fatty acid concentration on the interior, and exterior of the fat cell. If there’s more fatty acids on the outside of the cell membrane than the inside, then fatty acids flow into the cell, and you get slightly fatter. There’s no brain in charge. The brain may respond, and the hypothalamus sends signals back and forth, and effects changes in hormones in response to changes in the environment
... Well, to understand homeostasis you have to understand this concept of dynamic equilibrium, where there can be hundreds of forces acting simultaneously. And the point is, you’ve got these negative feedback loops all over the body, and they involve the brain, but on some level, the dynamic equilibrium you’re looking at is right at the cellular level. That’s where the forces converge to make us leaner or fatter. And the brain is part of these loops, but to concentrate on the brain misses the big picture.
INTERVIEWER The brain is sensitive to the environment — sure, the set point doesn’t really exist anywhere, and sure it’s a function of about a zillion things, not all of them in the brain, sure. But the reason I like that idea of a setpoint is that it’s easy to imagine something going up and down, rather than a million things going up and down.
TAUBES But the problem is once you oversimplify, there’s a tendency to believe the oversimplification. You should go back and read the papers on settling points. There were a couple, if I remember correctly, written by psychologists from the University of Chicago. You should go back and read those original papers. They’re fascinating, and the point they make, is that you don’t need the brain involved. Like we don’t think of the brain regulating blood pressure. You don’t really think of your brain regulating blood glucose....
This gets to the heart of the issue of this entire blog thread. As a practical matter, if I believe in a "setpoint" for my weight, the SLD theory tells me I can temporarily "trick" my body into lowering my setpoint by taking shots of oil or sugar water or pinching my nose when I'm eating. But once I stop doing SLD, I'm doomed to return to my "setpoint" weight which is somehow (mysteriously) predetermined by genetics, or how I grew up, or God or fate or whatever. It is a somewhat pessimistic and fatalistic view, in that my body is a black box that I can't understand, and I can't really control the outcome over the long term without being stuck on this weird diet.
On the other hand, if I believe that my body is a complex system in dynamic equilibirum, with knowable and adjustable control points, then if I understand those control points I can now change the system and it will shift to a new "settling point". And it can be a permanent shift. This is a much more empirically verfiable, controllable and -- I think -- encouraging possibility.
I am proposing that the basal insulin level is the key control point of the dynamic system that is our body. There are other contol points of course, but insulin is the most important and has been very well studied. If we can reduce insulin level by making good choices over time, we can shift our weights to a new "settling point". There are actually many ways to lower the basal insulin level, but they take time. We should focus not on quick weight loss that doesn't really change the equilibrium. That would be like dumping a little water in the lake or buidling a fire to make our house permanently warmer. Shifting the balance of fats, oils and proteins, reducing our appetite (via the SLD diet or just avoiding very flavorful foods, aromas and other appetite stimulants). Exercising (not to lose weight but rather to overcome insulin resistance) and even reducing stress via mediation or lifestyle changes (see the Gabriel method for a man who lost 220 pounds by reducing stress). There is a wide variety of ways to reduce the basal insulin level and the insulin reponse. If you reduce your basal insulin and keep it low consistently, your body will lose fat and you'll lose weight. Just like if you widen the river coming out of a lake, the water level will fall. In both cases, there is no setpoint, just a resulting "settling point". And what is neat about this, I believe, is that it is sustainable. Get your insulin down and you'll not only lose weight, you'll have more energy to exercise, your cravings will disappear, you will naturally make good lifestyle choices that help make this a permanent change, with no gimmicks. In cases of insulin resistance (which many diabetics, pre-diabetics and probably many of the rest of us have), it may also be necessary to use diet and exercise to increase insulin sensitivity, otherwise low insulin levels may induce cravings.
Basically the focus should be on "building a better machine" - making your body more efficient -- not short term weight loss. By calming the insulin response through careful eating to keep insulin with narrow bounds, stress management and exercise (which does change the insulin sensitivity of our body tissues), we become satisfied with smaller meals and are able to access our fat stores easily. With a broken insulin response, we will tend to "overshoot" and shunt excess food into deep storage in our adipose tissues, and make it hard to get the fat back out.
Without changing the body's insulin metabolism, I fear that attempts to lose weight will be temporary at best, and a body with a broken insulin metabolism will tend resist weight loss beyond a certain point and yo-yo back to it's previous "settling point", just like trying to pump water out of a lake without changing the dimensions of the lake, tributaries or outflow rivers will only temporarily change the level of the lake.
So, yes, the distinction between a setpoint and a settling point is very important!
I find your arguments convincing for the SLD techniques of oil and nose-clipping. But the analysis, to my laymen eyes, becomes questionable for the SLD techniques of sugar water and crazy spicing. It seems to place extraordinary importance on preprandial insulin.
I don't think there is much of a preprandial response to sucrose, because sucrose has no flavor or aroma that the vagal nerve can detect. (A number of tastes like sweet, salty, etc. are detected by the tongue and not the nose, so they do not induce an insulin response). I think the key with sugar water is sipping slowly or consumed it in small quantities in order to provide some fuel to the blood stream, but not enough to trigger a noticeable rise in insulin. If you take the sugar too quickly and insulin kicks in, the insulin will deplete the sugar from the blood, and your cells will starve, so you'll get hungry. So the key to SW is to observe the SLD time window (longer if necessary to allow insulin levels to quiet down) and sip slowly.
If you don't believe me, try either great reducing or greatly increasing your SW dose or rate of sipping it. Or shorten the SLD window from an hour down to 15 minutes after a meal. I predict that if you stray far enough from the narrow optimum, you will lose your AS.
In the case of crazy spices, I do believe you are avoiding a preprandial insulin spike. Way before the SLD, Pavolov and other physiological behavioral psychologist demonstrated experimentally that familiar flavors taken at the same time as calories conditional the vagus nerve to secrete pre-prandial insulin. With crazy, unfamiliar spices you are not providing the vagus nerve with any triggers.
What I like about the insulin theory is that it makes very specific predictions that are relatively easy to test. I wish I could find a way to easily measure blood insulin. When that happens, I think it will be very empowering to help us manage our weight. The other thing about reducing insulin is that the health benefits go way beyond weight control. There is so much literature suggesting that "Syndrome X" -- hyperinsulinemia -- is at the root of so many of the diseases of Western Civilization.