Extirpate the Roots of Addiction

Prevention is always better than cure. No argument there! The prevention of childhood obesity, for instance, is much preferable to letting obesity develop, and then trying to help a 300-pound person shed half their weight. One cause of obesity is the astonishing amount of gratuitous eating that people do. Now, it looks as if quite a lot of that is actually displacement activity, in reaction to life situations that seem inescapable by any acceptable path.

To step one increment further back, what if we could help kids avoid desperate life situations? Or, what if they could figure out how to handle those occasions more effectively? Or, what if we could make it easier for them to find something so interesting to do with their time and talents, that other matters would fade into obscurity?

The good kind of displacement

For purposes of this discussion, let’s just go ahead and call it a passion. If a person has a passion in life, chances are that preoccupation might use up enough of their mental energy to keep them out of at least some kinds of trouble. Also, this is a twofer. Finding a passion can both shield someone from becoming an addict in the first place, and help someone recover from their destructive relationship with eating.

A person can consciously rechannel their tumultuous overflow mental energy to a nondestructive behavior. As Dr. Pretlow and co-author Suzette Glasner have written,

[W]e sought to examine the application of displacement theory as a novel treatment for eating addiction and obesity.

If the rechanneled behavior becomes destructive, it is possible for the individual to consciously rechannel the overflow mental energy to a nondestructive behavior. Examples are rechanneling to breathing behavior (by taking slow, deep breaths), rechanneling to squeezing the hands, and rechanneling to hobbies.

“Hobbies” seems kind of dismissive and superficial. It could imply a lot of different types of activity, and a wide range of relationships to the activity. Watching sportsball on TV, while perhaps a legit hobby, will probably not pull somebody out of an addiction. But something might, if the person is really into it, and if it satisfies a lot of needs on different levels. A passion might help a person break up with their habit, or better yet, protect them from acquiring it in the first place.

Anyway, in this paper the authors go on to say,

If the displacement mechanism accounts for overeating, then targeting this mechanism in treatment should facilitate significant reductions in overeating without necessitating willpower to eat less.

As everybody knows by now, willpower doesn’t work. So the idea of having something that does work sounds pretty good.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Reconceptualization of eating addiction and obesity as displacement behavior and a possible treatment,” Springer.com, 06/22/22
Image by graibeard/CC BY-SA 2.0

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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