The Value of a Passion

Let’s recall what Dr. John Foreyt wrote to Dr. Pretlow:

To me, life events associated with stress, tension, anxiety, depression, loneliness, fear, anger, boredom need to be treated in ways such as you describe.

One thing that Dr. Pretlow has described is the positive kind of displacement activity. As he explains to children and teens,

There’s a mechanism in your brain called the displacement mechanism that’s causing you to overeat. It helps your brain deal with situations that you can’t easily face or are frustrating, yet, you can’t avoid… The good news is that you can control your displacement mechanism, and your overeating will stop.

In a paper called “The Displacement Mechanism as a Basis for Eating Disorders,” he says,

[I]t is possible for the individual to consciously rechannel the overflow mental energy to a non-destructive behavior. Examples are rechanneling to the breathing drive by slow, deep breaths, or rechanneling by wringing the hands.

This brain stress can be rechanneled through many conduits. In some settings, like a classroom, deep breaths and squeezing fists might be the only choices. But out in the world, the possibilities are endless. Go for a bike ride, fiddle with a fidget toy, jog, fling some kettlebells around, play a musical instrument, juggle, dance, do some kind of artwork, or just go for a walk.

Still, there is a difference between a pastime and a passion. One troubled individual might view filling up the page of a fancy coloring book as a tolerable distraction. For somebody else, there is only the compulsion of (capital A) Art. Passion is what really has the best chance of helping an addict to let go of an addiction, or never develop it in the first place. This is why a parent is wise to stop and think before deciding that a kid is “going overboard” with an interest.

Even an expensive toy like a drone might be worth considering, because flying one of those requires a lot of attention and concentration, making it just the sort of diversion the brain finds acceptable to keep it from a worse path.

Think carefully

Just pause to ponder the alternatives, in the “going overboard” department. Maybe you believe the preoccupation with video games is too much, and even worry that it is an addiction in itself. But maybe, all things considered, no matter how trivial and useless you think the achievement is, beating everybody at a favorite game still qualifies as a benevolent displacement that keeps the child away from something much less desirable, like weighing 300 pounds. It’s worth considering.

Dr. Pretlow has even seen a case where a young woman obtained enormous relief just by writing out elaborate Action Plans with which to attack the several displacement sources that confronted her.

She reported,

All the mindless urges and the snacking and stuff like that really just went away. I just wrote it down. My action plan for finances and stuff like that, and then they disappeared. No more eating urges. I mean, I’m definitely going to continue to write down my action plans.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

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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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