Rechanneling the Displacement

In “The Displacement Mechanism as a Basis for Eating Disorders,” Dr. Pretlow wrote:

Theoretically, the displacement mechanism functions by rechanneling overflow mental energy to another behavior, typically whatever behavior is most readily available at the time or is most commonly used in the animal’s repertoire…

That sentence includes an important clue as to why overeating is so disastrously prevalent. Granted, there is still plenty of starvation all over the globe. But in most societies that are even moderately successful, food is everywhere. Something capable of being eaten is readily available to almost everyone at almost any time. Nutritionally it may be worthless, but it is presented and labeled as food, and is publicly accepted as such.

Humans are a species of animal, and for a large portion of humankind at present, food consumption is a “most readily available” behavior. Eating is ideally positioned as the go-to displacement mechanism.

A world leader in consumption

That is certainly true in the United States. Back when automobiles first appeared on the landscape, who would have guessed that gasoline establishments would also sell hot dogs? No matter what sort of retail enterprise a person walks into, edible merchandise (one hesitates to call most of it “food”) is probably on offer. Yes, even at the hardware store, the checkout counters abound with candy and snacks.

Eating is definitely a “most commonly used” behavior. In ancient times and many remote places, it was accepted that a passing traveler would be offered food, or at the very least, water. In more recent eras, people attended the theater or the concert hall for the play or the symphony, and ate not a morsel.

Public snacking severely frowned on

As for noshing on the street, that was something only the most ill-bred people would do. Respectable, middle-class parents would not dream of letting children stain their good clothes and make a spectacle of themselves by chowing down in any public place other than a restaurant. Exceptions were made for outdoor cafes in Paris, but the French were known to be decadent anyway.

Okay, maybe that is old-fashioned nonsense, but the social norms around food consumption might have helped to keep the obesity rate a lot lower. Currently, food is a big part of not just religious or traditional holidays, but of all kinds of social occasions. Even in business offices, food may show up as part of the transaction, and an enormous amount of commercial finagling is conducted over opulent restaurant meals.

In the same paper, Dr. Pretlow wrote,

If the rechanneled behavior is destructive, it 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.

The previous post mentioned how a parent can guide a child to some practice that will facilitate grounding, perhaps by suggesting, “Close your eyes and repeat to yourself, “I am safe, I am home, and I am going to be okay’” — which is kind of in the same league with deep breathing and fist clenching. Another simple, unobtrusive ploy we might try when stressed is acupressure, at the Hand Valley Point (see illustration).

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Hand pressure points: Everything you need to know,”, 03/13/19
Image by Servier Medical Art/CC BY 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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