Does it seem like you are always hungry? Like you eat a snack or meal and find yourself craving more within a couple hours? The answer to why this is the case probably has absolutely nothing to do with calories....have you ever heard of dietary displacement?
Negative Dietary Displacement
Have you ever known someone who skips out on a healthy salad with greens, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, beans, sunflower seeds and flax vinaigrette in order to "budget" their calories for the scone and Frappucino splurge at Starbucks later that evening?
Welcome to the land of negative dietary displacement. It’s when someone skips out on healthy eats and displaces them with non-nutritious foods.
But even with this displacement, who really cares? I mean, as long as calories are balanced we’ll be just fine, right? Wrong! Negative dietary displacement generally leads to:
In other words, you will feel crummy, you won’t look your best, and on top of that — you’ll still hungry! Basically everything you DON'T want!
Positive Dietary Displacement
On the flip side, have you ever known someone who skips out on the massive dessert brownie, or only has a small piece, because they are satisfied from a nutritious meal of whole, real foods?
This is called positive dietary displacement. It's when someone eats enough nutritious food each day, leaving little or no room for the non-nutritious foods.
When people eat this way, it generally leads to:
consuming the right amount of food for your energy needs
satiation (feeling full/satisfied) after meals
quality nutrients intake
lean muscle retention and development
high energy levels
lower levels of body fat
Unlike the negative dietary displacement, you feel good, you look good, and your tummy is happy.
Why is dietary displacement so important?
When individuals are trying to eat healthier, they tend to focus their efforts on what they should be cutting out and restricting. What does that really accomplish? Shouldn’t they worry about how in the heck they’re going to eat enough healthy food over the next 24 hours? That’s usually difficult enough.
Humans usually eat about 3-4 pounds of food per day. If we add in enough healthy foods, we won’t have much room left for unhealthy foods. We can actually use this to our advantage.
All calories are not created equal
We all know by now that industrialized populations are getting fatter. This can make us fixate on meeting a daily calorie quota. We worry about daily numerical goals instead of food’s quality — about how much we eat, rather than what we eat or how our food contributes to keeping us healthy.
If someone saves their goal number of calories to dine on Hot Pockets, mochaccinos and candy, that’s poor nutrition. But people do this because they realize they only have a limited number of eating opportunities each day. They might not want to “waste” these eating opportunities on foods that don’t taste as good as the Hot Pockets, mochaccinos, and candy they crave.
However, a candy calorie is much different than a kale calorie.
Did you know that “non-food” calories are more likely to be stored as fat, degrade health, lead to further hunger, lead to further food preoccupation, and lead to low energy levels? Well it's the truth. Your brain and body can tell the difference between real nutrition and empty calories.
What you should know about dietary displacement
A rigorous calorie tally can backfire in more ways than one. Most people generally know that eating too much each day will cause body fat gains and health problems. When people get too wrapped up in the numbers, they feel like they must save up for the "tasty, edible food-like substances". And this is where most dietary displacement originates from. You know, the land of counting points, calories and grams.
Awareness of calories = probably a good thing.
Detailed calorie counting = probably not so good actually.
It’s interesting to note that one of the most important factors related to dietary displacement (and nutrition success) lies just beyond our direct dietary control. This factor is appetite.
Most people feel as if they have no control over their appetite. So they either ignore it (which never works in the long run, even for veterans of the physique world) or they try to find a magic supplement that helps control it (yes, people still do that and it frustrates the hell outta me).
But did you know that we all have some control over our appetite? Yep. You see, appetite isn’t primarily controlled by the number of calories we eat. It's actually controlled by the volume of food that we eat. Simply put, our appetite is based on how much total food volume passes through our digestive tract. If a lot of food volume passes through, we’re satisfied. If very little passes through, we’re hungry. Simple as that. So, the volume or weight of the food we eat seems to be more important than the calorie content in terms of keeping us fuller for longer during the day.
So, if you consume 3-4 lbs of scones, candy, and Frappucinos each day, you could easily rack up a lot of extra calories that’ll need to be stored somewhere. On the other hand, you could eat 3-4 lbs of nutritious, whole food that easily keeps you full but promotes health and fat loss at the same time.
“But I’m never full!” you say. Well maybe you’re eating the wrong foods.
Here is an example of how the volumes of healthy vs. unhealthy foods can differ. Each pair below has the same amount of calories, but provides much different volumes and nutrients. Less volume, fewer nutrients vs more volume, more nutrients.
2 oz chocolate bars vs. 40 cups of spinach
2 tbsp butter vs. 2.5 cups blueberries
1 bagel vs.1.5 cups of quinoa
½ cup shredded cheddar cheese vs. 4 cups of vegetable soup
6 donut holes vs. 4 medium apples
Summary and recommendations
Are you eating 90 percent nutritious, unprocessed food and 10 percent treats — or vice versa? Are you displacing healthy foods with unhealthy alternatives? How’s that working for you?
If we focus on first eating the nutritious foods that our bodies need to feel energized, fight disease, be lean and be healthy, followed by simply enjoying a treat here and there, we’d be much better off.
If we skip breakfast, get really hungry, and then pick up candy, chips and soda at the gas station – we’ll have a candy, chip and soda body to show for it. However, if we first eat real, nutritious food and then enjoyed a treat, we’d be able to regulate our appetite and make smart decisions.
It’s time to start displacing the poorer food selections from your menu with better, healthy ones. Just eat enough nutritious stuff first. And if you desire a less-than-nutritious food option, have the nutritious one beforehand, and then see how you feel.