baby steps | crowding out

Here’s a great way to think about making the better choice most of the time: don’t make the choice! The Integrative Nutrition® principle of “crowding out” is sort of like having your cake and eat it, too.

  • Chocolate cake or an apple?
  • Go for a walk or binge your favorite show?
  • Scroll through your social media or go to bed early?

We face choices—big and small—all day long. And it’s exhausting! Decision fatigue is a thing, so why not save your energy for the really important decisions?

from either/or to both/and

I’ve had a lot of clients tell me that they hesitated to work with me because they were afraid I was going to tell them to stop eating sweets, quit their soda or wine habit, work out for hours every week, and basically never have fun again.

Surprise! That’s not going to happen.

Instead, I ask clients to consider how they can make the better choices (you already do know what they are) most of the time, and the way we do that is pretty straightforward.

We start thinking in terms of “both/and” instead of “either/or.”

Yup, this is me—a health coach—telling you that you can have the apple AND the cake, get in some movement AND watch your show, spend some time on social media AND get a little more sleep.

And you do it by making the better choice first, then seeing whether you still want to make the other choice.

crowding out prevents rebellion

Let’s forget about anyone else telling you, “You can’t do that.” Even telling ourselves “I can’t do this” instantly foments rebellion in a majority of us.

  • Watch me.”
  • “You’re not the boss of me.”
  • “But I want to….”

Crowding out looks like this:

  • Choose the apple, then wait 20 minutes and see whether you still want the cake. Want it? Eat it—trying a smaller portion perhaps. (We can talk about emotional eating some other time!) Have a glass of water before having a soda or glass of wine. Still want it after the water? Go ahead—at least you’ll have offset your dehydration.
  • Go for a walk, then see whether you still want to watch your show. Still want to watch? Try watching a single episode. Is it nasty outside? Walk in place while you watch or do some form of body weight training during commercial breaks or between each episode. I have friends who have watched the entire Lord of the Rings series while walking on their treadmills—his ‘n’ hers, too cute.
  • Set a timer on your phone and stop scrolling when time’s up—preferably in time for an earlier bedtime than usual.

In a bit of reverse psychology, you may find that knowing you can have both might just make you want the poorer choice less.

crowding out and nutrient density

Let’s talk about hardcore nutrition for a second.

Believe it or not, most Americans are energetically overfed (too many calories) and nutritional starved (not enough nutrition). That’s because we eat high-calorie foods that don’t pack a nutritional wallop.

Nutrient-dense foods contain a lot of vitamins, minerals, and fiber for every calorie you consume (think about broccoli); nutrient-poor foods come with lots of calories from proteins, fats, and carbs but very few vitamins/minerals/fiber (think about squishy white bread or soda).

My favorite way to give you a visual representation of nutrient density is this:

  1. Put your hand on either side of a head of broccoli and squeeze as hard as you can. Not much happens, right? You’ve got a head-of-broccoli-sized dose of nutrition.
  2. Do the same to that loaf of squishy white bread. I’ll bet you can get it down to the size of a baseball—or smaller. You started with more or less the same volume as a head of broccoli—and you end up with a fraction of the nutrition.

And the more nutrient-dense foods you eat, the more you get to eat—and the less you’ll want to eat.

WHAT? That’s right! If you are nutritionally depleted, your body wants nutrients.

Consider sea salt. When you switch out your white table salt with sea salt, you are introducing more minerals into your diet—and you may find that you crave salt less. That’s because when we crave salt, we may well be craving the nutrients that we used to get from unrefined sea salt—not sodium chloride!

crowding out creates a ripple effect

Okay fine. Crowding out cake with an apple, crowding out dehydrating beverages with water—these make sense because of nutrient density.

What about primary foods, though?

Crowding out in a primary food area (anything other than what you put in your mouth that still has the potential to nourish or toxify you) can create a ripple effect.

As Charles Duhigg writes in The Power of Habit, a small shift in one area of your life can cause a cascade of changes:

  • You start moving your body more, and suddenly, you find you can’t be bothered to binge shows for hours—you have so much more energy now!
  • You start sleeping more, which helps you wake up earlier, which means you have time to fit in a few minutes of exercise in the morning.
  • Your new interest in fitness leads to an interest in better nutrition, which helps you eat, move AND sleep better.

Clearly, whether we’re thinking about making better choices in our primary or secondary foods, the idea of crowding out can be very helpful.

make the connection

This is the eighth challenge in a 12-part series that will run for all of 2022: every month, I’ll share a small, simple, sustainable shift to make on your way to healthier food and lifestyle choices. By the end of the year, you’ll be amazed at the difference in your health!

“A YEAR?!? But that’s so long,” you may be thinking. Remember: a journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step.

Let me ask you this: how long have you been making poor food and lifestyle choices? I’ll bet it’s been more than a year, maybe even more than a decade….

And those poor choices have resulted in poor health.

The good news is that you can reverse the downward trend by making better choices, and the only way those will stick is if you make them one baby step at a time.

Practice aiming low and asking how it would look if it were easy for the month of July and beyond—then come back for September’s Baby Step to Health! Want to make sure you don’t miss a single challenge? Join my email list.