How to Crowd Out Poor Food Choices With Protein and Fiber

When I attended the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, one thing I heard a lot about was how “crowding out” foods with preferred choices was a great way to improve eating habits without focusing on avoiding foods.

So let’s say you want to eat more vegetables and cut down on the portions of refined grains. Instead of focusing on eating less pasta, which puts your focus on what you aren’t eating and still keeps the focus on the pasta, you could instead concentrate on adding some vegetables you like and fill up on those, effectively crowding out larger portions of what you want to eat less of.

The key is to come away from your meal feeling satisfied.

What to Focus On

It helps to prioritize protein and fiber in our meals. The protein is important nutrition and provides a lot of satiety, and fiber-rich foods will keep calories low and help fill you up, as well. This is especially helpful for weight loss.

If you’re sitting down to a meal and you start with a carbohydrate, followed by some non-starchy vegetable, you risk crowding out the protein which is what will keep you satiated for a long time. Have you ever tried to overeat chicken breast? It’s hard, isn’t it? We tend to overeat flavorful stuff like sauces, bread, sweets, and salty foods.

If you eat your protein and starch first, you may not have an appetite for your vegetable serving because you’ve crowded it out with the other filling foods. Your meal, if it consists of something like steak and mashed potatoes, will be more calorie-heavy than if you have steak and broccoli and maybe even if you have some of all three — and this might help you limit your mashed potato serving.

Natural Calorie Control

Children are typically great about stopping eating when they feel 80 percent full. If we serve them dessert before a meal, their meal is often ruined. We’ve crowded out their nutrition by providing calories beforehand.

We can use crowding out to our advantage and have it help us towards natural calorie control.

If you sit down and first fill up with your protein and vegetable serving and try to be mindful about when you feel full, you’ll find that you won’t be able to eat too much more and your diet will naturally restrict you from overeating foods that are high in calories but lower in nutrition density. You may still have a bite or two of a roll or a dessert, but you may not have the room to finish. If you can pull off this strategy regularly, you’ll gradually change your eating habits and control your calories without having to feel deprived.

Try increasing your protein serving and filling up on non-starchy vegetables. Focus on these foods and you’ll find that you’ve got less room for tempting foods like a soda or chips or cookies later.

This works whether you’re trying to lose weight, gain weight, or just choose healthier food options.

Basically, you’re crowding out the not-so-good stuff with your essential nutrition. It’s all about priorities and what you choose to eat first. Optimizing food options doesn’t have to be boring — check out our recipe section for tasty meal ideas!

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