We are what we eat, or so the saying goes. Actually, it may be the other way around: Who we are determines what we eat, or more precisely, how we eat. While every one of us is undoubtedly unique as a person, our behavior follows distinct patterns. In other words, the way we do things is part of our personality – and that includes our eating habits.
Your Lifestyle- and Eating Habits
May Be Pre-Determined by Your Personality
Over many years of counseling as a dietitian, I have been able to observe different attitudes toward food among my clients. In the attempt to categorize them, I have come to distinguish seven (only coincidentally a “magic” number). I call them “Diner Types.”
While reading through this post, you may or may not identify yourself with any one particular type. Or, perhaps you will recognize several behavioral patterns as your own, even though they describe different types. All of that is valid.
By acknowledging the differences in personalities, I do not qualify them in terms of “good” or “bad.” I also do not pass judgment by calling someone a certain type. Even by using the expression “Healthy Diner,” I do not suggest any form of “superiority.” At best, its characteristics may serve as a guideline or goal for those who wish to improve their health and physical well-being. Likewise, I do not believe that anyone is ever beyond the capacity of positive change. By describing certain eating patterns as those of a “Tragic-Romantic Diner,” I do not intend to classify such cases as “lost” or “hopeless.” Ultimately, the ability to change does not depend on one’s circumstances, but on the willingness to accomplish one’s goals. It is in this spirit that I invite you to consider the following analysis.
Characteristics: Accidental Diners love to munch. They are often unconscious of their eating habits and do not discriminate between foods on the basis of nutritional quality, freshness, or calorie content. Meals are rarely planned ahead of time and shopping decisions are typically made spontaneously, based on convenience and accessibility. Excessive food consumption and bingeing can occur with feelings of boredom or frustration.
Example: Liz is a 20-year-old who works as an assistant office manager in a travel agency. Her dream is to become a writer or editor for a travel magazine. Liz is obese. She describes herself as having been “fat” for as long as she can remember, even as a child. Everyone in her family is overweight. At her home food was always plentiful and readily available. Since both parents worked, the children were used to making their own daytime meals. TV-dinners were the rule rather than the exception, with everybody helping themselves to whatever portions they liked.
Liz now lives with two roommates in an apartment away from her family. Since everyone has a different work schedule, meals are rarely shared, even on weekends. Her job is too demanding for a regular lunch break. Normally she eats at her desk when she has the time. Her typical choices alternate between fast food items and Chinese take-out from the supermarket. She has stashes of candy and chocolate cookies in her desk drawer “to keep her going.” Liz has never learned to cook, although her place has a small kitchen. Rather than preparing meals from scratch, she microwaves ready-made dinners.
Although Liz is aware of being excessively overweight, she is not too concerned with the potentially negative consequences to her health. In the past, she made some sporadic attempts to take up a weight management program, but then she gave up each time for lack of motivation and outside support. She admits to having a short attention span for anything that isn’t fun.
Characteristics: Irregular Diners typically pay little attention to their nutritional needs. Eating is considered a mere necessity. Food is consumed like fuel in order to keep functioning. Quality and presentation are of minor importance. By the time they remember to eat, they are ravenous, eat quickly and often overindulge.
Example: Jack is a 28-year-old project manager in a hight-tech start-up company. In recent years he has put on some extra weight. Jack is single and proudly admits to being a workaholic. He likes the industry culture where everyone works hard, plays hard and parties hard. His diet consists mostly of fast food or take-out. Cooking and sit-down meals at home do not happen.
When Jack was younger, he used to be athletic and enjoyed playing basketball or tennis on a regular basis. But with the ever-increasing demands of his job, his physical activities have fallen more and more by the wayside. At the end of a brutal workday followed by a long commute, Jack can only collapse on the couch with a stiff drink and whatever he has picked up at a drive-through on the way home.
Jack is aware that his current lifestyle is hazardous to his health. Still, he accepts it as a temporary necessity to succeed at his job. He looks forward to “living the good life” some day, but now is not the time to worry about his health.
Characteristics: As the name indicates, Habitual Diners prefer all things in keeping with a certain routine. Many of their habits are acquired during adolescence or young adulthood, such as smoking, drinking or enjoying certain foods. If reminded that their behavior could become detrimental to their health, Habitual Diners like to point out that it never caused them reason for concern in the past. So why change now?
Example: Bob is 62, retired, overweight and hardly physically active. Even in his youth, he was never much of an athlete. Bob calls himself a “meat and potato kind of guy” who likes his wife’s home cooking. He eats hearty portions of beef, chicken and turkey but keeps vegetables and salads to a bare minimum. They don’t taste like real food to him.
Bob has always had a highly structured life. After a few years of military service, he worked for the same company for almost his entire career, and he and his wife only moved once before they bought the house in which they now live.
His doctor has made repeated attempts to get him on a diet and have him lose some weight. He also wants him to take up regular exercise. After bypass surgery six years ago, Bob was forced to make some dietary changes. He shed a few pounds during recovery but then gained them all back and put on even more. Bob is convinced that his weight is part of his genetic make-up and therefore beyond his control.
Characteristics: Social Diners easily adapt their habits to the people around them. Eating together is considered as an act of sharing, belonging, friendship or love. Preparing food for others is a way of expressing affection, nurturing and support. Dining out is at the core of romance. Gathering for a meal is part of every celebration. Unfortunately, by focusing primarily on others, Social Diners have a tendency to forget about themselves and neglect to take care of their own needs.
Example: Helen is a 34-year-old wife and mother of two. She is overweight, bordering on being obese. She used to be known as a “health nut” when she was a biology student at U.C. Berkeley, running marathons and following a strict vegetarian diet. After moving in with her husband-to-be, she reluctantly began to share his taste for “real” food, such as steaks, burgers and BBQ. Two pregnancies later, her once-athletic body is only a memory.
With her father in the military, Helen’s family moved frequently. Before going to college, she spent two years volunteering for an international aid organization in South America. Learning languages and adapting to other cultures was always easy for her.
Helen is anxious to get back in shape and has tried different types of weight management and fitness programs. Her husband leaves it up to her. He says he loves her either way, skinny or plump, as long as she does not expect him to make any changes. Helen admits that being overweight is her problem, however, some support would make a difference.