Clinical psychologist Karen Nimmo shows you how to lose weight and get healthier, with tips for your food personality.
It’s difficult to measure personality. It’s shaped by biology, temperament, attachment, environment and experiences. But who you are and how you function – along with what’s going on in your life – is fundamental to understanding your thinking and behaviour surrounding food. this self-knowledge is the first step in making the changes you need to make in order to achieve and maintain lasting weight loss. Although each of us has different food histories, stories and influences, there are clusters of ‘food personality’ traits worth identifying. this is particularly helpful if you have tried a variety of diets and still can’t find an approach that works for you.
The 10 categories explained in the following pages have been developed from years of work in weight loss, case studies and ongoing research. You’ll notice that there’s considerable overlap between categories. While you may spot yourself in one category predominantly, you will have traits across other ones. The trick is to gauge where you fit on each one to work out your food profile. More than likely, your food personality will be a combination of several different categories.
Your eating is driven by your moods, irritability, and anxiety and stress levels. Food is used to comfort and to celebrate. You may binge eat, then feel guilty and ashamed. You are likely to be a serial dieter, and your weight may have changed dramatically over time.
Personality traits: Sensitive and often low on self-esteem, you tend to be easily affected by other people’s words and actions, as well as external events or circumstances. You can be great company, but you’re hard work when down or upset. Possibly anxiety-prone, you may mask it with false bravado.
Danger spots: Stress, loss and change (at home, at work or in relationships).
Strategies: Identify which emotions are driving your eating. Identify what’s causing stress in your life, then plot tiny steps to try and reduce that stress. Breathe, relax and learn techniques for buffering stress and bolstering your self-confidence. Learn to comfort yourself and celebrate without food. Good planning, routines and exercise will help.
Reader thoughts: “[The instructions to] exercise have definitely worked for me – I have been working out on the cross-trainer in the mornings, and I find that even though I don’t want to use it, I tell myself I’ll use it for a short period of time (such as 15 minutes) and usually continue for some time after – sometimes double or more! I find this works and keeps me motivated. In addition to this, I find that when I exercise I tend to stress less, feel much better with myself and get through the day with more energy. However, I found giving myself more structure difficult to do. I did try, but things came up last minute, like being invited out with friends for coffee. My [next] goal is to plan dinners. For the past few nights I have succeeded (and saved money by using what I already have), which I am happy about. I realise that change won’t happen overnight – habits are hard to break – but I feel that I am taking a step in the right direction. Hopefully, I will be able to give myself more ‘food structure’ over the coming months.” – Sandra
Your relationship with food is unstable. You are, or have been, a yo-yo dieter, often favouring fad diets. You’ve had some weight loss success – but you always sabotage it. You’re vulnerable to impulse buying and poor food choices on the spur of the moment, which cause frustration and guilt. Eating erratically means you struggle to stick to rules around eating.
Personality traits: You can be emotionally reactive and vulnerable to mood swings but you can also be lively, engaging, spontaneous and full of fun. You throw yourself into life with mixed consequences.
Danger spots: Too many to name! Social occasions, the pantry, supermarket checkouts, your partner’s plate (particularly if he/she is a slow eater).
Best strategies: Clean up your food environment and remove the temptations. Create a shopping list and stick to it, and don’t shop when you’re hungry. You need good planning and good distraction strategies for when temptation strikes.
Reader thoughts: “Planning meals for the day reduced the temptation to snack, as I knew what I was going to have and when. It was easy to remove the temptations from the house.” – Sharron
Life is littered with opportunities to eat, drink and be merry, so you end up consuming far more than necessary. Late brunches, long lunches and late nights lead to erratic eating, which play havoc with your metabolism. In your defence, you are often physically active – mostly because you see sport as another social outlet.
Personality: Fun-loving and outgoing, you are the life of the party. You can be charming and engaging, although possibly superficial in relationships because you’re eager to be involved. Emotionally demonstrative, you tend to be warm and physically affectionate.
Danger spots: Buffets, finger food, parties, birthdays, family gatherings – any social event where food and drink is free.
Strategies: When going out, be conscious of your food choices. Choose well when you’re out (salads, no bread, lean proteins) and stay home occasionally!
Reader thoughts: “It’s quite hard when going out to dinner – at a Chinese restaurant, for instance – to eat healthily, I’ve found. But I can see this working if i’m out at a pub. I found these tips very helpful, and truly easy to start implementing small changes.” – Gayle
You fit your food needs around others, then get frustrated when you fail to eat well. You fill the fridge with healthy food, only to stand back and let everyone else eat it. You tend to view weight loss as a monumental task to tackle when you get everything else done. But this leads to more talk about losing weight, than action.
Personality: Caring, giving and self-sacrificial, you like to promote harmony, even if it means personal discomfort. You prefer company to being alone, and entertain frequently. Low on personal confidence, you’ll defer to others in making decisions and need frequent reassurance.
Danger spots: Being alone. You say you would love to spend more time working on your health, but the reality of that scares you more than you admit.
Strategies: Alone time! Start with 20 minutes a day. Have a plan for your own life, rather than being a slave to your family and a support for your friends.
Reader thoughts: “These tips were very relevant to me. The biggest problem I have is asking for help and not feeling a failure because I can’t do everything. I’ve started going to yoga, and that is proving very beneficial, but I need to factor in more ‘me time’.” – Helen
You are genuinely passionate about food, often believing you have an addiction to it. What you don’t realise is that almost everyone who thinks they are overweight says the same thing. However, the worry is that your obsessive thinking around food drives a compulsion to eat too much of it.
Personality: Impossible to define: you come in all shapes and sizes. But you share a love of eating and cooking.
Danger spots: Your kitchen, delis, trendy cafes, fine restaurants – any place where you can enjoy a good meal.
Strategies: Portion control! Enjoy your food – but buy small dinner plates and halve what you’re eating.
Reader thoughts: “Portion control is my worst fear, especially on long weekends that involve barbecues and platters of cheese and bikkies. My husband says if I was an American Indian my tribal name would be ‘Skye Next Meal’ as i’m thinking of lunch when eating brekky! But I recently had a rare Saturday night on my own, so rather than eating pad thai as well as panang curry and an entrée, I decided to try making my own curry. I only ate a small portion of it and felt really proud that I put the rest in a container.” – Skye
You prefer to eat alone, which promotes covert behaviour such as secret eating, hiding food and eating in bed. You may be overweight, which embarrasses you and limits your social enjoyment.
Personality: Reserved and low on social confidence, you may be vulnerable to anxiety. Your food difficulties nearly always originated in childhood or adolescence.
Danger spots: Being alone, because it promotes unhealthy eating habits.
Strategies: Plan meals with others; take up non-threatening social invitations – or create some. Seek help with boosting your confidence levels.
Reader thoughts: “The tips definitely make sense. When I shop with company and a list, I can resist temptation. I’ve decided not to shop on my own, since i’m not comfortable buying junk food around other people. I find boosting my confidence hard, however. I’m overweight, which plays on my mind, as I feel that is how people judge me and I’m not comfortable with my looks. On the outside, I seem confident but I’m not. I find it tiring to put on that front. I’m still working on ways to increase my self-confidence.” – Sharron
You often eat without thinking, so your food behaviour is mindless, bored and distracted. You struggle with keeping food records because you simply don’t remember what you eat. If you’re overweight, it doesn’t seem fair, because you’re not getting pleasure from eating.
Personality: Eating may be driven more by circumstances than your personality. You may be bored generally, have a laid-back demeanour and tend not to show strong emotions. Or you may be generally flat in mood, with low engagement in the fun side of life.
Danger spots: Leftovers, food that has passed its use-by date, or scraps off the kids’ plates.
Strategies: Be mindful of what you are eating. Observe food; allow the senses to absorb it and savour each mouthful. Keep a food diary – you’ll benefit from it, as long as you stayed focused long enough to write it down!
Reader thoughts: “I managed to keep a food diary and I think that was the most beneficial of all the tips. I found that sometimes I ate because I was bored, other times out of guilt, especially if we were eating at my mother-in-law’s. But with the diary, I found myself thinking twice before putting anything in my mouth.” – Laura
You use food as fuel; only eating enough to keep your energy levels stable. You sometimes skip meals, because you’ve forgotten to eat or are doing something more interesting. When it comes to food, you listen to your body, not your head. This means you are not overweight, and never will be.
Personality: Hard to categorise. You may be a sensible, practical person who goes about living in an orderly way or you may be eccentric and distracted, so consumed by other passions that food doesn’t get a look in.
Danger spots: None. Even when you eat too much you self-correct without thought.
Strategies: Loosen up a little. Food is delicious, pleasurable and the source of much joy. Just make sure you’re getting enough of it.
Reader thoughts: “I do get enough food, but slowing down to eat my food, and concentrating on what i’m eating, has been relaxing – and that is a huge a+ in my hectic lifestyle!” – Anneline
You restrict your intake, sometimes to extremes, and often do well on diets because you are suited to rules and measurements. Your eating may be dictated by health issues, so you tend to eat according to a plan or habit, rather than when you’re hungry. Some restrictive eaters have an obsessive commitment to exercise.
Personality: You can have perfectionist traits and very high standards which can make you driven, but then make you upset and anxious when you fall below your own mark. You can be a great achiever but are sometimes rigid and exacting.
Danger spots: Being told you are overweight or putting on weight. Holidays and other times of the year when you are unable to stick to your routines.
Strategies: Break the rules sometimes.Learn to be flexible – you are allowed to have ice-cream before your vegies!
Reader thoughts: “I think that breaking the rules and being more flexible is important for me, I tend to be in a rut of eating the same things every work day. I will try to incorporate more flexibility into my meals and snacks.” Kylie Milano*
“I can't say i’ve had ice-cream before my vegies – I’m not a huge ice-cream person. But I did have a Cornetto (shock horror!!!) nice and slowly, enjoying each bite. that was a big thing for me.” – Anneline
You are able to control your food intake and weight almost effortlessly. You are able to leave food on the plate when you are full and you are physically active, although not always in the traditional sense.
Personality: Emotionally aware, you manage your ups and downs well. You promote your strengths, don’t dwell too long on your weaknesses and your self-confidence is sound and stable.
Danger spots: The same as everyone else, but you can spot them in advance and react appropriately – or self-correct when you overeat.
Strategies: Do more of whatever you’re doing!
Reader thoughts: “[This exercise] helped me realise that I am definitely in control of my food, not the other way around. I do eat heaps of food, but it’s good food that nourishes me, rather than contributing to ill health.” – Patricia
Did you find your food personality?
Knowing why and how you eat is only part of the secret to dropping kilos and maintaining a healthy weight. It’s what you do with the knowledge that matters most. After all, you are a person with a bum attached – not the other way around!
I’m very proud to introduce you to the members of our reader panel, below. Each of these readers was brave enough to share their food habits with HFG before having them analysed and published. Talk about a confronting process!
As you can see, one of our participating testers chose to remain anonymous (I think I would, too), but they all deserve recognition and a great deal of appreciation for participating.
As different as all the food personalities are, it’s great news that there are effective strategies to keep you on track. I hope you enjoy reading this article as much as I did.
Sandra Colfer is part Emotionak, part Pleaser and part Passionate
Sharron Zuodar is Emotional, Impulsive and Reclusive
Laura Iavasile is half Emotional, half Automatic
Helen Day is a mix of Emotional and Pleaser
Skye Ryall is Passionate
Annaline Padayachee is Pragmatic and Restrictive
Gayle Smith is Emotional, Social and Passionate
Kylie Milano* is Emotional and Restrictive
Patricia McMinn used to be Restrictive, but is now Mindful