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I have just taken part in a Myers-Briggs exercise at work (INTJ in case you were wondering) and this got me thinking about how my personality dictates my approach to exercise and dieting – particularly dieting.
For those who aren’t familiar with it, Myers-Briggs is a system for identifying your personality type, based on the work of Carl Jung. A simple test (free version here) establishes your four-letter type. There are sixteen types altogether and you can read a pretty good explanation of the types here.
Personality in dieting
Nutritionists or psychologists out there will be able to say much more about this topic than I can but it is clear even to a lay person like me that there is much more to food and eating than just fuelling up.
The aptly-named Donna Fish, a social worker specialising in eating issues, explains:
“Just like we have different temperamental traits, genetic endowment with body type, different hair and eye color, we can have different ‘food personalties’. Some of us like to eat small meals all day long, some of us can go for hours without eating. Some of us hate to eat breakfast despite hearing that it is the most important meal of the day, and some can’t stop eating past dinnertime.”
We have an emotional relationship with food that starts with how we obtain it (from growing your own to purchasing habits and food choices) to how, when and why we eat (body composition goals, eating disorders, social rituals) and how we deal with the consequences of this process.
I believe that your personality type dictates to a large extent which dieting strategies will work best for you. Roberta Schwartz Wennik has written a book on this very topic, Your Personality Prescription, which I haven’t read but the idea makes perfect sense to me. I can see for example how calorie counting could appeal very well to certain personalities but put other people off completely. In the latter category it is not because these people are too lazy or uncommitted to count calories, it is more that their personality doesn’t respond well to that strategy.
Types of dieters
I am sure there are many official ways of categorising dieters but I have my own classification of types based on years of observation, particularly in the office environment! How many of these do you recognise?
Plans meals, counts calories, takes a very organised approach to dieting. Can be quite self critical and if motivation is lost or a slip up is made, it can all go wrong very quickly. This type of person has an emotional relationship with food and is trying to control it by being very organised. Develops good knowledge about nutrition but can become a bit of a diet bore, obsessed with macronutrient splits and so on. Can also be rather intolerant of other types of dieters, believing that their way is the most effective.
Likes to follow a diet that has been planned out for them to the last detail. Has a tendency to believe that they have found the One True Way and follow it with almost religious fervour, proselytising to friends about their amazing discovery. Often successful because they are able to follow the diet to the letter, have good discipline and are not easily distracted.
The Special K dieter
Often a comfort eater like the Planner but tries to control it through a punishment-reward system rather than by a plan, for instance by not eating for hours and then ‘rewarding’ themselves with a slice of cake. Not often successful in the long term because they will not fundamentally change their approach or behaviour. Will tend to seek solutions that don’t require them to take responsibility, such eating foods advertised as healthy or low fat without trying to find out for themselves. Vulnerable to advertising, celeb or fad diets.
The Laid Back dieter
Will make simple modifications such as cutting down on junk food and alcohol, getting their 5-a-day and so on, but won’t follow a strict diet. They respond well to a few simple rules or guidelines which don’t require much preparation or time. This tactic can sometimes deliver the results they want, especially if they are quite active, not too overweight and not too bothered about looking buff. This easygoing type doesn’t have a particularly emotional relationship with food and sometimes has trouble understanding those who have. Can be rather dismissive of people who take dieting more seriously.
The Eco Eater
Sustainable, organic, free range: the eco eater likes to be ahead of the crowd where moral and political issues are concerned. Thinks about the wider ramifications of diet and food but can sometimes be smug about it. Somewhat ascetic, this dieter finds it relatively easy to avoid over indulgence and is attracted by vegetarianism or veganism. Most other diet types find them a bit irritating but a lot of this is jealousy!
You can take all of those with a pinch of salt – I realise that there are some sweeping generalisations in there. I actually slot into one of those types myself (I’m pretty sure you can guess which one) and I come across many of these on the internet and in real life.
How does your personality affect the way you eat? Have you found your ideal dieting strategy? Are you one of these types?
More like this:
- Zone diet episode 1
- Dieting rules of thumb
- Good habits
- How do workouts make you feel?
- Donna Fish – eating styles (for kids but relevant to adults)
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