What type of eater are you?

Finding out your eating personality can shed light on what, when and how much you eat – and help you maintain healthy long-term habits.
Published 29 October 2015

1. The social eater

The traits: You feel like a catch-up with friends isn’t complete without food, and you’ll usually leave a dinner party having overeaten. “This is where a lot of mindless eating can occur. What you want is to be aware of each mouthful, which can be tricky when chatting and enjoying your family or friends' company,” says accredited practising dietitian Gemma Reeves.

The tips: Try having something small before going out. Studies have shown that hunger adds to a social eater’s challenges. Try having a healthy snack, such as a piece of fruit, before heading out to catch up with friends to help take the edge off your hunger. Or try sipping tea or water, as you chat too. Step away from the buffet. Food psychologists from Cornell University found that standing further away from food means you tend to eat less. Why? It takes more effort to reach, causing people to feel like they’ve eaten more than they have. Focus on socialising rather than food. “Giving undivided attention to listening and talking makes it harder to devote as much time to eating,” adds psychologist Dr Elizabeth Celi.

2. The love-a-bargain eater

The traits: You can’t resist a two-for-one deal, ‘buying in bulk’ is your food-shopping mantra and, while you wouldn’t usually eat a biscuit with your coffee, if it’s complimentary, then why not? The problem is, according to a Deakin University study, while ordering an ‘upsized’ fast-food meal means paying about 12 per cent more, it adds about 25 per cent more fat and 38 per cent more sugar. “It's value for money, but it’s also far more kilojoules,” says Associate Professor David Cameron-Smith, who was involved in the research.

The tips: Plan ahead. Focus on the food you originally went to buy, and be aware of combo deals as they usually contain highly indulgent foods.
Split bulk packs of food into smaller portions and store them in zip-lock bags ready for use as soon as you get home. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Even if you haven’t had to pay for it financially, you’ll still need to be accountable for the kilojoules.

3. The do-good eater

The traits: You consciously choose low-fat products. Then, when you eat them, you may lighten up on portion control. A study published in the International Journal of Obesity shows people will often consume a considerably larger serve when a product is presented as low or reduced fat.

The tips: Practice portion control. “Know that by selecting low- and reduced-fat products you are making great choices for your health when it comes to saturated fat,” says Reeves. “Just be aware and make a conscious note of our tendency to subsequently serve larger portion sizes. Sticking to pre-packaged serves can help, or measure out portions in advance after shopping where possible.” Savour the flavour. “We’re often in a hurry while eating, and subsequently don’t enjoy the flavour of food, because we’re in a rush to eat and get on with our day. Make a conscious effort to taste the food and enjoy the crunch or texture,” says Reeves. This can help you feel more satisfied.

4. The people-pleaser eater

The traits: You’re used to cleaning your plate of every scrap of food at a meal, or accepting the offer of seconds, regardless of whether you’re already full, either because you want to be polite or it’s what you were taught as a child.

The tips: Rehearse saying the ‘N’ word. Just say no, in a polite manner. This may become easier with time, and it’ll also buy you the space to start recognising that you do feel full and satisfied, after the first helping. Combined, it makes it easier to say ‘no’ the next time. Have your responses ready. Rather than offending your host, or making them think you don’t like their cooking, a simple, ‘Thanks anyway, but I’ll pass this time,’ or ‘Thank you, that was delicious, but I’ve had plenty’, usually works well.

5. The impulsive eater

The traits: If it’s there, you’ll eat it – even the sight of food is enough to trigger a craving, regardless of how hungry you happen to be.

The tips: Ask whether you’re hungry and, if not, ‘Why do I want to eat this then?’. Try having a glass of water and waiting for ten minutes. You might notice you no longer want the food or you’ll at least be able to practise mindful eating while appreciating the food, if you do decide to eat it. Plate your food in the kitchen rather than putting self-serve dishes on the dinner table. Your food intake will decrease by as much as 35 per cent, because when the food isn’t in front of you when you finish eating, it reduces the impulse to refill your plate.

Nature or nurture

While experts agree that childhood experiences exert a major influence on our eating personality, the power of marketing shouldn't be underestimated. Thanks to environmental factors such as product variety, in-store lighting, package sizes and plate shapes, the average person now has to make more than 225 food-related decisions each day – at least 210 of which are subconscious. Other studies show that when people overeat due to larger plate sizes, nearly 70 per cent convince themselves they must have been hungrier than they thought. Advertisers are very aware of how easily people can be tempted, and use it to their advantage in their advertising messages with things like ‘buy one get one free’, ‘20% bonus’ and even ‘extra intense flavour’. So look out for the environmental triggers that may be influencing your food choices, on top of your eating personality, and take action when you need to.