The term eating pattern generally refers to what you eat and drink on a regular basis, but it can also encompass behaviours such as where, when, why, and how you eat. These different eating habits can affect your lifestyle and ability to stay committed to food and fitness goals.
Eating Patterns Explained
You may identify with more than one type of eating pattern, although you are probably more dominant in one over the others. Knowing which style of eating you most closely relate to can help you identify potential triggers and how to best manage them. Here are six common eating patterns along with strategies for addressing each one:
This type of eater consumes food not because of hunger, but to fulfill an emotional need. You may celebrate with food when you’re happy, or you may eat for comfort when you are feeling sad or stressed. Emotional eaters often also eat when they are bored and don’t feel they have anything else to do. This type of eating pattern can lead to overeating, especially of high calorie, sweet, and high fat foods.
Tips to Manage: If you are an emotional eater, it is important to find non-food ways to cope with emotions. To celebrate a win or boost your mood when you’re feeling down or bored, you can exercise, read a book, tackle a favourite hobby, treat yourself to a manicure, or catch up with a phone call to a friend.
This is the person who eats without giving it any thought. If you see food, you eat it – whether it’s a box of donuts in the break room at work, bowl of chips sitting out on the table at a party or finishing the leftovers on your child’s plate. This can result in overeating and weight gain since you’re not dependent on hunger cues and are eating simply because food is there.
Tips to Manage: Focus on becoming more mindful of what you eat. This can include using an app or food diary to track what you ate, along with when and why. Sit down to eat and eliminate distractions, such as scrolling through social media or watching tv during snacks and meals. Focus on the experience of eating, noting the taste, texture, and mouthfeel of food as you slowly chew. It can also help to pre-portion food items, rather than eating directly from a bag, box, or out of the refrigerator.
This type of eater craves routine and structure, so they may eat the same foods and follow the same exercise routine daily. If you’re a habitual eater, you may have established good eating habits, but chaos can ensue if something throws off your normal routine. Time constraints and having too many responsibilities are factors that can affect your routine and may lead you to overindulge in food items or give up on exercise when you don’t feel you have control over your situation.
Tips to Manage: The habitual eater can benefit from sticking with a schedule. Plan your meals, particularly if something outside your regular routine is coming up, such as travel or dining out at a party or restaurant. In situations where you aren’t in control of what food is available, you can pack snacks or lunch to carry along with you or bring a healthy dish when eating at someone else’s home.
This type of person can be very knowledgeable about nutrition and health but tend to have an all-or-nothing approach to eating. They know and have tried every diet out there, but can become obsessive about eating with rigid, self-imposed rules. If you are a critical eater, you may not necessarily derive enjoyment from eating; some days you’re all into your diet, but if you slip up even slightly, it can throw everything off track, leading to weight gain and yo-yo dieting.
Tips to Manage: Focus on relaxing your own rigid rules. It is best to avoid fad diets, fasts, cleanses, and pills, and focus on more sustainable healthy eating over the long-term. If you slip up, cut yourself some slack and try to get back on track the next day rather than throwing all your progress and hard work out the window.
This type of eater enjoys trying new foods and does so without giving it too much thought. If you are a sensual eater, you appreciate good food and are always on the lookout for new foods and meals that are unique or even exotic.
Tips to Manage: For those that savour and appreciate good food, count yourself lucky. Many people find it challenging to feel so relaxed about food. While you need to be cautious about keeping portion sizes under control (especially when indulging in decadent food items), this eating pattern does not necessarily detract from one’s ability to stay committed to their overall eating goals.
This is the person who is good at responding to their body’s natural cues to understand when they are hungry and when they feel full. However, if you’re an energy eater you may not feel what you are eating is enough and try to eat as many calories as you’re burning. In these cases, you may end up consuming more calories than you need to get through the day.
Tips to Manage: Overeating can be an issue for energy eaters. To prevent this from happening, track what you’re eating and aim to replace some carbohydrates with protein to keep your blood sugar levels stable and your hunger at bay. For example, instead of just whole grain crackers, cut your normal portion in half and enjoy the crackers with some cheese or nut butter to keep you feeling full for longer.