There are several different eating personalities – intuitive eating being just one of them. While intuitive eating is the end goal, chances are you aren’t there quite yet. Here’s how to figure out if you are an intuitive eater and – if not – what type of eater you are right now. Determining this is a helpful step as you work to eat more intuitively.
As part of their work with me, I have my clients read the book Intuitive Eating. Everyone has many “aha!” moments while reading it, but nothing seems to be more eye-opening than when they figure out what kind of eater they are. Becoming an intuitive eater is always my end goal for my clients, but it is a process – it doesn’t happen overnight. In this process, it is helpful to know where you are right now in terms of your eating personality so that you can start to rediscover the intuitive eater inside of you.
We are all born intuitive eaters. Babies and young children are the best examples of this – they eat when they are hungry, stop when they are full, and naturally balance out their food intake from week to week. Some days they may eat a lot of food and other days they may not eat much at all. So what happens to this natural intuitive eater? As we get older we become more aware of diet culture and the dieting mentality that is all around us. Either we or our parents start to set rules and restrictions around food. And the more and more diets you do, the more you lose sight of your natural intuitive eater. You start feeling deprived, then cravings kick in, and eventually, you overeat. You stop trusting yourself and your body around food. As our intuitive eater fades away, other eating personalities take its place.
What Kind of Eater Are You?
1. The Unconscious Eater.
This is the eating type that most of my clients identify with. Another word for this would be mindless eating. Unconscious eaters are often not aware of what or why they are eating, usually because they are eating while doing something else – whether that is working, watching TV, driving, or using their phone. I see this with almost everyone I work with. We are so connected and so busy, that we don’t take time to sit down and really pay attention to the food that we are eating. Have you ever sat down on the couch with a bag of chips or a box of crackers and the next thing you know the bag or box is empty – and you hardly remember eating any of the food? That’s unconscious, or mindless, eating. There are a few different types of unconscious eating and you may identify with one or more of them.
The Chaotic Eater. If you have a really busy life and feel like you just eat whatever is available, you’re probably a chaotic unconscious eater. This could mean eating whenever you have a break in your day regardless if you’re hungry since you aren’t sure when you’ll get another chance to eat. It could mean feeling hungry and not having food prepared, so grabbing whatever is available. If you’re a chaotic eater, you may go long stretches where you don’t eat at all because you’re so busy.
The Emotional Eater. Another very common eating personality, emotional eaters use food to cope with their emotions. This could be eating because you’re stressed, anxious, sad, lonely, or overwhelmed, but it can also be eating for happy or joyful reasons too. If you find that you are often eating when you aren’t hungry, it could be that you emotionally eating without even realizing it.
The Refuse-Not Unconscious Eater. If you have trouble turning down food or saying no to something, even if you’re not hungry, you’ll identify with the refuse-not eater. A client of mine realized this when she was traveling. Whenever she was in the airport lounges, surrounded by all the free food, she would overeat – even though she wasn’t hungry. The same thing happened to her on the plane – whenever the crew came around with snacks, she always said yes. Refuse-not eaters are often unaware that they are eating, and are eating because the food is there in front of them.
The Waste-Not Eater. If you worry about throwing away uneaten food because it’s wasteful and you have a “clean your plate” mentality, you’ll identify with this eating style. Another one of my clients found that whenever she went out to eat, she felt like she had to finish all of the food she ordered, otherwise she felt like she was wasting money. So she often ended the meal uncomfortably full, as she ate much more than she needed to.
2. Professional Dieter.
This eating personality describes the person who is always trying a new diet and has been on (and off) diets for years. They know the calorie count of every single food and may measure or portion out their meals and snacks. They’re always looking for the next best diet, as the ones they’ve tried in the past haven’t worked.
3. The Careful Eater.
Careful eaters appear to be very healthy and nutrition conscious. They closely read food labels, are hyper-aware of what they put in their body, and carefully monitor what and how much they eat. If they eat anything they don’t deem “nutritious”, they end up feeling guilty. Careful eaters spend a lot of time worrying about what they are going to eat. Often times careful eaters are vigilant Monday through Friday, then “cheat” on the weekends.
Are You An Intuitive Eater?
Intuitive eaters give themselves unconditional permission to eat whatever they want. They don’t deprive themselves and they don’t feel guilt or regret after they eat (or don’t eat) certain foods. They trust their body to tell them when, what and how much to eat, relying on internal signals like hunger, fullness and satisfaction to guide food choices rather than external signals like diets, meal plans or food rules.
Unconscious eating, careful eating, and professional dieting are not a long-term solution to health. While they may seem ok at first, and work in the short term, all three of these eating styles are diets – and we know that diets don’t work in the long term (and can cause us lots of harm). Getting back in touch with the intuitive eater inside you (we all have it in us!) allows you to break free from dieting and take better care of yourself and your body. If you’re unsure what type of eater you are, take this quiz to figure it out. Becoming more aware of your eating personality can help you start to take action and make changes in your eating behaviors.
Are you interested in learning more about Intuitive Eating?
I work with clients virtually throughout the US, helping people who are frustrated with dieting change their relationship with food and say goodbye to diets once and for all. Learn more about my intuitive eating nutrition coaching programs to see how you can find balance and develop long-term lifestyle habits, no diets required.