Ever wondered why your friend can so effortlessly stick to any diet to while you struggle to resist polishing off the sample cheese plate at the grocery store?
Well, new research suggests that it actually has to do with discrepancies in your personalities.
The researchers sent three questionnaires — the first personality, the second on eating habits, and the third on food choices — to a random sample of addresses. After excluding subjects who skipped more than 10% of the questions, they analyzed the data from nearly a thousand participants with an average age of 55.
The personality questions were designed to measure what psychologists believe are the five basic dimensions of personality: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.
"We found that a person's personality does, in fact, determine why he or she eats and what he or she eats," said lead author Carmen Keller. For example, "A lack of conscientiousness leads people to eat impulsively and to lose self-control in the face of tempting food situations with palatable and nicely smelling and tasting food," she explained. Furthermore, "Neurotic people may eat too much high-caloric food to deal with their negative emotions."
Here are the descriptions of the eating habits researchers found associated with each personality type:
Openness: You're more likely to adhere to a healthy and balanced diet, like the Mediterranean diet. You're not a huge meat fan, particularly red meat; instead, you're more likely to enjoy a plant-based diet — maybe with some fish. You never have trouble getting your fruits and vegetables.
Conscientiousness: You're more likely to seek information, control stress factors, and incorporate behaviors that will benefit your health, while excluding those that detract from it. You're therefore less likely to eat meat and more likely to restrain yourself when it comes to food. You don't tend to emotionally eat. You'd rather eat your fruits and vegetables than indulge in sweets.
Extraversion: You enjoy being social and are very good at networking. With social hour, though, comes social eating — so you're more likely to eat when external food cues — like an appealing smell — are present. This means you consume more meat, sweet foods, savory foods, and sugar-sweetened drinks.
Agreeableness: There doesn't seem to be a significant correlation between this personality type and most food choices. However, you are less likely to consume meat.
Neuroticism: You only really diet when it's convenient, and you use eating as a way to cope with your emotions. This type of emotional eating is linked with eating "comfort foods" (think ice cream or mac and cheese), fewer veggies, and less whole grains.
Clearly, the results reported by Keller and her team suggest that certain personality characteristics can be seen as "risk factors" for an unhealthy lifestyle, or, conversely, indicators of a healthy one.
So our ability to maintain a particular lifestyle over a long period of time has less to do with how good we are at counting calories and more to do with the complexities of our character.
In other words, the better you know yourself, the better you can guide yourself onto a healthy path. You can download all the calorie-counting apps you want, but ultimately, it comes down to understanding how you respond to everyday life — say, scanning your fridge after stressful day at work or attending a party with a ton of junk food.
(h/t New York Magazine)