We live in a society that is obsessed with food. You’ll find plenty of self-proclaimed gourmets who enjoy eating food a little bit too much, and there are also the fitness zealots with body-image issues who subside on nuts and berries. Most people fall somewhere in between, and we all tend to have different tastes and affinities. However, there has been quite a bit of research done on finding a link between someone’s personality and his or her eating habits, and it looks like there are certain traits that makes us more likely to engage in specific eating behaviors.
In this article we will be looking at five research findings that suggest a connection between food choices and certain personality types. The ultimate goal is to examine the findings to determine whether they are accurate and reliable, i.e. to see if we can use the information to our advantage and make a positive lifestyle change.
1. Thrill seekers love spicy food
Way back in the 70’s, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania argued that the reason why people enjoy the burning sensation of spicy food, is the same reason why some people enjoy potentially dangerous activities, i.e. they were thrill seekers. Further research, like the work of Nadia Byrnes and John Haze has supposedly shown that sensation seekers – determined with the use of the Arnett Inventory of Sensation Seeking test – handle spicy food much better than other people.
The research involved giving people water infused with capsaicin, the active ingredient in hot peppers, and having them answer questions on how intense the sensation felt and whether they enjoyed it. Although there are several other factors that can account for this affinity towards spicy food, cultural background and upbringing being the major ones, the study is quite solid and offers an interesting insight.
2. People-pleasers tend to overeat when they have company
The fact that social butterflies end up eating a bit more than they should won’t really come as much of a surprise to anyone who regularly eats out with friends and has guests over for several hours a day several times a week. When you are out and about you are bound to get tempted to have another snack if a friend grabs some fast food, but it seems that those who are eager to please others are at much greater risk of overeating throughout the day. A study done on pairs of young women concluded that people tend to mimic their companions’ eating habits, so someone who is a big eater can easily set the tempo and cause others to overeat.
However it’s not merely about mimicking our friends, as a Case Western Reserve University study from a few years back shows. Namely, those who were found to be inclined toward people-pleasing – as determined with the use of a questionnaire – readily accepted candy offered to them by an actor pretending to be another participant in the study, and took more than other participants.
3. Overly emotional people tend to gorge on snacks in secret
We are all well aware of the fact that some people are emotional eaters, meaning that they use food as a coping mechanism in times of stress, but those who tend to be more in touch with their emotions reportedly have a nasty little secret when it comes to food. A weight loss firm named LighterLife recently conducted a survey on 2000 women to find out more about the average woman’s eating habits, and discovered that a shockingly high percentage of women sneak away to have a secret snack on a regular basis.
Around 40% of the women said that they were aware that these covert snacks were a problem, as they were overweight, but simply couldn’t resist the temptation. Some even felt so ashamed of their habit that they resorted to eating in the bathroom under lock and key, or stashing extra snacks in locked drawers. Such polls are a good rough estimate of average trends amongst the population, and it looks like this is a large-scale problem that can seriously affect diet adherence. This secret eating habit can ruin even the most well-thought-out diet and exercise plan.
4. Conscientious people are more likely to eat fruit and vegetables
In 2005, a study was conducted using the International Personality Item Pool Big Five short-form questionnaire, which you can take a look at here, to determine personality types of the participants and a health assessment questionnaire that examined behaviors including eating habits. It was determined that conscientious people tended to eat more fruit and vegetables, and choose overall healthier meals. Extroverts were shown to be more prone to risky behavior and bad food choices.
When you think about it, someone who is a bit less social and doesn’t drink too much is less likely to feast on fast food in the late hours of the night, so the study kind of goes along with what a lot of us already understood on an intuitive level. The interesting thing is that, with the vegan and raw food movements gaining popularity, and crazy crash diets giving way to meal delivery focused on plant-based food, it seems like a large chunk of the population falls into the conscientious category.
5. Extroverts can’t say no to animal fat, sweets and alcohol
The study in the previous paragraph already pointed towards extroverts being more susceptible to the allure of junk food, but there is another interesting recent study published in the Appetite journal that found that extroverts have an affinity towards fatty, savory and sweet foods, as well as sugary soft drinks.
This was linked to social behavior directly related to the extrovert personality type, i.e. this personality type eats out more frequently and engages in group activities where high-calorie foods abound. The random population sample size was large enough to point out certain trends, however we should always be careful when trying to extrapolate such data and use it to come to generalized conclusions. One good thing we can draw from the study is that extroverts’ diets are influenced by outside factors which can be controlled to a great extent.
These are just a few interesting studies that have shown some links between a person’s personality type and his or her food choices. It is a topic that definitely requires further detailed research, but even with the information we have available right now it is possible to come to a few conclusions, based on which you might be able to slowly start developing better eating habits. It always helps to understand why we are drawn to some foods if we are looking to make a big lifestyle change like switching to a healthier diet.
Featured photo credit: cute little girl eating watermelon on the grass in summertime/Lana K via shutterstock.com