When it comes to problematic relationships with food people tend to fall into one of six broad types and understanding which one you are is the first step towards tackling your eating issues. You might find you identify with more than one type, which is fine – the Virtual Gastric Band approach to weight management is far more sensitive to individual personalities and psychological drivers than any diet could ever be.
Type 1: The Busy Body
“I’m so busy, sometimes I just forget to eat.”
“Between work and kids, there’s no time to think about food.”
“I do a lot of shift work, which makes it hard to plan meals.”
“Eating less isn’t such a bad thing anyway, it will help me lose weight.”
Does this sound a bit like you? If so, you’re not alone. These are the kinds of comments I hear all the time from clients who lead genuinely busy lives. Some have busy careers, they work overtime on a daily basis and are rarely able to switch off or down tools; some are shift workers who struggle to put a sensible eating routine in place; many are juggling bringing up children with jobs as well as a bustling social diary.
The stresses and strains of modern living are well documented, and they can have a huge impact on your eating behaviour. From not having the time to plan meals, to shop for food or prepare meals, to simply running out of time to actually eat, this is all detrimental to our health. Some might believe that it’s perhaps not detrimental to our weight – surely if we eat less, we’ll weigh less, right? Wrong. You’re more likely to burn muscle tissue than fat, because if you trick your metabolism into thinking you’re starving, it will need stored energy and so hold onto any spare fat. Eating on the go, grabbing sugary snacks at random times, a reliance on caffeine boosts from coffee and so-called energy drinks, skipping meals, going all day without food then binging in the evening are all signs of being a ‘busy body’.
Type 2: The Super Snacker
Eating three square meals a day, comprising a nutritious breakfast, lunch and evening meal, is a traditional yet effective way to keep your body healthy and maintain a suitable weight. Many of my clients successfully manage to achieve this – they have no problem with food shopping or meal planning and preparation. However, they often struggle to understand why their weight has steadily crept up despite their seemingly positive relationship with food, and are unable to identify the underlying cause of their expanding waistline.
More often than not, I find the answer usually lies in a few naughty habits that their conscious mind probably doesn’t even acknowledge – namely, snacking. So, alongside the wholesome fruit and vegetables, the essential proteins and the ‘good’ carbs, my ‘super snackers’ are consuming all manner of titbits that their body doesn’t require. A bag of chips here, a chocolate bar there, a cupcake, a handful of biscuits, another glass of wine after dinner... Any of these things eaten on an occasional basis is unlikely to do any damage coupled with an otherwise healthy diet, but scale it up to a daily basis and we’re entering a whole world of hurt!
Most of these instances of overindulgent snacking happen in the evening, when dinner is done and dusted and it’s time to put your feet up after a hard day’s work by relaxing on the sofa in front of the TV. Now, trust me when I say the power of television is almost as strong as that of a hypnotist! Even a small amount of screen time can effectively put you in a trance, so your conscious mind doesn’t really notice or later recall how much you’re popping in your mouth. It’s not uncommon for super snackers to have almost no recall of what exactly they’ve consumed, or genuinely believe they haven’t snacked at all. Therapists call this ‘unconscious eating’, hypnosis can come to your rescue by helping to put your conscious mind back in control and banish these bad habits for good.
Type 3: The Emotional Eater
Everyone occasionally uses food as a bit of a pick-me-up, as a reward or in celebration of something, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that – food plays a significant role in cultures across the world, it can bring enormous pleasure to individuals and can connect groups of people. But you may find you’re entering a physical and psychological danger zone when you habitually use food to make yourself feel better.
It’s one of the reasons so many diets fail – people eat for other reasons than just to satisfy hunger. It’s often used as a stress-reliever or a way of dealing with difficult emotions, thereby satisfying an emotional need rather than a physical one. Loneliness, sadness, anger, grief, resentment, fear and boredom, to name but a few negative emotions, can all be drivers that cause people to crave particular food in the hope it will raise their spirts, calm their nerves or simply make them feel better in some way.
Many emotional eaters will eat even though they are not hungry, eat very quickly and eat more than they really want. Usually the food being craved is not exactly healthy – lollies, chocolate, ice-cream, biscuits, cake, chips, pizza and soft drink – and often in very large portions, possibly involving major binges.
Unfortunately, efforts to deal with these emotions in this way usually don’t succeed, because they are not a solution to the real problem. You might find yourself experiencing additional negative feelings of guilt and shame after eating, and even self-hatred. It’s a self-destructive cycle of behaviour that may seem impossible to unpick. I know how powerless clients can feel, believing they are trapped in a never-ending loop.
Type 4: The Comfort Zoner
A growing number of my clients inhabit a bit of a grey area that I could have described more crudely as ‘middle-aged spread’ instead of ‘comfort zoners’, as people tend to enter this arena in mid-life. But, other than age, it’s equally about an outlook and a lifestyle – falling into a comfortable routine, getting set in your ways and not challenging your habits, being settled in what feels like a perfectly pleasant bubble.
Eating will no doubt be a highly pleasurable activity, and our gregarious comfort zoners will often practise a lot of social eating – wining and dining business colleagues, attending and hosting dinner parties, eating out with family and friends. They might not be able to identify any obvious reason for their steadily increasing weight, but without realising it they are more than likely overeating large portions of rich, high-calorie foods. The appearance of extra fat (usually around the tummy) might seem sudden, but more often than not it’s actually a very slow accumulation from years of almost undiscernible weight gain.
Research points to a variety of physiological, biological and neurological factors that come with age such as hormonal changes, the brain’s reduction in appetite regulation, coupled with a decrease of lean muscle mass and increase in fat stores. But don’t be tricked into thinking this combination of physical causes of gradual weight gain has an inevitable outcome; sometimes comfort zoners are too ready to give in to a belief that it’s simply unavoidable and there’s nothing they can do about it. I can assure you that is not the case!
Type 5: The Supersize Me
Anyone familiar with the 2004 film Super-Size Me will know how damaging a fast-food diet can be, especially with that particular industry’s focus on ‘supersized’ portions. I’m not suggesting my clients are addicted to takeaways, far from it. This notion of supersizing can be applied to all types of food, including home cooking – it basically means portion control is, well, out of control! There are a whole host of reasons behind the growth of the average adult’s meal portions, but the fact is they have definitely grown. Just look at the size of crockery from yesteryear compared with what you’ll find in the modern kitchen, everything from wine glasses to plates and bowls is far bigger these days than anything you’d find in an antique shop.
Of course, having larger tableware doesn’t mean we should go ahead and fill them right up, but that does tend to be the case. In 2013, the British Heart Foundation published a report about the change in British portion sizes since 1993, and highlighted the trend for food manufacturers and retailers to produce and promote large portion sizes. The BHF concluded that larger portions encourage us to eat more and, coupled with a shortage of easily understandable guidance about recommended portion sizes, it’s incredibly difficult to work out how much you should consume. I would add a number of other causal factors to this tendency to pile our plates high, relating to common emotional and psychological drivers.
In my experience, I’ve found that habits such as this usually stem from our childhood conditioning, such as being told to eat up everything on your plate because it’s wrong to waste food or, conversely, a shortage of food creating a lasting fear of going hungry.
Type 6: The Sedentary Scoffer
We all know that exercise is good for us, right? The physical and psychological benefits have been proven time and again in countless studies and experiments. And most people will be aware that the recommendation is to spend at least 30 minutes doing some kind of vigorous activity, five times a week. But maybe that thought alone is enough to send you into a cold sweat?
Despite understanding what, on the face of it, is a straightforward equation, this knowledge doesn’t always translate into meaningful action. Some are painfully aware but struggle to find the inner motivation to get up and do something about it. Others simply hate the physical sensations that exercise creates and avoid anything that brings on a sweat or causes a bit of huffing and puffing. Some people’s levels of obesity mean that a workout could actually be quite dangerous and are unsure how to introduce safe levels of activity into their lives.
So, this supposedly simple ‘eat less, move more’ principle is actually much more complex when it comes to implementation than you might think.
So what type of eater are you? Or, are you a combination? When we begin to recognise our “type” we can consciously begin to do something about it.