How Your Personality Type Can Make It Hard to Stay on a Diet

Find out how your personality can shape your approach to dieting.

Posted on | By Beatrice Chestnut
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Find Out Your Eating Personality Type (2:35)

Our personalities are the shape our habitual patterns take. Your specific personality type can tell you a lot about why you think, feel, and do the things you do—and why it’s so hard for you to stay on your diet. 

According to both ancient wisdom and modern psychology, there are a finite number of personality types, or styles. When you can identify which type you are, you can gain a great deal of insight into your deeper motivations and automatic behaviors, including why you have a hard time resisting doing things you know aren’t good for you!

According to one approach to understanding personality types, The Enneagram System of Personality, at one level of human experience, there are three basic personality types: “physical types,” “emotional types,” and “mental types.”

This theory of personality tells us that while we all have a body, a heart, and a head, each of us tends to come (or live) more from one of these three than the other two. 

Each of these parts of us—body, heart, and head—has its own characteristic brand of “intelligence”—its own way of processing information and interacting with the world—and directing our behavior. And although all of us think, feel, and act in our daily lives, one of these three functions tends to dominate our experience, often in subtle ways that are barely perceptible to us because it’s so familiar we don’t question it—like the air we breathe.

How to Use Your Personality Type to Stay on Your Diet

Each of our three centers of intelligence has a kind of key strength or core potency. Our personality type depends on which center we are “based in.”  And the center we live from the most—our base of operations—forms the basis of what we are really good at, but it can also steer us in the wrong direction when we are not aware of what we are doing—when we go “on autopilot.” 

In other words, when we are conscious of how our personality type—and its specific center of intelligence—functions, we can become more aware of how it steers us in the right way when we are listening to our inner wisdom and how it can steer us in the wrong way when we are on automatic (or “asleep” to what we are doing) and just reacting based on old habits.

When it comes to being healthy and staying on a diet, knowing more about your particular personality type can help you see with more clarity why you go to sleep to certain behaviors, so you can wake up to them and make more conscious choices. Often we have trouble managing our behavior (like eating and exercising) when we are “reacting” based on automatic habits as opposed to “responding” more consciously based on a deeper understanding of how our type tends to behave on autopilot.

Take this quiz to find out what personality type you are. 

Physical Types

If you are a physical type, this means your motivations and automatic habits—the things you do without thinking and the reasons why you do them—are based in your connection to your “gut knowing” or your physical or body intelligence (and the ways you get disconnected from it when directed by automatic habits). 

As a physical type, when you make a conscious effort to be more awake to what you are doing and why you are doing it, your body’s “gut knowing” can guide you in healthy ways to develop more self-awareness and willpower.

But when you aren’t aware of what you are doing—when you are just doing what you usually do without much conscious attention to what’s going on inside you—your physical personality type bias can steer you in the wrong direction, by motivating you to do what’s comfortable and easy and familiar, as opposed to what you might want to do to break a habit or enact a specific behavior—like staying on your diet.

Physical types may have a difficult time staying on a diet because they (ironically) may automatically (without being aware of it) forget about their body. When we go “on automatic,” we (by definition) aren’t aware of what we aren’t aware of. And even though physical types are “body-centered,” they can tend to go to sleep to their own needs for physical self-care and what is actually good for them, or healthy for their physical well-being. 

If you are a physical type, you may have a hard time avoiding temptation and maintaining the self-discipline required to stay on a diet because: 

  • You want to stay comfortable (and avoid the discomfort of going without).
  • You put so much pressure on doing what others want you to do, that you don’t register or listen to the messages from your body that signal what is actually good for you.
  • You rebel against any kind of control on your impulses and desires.
  • You enjoy the stimulation of indulging your physical needs and can overdo edible indulgences, especially as they may be easier and more pleasurable to access than other forms of physical enjoyment.

When physical types want to make real change in their lives, it will help them to tune into their body’s deeper wisdom instead of acting from automatic habits, which can drive them in one or more of these directions. Body-based types may over-indulge as a way of: 

  • Choosing comfort over health.
  • Choosing self-indulgence over self-discipline.
  • Rebelling against any kind of limitation from the outside world or from others on your freedom to do what you want to do.
  • Maintaining the belief that the physical pleasure connected to eating is the only ready source of satisfaction.

Physical types can succeed in staying on a diet (or enacting more self-discipline generally), if they can focus attention on:

  • Listening more intently to the messages from their body—are you really hungry right now or just eating out of habit or to distract yourself from an unpleasant sensation or to maintain a feeling of comfort?
  • Consciously moderating the tendency to find physical comfort through excessive behaviors—letting a smaller amount of a good thing be enough.
  • Learning to be more mindful of signals from their bodies that let them know when they’ve reached a limit or need to make a boundary.

When physical types can nourish themselves in healthy ways by attending to their physical sensations and impulses as opposed to avoiding them through the pleasurable physical sensation of eating something unhealthy, they can replace this automatic habit of avoidance and finding comfort in food with a deeper sense of physical and emotional self-soothing through facing and dealing with their automatic emotional and behavioral reactions—and the power that comes from knowing and living from their authentic feelings and impulses.

Emotional Types

If you are an emotional type, this means your motivations and automatic habits—the things you do without thinking and the reasons why you do them—are based in your connection to your feelings or your heart or emotional intelligence (and the ways you get disconnected from that when directed by automatic habits).

As an emotional type, when you make a conscious effort to be more awake to what you are doing and why you are doing it, your heart’s emotional intelligence can guide you in healthy ways to develop more self-awareness and willpower. 

But when you aren’t aware of what you are doing—when you are just doing what you usually do without much conscious attention to what’s going on inside you—your emotional personality type bias can steer you in the wrong direction, by motivating you to do what’s habitual rather than what is actually good for you—like staying on your diet. 

When you are on autopilot, your heart center can motivate you to do what’s comfortable and familiar—according to the behaviors that represent a well-worn groove. You might do a lot of “emotional eating,” where you don’t manage your appetite and your food consumption through conscious efforts, but as a way to avoid feeling certain feelings or make yourself feel good when you are down or bored.

Emotional types may have a difficult time staying on a diet because they may automatically (without being aware) reach for something to eat to generate a “positive” experience of emotional satisfaction and avoid bad feelings they would rather not feel. 

In this way, emotional types unconsciously avoid feeling difficult feelings (like hurt, or sadness, or anger) through focusing on indulging in having a cupcake or some french fries because eating gives them a good feeling, however temporary it might be. In this way, heart types unconsciously avoid being in touch with deeper emotional truths by distracting themselves with the pleasant feelings associated with eating something they like to eat (that may not be good for their physical well-being). And these emotional habits can be hard to break. 

If you are an emotional type, you may have a hard time avoiding temptation and staying on your diet because:

  • You are an emotionally sensitive person, and it’s important for you to be liked and accepted by others, and you eat to avoid the painful feelings that get stirred up in relationships—when you fear rejection or disapproval or other forms of social discomfort.
  • You work very hard to be seen as successful or “good enough” and eat to quell the fear of being seen as “not enough” or a failure.
  • It’s important for you to be understood and heard by others, and you eat to avoid the pain of low self-esteem or inadequacy or a fear of abandonment.

When emotional types want to make real change in their lives, they need to consciously tune into their heart’s deeper wisdom instead of acting from automatic habits, which can drive them in one or more of these directions—they can overindulge as a way of:

  • Unconsciously reaching for good feelings to distract themselves from bad feelings.
  • Releasing the pressure of trying to be good or look good to impress others.
  • Avoiding feelings of low self-worth through the pleasurable sensory experience of cooking or eating.  

To account for these heart-based habits and work to establish greater willpower to stay on a diet, heart types should try to:

  • Face their difficult feelings instead of avoiding them.
  • Learn to love themselves as they are so they feel more inner acceptance and are less vulnerable to feeling bad when others don’t respond to them as they would like.
  • Own their strengths and positive qualities and put their attention on healthy emotional experiences as a way to soothe themselves instead of finding comfort in food.

When emotional types can nourish themselves in healthy ways by attending to their emotions as opposed to avoiding them through the pleasurable physical sensation of eating something unhealthy, they can replace this automatic habit of avoidance and finding comfort in food with a deeper sense of emotional self-soothing through facing and dealing with their emotions—and the power that comes from knowing and living from their authentic feelings.

Mental Types

If you are a mental type, this means your motivations and automatic habits—the things you do without thinking and the reasons why you do them—are based in your connection to your thoughts, beliefs, or cognitive intelligence (and the ways you get disconnected from that when directed by automatic habits).

As a mental type, when you make a conscious effort to be more awake to what you are doing and why you are doing it, your head’s mental intelligence can guide you in healthy ways to develop more self-awareness and willpower.

But when you aren’t aware of what you are thinking, and how your beliefs and thought patterns motivate your feelings and behavior—when you are just thinking what you usually think without much conscious attention to what’s going on inside you at deeper levels—your mental personality type bias can steer you in the wrong direction, by motivating you to do what’s habitual rather than what is actually good for you—like staying on your diet. 

When you are on autopilot, your head center can motivate you to do what’s comfortable and familiar –according to the thoughts and behaviors that represent a well-worn groove. You might rationalize bad eating habits based in ideas about what you need and what is okay, as opposed to what’s really healthy. You have may unquestioned beliefs and assumptions about what you need to do to feel okay and so you don’t manage your food consumption through intentional, conscious efforts, but as a way to avoid feeling anxious or bored.

Mental types may have a difficult time staying on a diet because they may automatically (without being aware) reach for something to eat to quell specific anxieties and fears they don’t want to face, and then rationalize their bad behavior based on false beliefs about what’s okay and not okay under certain circumstances. Or they may be so focused on their mental experience that they don’t allow themselves to tap into their emotional or body-based intelligence, so they may unconsciously ignore their own deeper emotional and somatic wisdom that tells them what is good for them and what is not.

In these ways, mental types may unconsciously avoid examining their beliefs and rationalizations for doing what they want to do instead of what’s good for them. They may find “good reasons” for whatever they want to do or eat, as opposed to looking deeper into themselves for what’s motivating them to over-indulge on an emotional or physical level. They may think, “there’s nothing wrong with having some fun or soothing myself by enjoying a really good meal,” or “why deprive myself of something that is fun and exciting to do?” 

In this way, head types unconsciously avoid being in touch with deeper emotional motives and physical sensations that drive their eating by distracting themselves with specific thought patterns and beliefs about what is okay or necessary for them to be able to do. And these beliefs and automatic thoughts may be so habitual or deeply rooted, mental types never stop to question whether or not they are really true—or good for them.  

If you are a mental type, you may have a hard time avoiding temptation and staying on your diet because:

  • You eat to avoid registering and feeling specific anxieties and fears.
  • You very quickly find “good reasons” to do what you want to do, as opposed to what’s healthy for you to do—you are good at finding a good mental rationalization to support what feels good and allows for a feeling of greater freedom.
  • In a way similar to emotional types, you eat to avoid bad feelings, but because you live more from your thoughts than your feelings, you may have a harder time accessing the negative emotions that drive you to want to indulge. 

When mental types want to make real change in their lives, they need to consciously tune into their head’s deeper wisdom instead of acting from automatic habits, which can drive them in one or more of these directions—they can over-indulge as a way of:

  • Unconsciously reaching for good feelings to distract themselves from bad feelings and not be in touch with the emotional level of their own experience.
  • Rebelling against any limits on their beliefs about what they should be allowed to do—or on any limits that might constrain their behavior.
  • Avoiding the experience of boredom or anxiety or discomfort they are unconsciously afraid of feeling through adhering to specific ideas or mental rules about what’s okay for them to do.

To account for these head-based habits and work to establish greater willpower to stay on a diet, head types should try to:

  • Face their fears and anxieties that they may avoid through disconnecting from their feelings and taking refuge in particular beliefs and ideas.
  • Learn to question long-held beliefs and convictions about their health and habits that may no longer serve them.
  • Recognize that sometimes it’s better to choose to have some self-imposed limitations on their behavior, even if they have to give up some freedom to think and behave in ways they may want to. 

When mental types can nourish themselves in healthy ways by attending to their beliefs and underlying emotions as opposed to avoiding a deeper exploration through the pleasurable experience of eating something unhealthy, they can replace the automatic habits of avoidance of certain limits on their behaviors and develop more contact with the emotions that motivate their habitual behaviors. When they can access their emotions more regularly, they can learn to self-soothe in a wider variety of ways through tapping into the power that comes from knowing and living from their authentic feelings and physical sensations as opposed to being guided by a restricted set of (potentially fear-based) ideas and beliefs.

Article written by Beatrice Chestnut
Author of The 9 Types of Leadership: Mastering the Art of People in the 21st-Century Workplace.