What Kind of Eater Are You?

7 habits of highly unsuccessful dieters, and how to break them.

By Colette Bouchez
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

Do any of these situations sound familiar?

  • Your meals usually come out of a carton, a vacuum-packed bag, or over the deli counter.
  • You almost never eat alone: TV, the Internet, phone, or your favorite magazine is there for nearly every meal.
  • You find it next to impossible to walk away from free food, even if you're not hungry - including all-you-can-eat buffets, supermarket sample tables, and those "taste me" booths at flea markets.
  • You spend more time regretting what you ate than preparing it.
  • You eat when you're hungry. Also when you're sad, mad, hurt, annoyed, irritated - even, sometimes, when you're overjoyed.

If you find yourself saying "That's me," you may have fallen prey to one or more unhealthy eating style, mealtime or lifestyle habits that can get in the way of weight control.

Sometimes, destructive eating patterns are easy to spot, such as when you turn to food every time you're facing a problem. But often, the cues are so subtle that these unhealthy habits go unnoticed.

"Because we have been living with these habits or 'eating styles' for so long, we often don't even realize we are doing them," says Linda Yerardi, RD, LD, a dietician at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Md.

So while you might recognize that you overeat when you're very upset, Yerardi says, you're less likely to see how little, everyday stresses are also driving your eating habits, with nibbles and bites that add up by the end of the day.

Another example: Eating while watching television or reading may make us feel less lonely, says weight loss coach Janice Taylor, but it also causes a disconnect with the fact that it's mealtime. And that, she says, often means a disconnect with how much you are eating.

"Television puts in you a light trance, and to some extent, the Internet or even reading a magazine can do the same thing," says Taylor, author of Our Lady of Weight Loss: Miraculous and Motivational Musings from the Patron Saint of Permanent Fat Removal. "So you end up chewing one mouthful while already shoveling another one onto the fork, without even tasting what you're eating."

Finding Your Eating Style

While eating styles are as individual as we are, some researchers believe they can be grouped into just a handful of behavior patterns.

After analyzing surveys from more than 5,000 men and women, researchers Larry Scherwitz, PhD, and Deborah Kesten, MPH, identified seven common patterns.

"Each of the newly identified eating styles was independently related to self-reports of overeating frequency; five of the seven were significantly related to overweight and obesity," the authors wrote in Explore: The Journal of Science of Healing, which published their findings.

Some of the unhealthy patterns identified by the study include:

  • Food Fretting: You're overly concerned with what you eat, and have a negative relationship with food.
  • Task Snacking: You almost always eat while doing something else -- like watching TV, answering email or even cooking -- which can lead to overeating.
  • Emotional Eating: You turn to food not only during life's traumatic moments, but anytime you feel stressed, anxious, or a little upset.
  • Fast Foodism: Simply put, you're "hooked" on processed and convenience foods, and you gulp them down fast!
  • Solo Dining: You use food to fill a social void - and the more often you eat alone, the more you eat.
  • Unappetizing Atmosphere: You eat behind the wheel, at your desk, or standing up in front of the refrigerator. This keeps you from concentrating on what you're eating, and makes it more likely you'll overeat.
  • Sensory Disregard: Mealtime is hectic, and you disconnect entirely from the eating experience. This leads to eating without thinking, and that usually means overeating.

While you may not see your own exact situation in these categories, Taylor says the bigger picture here is that all seven behaviors serve a single purpose: They take the focus off appetite and provide another reason for eating.

"Whether it's a distraction, an amusement, a comfort, a consolation -- if you are not eating mindfully, and you are not one with your food, chances are you are going to overeat," says Taylor, creator of the "Kick in the Tush Club" weight loss newsletter.

Solving the Problem

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