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If you hate the number you see on your bathroom scale and desperately want to lose weight, consider changing your eating style. Which of the 12 below describes you?
- The Stress Eater: The stress eater eats to relieve or avoid uncomfortable feelings. As soon as life tosses this eater a lemon, he or she reaches for the chips, cookies and chocolates, and washes them down with lemonade. Eating functions as a distraction and works to elevate mood. Carbohydrates, for example, can raise serotonin levels and can make us feel better, albeit temporarily. Food functions as a self-medication to avoid unpleasant feelings and lift our mood.
- The Emotional Eater: “I finally got a job. Let’s go celebrate!” “I had the worst day of my life. Where’s the wine and chocolate?” The emotional eater eats whenever she or he experiences strong emotions of any kind—happiness, sadness, anger or frustration. Food acts as a stabilizer.
- The Designated Eater: The designated eater is the family member whom other members pass their leftovers to. If a spoonful or two of mashed potatoes are left over, the designed eater finishes them. Although fathers are frequently designated eaters, sometimes mothers finish the leftovers when they are putting the food away.
- The Grazer: Do you eat all day long? The grazer will eat throughout the day. It’s easy to underestimate the total calories consumed because each portion is small, and the grazer may feel as if she or he hasn’t eaten all day. The grazer also engages in preventative eating out of fear of the sensation of hunger. For example, even thought the grazer has recently eaten, he or she may eat before leaving the house simply to avoid the sensation of hunger.
- The Unconscious Eater: The unconscious eater eats while perhaps watching television or reading a magazine and is unaware of what and how much he or she is consuming, whether the food is healthy and whether he or she is full. Oblivious to calorie count, the unconscious eater suffers the worst of two worlds—the eater doesn’t experience the pleasure of eating and also packs on pounds. Closely related to the unconscious eater is the wolf eater or food inhaler. These individuals devour (or inhale) their food so quickly that they fail to experience the physical pleasure of eating.
- The Orthorexic Eater: The orthorexic eater is an obsessive perfectionist. His or her exacting standards make the orthorexic eater difficult to entertain. Food must be of a certain kind, fixed in a particular way and environmentally correct. The requirements vary by the orthodoxy. Although conscious eating is a valuable skill, the orthorexic eater carries rigidity to the extreme and frequently insists others adopt the eating orthodoxy.
- The Feast-or-Famine Eater: This eater fasts all day and eats everything in sight in the evening. Another pattern of the feast-or-famine eater involves going on a starvation diet for a few days, only to overeat following a break in the diet regimen.
- The Frugal Eater: Not wasting food is a good idea unless, of course, the eater forces himself or herself to overeat to avoid waste. An avid member of the clean-plate club usually ends up consuming more calories than needed or wanted.
- The I-Can’t-Say-No Eater: This eater responds to pressure from others to consume more food than he or she would normally eat. The pressure might come from Mom, who worked hard to prepare a dish, or the office temptress, who brings doughnuts and insists that the eater enjoy the treat. This eater is a sucker for the line, “If you don’t have seconds, you’ll insult the cook.”
- The Stealth Eater: The stealth eater cleverly hides cookies, candy and other treats in pockets, drawers and the car so that others will not see the amount or kind of food he or she is consuming. This eater tries to convince others that he or she is eating normally even as the deception occurs; however, surplus pounds betray the stealth eater. Closely related to the stealth eater is the stolen-food eater, who “wants just a bite” of any dessert ordered by a companion and then proceeds to devour the entire sweet.
- The Disordered Eater: Two eating styles—the anorexic eater and the bulimic eater—are clinically recognized eating disorders . The anorexic eater starves herself or himself, frequently fasting for days. Even after the anorexic achieves excessive weight loss, she or he suffers from an ongoing self-perception of being fat. The bulimic eater overeats and uses unhealthful techniques (such as vomiting, fasting, abuse of laxatives or compulsive exercise) to purge the body of food. Both disorders, formerly associated with young adults, are now increasing among women in mid-life. (Dr. Andrew Weil’s Self Healing Newsl et ter August 2008, “Midlife Eating disorders on the Rise”) The disorders may be life threatening and require medical intervention .
- The Ideal Eater: This person listens to his or her body’s cues and eats to satisfy physical rather than emotional hunger. The eater manages portion sizes, reads labels and consciously eats healthy, nutrient-dense foods. He or she pays attention to food while eating—appreciating its flavors, texture and smell—and enjoys food openly. The ideal eater is flexible with food choices and enjoys a vari et y of seasonal produce. He or she begins the day with breakfast and enjoys frequent, smaller meals at regular intervals throughout the day. If too many calories are consumed one day, the ideal eater cuts back on the following day. This eater maintains a balance bet ween caloric intake and activities so that weight is maintained.
The ideal eater, of course, exists only in the abstract. Yet the description can serve as a baseline against which you can measure your own eating habits. What kind of eater are you? And what new style will you adopt?