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How Your Personality Type Could Influence Your Food Choices

Food

By Melissa Kravitz

"You are what you eat" may be one of the oldest sayings ever to be repeated around the dinner table, but can you also eat what you are?


The idea of eating to suit your identity dates back millennia, particularly with religious dietary restrictions seen as shaping an eater's personality and identity. The Bible forbids the eating of predators or garbage-feeders. Buddhists practice a harm-free diet, with Jain vegetarianism enforcing more restrictions, such as not eating root vegetables that may harm insects. Hindus refrain from eating cows, considered sacred. But beyond organized religion, the dietary choices we make may be linked just as closely to our personality as our palate.

"Quite honestly, the link between the personality and diet is not scientific," said psychotherapist Karen Koenig, who specializes in compulsive, emotional and restrictive eating. But in Koenig's more than 30 years of experience, during which time she's authored several books about psychology and food, she's noted some trends in personality type and food choice.

Specifically, underachievers are less likely to take risks in their diet, perhaps due to an ingrained fear of failure or rejection. They may have lower self-esteem and can be easily disappointed, and may also comfort themselves with food. That friend you have who is tentative to book an overseas trip is likely the same friend who eats the same thing for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner everyday.

Overachievers, on the other hand, may display similar behaviors, comforting themselves with food when they fail to take care of themselves in other ways while striving for approval or goal achievement. The "too busy to eat" mentality is typical in Type A-esque overachievers who may put bodily comfort after other accomplishments. Contradictorily, however, this type of personality can possess a strict mentality, meaning they can be uncompromising in regards to maintaining a specific diet—like vegan or paleo—throwing themselves into a narrowly circumscribed eating regimen completely. Overachievers can also fall into a dangerous "all-or-nothing" mindset, meaning that if they aren't following a dietary plan 100 percent perfectly, they'll consider that failing, and perhaps take extremes while breaking it: Think a vegan who learned there's chicken broth in their risotto boomeranging and ordering a rib eye steak and a side of bacon.

"There's a lot of mix and match," Koenig said. Ultimately, a person's dietary patterns can't be predicted by their personality, though their personalities may explain their food choices. Keep in mind, personality and mood are different things—getting "hangry" may seem like a part of one's personality, and eating something delicious or soothing may elevate your mood, but ultimately, the temporary moods that define our day are not who we are as people.

Even the flavors we prefer—many of which are evident in young people who opt for sweet over sour, or salty over bland—cannot be completely attributed to personality. "There are many other factors that determine food preferences such as early exposure to different foods and flavors and how you were raised to interact with food: Was food approached as comfort, an arena for restriction or a way to relax and enjoy time together?" explains psychologist Laura Ciel, former president of the Santa Barbara County Psychological Association. These early taste preferences may be indicative of personality, however. She explains a tactic used in France, when parents of preschool age children are asked if they are "sweet" or "salty" in order to put together classrooms with the right mix of personalities.

In adults, Ciel has seen research that points to certain personality types drifting toward specific types of foods. "People who have a desire for fast-moving, adrenaline-producing behaviors would be more likely to enjoy spicy food," she said. "And those who prefer sweet foods would be more likely to be compassionate and caring of others. Salty and crunchy food? You're more likely to be ambitious and competitive. If you enjoy bitter flavors, you might be more open to different tastes, but you might also have some tendencies toward narcissism." Of course, this is not true for every person, especially as settings change and, oh, the patriarchy rolls in.

"Although there may be inherent preferences with different personalities, the research also shows that the social setting can impact food choices," said Ciel. "For example, a woman who loves adventure and spicy food might order differently if she is in a social setting where she wants to be seen as less intense or adventurous. On a first date, she might be trying to be seen as feminine and relaxed and be hesitant to order something too spicy. Or, at a business meeting, if someone tends to gravitate toward sweet foods, they will think twice about ordering something sweet, instead going for a more salty or crunchy choice." Brain food, of course, is a term we've all heard of, and while eating may not actually make you smarter, what you choose to eat in certain settings may make you appear smarter (or snobbier, if you're the only one at the table who knows what foie gras or uni or toro is and makes sure everyone knows it), though foods that are linked to improved brain function may actually help you perform better as a leader.

Leaders, who are both naturally born as well as made, have various personalities, and though food preferences may change over time, Ciel points out that personalities in most people "tend to stay relatively the same." You could be in a new place surrounded by completely new ingredients comprising a totally different cuisine than the food you grew up with and are used to, but you'll still be the same you.

Melissa Kravitz is a writer based in New York. She is a writing fellow at Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute. She's written for Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Travel & Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, Glamour, AlterNet, Cosmopolitan, Teen Vogue, Architectural Digest, Them and other publications. She holds a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Columbia University and is also at work on a forthcoming novel. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @melissabethk.

This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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Protestors marched outside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, August 26, during the MTV Video and Music Awards to bring attention to the water crisis currently gripping the city. Karla Ann Cote / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Will Sarni

It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.

The city of Flint, Michigan, where dangerous levels of pollutants contaminated the municipal water supply, is a case in point — as is, more recently, the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future

We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.

"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.

One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.

Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.

Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.

These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.

We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).

We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.

We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.

Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.

Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.

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