Maybe you are that person who can’t say “no” to cupcakes at the office. Or maybe you’re that other person with gridiron willpower who everyone else throws shade at (while secretly envying). Either way, science is now giving us an excuse for our eating styles: they may be hardwired like our personality traits. Baby, we were born this way!
A recent study published in the journal Appetite analyzed questionnaire data from close to 1,000 participants. The questions measured the Big Five personality traits — openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. What they found was that personality traits indeed have direct and indirect influences on our eating habits.
“We found that a person’s personality does, in fact, determine why he or she eats and what he or she eats,” said lead author Carmen Keller, NYmag.com reported. Some examples: lack of conscientiousness leads to impulsive eating and weak self-control in the face of tempting foods, while neuroticism can lead to high-caloric binges to deal with negative emotions, aka, emotional eating.
Here’s a breakdown of more of the key findings:
- High openness to experience was associated with higher fruit, vegetable and salad consumption, and lower meat and soft drink consumption.
- High agreeableness was associated with low meat consumption.
- Conscientiousness promoted restrained eating, which increased fruit consumption.
- Conscientiousness reduced external eating (eating fueled by external cues like smell or taste), which prevented meat consumption.
- Conscientiousness promoted restrained eating and reduced external eating, which prevented consumption of sweet and savory foods and sugar-sweetened soft drinks.
- Conscientiousness reduced emotional eating, preventing consumption of sweet and savory foods.
- Neuroticism promoted emotional and external eating, upping consumption of sweet and savory.
- Extraversion promoted external eating, leading to more sweet and savory, meat and soft drink consumption.
From their findings, it looks like conscientousness and neuroticism are the biggest personality traits associated with unhealthy eating habits — conscientiousness for its tendency to cause restrained eating (which means healthier choices, but can lead to disordered eating), and neuroticism for its ability to boost emotional eating of sweet and savory foods.
Plus, “the higher sociability of extroverted people, which is basically a health beneficial psychological resource, seems to have health-averse effects,” the study said. Obviously, this is most likely due to the fact that eating meals socially with friends can completely influence our food choices. Studies have proved similar theories: One suggested the size of your dining partner can have an effect and others reveal a tendency to mimic our eating partner‘s eating habits.
While you can’t change your hardwired personality traits, you can take some steps to combat your tendencies toward poor eating habits, like emotional eating. Knowing what you naturally lean toward and teaching yourself to react better can help you pump the breaks and get your act together. But if every once and a while you just throw in the towel and eat the damn cupcake anyway, we won’t tell.