Illustration by Jesse Kuhn
Winter's deep freeze has finally broken, and you're starting to think about shorts, swimsuits ... and your midsection. When you hit the beach this summer, be confident in strutting your stuff in that two-piece—but not just by grabbing the latest diet book to populate Borders' bookshelves.
"Any diet can work," says Jennifer McDaniel, a Saint Louis University registered dietitian. But you won't work the diet if it isn't suited to your eating habits and personality.
Ponder this: If you're the type who gets bored easily eating the same old chow, a diet like the scant-on-variety, protein-heavy Atkins plan will send you running for the nearest box of Oreos.
"It's important to find out who you are, because without that, you will find yourself frustrated and not achieving your goals," says Connie Diekman, a registered dietitian and director of university nutrition at Washington University.
So to preserve your sanity and help you get to your target weight, SLM asked dietitians and a personal trainer to reveal some common diet personality types, and then suggest food plans and exercises tailored to each.
1. The Go-Getter
Do you go the extra mile just because it's there? Consider yourself a go-getter.
Not surprisingly, experts say dieters with driven personalities are most likely to succeed. Ambitious types can follow a diet, monitor progress, and correct slips, McDaniel says. If you're zealous, you'll do well on nearly any eating plan once you commit. Simply pick what's appealing, and sign up for an online diet-tracking system like Calorie Count (caloriecount.com) or Lose It! (loseit.com).
You would do beautifully with a combo of cardio and strength-training exercise, advises Fitness Together's Tim Chudy, a personal trainer with a degree in dietetics. He recommends strength exercises, such as 60-minute weight-lifting sessions two to three times a week and 20 to 40 minutes of cardio exercise four to five times a week. "You don't have to struggle with motivation or getting to the gym," says Chudy. "As long as you have a plan and goal, you'll stick to that."
2. The Slow-Goer
Is your motto "Slow and steady wins the race"? If the answer's yes, your diet personality is best described as patient.
You're no 30-pounds-in-30-days type. You look at weight loss as a process that takes time and effort. But you believe you'll succeed if you keep with it. You do well with breaking your weight loss effort into mini goals and making small changes along the way—for instance, adding a vegetable at dinner or cutting out soda. A good diet for you would be the American Heart Association's low-fat diet (americanheart.org), which promotes small changes to your eating habits, rather than a wholesale revamp.
To incorporate exercise into your life, however, you need to develop a slight sense of urgency about your weight loss. For example, if you want to lose 20 pounds, set a realistic deadline and a goal of doing strength and cardio workouts three times a week.
3. The Rusher
Are you infatuated with the idea of losing 12 pounds in a single week? Can’t stop reading about the latest starlet who dropped 10 pounds overnight? Welcome to the world of the impatient dieter.
Most diet books are written for you, says McDaniel. You should choose a realistic course of action and stick with it—even with the occasional Saturday-night blowout. You must ask yourself, “Can I realistically follow the diet I chose for the length of time it will take me to hit my goal weight?” There are plenty of sound slimming options. Try Slim-Fast shakes or the South Beach diet’s graduated food plans.
Your attitude toward exercise tends to be the same: all or nothing. But that’s risky. Overdoing it on Day 1 can make you so sore that it’ll be a week before you even consider looking at another treadmill. Instead, consider interval workouts, where you alternate between working at your highest intensity level and a moderate “recovery” level. You also can opt for Tabata protocol exercises: a 50-second, high-intensity interval followed by 10 seconds of rest.
4. The Adventurer
Do you get bored with eating the same foods day in and day out? You’re an adventurous/impetuous dieter.
Variety is the spice of life for you, and you need a diet that lets you explore a range of food combinations and recipes. While research shows that consuming a wide variety of foods can encourage people to eat more, McDaniel says, you’ll blow your diet if you’re stuck in a food rut.
A Mediterranean diet is a good option, she notes. You can whip up a batch of whole grains, such as quinoa or bulgur, and you’ll also be using olive oil and other monounsaturated fats to help you feel satisfied. A popular diet for this category is the Flat Belly Diet, with 80 recipes for loads of experimenting.
If you haven’t joined a gym yet, enroll now. Pick a place that offers a wide array of classes: Zumba, yoga, boot camp, toning, Pilates, and more. Then pick a different class periodically, and give it a whirl.
5. The Planner
Does the slightest disruption throw off the rest of your day? You’re a planner.
This type doesn’t like surprises, and food is no exception. You tend to eat the same foods, go to the same restaurants, and order the same dishes. Because change can cause so much upheaval in your life, McDaniel recommends small changes to your diet at first, as you adjust to a weight-loss plan. Instead of ditching all pizza, switch to veggie pizza. Cut back on high-fat, high-sugar foods slowly, and then begin to substitute healthier choices, such as flavored water.
After easing into those small but significant changes, add more positive eating habits. A commercially available diet isn’t going to suit you well because of the tremendous alterations to your habits it’ll require, McDaniel says. Increasing the health quotient of what you’re eating and getting some exercise will get you to your goal.
As for that exercise, it’s all about following a regimen. Get a plan from a trainer or an online fitness program, such as Women’s Health Workouts Lite for the iPhone.
“Just get a plan, and follow it,” Chudy advises.
6. The Teeter-Totter
If you have a fight, do you drown your sorrows in a pint of Ben & Jerry’s? You might very well be an emotional eater.
Emotional eaters run to the fridge when their hearts are full—of positive or negative emotions. This personality also uses food to help stuff feelings they don’t know how to handle. Just the idea of going on a diet can make them want to cry.
Emotional eaters should keep a food journal and record what they feel as they nosh. Had a fight with the husband and devoured a bag of Doritos for comfort? Write it down, along with the feelings associated with that chowfest. “You may not even be aware of how the food tastes, because you are eating it to fulfill an emotional need,” Diekman explains. You’ll also need loads of support. Work with a counselor; get a diet buddy or use an online message board like SparkPeople (sparkpeople.com) for accountability; and try the GI (Glycemic Index) diet. This approach helps even out blood-sugar peaks and valleys brought on by comforting carbs. Cutting out sweets entirely or substituting a healthful, complex-carb treat like Kashi oatmeal cookies can help.
Exercise is super-important for emotional eaters. Find a trainer who can serve as yet another positive support. The trainer should be able to gear your workouts to your mood. Pumped up? The trainer will push you extra hard. Feeling blue? A lighter routine is in store. If you can’t afford a trainer, find a workout buddy and support each other.
7. The Pleaser
Is taking care of yourself the last item on your to-do list? Consider yourself a pleaser.
You should work with a dietitian or buddy who will be your “partner in crime,” McDaniel suggests. Pleasing can work in your favor, since you’ll want to please the dietitian. Pick a diet that’s fairly structured, so you can predict what you’ll eat at each meal. If you make it clear that triple-chocolate-fudge cake is no longer part of your diet, your friends and family won’t ask.
The same ideas apply to workouts. Get a buddy; create structured, routine exercise plans; and join a group (such as a running club) or a class where people can get to know you—and your personality.