Maybe you’ve been here before: it’s been a long, high-pressure day at work, and come 5:15 p.m., you’re plunging into a bowl of salty chips and sipping up a couple of sweet, tangy margaritas. (Hello, happy hour!) Or you wake up to the morning news, rife with disaster and political discord, and the next thing you know, you’re elbows deep in a stack of buttery, syrupy pancakes. (Anyone heard of the “Trump Ten”?) Or it’s late at night and, with a deadline looming, you just can’t seem to finish up that high-stakes project without a slab of moist chocolate cake, thick with silky frosting, topped with velvety ice cream, dripping with gooey hot fudge...
Ample research has been done to explain the human impulse to overindulge in food or drink when we are stressed out. Biologically, stress triggers a response in the brain that makes us hungry, causing cravings for foods high in fat, sugar, or salt – foods that reward our brains and soothe us, temporarily relieving our stress. We may seek comfort in food or imbibe one too many when we don’t want to deal with difficult emotions or when we’re feeling self-conscious about our bodies. We also become more vulnerable to stress and to our cravings when we’re exhausted or overly hungry.
But what role does personality play in all this? Are some personality types more likely to engage in stress eating than others? To find out, we polled our community, asking them to agree or disagree with the following statement: “You tend to eat or drink more than usual when you are stressed.” A modest majority agreed overall (58%), and the results indicated that our likelihood of stress eating lies mainly in our Energy and our Identity.
Hungry for more? Let’s dig into the results below.
Diplomats (66% agreeing)
Stress eating is also known as emotional eating, so you might expect to see Diplomats at the top of the results. Their core Feeling trait means that these personality types interpret their experiences, including stressful ones, emotionally. But surprisingly, the Feeling trait proved to be less influential in this survey than other traits that define our Roles, especially the Intuitive trait.
Intuitive personality types were 9% more likely than Observant types to agree with our statement. When it comes to stress eating, types with Intuitive Energy may find themselves in double trouble. With their highly active imaginations, it’s easy for Intuitive types to get carried away thinking about the source of their stress, running various scenarios through their heads until their problems seem even bigger and more overwhelming. At the same time, they’re very good at imagining just how delicious and satisfying a sweet treat would be, fantasizing about it until their craving – and the promise of some relief from stress, however fleeting it may be – becomes too much to resist.
Analysts are also Intuitive personality types, which means that they’re susceptible to the same torments and temptations of the imagination that Diplomats are – but that vulnerability is tempered somewhat by their Thinking trait. Analysts generally approach problems logically, not emotionally, so they may be more likely than Diplomat personalities to search for a tangible solution that will eliminate the source of their stress, rather than reach for a snack or beverage that will make them feel better in the short term.
Explorers and Sentinels (56% and 54%)
Explorers and Sentinels agreed at lower rates primarily because of their shared Observant trait, which helps keep them down to earth and focused on pragmatic solutions in the face of stress. Explorers, as Prospecting personality types, agreed slightly more than Sentinels, their Judging counterparts. Explorers’ more spontaneous natures mean that they’re more likely to act on a whim when they’re stressed out, splurging on something unhealthy for a quick emotional fix. But on the whole, these two Roles responded fairly neutrally to our survey.
Social Engagement and Constant Improvement (68% each agreeing)
The fact that respondents belonging to the Social Engagement and Constant Improvement Strategies were tied in their agreement indicates that Extraversion and Introversion have little to do with whether we eat or drink more when we’re stressed out. Indeed, more than any other personality trait, our tendency to engage in stress eating comes down to our Identity. The Turbulent Identity is practically synonymous with stress. Whether Turbulent types are worrying about their performance, as Constant Improvers tend to do, or about other people’s opinions of them, as Social Engagers usually do, their stress often comes down to one fundamental issue: shaky self-confidence. Reacting emotionally to pressure can impact our self-esteem, and that’s a known trigger for stress eating.
Our survey also revealed a tie between these two Strategies for the individual personality types most likely to agree with our statement: Turbulent Protagonists (ENFJ-T) and Turbulent Mediators (INFP-T), both agreeing at a rate of 72%. As Diplomats, Protagonists and Mediators are idealists and altruists, characteristics that carry risks of overcommitting themselves or getting too caught up in the negativity of the world, which can quickly turn into feelings of personal failure and other unpleasant emotions that they’d prefer to avoid.
Turbulent Protagonists, as natural leaders dedicated to inspiring others, may turn to food or drink as a private way of coping with their stress, so that they can keep up their positive attitude in public. Turbulent Mediators, on the other hand, are prone to turning too far inward and can forget to take care of themselves; as mentioned earlier, not getting enough sleep or skipping meals can make us much more likely to seek comfort later by overeating.
People Mastery and Confident Individualism (50% and 48%)
Assertive personality types were 18% less likely to agree with our statement than Turbulent types, and members of the People Mastery and Confident Individualism Strategies appeared to be fairly neutral on the topic of stress eating. This is because Assertive personalities are generally even-keeled and resistant to stress – if they don’t feel stressed in the first place, they won’t feel a need to alleviate stress with food or drink. People Masters and Confident Individualists who do sometimes overindulge may do so as a matter of personal choice, and not as an unconscious reaction to feeling out of control.
Assertive Logisticians (ISTJ-A) (42%) were the least likely of all personality types to agree with our statement. Their cooler heads in times of stress apparently result in calmer stomachs. Logical and analytical, Logisticians are honest with themselves about the fact that a rich plate of pasta and a bottle of wine isn’t going to make their problems go away. Instead, they’ll reduce their stress by seeking a practical course of action that gets to the heart of solving the problem.
Close behind Assertive Logisticians were Assertive Virtuosos (ISTP-A) (43%). Virtuosos are significantly more flexible than Logisticians, and they also tend to be less emotionally in tune than many other personality types, so they don’t get stressed out easily. And when they do, they’ll probably just move on to something new, rather than subjecting themselves to more stress or resorting to emotional eating to avoid it.
Stress eating can be so tempting, and so hard to stop, because when we indulge in our favorite treats, we do feel solace and relief, albeit temporary. For those of us with Turbulent, Intuitive personalities, that problem is compounded. But no personality type is entirely immune to stress, and we should all be wary that using food to cope with stress instead of dealing with our underlying emotions can make things worse over time. Stress eating can be addicting, and the impacts on our physical and mental health are undeniable.
The next time you’re stressed out and craving your snack or beverage of choice, try mindfulness exercises like yoga and meditation, or eating healthier mood-boosting foods instead. Engage in a different activity that soothes you or pumps up your positive energy, like immersing yourself in a good book or movie, catching up with friends, or exercising.
Do you have a habit of stress eating? How do you think your personality contributes to how you deal with stress? Share your thoughts in the comments below!