There's a large hotel buffet table spread with various delicious delights. A crowd gathers around the self-help table. One person has a plate piled high with every variety of food on offer, while another has a small portion of salad. Why? Is it simply random? Different appetites, tastes, and health awareness? Or are there other factors at play?
That's where the Enneagram (a system that includes a personality profiling aspect) can help us. One of the most powerful aspects of the Enneagram is the knowledge and awareness it provides people about their hidden core patterns that can unlock quantum leaps in their personal growth. While the Enneagram is masterful at revealing our inner workings it is also quite brilliant at illuminating patterns in the more mundane aspects of our life as well, such as diet and how to adopt healthy eating habits for our particular Enneagram type.
The Enneagram also reveals our neuroses— or where our significant wounding lies. We compensate for this wounding by fixating in specific ways, resulting in different behaviours for each type. Understanding the Enneagram helps guide us into actionable ways to move beyond these fear-based fixations. As a result, it provides a helpful tool for personal growth (as well as giving us insights into our eating patterns).
For example, my friend "Evie" takes pleasure in limiting her needs and is happy to eat the same meal every day. Seriously, give her rice cakes and tinned tuna with a couple of tomatoes and raw carrots, and she's happy. For her, food is there to serve a functional purpose. Not to be relished the same way it serves my pal "Milo," who gets enormous enjoyment from fine dining and preparing gourmet meals.
The Nine Enneagram types are further divided into various sub-groupings such as Instinctual Subtype (Self-Preservation, Social, Intimate) and TrueType (where you have 3 Types — one in each Center of Intelligence) . The Enneagram also shows us degrees of health or integration for each type. That explains why two people of the same Enneagram type could approach their diet differently, even though their underlying motivations remain the same. For example, some Enneagram types will have a very disciplined approach to diet. While others are more likely to indulge in comfort eating that could lead to undesired weight gain. What follows here is the average approach for each of the 9 Enneagram Types. Recognizing what type you are and understanding why you do what you do goes a long way towards bringing awareness to your dietary approach.
Enneagram Type 1 – "What's the correct eating plan?"
Known as the "The Reformer," this Enneagram type generally has a responsible and disciplined approach to eating. Ones are zealous in their desire to eat "correctly," enjoying cleansing regimes and healthy diets. They are perfectionists by nature and will carefully check the ingredients on food packaging before purchasing. Too many bad fats? Too high in calories? An abundance of sugar? Food needs to pass their test before they'll eat it. As such, they can be fussy when it comes to eating out. They believe that food should be about nutrition rather than indulgence.
Ones have a tendency to restrict themselves, ordering what they believe is the healthiest option rather than what looks delicious. Naturally, this creates a conflict between what they want and what they feel is the right thing to do. As with all tensions, over time, a release is required. In this case, it can take the form of binge eating or the sudden urge to indulge in "forbidden" junk food. The result is shame and self-recrimination, relieved through stricter self-discipline or self-purging. Ones need to learn to ease up on themselves and accept that the odd self-indulgence is fine.
Enneagram Type 2 – "I know just what you'd like for lunch."
Type Twos (sometimes referred to as "The Helpers" of the Enneagram) pride themselves on knowing just what other people will enjoy eating, particularly a significant other. They may order for you or remember that meal you so enjoyed a year ago and make it especially for you. For them, food is about nurturing and caregiving. The trouble comes because this type expects the same treatment back. When it doesn't happen, they can become angry and resentful. "After all, I do for you…."
They often neglect their own needs because they're busy attending to others' needs. Feeling unloved triggers the need to comfort eat. Pasta, cookies, lasagna, sweets, and pastries are all an attempt to fill the gap of loneliness they feel. They're searching for the sweetness in life.
Unless a friend or partner is exercising, in which case, they'll be happy to accompany and support them, Twos can be inclined not to exercise. There's always someone who needs help just when they had planned to go to the gym.
Twos can help their food addictions by tuning into their own needs rather than always focusing on others. In addition, getting rid of the sweetie bowl on the office desk and committing to an exercise regime can help change.
Enneagram Type 3 – "What's my goal here?"
The goal-orientated "Achiever" wants to be the "best." However, what "best" means to each Three depends on their interests. For example, they may want to succeed in their chosen career, win at sport, or be the best-looking and healthiest person. Often, it's a desire to achieve in all these and other areas.
Being so work-focused can mean that Threes don't have time to prepare healthy meals. Grabbing some junk food on the run is common, provided they're not trying to excel in the health or fitness arena. Those that are health-focused are the most likely of all the Enneagram types to succeed with a diet. They focus on the end goal and are happy to sacrifice indulgences. Winning is what they love! You'll find them at trendy restaurants and gyms, posting whatever they do on social media.
Enneagram Type 4 – "I am what I eat."
When feelings are your focus, as with sensitive, artistic Fours ("The Individualists"), you eat according to how you feel. Mood dictates the menu. For some, feeling melancholic can create hunger leading to comfort eating, while for others, it may stave off the desire to eat. The food's origin and preparation can be important: "Is this organic and free-range?" "Does it appeal to my senses?"
Fours can become self-focused. "Why do I want to order salad? What aspect of myself does this speak to?" Even if they can't afford certain foods, they may order them anyhow, using entitlement to compensate for feelings of shame and a lack of self-worth. They are artistic and individualistic. Their food choices generally reflect this—boring doesn't work for them. They want their menus to be as unique as themselves and reflect aspects of themselves.
Enneagram Type 5 – "Let me research that diet first."
Cerebral Fives, sometimes known as "The Observers," are often immersed in a project of sorts. It could be filing their bird photographs, adding to their deep trance music collection, or developing a new app. Unfortunately, they can become so absorbed in the project that they forget to eat. "I'm starving. I never got round to lunch or breakfast." If nothing is readily available, that 3-day old leftover pizza will work just fine. Meals aren't a priority unless they happen to be an inventive chef. That means they'll grab any available food and don't seem to mind eating the same meal repeatedly. They often eat at odd times and have no specific eating schedule, particularly if they live alone. Food is generally a means to an end rather than something to be savoured.
A focus on the head (thinking) rather than the body can result in unhealthy dietary habits and eccentric eating. They can also fixate on certain foods. For example, I knew a Five who believed eating fish heads was the way to go. (He’d done the research!) My son shared a room at college with a Five who lived exclusively on pizza, eggs, and white bread.
If you recognize yourself as a type Five, suggestions for healthier options are smoothies, premade salads with protein, avocado toast, and fruit bowls, eaten at regular intervals.
Enneagram Type 6 – "I only eat what I'm familiar with."
Type Six, known as "The Loyalist," loves tried and tested recipes, restaurants, and food choices. "Why eat something else when you know what you like?" They enjoy sharing information about restaurants, best take-out places, and the best food deals in town. However, they'll steer away from any restaurant or food they feel can't be trusted. "You never know what they put into that foreign food." "I won't eat at her house. I'm never sure how hygienic the food preparation is." Unless they've been raised eating ostrich, for example, trying ostrich burgers may be something they'll avoid. Once they find something or some restaurant they enjoy, they'll be hard-pressed to change. Asking and receiving reassurance from others is generally required before they venture out to a new place.
Afraid of the consequences of not being healthy makes this Enneagram generally more conscious of healthy eating. They want to keep their immune systems strong—life is safer that way.
Enneagram Type 7 – "Let's make food fun!"
Enthusiastic Sevens, sometimes referred to as "The Epicures" of the Enneagram, love anything new and exciting. They generally know where to find the most delicious home-crafted chocolates, the best wines, local cheeses, and the freshest artisanal bread. They enjoy learning about the process of exotic food-making. It adds to the anticipation and excitement of the meal. They want to taste everything from every country and restaurant and wash it down with every variety of exotic drink. "Life is for living, right?"
Not enjoying being limited or having their freedom restricted means diets seldom work. As a result, Sevens can be prone to weight gain, although their energy levels can counteract this tendency.
Enneagram Type 8 – "I want it, and I want it now!"
Enneagram type Eights, known as "The Boss," or The Challenger," are big, bold, and generous people. The same can be said for their food choices—the larger the helping, the better. Rich foods, meat, and bold tastes are going to excite them. Salads may not. Eights enjoy presiding at the top of a family table surrounded by a generous selection of hearty food. There is an immediacy about Eights, so waiting too long for food can have them storming into the kitchen to challenge the chef.
Not wanting to feel vulnerable can mean avoiding doing anything about their health issues. "Nothing is going to stop me from eating what I want!" Eights are incredibly competitive, so they'll do whatever it takes to win. Losing is not an option. They go up against the world in the way they think and act. If they say the lasagna is overcooked, convincing them otherwise will be hard.
Like Twos, they may order for everyone else. But in their case, it's not assuming they know just what others need, but because they have taken the role of being in charge.
Enneagram Type 9 – “Hmm. I’m not sure what to choose here.”
"Burger or Thai salad?" A simple request can have the type Nine in a quandary. "What are they having? It's best to go with the group when ordering, right? Dave's ordering the salad, but I feel like a burger. What to do?" This dilemma is not uncommon for peace-making type Nines. They want to feel as if they belong. They also don't want to do anything to create conflict, so it's a case of going along to get along, in dietary choices and life in general. They may have an opinion but be afraid to share it. "They all want the salad, but I had that last time, and it wasn't great. Should I say anything?"
Suppressing how they really feel builds up anger, which Nines fear expressing—it would upset the peace they crave. Food and alcohol can become ways to stuff these uncomfortable emotions down and zone out. So unhealthy Nines may come across as accepting when it's more about repression.
Sloth is the result of their neuroses. It can mean that Nines are lazy to show up for themselves. It can, in some instances, also mean physical laziness. This can mean that cooking or baking can feel like too much effort, even if the idea of doing so is enticing. The same can be said for exercise. Junk food and the couch seem preferable options. However, once Nines have created an exercise routine, particularly if it involves friends, they generally stick with the training.
The above is a generalisation of each type. Variables such as the Level of Health or Development (Unhealthy, Average, Healthy), TrueType, and Subtypes (Instinctual Drives) will also play a significant role in determining an individual’s approach to diet and exercise. However, suffice to say that understanding the Enneagram and your type will go a long way to gaining insight into your food choices and eating habits. All of which means the opportunity to take the necessary action to become healthier (and happier).
Note: Before altering your diet, consult a medical professional.
If you'd like to learn more about the Enneagram and Eating, Ann has written a whole book on this subject called The Enneagram of Eating: How the 9 Personality Types Influence Your Food, Diet, and Exercise Choices.