What's your diet DNA?

New research says many trying to lose weight fit certain profiles

  • Jessy Newman is a food blogger who tries to balance healthy eating with her love for food.
Jessy Newman is a food blogger who tries to balance healthy eating with her… (Lenny Gilmore/RedEye )
March 04, 2012|By Georgia Garvey, RedEye

Michelle McDonald isn't on "The Biggest Loser."

She doesn't want or need to lose that much weight, but even if she did, the 27-year-old from Logan Square wouldn't have the 24-hours-a-day help in the form of trainers, dietitians and doctors to make eating healthier and working out easy. Instead, she has to motivate herself, plan her workouts and buy what she would need on her own.

"I have always battled my weight since I was little," said McDonald, a nanny who takes care of kids from 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Friday. "In high school I had thinned out ... [but] slowly that crept back up on me."

Years ago, McDonald might have picked up a diet book with a regimented eating plan or been put on a strict exercise schedule by a doctor. But now, experts such as Dr. Robert Kushner at Northwestern Memorial Hospital are trying to develop a new way of tackling the problem.

Kushner, medical director for the Center for Lifestyle Medicine, has developed an 80-question survey to identify the types of problems dieters get themselves into. The result of his 10 years of research is a list of six personalities—from the "couch champion" to the "self-critic"—that he hopes will easily identify and help people who want to get their health in order.

"It's the opposite of a one-size-fits-all approach that a diet book has," he said. "The idea would be you would get very specific strategies."

Someone like Kenya Hicks, a 35-year-old living on the South Side, might be considered a "fast-pacer," a person with so many demands that exercise and healthy eating are difficult. Hicks, who works in the suburbs, commutes about four hours a day on average in addition to being a single mom and taking care of her niece.

"It's just really hard to find the time," she said. "Usually I'm so tired, I just want to rest."

Strategies that would help Hicks might not be as useful for someone like Erin Johnson, 32, of Logan Square, who works in the financial services industry. Johnson has a workout facility in her high-rise and doesn't have the same commuting problems.

"The biggest struggle for me is not being prepared," said Johnson, who has managed to lose about 18 pounds by addressing those challenges. She carries some kind of healthy food with her. "I always have something that I can snack on so I don't binge on whatever is closest."

Kushner might call Johnson an "accidental diner," someone who grabs food on the go and doesn't tend to spend a lot of time with meal planning.

In the most recent issue of the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, researchers found that there are differences week to week and day to day in what people do to stay healthy. Short-term motivation may evolve into long-term apathy or change depending on a variety of factors.

So it's important, experts such as Kushner say, to make sure people know what motivates them and what weight-loss strategies work for their lives.

Jessy Newman, 26 of Lakeview, is a food blogger who's trying to eat healthier while maintaining her love of food and fine dining.

"When I crave something or I want something, I have to have it. I have to balance letting myself have it when I want it," she said. "If you're constantly trying to deprive yourself, you're going to cave and eat everything in sight."

Kushner's problem dieters

Accidental diner

Doesn't plan meals, often eats on the go, looking for convenience and stuff that's nearby.


Has distractions or pressing concerns in her or his life that make it tough to be healthy.

Food lover

Eats emotionally, eating huge portions or past the point where he or she is full.

Couch champion

Hates to exercise and is mostly sedentary or inactive.


Beats herself or himself up, is self-conscious or shy. Sometimes avoids social situations.

All-or-nothing dieter

Goes 100 percent but when he or she slips, falls completely off the wagon.

ggarvey@tribune.com | @gcgarvey

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