I am a firm believer in meeting people where they are, and I’ve always adapted my eating psychology coaching style to my clients’ needs. This year, I started taking an even more intentional and methodical approach to understanding where my clients are and how to move them from stuck into food freedom.

I’ve started using the Enneagram—an in-depth approach to personality-typing—to understand my clients’ relationships with food. Using this approach gives us language to explain the existing relationship with food. It helps us identify coping mechanisms (like over-eating, emotional-eating, restrictive-eating) and the triggers that drive unhealthy ways of coping.

Initially, I was attracted to the Enneagram because it helped me answer a question I had been asking myself for over a decade: why can’t I get it together. As I flipped through the pages of my collection of Enneagram books, I read the following:

9’s demonstrate the universal temptation to ignore the disturbing aspects of life and seek some degree of peace and comfort by numbing out… (The Wisdom of the Enneagram)

My life is based on an unthinking habit. I operate on auto-pilot, staying busy with whatever is getting my attention in the moment, and often not accomplishing what is important to me. (Deep Coaching)

What they generally do not have is a sense of really inhabiting themselves-—a strong sense of their own identity… (Wisdom of the Enneagram)

I couldn’t get it together because I was running away from everything I needed to pull together.

What inspired me to integrate the Enneagram into my practice was the path it paves for overcoming our unconscious patterns and living as the best version of ourselves. It didn’t just tell me I was a mess and leave me there. It provided a path for me to accept where I was and take steps towards becoming a healthier version of myself—a version of myself in pursuit of my big goals instead of distracted by unimportant tasks, a version of myself that has something to contribute instead of hanging out in hiding.

It was so encouraging to know I wasn’t alone in my struggle and to have a path to move upward and onward.

On the surface, the Enneagram has nothing to do with food. It points out our strengths and our weaknesses. It explains different personalities relate to each other. It starts to tease out true self from all the other stuff that we’ve adopted as self over the years. When you start to dig deeper, you realize the Enneagram is about how you live, and since food is a huge part of life, it gives us a lot of insight into our relationships with food.

We all have different motivations that drive our behaviors. For example, type threes on the Enneagram are driven by achievement. On the extreme end, they may forgo social interaction, sleep, and even proper nutrition when they are in hot pursuit of a goal. This behavior is not sustainable long-term and can lead to resentment and burnout, and when a three gets to the point of resentment and burnout, there’s a whole new set of behaviors that emerge. I call these coping behaviors. For some people, coping behaviors involve binge eating or emotional eating, for others, it can look like over-sleeping, hyper-restrictive dieting, over-exercising, or even risky sexual behaviors.

In my coaching practice, I work with women whose coping behaviors include binge eating, overeating, emotional eating, and/or mindless eating. We work to identify what the coping behaviors are, when they happen, why they happen, and how we can disrupt the pattern and build healthier and more mindful habits.

Your Enneagram type may shed some light on your coping behaviors, but the best way to understand yourself and create healthier patterns in your life is for you to identify your own coping behaviors.

In this post, I’ve grouped the 9 Enneagram types into 3 triads: the dutiful triad, the assertive triad, and the withdrawn triad. Duty, assertion, and withdrawal are strategies we use to move towards the things that motivate us—the three Enneagram types in each triad share the same strategy for moving towards their motivations, though it usually shows up as different behaviors.

At the end of each triad, I’ve provided a list of questions for you to answer to help identify your coping behaviors. Use the information about your triad and your specific motivators as markers for the sequence of events that may lead to your coping behaviors.

If you don’t know your Enneagram type check out this post before reading about the triads and their coping behaviors.

Dutiful Triad

 

Ones, twos, and sixes make up the dutiful triad. All three types share a deep sense of obligation. Regardless of the obligations, they’ve created for themselves, it’s unrealistic to meet all of the obligations all the time. Inevitably, this compulsion to be dutiful leads to overcommitment, exhaustion, stress, and resentment and the dutiful types have to find a way to cope with all of that.

Ones are motivated by being right which leads to a duty to be responsible, well-informed, and a rule-follower so they end up resentful, stretched thin, and stressed out

Twos are motivated by others’ love and acceptance leading to a duty to meet others’ needs and put others before self in an effort to make those people love them so they end up resentful, stretched thin, and stressed out

Sixes are motivated by security outside themselves leading to a duty to figure out what is expected of them and do that so they end up overcommitted, exhausted, and lost as to what they want for themselves.

While there are similarities between how individuals of the same type cope with the effects of all their duties, there are also vast differences. It’s important for you to be able to identify what you do and where you turn when you’re faced with adversity.

If you’re a 1 who finds herself stressed out, stretched thin, and resentful as a result of taking on too much…

If you’re a 2 who finds herself stressed out, stretched thin, and resentful as a result of unreciprocated love…

If you’re a 6 who finds herself overcommitted, exhausted, and not knowing what you want for yourself…

What is your sense of duty costing you?
Does it create stress?
Do you then have to find a way to cope with that stress?
What behaviors result from your stress/need to cope?

Take time to answer these questions this week. Start to identify how the things that motivate you could also be the driving force behind some of your less desirable behaviors. (i.e., binge eating, disordered eating, mindless eating, etc…)

Assertive Triad

 

 Threes, sevens, and eights make up the assertive triad. This triad possesses the power of productivity—they are always making things happen. Each type has a different priority as far as what they are trying to make happen. Regardless of what they are trying to accomplish, the drive to accomplish comes with similar consequences. This triad fights for what they need to accomplish and they have to find a way to cope with operating at that level of intensity all the time. The level of intensity also puts this triad at high risk for burnout.

Threes are motivated by their achievements driving them to be the best so they are perceived as successful; they may end up sacrificing their true desires for the sake of achievement which leaves them looking for fulfillment in all the wrong places.

Sevens are motivated by new experiences driving them to amass and share a variety of new, exciting, and meaningful experiences; they may end up overcommitted and overwhelmed which leaves them feeling trapped.

Eights are motivated by being in power driving them to assert themselves in every situation. If they find themselves unable to control, they feel vulnerable and can become full of rage.

If you’re a 3 living with the constant pressure of achieving and feeling unfulfilled…

If you’re an overcommitted 7 feeling trapped and overwhelmed…

If you’re an 8 whose need to control has left you angry…

What is your need to be assertive costing you?
Does it create stress?
Do you then have to find a way to cope with that stress?
What behaviors result from your stress/need to cope?

Take time to answer these questions this week. Start to identify how the things that motivate you could also be the driving force behind some of your less desirable behaviors. (i.e., binge drinking, overeating, neglecting health, obsessive dieting, and exercise.)

Withdrawn Triad

 

Fours, fives, and nines make up the withdrawn triad. This triad loves their inner peace. They are happy to live in their own little world—especially if it means they can avoid the demands of the real world or anything unpleasant, for that matter. Regardless of what they are trying to avoid, their avoidance comes with consequences. They can be slow to take action, have difficulty being fully present, and even becoming uninvolved in their own lives. This triad is at high risk of being disconnected from their sense of self.

Fours are motivated by being unique so they create separation between themselves and others

Fives are motivated by knowledge and resources so they minimize their needs and focus on intellectual pursuits

Nines are motivated by keeping the peace so—in an effort to make everyone else’s life peaceful— they become disconnected from who they are and what they want.

If you’re a 4 who finds herself disconnected from others and feeling melancholy and out of place…

If you’re a 5 who finds herself depleted and hopeless and letting relationships fall to the wayside…

If you’re a 9 who finds herself avoiding life and feeling disconnected from who you are and what you want…

What is your need for inner-peace costing you?
Does it create stress?
Do you then have to find a way to cope with that stress?
What behaviors result from your stress/need to cope?

Take time to answer these questions this week. Start to identify how the things that motivate you could also be the driving force behind some of your less desirable behaviors. (i.e., binge eating, mindless eating, emotional eating, general avoidance, oversleeping, gaming or phone games.)