When Dana James first began studying nutrition, she looked at the link between food and skin — and found it really boring. Instead, she was drawn toward the mental health aspect of nutrition and weight management, the ways in which our particular psychologies shape how and what we eat. This interest led her to study cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and functional medicine along with nutrition, and to develop a model of four female archetypes, each of which has a distinct body shape and relationship with food.
At the beginning of her nutrition journey, Dana James had her own questions that she wanted answered. “Certainly my body struggled with carrying more weight than I wanted to and I was utterly confused,” she remembers. And looking online for answers didn’t help: there were so many blogs and websites out there, and it was difficult to sift through the noise. She wanted to know what, exactly, was happening in her body when she ate — but, as she learned, it was equally important to understand what was happening in her mind.
“You have to go into the mind and understand these behaviors,” she says. “Otherwise, you don’t get there because those behaviors are ultimately what would become self-sabotaging in terms of your diet.” In other words, the best nutrition and diet plan on the planet won’t help at all if you have psychological blocks that prevent you from changing your behavior.
To help get to those blocks, Dana looks at the deeper reasons behind why we make the food choices we do; she goes beyond “I ate the pasta because it tastes good,” to find the underlying emotion that drives that belief, whether it’s fear, anxiety, self-worth, or something else. Then, she uses her CBT training to help women challenge those deep-rooted beliefs and develop healthier behaviors around food. She calls CBT “a really pivotal tool in how I work with women in understanding the behavioral aspect of how they are with food and their relationships with themselves.”
As she dug into the ways that women eat — her focus is on weight management for women — she began to see patterns. Out of these patterns, she developed the four archetypes, each of which has a distinct way of approaching food; through these archetypes, she hopes to “help women really understand themselves.” Each of the four archetypes gets their sense of self-worth from a different source, and their characteristics, eating habits, and even body shape all stem from that.
The Four Archetypes Dana identified are:
Wonder Woman: She sources her self-worth from success and achievement. Because she’s so achievement-oriented, she’s a reward eater. For example, after working through lunch and not eating all day, she’ll reward herself with wine or chocolate.
Nurturer: She sources her self-worth from caring for others. She’s a people pleaser and can’t impose on anyone. She might eat food she doesn’t want out of a need to please others, and has a hard time asserting her needs around food. She tends to be a comfort eater, because she’s not getting comfort from other sources.
Femme Fatale: She sources her self-worth from physical appearance. She’s constantly on and off a diet, and may have restrictive or binge eating behaviors.
Ethereal: She sources her self-worth from being different, creative, and imaginative. She tends to have a willowy body, and weight isn’t an issue for her. She usually needs more carbohydrates to help ground her.
There’s so much more to each archetype, which James details in her book The Archetype Diet. Each type has an associated set of beliefs (many of which, according to James, were formed from core childhood memories) and behaviors, including food behaviors. These food behaviors, in turn, change your hormones, which then change the shape of your physical body. All of this leads to imbalances that leave women feeling unhappy in their bodies.
While James uses CBT to address the psychological aspect of women’s eating habits, she turns to her functional medicine training to address the biochemical aspect. She looks for physical sources of the issue, from an imbalance in the gut microbiome (get our free guide to gut health here!) to constipation, parasites, thyroid issues, vitamin deficiencies, and beyond. By addressing the psychological and physical aspects at the same time, she’s able to get to the root cause of women’s eating issues and help restore balance.
Watch our full interview with James to learn more about the microbiome-mental health connection (did you know gut bacteria is affected by trauma?), why the same food will be better for you when prepared by a loved one vs. a stranger, how chakras and the color spectrum play into nutrition, and much more.
The information contained in this article comes from our interview with Dana James MS, CNS, CDN, a triple certified nutritionist, functional medicine practitioner and cognitive behavioral therapist and an author. James has a Master of Science in Medical Nutrition from Columbia University and received her training in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy from the Beck Institute. You can read more about Dana James here.
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