Is Your Personality Making You Fat?
Larger-than-life personalities are real—they just might not be what you think
By: Emily G. W. Chau
Deciphering Your Personality
Photo Credit: Thinkstock
Try as you might to resist the siren call of a Snickers bar, your temperament might get the better of you. “How you go about coping or making decisions plays a big role in how you manage your weight,” says Robert Kushner, MD, clinical director at Northwestern Comprehensive Center on Obesity and author of the The Personality Diet. And science shows that people pleasers, spontaneous spirits, and mean people are actually more susceptible to packing on the pounds. (Search: How to think like a skinny person) Find out if you have one of the six personality types that are sensitive to weight gain, and get tailored advice from our experts on how to tackle your instinctive pitfalls.
Best Workout for Your Body Type
If You’re a People Pleaser
Nobody's forcing you to eat one more bite of cake, but it may feel that way if you're prone to keeping the peace among your friends and family. In a recent Case Western University study, participants with the highest people-pleasing scores were more likely to overeat when offered a bowl of M&Ms. "They were also more likely to match how much the first person took, and more likely to say they wanted the other person to feel comfortable," says lead author Julie J. Exline, PhD. Translation: people who are socially sensitive feel pressured to chow down when they think it's expected of them, even when they're not that hungry.
Since people pleasers put others before themselves, they also tend to put their own needs last, adds Kushner. Women are more likely to fall into this category. She'll give her scheduled gym session the short shrift because someone else needs her to carpool, or feel pressured to serve pizza for dinner because her children are clamoring for it.
Personality Prescription: Learn the power of "no." Delegate some of your workload so you can shut your office door and have a half-hour lunch to yourself; ask your family to help you prepare dinner and set the table, so that you can go for a 20-minute walk. People pleasers often feel like they're taking care of everyone else, but are being neglected themselves. "You need to verbalize your needs and be specific about them," says Kushner. "People aren't mind readers."
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If You’re DepressedCall it Bridget Jones syndrome: Consistently drowning your sorrows in buckets of ice cream will probably make you chubby, not happy. Though it’s unclear whether being sad packs on pounds or if it’s the other way around, there is a strong link between weight gain and depression. About 23% of obese adults are depressed compared to 14% of those at a normal weight, according to a Gallup poll. And a study in the American Journal of Public Health found that the greater your depression now, the more likely your BMI will increase in five years.
Personality Prescription: Rather than stuff your face (or your sorrows), let your emotions out on a piece of paper, recommends Valerie Orsoni, founder of LeBootCamp, an online weight loss program. Or, treat yourself to a non-food related pick-me-up like a massage or a manicure. Touch helps release feel-good endorphins, soothe the soul, and is a distraction from fatty and high calorie fare that you can crave when you’re down.
Need extra motivation to stick to your diet? Print out this tongue-in-cheek poster and stick it on your fridge!
If You’re Impulsive or CompulsiveDoes your resolve crumble every time you see a flash sale on Gilt? Unable to resist another round of Blackjack? If your willpower is weak and your impulses strong, chances are you might be overweight, too. Extraordinarily impulsive people weighed an average of 24 pounds more than those who were hardly spontaneous at all in a Department of Health and Human Services study.
When people are impulsive or compulsive in one area of their life—hoarding, gambling, uncontrollable shopping—they also tend to be careless with their eating habits, points out Kushner. It makes sense. The more sporadic you are in general, the more likely you are to give into spur-of-the-moment cravings.
Your Personality Prescription: Keep a food journal to maintain a sense of when and how much you’re eating, recommends Kushner. When a craving strikes, you can look back at your record to see if you’re really hungry or craving food just in the moment. Also try limiting your intake of simple sugars, sweets and fats, which light up the reward and pleasure centers of your brain and can perhaps fuel food addictions. To burn a few more calories, channel your compulsive behavior away from eating and toward physical activity.
Track your weight, log your calories, and record your exercise using our handy Fit Tracker tool!
If You’re MeanCall it karma: If you’re a scrooge, your BMI is more likely to increase over time. The same study from the Department of Health and Human Services found that the most disagreeable people—those who were cynical, aggressive, and arrogant—had a greater chance of getting fatter as they got older than people with kinder attitudes. Why? Researchers believe that the more unpleasant you are, the higher your levels of fat-clinging cortisol. Other studies have shown that highly antagonistic people continue to gorge themselves even after they’re full.
Your Personality Prescription: If you self-identify as a pain-in-the-butt, try one of these stress-relieving routines. You’ll fight stress, boost endorphins, and burn calories in the process.
If You’re AmbitiousHaving a task-driven, take-no-prisoners mentality may get you far in the workplace, but an all-or-nothing personality can backfire when it comes to your weight. People who see the world in black and white often feel overly deflated or frustrated when they set ambitious goals that they can’t meet or fall short of a weekly weigh in, says Kushner. More often than not, they’ll quit their diet and exercise plan entirely because they can’t meet their goals perfectly.
Your Personality Prescription: Rather than let the tiniest failure derail your diet, focus on moderation. “It’s better to maintain your diet 80% of the time and be a “B student” rather than an “A+ student,” says Kushner. You’re more likely to stick to your plan in the long term if you cut yourself some slack to eat dessert now and then.
An attitude adjustment will also help. Instead of getting upset when you fall short of a weight-loss goal, focus on successes other than the number on the scale, such as whether you can climb two flights of stairs without getting winded or if you can fit into a smaller pair of pants.
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If You’re DisorganizedFree spirits might have all the fun, but they also tend to have a harder time sticking to a regular eating plan. In fact, your ability to keep a calendar can predict how well you’ll stick to a weight-loss regimen. The less structured you and your days are—whether you’re naturally less driven by schedules or if you’re temporarily unemployed—the more likely you are nibble throughout the day, says Kushner.
Personality Prescription: To master your eating habits, it’s important to have a sense of order over your entire day—not just your meals, says Kushner. Establish a set routine and schedule specific times to eat, sleep, and exercise. Regular sleep patterns will help lower your stress levels and control your hunger (Search: How does sleep affect my weight?), while set meal times can help fight mindless eating.
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