It’s a common scenario: Two people both want (or need) to lose weight. They appear to be eating healthy and hitting the gym in a relatively similar manner. But then, inexplicably, one of them starts dropping pounds at a faster clip, while the other loses much more slowly—or not at all. Or maybe they both lose weight, but one of them ends up gaining it back while the other is able to keep it off.|
There are countless theories about what might cause such a clash of the scales. Genetics always plays a role, of course—some people were just born with a more metabolically friendly combination of genes, it seems.
But could it also be that one’s personality also poses an advantage or disadvantage when it comes to losing weight?
Maybe. Some studies have shown that certain personality traits can make someone more susceptible to packing on the pounds (and less effective in shedding them), according to the American Psychological Association.
"Many people support the relationship between weight loss and what personality researchers call ‘The Big Five’ personality traits – neuroticism, openness, agreeableness, conscientiousness and extraversion," says Dr. Heidi McKenzie from Integrity Psychological Services.
Of course, each individual ultimately has his or her own unique motivators, processes and results, and just because someone has a particular disposition doesn’t mean he or she is automatically doomed for obesity or destined for slenderness. However, some experts agree that some useful information can be found by examining the patterns that emerge between personality and weight loss.
Personalities That Have a Harder Time Losing Weight
We all succumb to the inevitable emotional roller-coaster now and then, but some people seem to be particularly susceptible to what is widely described as "moodiness." According to Dr. McKenzie, a person with fluctuating moods may tend toward an impulsive, emotional eating pattern.
"Good intentions to make it to the gym and have a salad for dinner may turn into skipping the workout and ordering in your favorite pizza if you had a bad day at work," she says. "Alternatively, unexpected good news about a raise may tempt this type of dieter to throw caution to the wind by celebrating with high-calorie food choices that can sabotage their weight-loss plans."
If swinging moods tend to sabotage your healthy intentions, Dr. McKenzie recommends trying to tune into your highs and lows. You might even want to try tracking your emotional ups and downs with a "mood log." Over time, you might see a pattern of how those moods correlate with your food choices.
"Often, the increased awareness of the connections between emotions and food can help to support healthier coping strategies, such as calling a friend for support rather than turning to food to tame strong emotions," Dr. McKenzie notes.
However, if you find that you feel sad or down more days than not over a two-week period, it could be caused by clinical depression. she notes. In this case, Dr. McKenzie recommends talking with a mental health professional for help in treating the depression and the accompanying negative thoughts that can create a barrier to weight loss success.
Beating yourself up about passing on that high-calorie happy hour invitation, or feeling bad for skipping out on the kiddos to go to spin class? Those who tend to carry this kind of self-imposed guilt may also find it difficult to stick to a weight-loss program.
"Often, these people are easily swayed by others’ demands, and may have trouble setting boundaries that help them behave in a self-caring way," says Dr. McKenzie. "If you are so caught up in people-pleasing in order to avoid feeling guilty, you are not going to have a whole lot of energy left to focus on your own needs."
If you tend to carry around this kind of baseless blame, the first step is recognizing the invalidity of your guilt and then actively shifting your thoughts. "Letting go of unrealistic thoughts like ‘I can never disappoint anybody’ and learning some basic assertiveness skills, such as how to say 'no,' can help free up the time and energy for you to focus on your weight loss goals," Dr. McKenzie notes.
If you’re a people person, could your love of socializing be holding you back from achieving your desired results? Dr. McKenzie says some studies show people who score high on the "extraversion" scale may struggle more with weight loss than their more introverted counterparts.
"Extroverts enjoy being with others and naturally seek out social groups and gatherings," she says. "With that, though, comes the added risk of being around foods at parties that don’t lend themselves toward healthy choices."
If you’re headed to a social event where food will be a focus, make sure to fill up on healthy fare first so you don’t show up starving and more susceptible to overeating at the buffet. "You can still let your personality shine and enjoy being with others without the risk that your socializing will turn into regret the next day when facing the scale," Dr. McKenzie says.
While it’s admirable to strive for improvement, shooting for perfection can be a recipe for frustration and setbacks. Psychotherapist Karen Koenig warns that perfectionists often suffer from an "all or nothing" mentality that can get in the way of weight loss.
"People who are perfectionists tend to see only the extremes of success or failure, and have difficulty recognizing a middle ground," Koenig says. "They’re on or off a diet, going the Paleo or vegan route, hitting the gym daily or letting their membership lapse."
Dr. McKenzie says that those who have perfectionist tendencies can benefit from learning to cultivate self-compassion and being more forgiving when they deviate from their health and fitness regimen. "They should also work on reducing ‘all or nothing’ thinking by focusing more on what has gone well with their efforts rather than what has not gone as well."
It’s human nature to want to be liked and make people happy, but putting others’ interests above your own won’t get you closer to the best version of yourself. Those who are continually looking to please others and win their approval, Koenig notes, often have difficulty attaining or maintaining their weight goals.
"Losing weight for other people is not a sign of good mental health," she says. "People pleasers end up being disappointed over time when they feel they’ve failed or disappointed others or don’t keep receiving the praise they need to sustain self-care."
To avoid getting stuck in people-pleasing mode, start making decisions for yourself, not just based on how they affect others. While it’s good to have compassion and empathy for those in your life, don’t let that outweigh your own needs and happiness. You may also want to evaluate the people you’re worried about pleasing, and tighten that circle to those who mean the most and have your best interests in mind.
Is a running mental monologue of negative thoughts stalling your progress? People who are hard on themselves and lack self-compassion also tend to have a hard time controlling their eating and sticking to weight-loss goals, Koenig warns.
"When they don’t meet their goals, they become self-critical rather than self-compassionate, which makes them feel badly and may cause them to turn to food for comfort," she says. "People who don’t feel truly deserving of good things often lose weight and then regain it, because they don’t believe (most often unconsciously) that they are worthy of happiness."
The next time you find yourself dwelling on a mistake, setback or self-perceived flaw, ask yourself how accurate or realistic those thoughts really are. Chances are they are exaggerated and perhaps even untrue. Another strategy is to divert yourself by getting active. Whether it’s a simple stroll around the block or an all-out gym session, the movement will change your internal narrative while also getting you physically closer to your goals.
Personalities That May Find It Easier to Lose Weight
If you tend to be on the conscientious side, Dr. McKenzie says you may have an advantage when it comes to weight loss, because you are more naturally inclined to follow the specific steps that are laid out by a weight-loss program, such as measuring portions or counting calories. "Rule followers like the organization of a formal plan and have the self-discipline to stick with it," she points out.
However, if a person scores very high on the conscientiousness scale, she warns, this can turn into self-defeating perfectionism.
Those who tend to go with the flow are usually more agreeable, Dr. McKenzie says, which means they tend toward optimism and enjoy helping others.
"Beginning a weight-loss program with the expectation that one will succeed naturally lends toward a positive outcome," she says. "People high on the agreeableness scale may also fare better with weight-loss programs that have a group support component to them, such as weight-loss support groups or forums, because they like helping and motivating others."
"Adventurers," or people who score high on the openness trait, are open to new experiences, less averse to change, and more likely to venture out of their comfort zone and try new things. "These traits can be helpful in letting go of old habits and adopting a new routine that is more supportive of weight-loss efforts," Dr. McKenzie points out.
Weight loss is not an overnight process—it requires consistent effort over weeks, months or even years, which is why people with a "long haul" mentality are much more likely to see positive results.
"Being able to tolerate frustration and delay gratification are invaluable personality traits," Koenig points out. "Many people tend to focus on what they want now rather than later, and value feeling good in the moment over maintaining health goals. If they’re easily frustrated and impulsive, they say 'yes' to being happy in the moment, then live with regrets and shame down the road."
14 More Personality Traits Conducive to Weight Loss
To attain and maintain weight loss and wellness goals, Koenig recommends cultivating these personality traits:
While it should never be a requirement to change your personality in order to lead a healthier lifestyle, there are certain traits that can make your goals more or less attainable. By cultivating helpful attributes and learning to better manage the unconstructive characteristics, you can help set yourself up for success.