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How Your Personality Can Help You Lose Weight

Channel your personality strengths and weaknesses into successful weight loss.

Whenever I read on the topic of personality and weight loss, the message is how our personality traits are limiting our potential. Here is one article in The Wall Street Journal, Is Your Personality Making You Put on Pounds?, and another in the Huffington Post, How Personality Can Influence Your Weight. Both suggest that certain personality traits are associated with the development of obesity. My worry about the contention that our personalities are making us fat is that it suggests that people who are overweight have some sort of personality deficiency. Personality is multidimensional, not driven by a single trait. Each of us has a unique combination of traits. This means that we probably have some traits that work for us and others that work against us. There isn't a "fat" personality or a "thin" personality per se. The key is to channel the personality traits that will work for you to accomplish your weight loss goals. Instead of focusing on the negative, let’s focus on the positive. Below I explain how to tap into nine personality traits to maximize your weight loss potential, and for fun, I suggest an inspirational song that resonates with each personality trait.

1. Stubborn — To all you asses out there (myself included!) Congratulations! Being stubborn is your ace in the hole if you are trying to lose weight. Channel stubbornness towards people and forces that are working against you. While in the grocery store, stubbornly resist the food companies that are trying to reprogram your brain to obsess about sugar and fat. Stubbornly resist the people who tell you to eat when you aren’t hungry, who say you shouldn’t go out to exercise because it’s raining, or who tell you why bother you are just going to gain it all back — even if the person saying that is YOU. Inspirational Song: "And I’m Telling You, I’m Not Going" by Jennifer Hudson

2. Competitive — You are in it to win it. Sometimes it’s not even a game and you’re still trying to win. If this describes you, then leverage your competitive spirit to work towards your weight loss goals. Identify your personal record (PR) for your exercise pace/time and always try to break it. Use races to help you increase your performance and conditioning. Joining a community sports team might also allow you to get in some healthy competition. Do a call-out on Facebook to see if you have any friends who might have a team or be willing to join one. Active video games like Nintendo Wii and Kinect might also be a great fit for you because you can constantly try to improve your scores (and of course, massacre your friends!). Inspirational Song: "I Can’t Stand Losing" by "The Police or All I Do Is Win" by DJ Khaled

3. Anal Retentive/Obsessive Compulsive — Cleanliness and orderliness is your business. You are annoyed by people who are disorganized, not punctual, and overlook details. Your attention to detail exceeds most people which will make you especially capable of accurately estimating your energy balance (i.e., calories consumed versus calories burned). If this is you, you will benefit more than the average person from diet and physical activity self-monitoring. Channel your energies into really understanding your own personal energy needs and the factors that cause you to go over or under. Also, I suggest making a formal workout schedule, putting into your calendar, and tracking progress. Your personality style should allow you to be better than most at keeping to it. Inspirational Song: "The Devil Is In the Details" by Chemical Brothers

4. Spiteful/Angry — Tit for tat and an eye for an eye. Somebody wrongs you and they usually regret it. Should you simmer down? Hell no, channel that piss and vinegar toward all the forces working against you. Boycott food companies that produce junk. Send them a letter to tell them what you think. Set a goal that someone said you could never achieve and then make sure they know about it. Someone called you lazy? Sign up for a race and then post the finish line pic on your Facebook profile. The exercise will also help to relax you when you are really keyed up. Inspirational song: "Not Ready to Make Nice" by Dixie Chicks

5. Selfish — Always looking out for number one? Good for you. A study by Larsen and colleagues (2004) showed that “egoism” or the tendency to be self-enriching and/or self-centered was associated with a greater capacity to maintain weight loss. The reason may be because you are better at investing time into yourself. Apply this to a healthy lifestyle by guarding your exercise time, insisting on healthy restaurants when you go out in a group, and monopolizing the grocery shopping and meal planning to insure that they all involve healthy choices. Inspirational song: "My Way or the Highway" by Limp Bizkit

6. Nonconformist — Do you generally think most people are idiots? Perfect. You will be right more times than not if you apply that attitude to the latest fad diet program. Your tendency to be critical will help you stay the course of healthy lifestyle and less vulnerable to the preaching of the latest “expert” who is trying to sell a product but has no actual training or experience in weight management. Not allowing yourself to get sucked into fads is actually really important because succumbing to fad diets is basically a “time-out” from true progress. Inspirational song: "Raise Your Glass" by Pink

7. Funny Guy/Girl — Are you the one always keeping everyone in stitches? This attitude will become essential at times when you’ll need to roll with the punches. It will help you laugh at mistakes, small regains, mean-spirited comments, and bad days. Not letting the hard times get you down really is the key to persistence and having a great sense of humor will be a tremendous benefit in those times. Inspirational song: "Let the Good Times Roll" by the Cars

8. Social Butterfly — Chatty patty? Lahmann and colleagues (2011) showed that people who described themselves as social and friendly lost the most weight in a weight loss program. If you enjoy socializing then you might consider blogging about your weight loss journey. Starting a blog is easy these days and a blog will help you build a community to support your weight loss effort. I also recommend joining Twitter and following others who are working towards a healthy lifestyle. You can follow the list I made on Twitter of such folks, called The Healthy List. Building a community of support is instrumental to success and this will come natural to you so take advantage! Inspirational Song: "Talk Too Much" by Run DMC

9. Addictive Personality — The tendency to develop addictions can certainly cause problems for people, however, such individuals are also likely to have a greater capacity to experience the reinforcing effects of exercise given that exercise taps pleasure centers in the brain. Once you get going, you may develop a greater than average affinity for exercise and it also may protect you from developing and dealing with unhealthy addictions. One recent study showed that exercise might prevent the development of some addictions (Fontes-Riberio et al 2011) and others have shown that exercise can reduce addictive cravings and behaviors (Buchowski et al 2011). If you have struggled with addictions, turn your vulnerability into a strength and make the come back of your life. Inspirational song: "Mama Said Knock You Out" by LL Cool J

I would love to hear how you have leveraged a personality trait to get the healthy job done!


Dr. Pagoto also blogs at


Fontes-Ribeiro et al (2011). May exercise prevent addiction? Curr Neuropharmacol, 9(1): 45-48.

Buchowski et al (2011). Aerobic exercise training reduces cannabis craving and use in non-treatment seeking cannabis-dependent adults. PLoS One, 6(3).

Lahman et al (2011). The impact of personality traits on the success of a multimodeal obesity treatment. Behavioral Medicine, 37(4), 119-124.

Larsen et al (2004). Personality as a predictor of weight loss maintenance after surgery for morbid obesity. Obesity Research, 11, 1828-1834.