From Our 2008 Archives

Personality Patterns May Affect Weight

If Your Weight Loss Goals Elude You, Your Personality May Play a Role

By Miranda Hitti
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 31, 2008 -- Ever wonder why some people are more successful than others when it comes to weight loss?

It's not just about calories or logging time on the treadmill. It's also a matter of personality, experts told a packed conference hall of dietitians in Chicago for the annual meeting of the American Dietetic Association (ADA).

At the meeting, Robert Kushner, MD, MS, and Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, described 21 personality types and how each personality approaches eating, exercise, and stress.

Those personality types are described in Counseling Overweight Adults: The Lifestyle Pattern Approach and Tool Kit, a book written for the ADA by Blatner, Kushner, and Kushner's nurse-practitioner wife, Nancy Kushner, MSN, RN. Blatner is an ADA spokeswoman. Robert Kushner is clinical director of the Northwestern Comprehensive Center on Obesity, a professor of medicine at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, and the president-elect of the Obesity Society.

The new book is written for dietitians, not the general public. But it contains some insights that may have the ring of truth, even if you don't have "RD" after your name.

See if these personality patterns sound familiar -- and find out what to do about them.

The 7 Personality Patterns

In their book, the Kushners and Blatner list personality patterns that are common in overweight people who have problems losing weight for good.

Here are the seven personality patterns linked to eating:

  • Meal skipper: often skips meals
  • Nighttime nibbler: munches at night
  • Convenient diner: eats out often
  • Fruitless feaster: skimps on fruits and vegetables
  • Steady snacker: snacks a lot
  • Hearty portioner: eats big portions
  • Swing eater: swings between being a dietary "goody two-shoes" and then lapses

These are the seven personality patterns related to exercise:

  • Couch champion: a sedentary person (think couch potato)
  • Uneasy participant: feels self-conscious about exercise
  • Fresh starter: an exercise novice
  • All-or-nothing doer: "They'll be gung ho and then do nothing," says Blatner
  • Set routine: does the same exercise routine over and over
  • Tender bender: limited by aches and pains
  • Rain-check athlete: has good intentions that don't get realized

And here are the seven personality patterns related to coping with stress:

  • Emotional eater: Someone who turns to food when emotional
  • Self-scrutinizer: Someone with a negative self-image who's harsh on himself or herself
  • Persistent procrastinator: Someone who delays taking action
  • People pleaser: Someone who focuses so much on others that there's no time or energy left for his or her own health
  • Fast pacer: Someone who lives on the go, with too little time for a healthy lifestyle
  • Doubtful dieter: Someone who's tried to lose weight in the past and doubts he or she can succeed
  • Overreaching achiever: Someone who sets unrealistic goals and then gets discouraged

Using the Personality Patterns

If you're working with a dietitian, the first step is to complete a 50-question survey. Based on the answers, your dietitian can create a bar graph showing where you rank for each of the 21 personality types.

You could fit into more than one pattern per category. For instance, you might rank highest as a people pleaser and convenient diner in the eating category, as a couch champion and tender bender in the exercise category, and as an emotional eater and people pleaser in the coping category.

Next, you and your dietitian would tailor a weight and lifestyle plan that fits your personality profile. "The patient doesn't want a cookie-cutter approach," Blatner says. Because she's a believer in taking small, achievable steps toward goals, Blatner recommends tackling "one tricky lifestyle situation at a time."

Not working with a dietitian? Blatner suggests reviewing the 21 personality patterns and finding the two or three in each category that you identify with, and then look for ways to address those patterns.

For instance, a meal skipper could set a meal schedule, and an emotional eater could find other ways to handle their feelings. Blatner also recommends Dr. Kushner's Personality Type Diet, a book written for consumers several years ago by the Kushners.

Graph Your Weight History

Graphing your weight over time can also be helpful, Robert Kushner noted in his ADA speech.

Here's how: Take a blank sheet of paper and draw a horizontal axis for time and a vertical axis for weight, then chart what you've weighed since age 18, and put notes by the turning points.

For example, Robert Kushner recalls a patient whose graph showed weight gain in college, weight loss right before her wedding, regain during pregnancy and weight loss afterward, followed by more weight gain after being demoted at work. And a man graphed his yo-yo cycle of gaining weight on business trips, followed by bouts of exercise that didn't solve the problem, probably because he didn't address his diet, says Robert Kushner.

Why look back? Because hindsight may hold clues that could prove useful as you move forward.

Calories still count, but each person has his or her own path to reach a healthy weight, and it takes awareness about your past and your personality to find your unique path. That awareness may help you stay the course, and as Robert Kushner says, "The more adherent you are, the more likely you are to be successful."

SOURCES: Robert Kushner, MD, MS, clinical director, Northwestern Comprehensive Center on Obesity; professor of medicine, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine; president-elect, the Obesity Society. Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association.

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