12/21/2011 08:53 am ET | Updated Feb 20, 2012

How Personality Can Influence Your Weight

What's your personality? Are you self-disciplined and orderly, or are you more on the indulgent and impulsive side? Recent research from the National Institute of Health suggests that these personality traits could very well help determine your weight.

A whopping 68 percent of Americans are overweight or obese. According to researchers who studied more than 1,000 individuals across 50 years, personality traits may be, in part, what's keeping them from maintaining a healthy weight.

According to research, the primary contributors to obesity -- unhealthy diets and sedentary lifestyles -- can lead to heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, arthritis, psychological consequences (e.g., lower self esteem) and a significant shortening of life. Since body weight can be representative of lifestyle, researchers have hypothesized that personality traits may influence one's ability to maintain a healthy weight. It turns out they may be right.

Key findings published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggest that individuals with impulsive personality traits tend to be more overweight and obese; those with higher levels of conscientiousness tend to be leaner and of normal weight. [1] And weight does not appear to influence personality. Considering that a certain level of self-discipline is critical to sticking with a healthy diet and exercise plan, and that impulsive people tend to overindulge and succumb to temptations of both food and alcohol, these finding makes sense.

While basic personality traits tend to be static and resistant to change, expression of these traits is adaptable. This means that certain interventions can help modify characteristic adaptations that influence weight. For example, individuals with high impulsivity and low conscientiousness may benefit from learning to plan menus and schedule regular meals, and respond to the thoughts they have that get in the way of their sticking to a healthy weight loss program.

A program incorporating these skills and others is described at


[1] Sutin, A.R., Ferrucci, L., Zonderman, A.B., & Terraccino, A. (2011). Personality and obesity across the adult life span. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101, 579-592.