LOSING weight is tough – and even tougher if your genetics are working against you.
According to a new study, your personality type may be getting in the way of your weight loss goals.
Skinny people can thank traits such as leadership for their smaller frames, the research discovered.
But those who find it hard to control their impulses may struggle to lose weight, as this could cause overeating.
Personalities are often split into five types. These are Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness.
The definitions are:
- Neuroticism: This describes someone who gravitates toward unsettling emotions, such as anxiety and depression. They get upset easily. Traits: Anxiety, Angry Hostility, Depression, Self-Consciousness, Impulsiveness, Vulnerability.
- Extraversion or Extroversion: This describes someone who seeks excitement and is active and highly sociable. They are talkative, have a lot of emotional expressiveness and are energised around others. Traits: Warmth, Gregariousness, Assertiveness, Activity, Excitement seeking, Positive Emotions.
- Openness: This describes a person who is open to new experiences and curious about the world. They are creative and happy to talk about abstract ideas. Traits: Fantasy, Aesthetics, Feelings, Actions, Ideas, Values.
- Agreeableness: This describes a person who is respectful, compassionate, trusting and tries to avoid problems. They tend to be more cooperative and are helpful. Traits: Trust, Straightforwardness, Altruism, Compliance, Modesty, Tender-Mindedness.
- Conscientiousness: This describes someone who is responsible, careful, and goal- and detail-oriented. They have high impulse control and tend to be organised. Traits: Competence, Order, Dutifulness, Achievement Striving, Self-Discipline, Deliberation.
A study led by Kadri Arumäe, of the Institute of Psychology, University of Tartu, Estonia, gives insight into which of the “big five” are correlated with being overweight.
More than 3,500 Estonians, with an average age of 46 years and body mass index (BMI) of a healthy 25, were involved.
Participants filled out a survey on how much they identify with each of the personality traits described above on a scale of 0 to 4.
Then, the research looked at their levels of fat, their body mass index (BMI) and metabolism.
Based on the medical data of 3,535 participants, the study was able to pinpoint personality traits that may be behind obesity.
How do you compare?
In summary, people may have more fat if they score lower on Openness and its subtypes Actions, Ideas and Values.
Open-type people tend to be intellectually curious, creative and imaginative.
The paper, published in the journal Physiology and Behavior, discussed that Openness to experience appeared to be linked to education.
Therefore, “one could speculate that higher Openness may prevent excess adiposity through healthier eating habits”.
Low Conscientiousness was marked as being a predictor of potentially being overweight, most notably a lack of Order and Deliberation.
Someone with low Conscientiousness may be bad at organisation, struggle to self-discipline or set goals.
You could say people low on Openness and low on Conscientiousness tend to have a higher body fat
Dr René Mottus
People who tend to fit the Neuroticism personality trait, particularly showing Impulsiveness, may also carry excess fat.
The researchers suggested being an impulsive person may lead to excessively eating.
Dr René Mottus, of the Department of Psychology, University of Edinburgh, who was involved in the study, told The Sun: “You could say people low on Openness and low on Conscientiousness tend to have a higher body fat.
“People higher in Neuroticism tend to have a little bit more.”
Assertiveness, a facet of Extraversion which reflects dominance, forcefulness, and leadership tendencies, was the main personality trait linked with a higher metabolism (BMR).
This could be because “higher metabolic rate enables an individual to engage in energetically costly behaviours”, the paper suggested.
Dr Mottus said Assertiveness “seems to be stronger for muscular people”.
Other features of Extraversion – Warmth and Positive emotions – may also be a marker of lower body fat and high metabolism.
Change on a mass scale
Dr Mottus said there are “so many things that matter for body mass”, and personality type is just one that may be involved.
He added: “The associations are not very strong in any one individual.
“But the trend in the population level is meaningful in the sense that people who are low in Conscientiousness and are susceptible to high BMI – there are quite a lot of people in this category.
“So if there was an intervention, for example to raise people’s Conscientiousness… this could result in meaningful reductions in obesity levels.
“Suppose that public health officials manage to roll out a cheap yet somewhat efficient intervention to a million currently low-conscientious people, increasing conscientiousness in 10 per cent of them to a level that is currently considered medium.
“Among these people will be several thousands of those who currently have a high body fat percentage but who will have a noticeably lower fat percentage at some point after the intervention.
“That is, although the conscientiousness intervention does not help most people, it will help many and the resulting reduction in obesity treatment costs.”
Dr Mottus said there are mobile phone apps in trial that can train someone to be more Conscientiousness, with the goal of helping with weight management, as well as relationships, work and more.