How your personality can help you lose weight
By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD
We all have certain things in our lives that we take to like ducks to water, and other things we just naturally despise (for me, that would be ironing). Those likes and dislikes are part of our personalities.
But did you know that your personality can help you lose weight? Understanding yourself can help you figure out the best way to make the changes needed to lose weight and adopt healthier behaviors.
For example, some members may be highly motivated by a picture of a bikini-clad model on the refrigerator. Others may find the perfect-figured model so discouraging that it makes them want to throw in the towel.
What Is Your Type?
One of the most popular personality typing systems is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), based on the work of psychologist Carl Jung. According to the MBTI, there are 16 personality types.
Although personality typing is much more detailed than this, here are four questions based on the Myers-Briggs system that can help give you a rough idea of your type and how it affects your weight-control success. Remember that we all have characteristics of both extremes, but tend to identify more closely with one end of the spectrum or the other.
To learn more about your type, ask yourself:
1. What stimulates you?
a. Extroverts focus on the world at large, which gives them energy, enthusiasm, and willingness to participate and volunteer in group settings. These members thrive on the message boards.
b. Introverts focus on their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. They tend to be more private and to shy away from large groups, favoring the anonymous nature of online diet programs. These people fare best when making contracts with themselves.
2. What is significant for you to know?
a. Sensors use their senses to keep abreast of the facts -- details like calories and fat grams. These types are practical, realistic, and thrive on routines. Getting daily physical activity works for them only if it is scheduled as part of their daily rituals.
b. Intuitives rely on their senses, focusing more on the "big picture" than the details. These folks do best without the structure of a routine and like to take an active role in meeting their goals.
3. How do you make decisions?
a. Thinkers are logical and analytical; they consider all sides and determine the right course of action. Their decisions are rarely emotional. These are the "just do it" kind of members who heed advice and make necessary changes without much trouble.
b. Feelers are more personal, compassionate, and empathetic. Their decisions are based not only on what is important to them, but also what's important to others. Many are trying to lose weight to please someone else or torture themselves by keeping tempting food in the house for other family members.
4. In what ways do you handle life?
a. Judgers like structure and well-organized lives. They tend to be decisive, goal- and action-oriented people. These folks like WLC's detailed eating and fitness plans.
b. Perceivers are more flexible, with less structure in their lives, disliking governing rules. The flexibility of the eating plan is right up their alley. Journaling gives them grief.
The good news is that any personality can succeed on the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic program. Here are a few examples of how the program will work for you, regardless of your style:
Record-Keeper vs. Free-Form Frieda. Some folks find it easy to keep meticulous food journals. Others quit soon after they start because the tedious nature of writing down everything they eat drives them crazy. I hope all of our members are tracking their intake in some form or another. Journaling is a powerful tool that forces you to recognize exactly what you're eating each day. It is also one of the habits of "successful losers" who have lost lots of weight and kept it off. The trick is to adopt a form of journaling that works in your life. The benefit of using the online journal is that it allows us to give you feedback. But if online doesn't suit your style, no problem. Keep a notepad in your briefcase, purse, or pocket and jot down your intake when it's convenient. And remember that you can fill in the online journal once a day, once a week, or not at all -- it's up to you.
Structure vs. Flexibility. Which do you prefer, a detailed list of what foods to eat when, or the flexibility to move foods around to accommodate your changing schedule? Some people need to stay the course exactly; when left to make too many decisions, they overeat. You can follow your WLC eating plan to the letter, or move recommended foods around within the course of your day (or week). You decide which approach best helps you control the type and quantity of food you consume.
Grazer vs. Three Squares. Three meals a day provide ample food to satisfy a hungry belly, but you may prefer to nibble your way through the day. Either way is fine, as long as you don't eat more than is prescribed in your eating plan.
Grazers need self-control so they don't overeat at the mini-meal sessions. The advantage of this style of eating is a steady infusion of calories to keep blood sugar steady and hunger at bay. But with schedules, families, and jobs to worry about, many folks end up eating three meals (and maybe a snack or two). This is not a problem, as long as those meals and snacks contain high fiber, water-rich, and lean protein foods so you'll feel satisfied without overeating.
Bottom Line: Look in the Mirror
Regardless of your personality type, it's important to deal with food and fitness on a rational level. The more you understand what makes you tick, the easier it will be to manage your food intake and daily activity.
So take a step back, analyze yourself, and see what traits you can identify. This may just provide the missing piece of the puzzle that helps you master your health.
Originally Published June 30, 2005.
Medically updated August 2006.
©2006 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.
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