03 Dec Does your personality make you gain weight?

Which personalities have a higher risk of gaining weight and what is the most important personality trait of the people who stay thin?

If you’re impulsive, antagonistic, or often get mood swings, then your personality may be causing you to gain weight.

Scientists from the US National Institute on Aging, led by Dr. Angelina Sutin, studied 2000 people across 50 years, trying to find a link between personality and weight-gain.

Profiling weight gain

Based on the findings of the study, the researchers created a psychological profile for people that are at higher risk of becoming overweight.

Impulsive, antagonistic and emotionally unstable people have a higher chance of becoming overweight at some point in their lives, according to the research. Additionally, they’re at higher risk of going into weight-loss and weight-gain cycles, which effectively means that they managed to lose weight through dieting, but then they gain it all back once they return to their old eating habits.

This is the first research to look into the longitudinal effects of the link between personality and weight-gain. The researchers did so by focusing on the “Big Five”: Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness to Experience, Agreeableness and Conscientiousness.

Impulsivity and Weight-Gain

Impulsivity and an affinity for risk-taking were found to be the two most significant personality traits that promote weight-gain. People with these traits are more easily tempted and often lack the discipline to maintain a healthy diet or an exercise regimen.

Impulsive people and risk-takers prefer to make decisions on the spot than plan ahead. So, even if they have a low-calorie diet planned for the next month and are confident they can follow it, a phone call from a friend inviting them out for pizza can derail their plans in a second.

Antagonism is fattening

Antagonistic people, especially those that are cynical or aggressive, are the next category of people more likely to become overweight. That’s because of the higher cortisol level in their body. Cortisol is a hormone, whose concentration rises in response to emotional stress, and it’s been found to cause increased eating and weight-gain.  

Emotional instability brings weight instability

People who go through weight-gain and weight-loss cycles are often emotionally unstable and have low conscientiousness. The combination of these two traits, according to the study, leads to negative emotions and thoughts, which in turn lead to repetitive weight-gain and weight-loss.

What types of people stay thin?

The study concluded that people who have self-control are much better at maintaining a steady and healthy Body Mass Index. People who can set goals and discipline themselves to follow a program or a regimen were also shown to have considerably less fluctuations in their weight during adulthood.

Diets based on Personality!

The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and its findings can shed new light on the treatment of obesity. Specifically, it highlights the need for patient-centred treatment, which will take a person’s personality into consideration, among other things.

So, for example, extroverts may feel more comfortable and achieve greater weight-loss in group settings, or they may feel more motivated to take part in group work-outs. On the other hand, introverts may feel better having one-on-one weight-loss consultations, contacting a dietitian through the Internet, or having personal training sessions.

As Dr. Sutin, the woman in charge of this study, said, “We hope that by more clearly identifying the association between personality and obesity, more tailored treatments will be developed.”




Sutin, A. R., Ferrucci, L., Zonderman, A. B., & Terracciano, A. (2011). Personality and obesity across the adult life span. Journal of personality and social psychology101(3), 579.