It's in a scorpion’s nature to sting and in a lion’s to hunt – and now some scientists are saying it could be in some people’s nature to be fat.
They believe what goes on in our minds plays a huge role in how fat or thin we are and it seems overweight people have one or more personality traits that cause them to eat more than they should. Researchers have found four characteristics that typify the ‘‘overweight personality’’:…
Researchers have found four characteristics that typify the ‘‘overweight personality’’: you may have low self-esteem, poor self-control (or even eat compulsively), experience mood swings, or be prone to depression and anxiety.
Read: The self-esteem makeover
One or all of these can apply. If they’re present you’re more likely to be overweight or obese. Not all overweight people have these characteristics, though – but if you do the information in this article could help.
So, is it in your nature to be fat? See which personality type below is closest to your own then read on the next page what you can do to stop yourself from being the victim of your own behaviour.
What thoughts go through your mind when you think about weight loss?
Is this you?
- “What does it matter if I’m fat. I’m ugly and miserable anyway.”
- “Im not even going to try to lose weight because I’ll never be able to do it.”
- “I’ve been on a diet for two weeks but now I’ve ruined it by having a slice of cake.”
- “People don’t pay any attention to me anyway, so why bother losing weight.”
- “I feel in control only if I can eat and eat and no one stops me.”
- “I don’t have the strength to eat less.”
- “I can’t stop until the entire packet of biscuits is finished. Luckily there’s still cheese in the fridge.”
- “I’ll never make it if I have to eat fewer slices of bread.”
- “I feel so down but I’ll feel better once I’ve eaten something.”
- “One moment I feel happy, the next I’m in the depths of despair.”
- “Sometimes it’s all just too much and then the only thing that comforts me is chocolate.”
- “Everything in my life is going wrong but at least I can still enjoy my food.”
- “I eat when I’m worried or anxious or when I feel things are becoming too much for me.”
- “I just can’t face the day. All I want to do is sleep and eat everything in sight. I really don’t have the energy to exercise.”
- “I’m under so much stress at work and the next thing I know I’m eating again.”
- “I don’t even realise how stressed I am or that I’m eating more and more, but I can feel my clothes are tighter.”
KEY: The box with the statements that most closely reflect how you feel indicates your personality type. Read on to discover what you can do to lose weight.
What do your answers reveal – and how can you change your life?
You probably have a poor self-image and don’t believe you have it in you to be successful. You give up the battle of the bulge even before you’ve begun and the smallest setback just confirms your sense of failure.
THE NEW YOU
Switch off those negative conversations in your head and acknowledge your good qualities. Make a list of the positive things you’ve achieved in your life and tell yourself – aloud – that this time you’re going to reach your goal.
Keep a ‘‘positive diary’’ of all your small weekly triumphs, such as ‘‘lost 1 kg this week’’ or ‘‘spent 30 minutes in the gym today’’. You’re not allowed to write anything negative. Soon you’ll see a slimmer, more confident you emerging!
You’re probably struggling with one of two problems: either you have no self-discipline, or your binge-eating is evidence of compulsive behaviour – a bit like people who have to wash their hands a hundred times a day or can’t leave the house without checking again and again that the doors are locked.
THE NEW YOU
If the issue is poor self-discipline keeping a diary can be really helpful – because it takes discipline. Joining a weight-loss club such as Weight Watchers or Weigh-Less could also help. It’s much easier to practise self-discipline within the structure of an organisation where the eyes of others are always upon you.
If constant eating is your way of feeling in control of your life your behaviour may be compulsive and you’ll need the help of a clinical psychologist who can teach you how to reward yourself each time you practise self-discipline.
If your obsessive-compulsive eating starts influencing other areas of your life – for example if you plan outings so you can still catch the café open and stock up on snacks when you return – you need a psychiatrist as well as a dietician to help you. The treatment could yield results sooner than you think.
It probably doesn’t take much to make you emotional as people with constant mood swings often seek refuge in food. You regard it as the only constant in a life filled with fluctuating feelings. You feel moody and vulnerable and seek emotional stability through eating. You depend on outside factors such as food to make you feel better.
THE NEW YOU
You’ll have to wean yourself off your emotional dependence on food by joining a slimming group which will give you the stability you’ve been looking for in food. A clinical psychologist could also help you get rid of your food crutch. You’ll soon find yourself relying on inner strength.
You’re probably under a lot of pressure and tend to become depressed or anxious. Some people eat more the more stressed they are. It’s possible you don’t even realise you’re tense or miserable.
Read: How low self-esteem can sabotage fitness
THE NEW YOU
If you’re anxious, stressed or worried you need to find out what’s causing this and if there’s a practical way to relieve it. Better planning and time management could help you relax.
Make time for leisure activities that work for you – a massage, lazy bubble bath, yoga or Pilates exercises. In fact any exercise – including walking, jogging, dancing and swimming – is an excellent way of discharging stress, anxiety and depression. It will also help you lose weight.
If you find you suddenly can’t face things that used to give you pleasure, often feel down, sleep too much or lie awake at night you could be suffering from depression. It is a much greater underlying cause of exceptional weight gain than is generally thought.
Chat to your doctor – he’ll be able to determine if you’re depressed and which treatment would work best for you. Ask a dietitan to work out an eating plan. You’ll soon see your dark moods melt away – along with the kilos.
Read: Expert Q&A - Help, I can't lose weight!
FOUR GOLDEN RULES TO HELP YOU LOSE WEIGHT
- Choose a balanced eating plan that’ll ensure you lose between 500 g and 1 kg a week.
The eating plan should contain sufficient carbohydrates to prevent you from feeling as if you’re starving. It should also include enough fibre but little fat and not too much protein. Forget about pills and shakes and instant diets.
- Make sure you also follow an exercise plan. It doesn’t matter whether it’s walking, swimming, cycling, dancing or yoga; just get moving and exercise five times a week for 30 minutes at a time.
Focus on your exercise plan and forget about your weight. Note in a diary how far and how long you’ve walked and don’t weigh yourself more than once a week. If you manage this without allowing yourself to give up for two or three weeks your head and body will start feeling better about your new lifestyle. And once you start feeling a little fitter and see the weight melting away you’ll feel inspired.
- Don’t despair if you have a slice of cake or eat too much of something and disrupt your eating plan.
Don’t let one mistake put an end to all your good work. Remember, it’s the things you do regularly, not the once-off s, that matter. You won’t lose weight or get fit from one day’s diet and exercise. Similarly you won’t gain weight or become unfit if you slip up occasionally or skip exercise once in a while. But when once becomes three or four times it can become a habit . . .
- Small, simple changes can make a huge difference.
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Dr Ingrid van Heerden is a registered dietician and holds a doctoral degree in Nutrition and Biochemistry. She believes that "we are what we eat" and offers free nutrition and weight loss advice via her DietDoc service on Health24.com. Read more of her articles.